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Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes

Submitted by:
Milcielo Claire S. Villamayor
Second Semester AY 2012-2013

Submitted to:
Prof. Roberto Tangco
College of Social Science and Philosophy
University of the Philippines Diliman

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan clearly addresses the issues of the English Civil War
from which he has recently experienced. In essence, the Leviathan is basically influenced
by the situation of the Englishmen from the twentieth century where there was a great
political turmoil and war among the people. This experience can also be reflected in
Hobbes’ works and way of thinking to which we will discuss further later on.

In his introduction of his work, Leviathan, Hobbes said that “Nature (the Art
whereby God hath made and governes the World) is by the Art of man, as in many other
things, so in this also imitated, that can make an artificial animal” (Hobbes, 1651) from
this, he goes on saying that the commonwealth is an artificial animal which imitates the
“Rationall and the most excellent work of Nature, Man”. Essentially a government is an
artificial man “For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH,
or STATE, (in latine CAVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature
and strength than the Naturall”. This early on in his book, he has already established that
a government in general is an artificial man basically formed to protect its constituents
for it is of greater stature and strength than the natural man, the principles of which will
be more thoroughly expounded on the latter parts of the paper. Moreover, from the
introduction, one can also see the approach by which Hobbes studies politics. He says
that one must “Read thy self” which he explained by, “that by the similitude of the
thoughts, and Passions of one man, to the thoughts and Passions of another, whosoever
looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason,
hope, feare &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the
thoughts, and Passions of all other men, upon the like occasions.” In other words, Hobbes
used the macro-anthropological approach wherein one must understand first the nature
of oneself (man) before being able to understand the nature of society.

According to Plato and Aristotle, man are generally social beings with Plato
emphasizing the rationality of man and Aristotle on man being political animals by
nature. To these propositions, Hobbes refuted by saying that men are not by nature
social creatures for if they were societies will be constructed naturally. Hobbes the uses
the example of bees and ants socially living together by which, according to Hobbes, in
Aristotle’s definition, may be ranked among political creatures. These creatures live
sociably with one another because they only have their judgments and appetites to drive
them and they don’t have the faculties of speech by which one of them can communicate
what he thinks is for the common good. According to Hobbes, mankind cannot do the
same because 1) men are continually in competition for honour and dignity, which these
creatures are not, 2) the common good and the private good of these creatures are not
different, 3) they don’t have the use of reason thus they don’t see any fault in which their
society is organized, 4) they don’t have the use of words by which some men misrepresent
how great various goods and evils are, 5) they don’t have the notion of being wronged or
insulted so long as they are physically at ease they are not offended with their fellows
unlike men who love to show his wisdom and control the action of those who govern in
the commonwealth and, 6) the agreement of these creatures is natural as opposed to the
covenant among men which is only artificial. In this light, one can say that Hobbes’ view
on man is very individualistic in the sense that he emphasizes the need for an artificial
person or a body by which the rest of the people are obliged to follow for he believes that
man by nature are driven by their individual passions and desires, and when left
ungoverned, the society will be left in chaos and each man will follow its inherent nature
to find protection for themselves in their individual capacities. For him, societies are
constructed by men consciously deciding to be part of the society and thus it follows that
society are not created naturally but by agreements or covenants by the people by whom
the society was created for. Moreover, Hobbes also mentioned that all men are not
exactly equal and that men are inherently equal. This is a deviation from Aristotle’s belief
as what is also seen in his Politics, however Hobbes note that the difference are not that
important to actually matter as also seen in this passage, “Nature hath made men so
equall, in the faculties of body and mind; as that though there bee found one man
sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind then another; yet when all is
reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one
man can thereupon claim himselfe any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as
he.” Moreover he says that, “From this equality of ability, ariseth equality of hope in
attaining our Ends”. This passage simply says that everyone has the hope to reach their
goals. However if two men have the same goal and which only one of them can attain it,
they become enemies and would eventually want to subdue or destroy one another. From
this diffidence of one another then arise the need for protection of oneself. In other
words, there are three ways in which men are equal, 1) there is equality in man’s faculty of
mind and body, 2) there is equality in a man’s hope for attaining goals and 3) there is
equality in man’s natural right to self-preservation.

Reason is possessed by man whether he is on the state of nature or part of a

society. And since there is equality in man’s faculty of mind and body, it follows that even
in terms of rationality men are equal. However, equality among men can lead to conflict
“For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge others to be more
witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be so many as
wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand and other mens at a distance. But
this proveth rather that men are in that point equall, than unequall”. As such everyone is to
think that they are as qualified to attain the goal that only one can achieve as any other
person from which the conflict arises. Consequently, the desire to dominate other men
stems from this scenario. Another prominent point in Hobbes philosophy is his notion
that a man is actually driven by his desire to have power. According to Hobbes, “…in the
nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly,
Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory.”. One invades because of competition for the reason that he
wants to gain something that the competitor also aims for and in order to achieve this. A
man also invades because of diffidence for one’s safety and a man also invades because of
glory for honour. In all conditions, man utilizes violence for 1) to make himself master of
another man, 2) to defend himself and 3) for little things such as a different opinion in
their persons or kindred, friends, nation, profession or their name. As such is the case, it
is apparent that, according to Hobbes, without a common power to rule over man,
everyone will be under the state of war, “and such a warre, as if every man is against every
man.”, meaning that every man is responsible in protecting himself against other people.
In a nutshell, the nature of man is that of seeking power protect their selfish interest and
to ensure self-preservation of their lives and avoid a violent death. In the end, the equality
among men and their never-ending desire for power make it impossible to actually get
away from the natural state of man which would be always in war.

The right of nature is the liberty each man has to use his own power as he wills, for
the preservation of his nature and his own life. A law of nature on the other hand is a
precept of a general founded on reason by which a man is to do anything that is
destructive of his life or take away the means by which he can preserve it. The
fundamental law of nature says that in order to preserve life, one must seek peace and
follow it. And “because the condition of Man, is a condition of Warre of every one against
every one; in which case every one is governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he
can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemys;
It followeth, that in such a condition every man has a Right to every thing ; even to one
anothers body”, the human had to do something to get himself out of this situation where
he is in constant fear for his life thus by using his faculty of reason, he is urged to have a
contract with other men by laying down his right of nature and others to lay down their
right as well “For as long as every man holdeth his Right, of doing anything he liketh; so
long are all men in the condition of Warre. But if other men will not lay down their Right, as
well as he; then there is no Reason for any one to devest himselfe of his: For that were to
expose himself to Prey, rather than to dispose himselfe to Peace.” Such contract is
necessary if one wants to live the life he fully desires without fear and having a contract is,
according to Hobbes, the only way for a man to get out of the state of nature and of war
for man is not sociable by nature and since societies do not come about naturally, the
social contract is used by men to enter and build a society. The agreement or covenant
among men to preserve life is what is now also considered as social contract wherein the
men are in agreement to transfer their natural right to preserve themselves to a sovereign
identity/person. Consequently, a social contract should be voluntary and mutually agreed
upon by the parties involved. It must also involve only the subject and it does not require
unanimity among the subjects. The result of this social contract is then the creation of a
commonwealth wherein “One Person, of whose Acts a great Multitude, by mutuall
Covenants with one another, have made themselves every one Author, to the end he may
use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their Peace and
common Defence.” According to Hobbes, it is not enough that there is contract between
men, instead there must be another separate person, a sovereign that may be a man or an
assembly of men that would govern the subjects and who would make sure that the
subjects follow the contract. As such everyone who agreed with the covenant is an author
of the sovereign’s action. In other words, whatever the sovereign does is also what the one
do to oneself whether or not the action is unanimous for all the subjects.

There are two ways by which a sovereign can possess power. One is through
institution and the other through acquisition. A commonwealth is said to be instituted
when a multitude of men “agree and covenant, every one, with every one, that to
whatsoever Man, or Assembly of Men, shall be given by the major part, the Right to Present
the Person of them all, (that is to say, to be their Representative;) every one, as well he that
Voted for it, as he that Voted against it, shall Authorise all the Actions and Judgments, of
that Man, or Assembly of men, in the same manner, as if they were his own, to the end, to
live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men.” A
commonwealth by acquisition on the other hand, is one that which is acquired by force.
The only difference of these two sovereignties is men who choose their sovereign do it for
fear of one another and not fear of the man whom they institute whereas in the case of
sovereignty through acquisition, they are afraid of the very person of whom they institute.
There are two ways by which dominion can be acquired one is through generation
(dominion of a parent over his/her children) or paternal dominion and the other one is
through conquest also called despotic dominion wherein a victor is in covenant with the
one who is vanquished seeking to be pardoned of his life by the victor. The vanquished
then becomes a servant of the victor which is different from being a captive who is simply
someone who is kept in prison until the owner of the man decides what to do with him. A
servant on the other hand is someone who has bodily liberty allowed to him and trusted
by his master not to run away or do violence unto him.

The main task of the sovereign is to make sure that the purpose of having a
commonwealth, which is to preserve every subject’s life, is achieved and maintained.
According to Hobbes, a sovereign have rights and duties by which he classified them into
twelve headings, 1) The Subjects cannot make a new contract without the permission of
the sovereign, 2) The sovereign cannot break the covenant, 3) Those in the minority must
give their consent to the decision of the majority for in joining the society one already
sufficiently declared his willingness to accept the majority’s decision, 4) The subjects are
the authors of the sovereign, 5) The subjects cannot punish or kill the sovereign, 6) The
sovereign has the right to regulate the doctrine as he sees fit for the preservation of the
commonwealth’s purpose, 7) The sovereign has the power to prescribe the rules
concerning property and the goods the subject can enjoy and how they may enjoy them,
8) The sovereign has the right to judge on conflicts concerning laws, 9) The sovereignty
alone has the right to make war and peace with other nations, 10) the sovereignty has the
right to choose all counselors, ministers, magistrates and officers in both peace and war,
11) The sovereign is entrusted with the power of rewarding with riches and honor and of
punishing with corporal punishment or fines or public disgrace of every subject and 12)
The sovereign is responsible for implementing the laws of honour wherein it is the
sovereign’s duty to give titles and to appoint what order of place and dignity each man
should hold. There are only exactly three kinds for the representatives can only be one
man, some men or all men. When the representative is one man, it is called monarchy
whereas if the representative is an assembly of men it is called aristocracy (some men) or
democracy (all men).

Overall, Hobbes’ philosophy can be considered as one of the pioneers of modern

political thought. Although his way of thinking is generally pessimistic, there are great
merits in his work and most prominent of which is his utilization and development of the
theory of social contract.

Hobbes, T. (1968). Leviathan (C.B Macpherson, Trans). England: Pelican Classics. (1651)