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Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes

Book I, Chapters 10-13

Book I, Chapters 6-9

Book I, Chapters 14-16

Book I
Chapter 10: Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour, and Worthinesse
Chapter 11: Of the difference of Manners
Chapter 12: Of Religion
Chapter 13: Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery

Summary

In the previous section, Hobbes introduced the concept of "Power" and the restless human appetite to achieve it. He divides power into two kinds: Natural and Instrumental. Natural power derives from the faculties of the body or mind, such as strength, wit, and arts. Instrumental power derives from acquired faculties, such as riches, friends, and reputation. The measure of power in an individual is called "Worth," or how much would be given for the use of that individual's power. To believe someone to be of high worth is to "Honor" that person; to ascribe low worth to a person is to "Dishonor" him or her. The publicly recognized worth of an individual is "Dignity." "Worthiness," on the other hand, is not the generalized worth of an individual. but rather the measure of that person's faculties relative to a specific function. In the end, all these qualities that affect social relations--worth, worthiness, honor, and dignity--are permutations of power, and the appetite to achieve power is a central aspect of Hobbes's picture of human nature.

Hobbes writes, "I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restlesse desire for Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death." But against this continual appetite for power, Hobbes juxtaposes fear. The ultimate aversion, this "Fear of Death, and Wounds," causes people to seek peace. Fear of each other's power is the only antidote to the power struggles inherent to human appetite. The negotiations between power and fear with the ultimate goal of achieving peace are called "Manners."

Differences in manners arise from our lack of precise philosophical knowledge about the best and most expedient way to negotiate between power and fear. Hobbes declares that his philosophy will demonstrate the surest way of achieving peace. However, until the time of Hobbes's writing, ignorance of this proper philosophy and lack of science had produced a variety of manners, none of which could claim the security of his propositions. Knowing neither the causes of power nor of fear, men relied on custom, the authority of others, and religion to achieve peace, but, without science, peace is always tenuous. Unable to know the outcome of actions or foresee the future, people are in constant fear of possible dangers, evil turns of event, or sudden death. Hobbes argues that fear stems from ignorance of causes and that religions have been invented to posit causal forces in an effort to dispel fear; however, only philosophy can achieve this successfully.

Reason dictates, Hobbes writes, that the universe was first set in motion by a Prime Mover. Although the Prime Mover itself is unknowable by reason, the causes of all things are discernible by philosophy. However, improper reasoning has already caused much confusion, by producing multiple false religions (the only true religion being Christianity) and many fanciful notions (such as incorporeal spirits, pagan gods, ghosts, angels, or demons) to account for observed phenomena. Although all religious ideas and superstitions function to control fear and strive toward peace, only "true Religion" corresponds to the conclusions drawn by proper philosophy, and only proper philosophy can teach how to attain stable peace.

Hobbes's theory for peace grows out of his vision of human nature, and as we have seen, Hobbes's conception of human nature is simply the sum total of mechanic appetites and aversions, mediated by power struggles. Because human appetite is mechanical and resources are limited, when two people have an appetite for the same resource the natural result is war: "[I]f any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their End, (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only), endeavour to destroy, or subdue one an other." Even though people may differ in the strengths of their various natural powers, all people are naturally equal, because even the weakest is capable of killing the strongest by some means; thus battle is inevitable.

From this proposition, Hobbes can describe the natural condition of mankind before society, government, and the invention of law. This natural condition, free of all artificial interferences, is one of continuous war and violence, of death and fear. This condition is known as the "state of nature," and Hobbes's depiction of this state is the most famous passage in Leviathan: "[D]uring the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. . . . In such condition, there is no place for industry . . . no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation . . . no commodious Building; no instruments of moving . . . no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

The Hobbesian state of nature is an instructive fiction, a reasoned deduction of what human nature might have been like in a hypothetical existence prior to any civilization. Yet while Hobbes concedes that it never existed in actual history, he asserts that, to a degree, the state of nature is a reality; we see approximations of it in the lives of the "savage people of America," he says, and Europeans approach it in times of civil war. Further evidence of our natural condition can be seen in our mistrust of others, criminal behavior, and in domination of weak countries by strong countries.

In the state of nature, where it is a war of every natural man against the others, no security is possible and life is full of horror. But two natural passions enable people to escape the state of nature: fear and reason. Fear makes natural man want to escape the state of nature; reason shows him how to escape. Reason provides the natural laws that Hobbes develops in the next section, which constitute the foundation for peace.

Commentary

With the invention of the state of nature, Hobbes transforms his philosophical text into a strange hybrid mix of genres, for the description of the natural condition of mankind and its avowedly fictional aspects is the product of literary imagination. A narrative begins to emerge within the confines of Leviathan, a drama whose main characters are the natural men struggling for existence against the brutalities of the natural world and the abuses of one another.

Hobbes's description of the state of nature parallels his description of the motion of matter. Hobbesian material bodies constantly and violently collide with each other in the way that human bodies struggle and clash in the state of nature. Thus, not only does each layer of Hobbes's arguments build upon the logic of the last, each layer reflects and reconfigures the previous layer's imagery and themes as well.

The state of nature witnesses a dialectic struggle between fear and power, in which power is the instigator of human misery, fear the savior of human life. Hobbes wildly abstracts the concept of fear in the language of his text, rendering it a sort of autonomous character in the text's underlying narrative; fear interacts with the character of natural man, convincing him to attempt escape from the state of nature. Thus, not only does Hobbes grant fear the agency of a character, but he also ascribes to it the crucial achievement: In Leviathan's cast, fear could be considered the hero.

Significantly, the state of nature, the "state of meer nature," is called a state. The natural condition of mankind is thus not only a temporal condition, something that happened in the past, nor is it merely a potential deterioration of culture, something that happens in civil war. It is also a circumstance of geographical place. A striking parallel will soon become evident, providing novelistic structure to Hobbes's writing; the state of nature and the state of the Leviathan are two sides of the same coin, and the characters of the natural men, as well as the character of fear, traffic back and forth between the different states. This literariness will be more apparent after Hobbes discusses the engineering of the Leviathan.

By finding traces of the state of nature in civil war, Hobbes endows his book with a relevance wider than first acknowledged. Not only is it an objective pursuit of philosophical knowledge, but it is also a political commentary on the English Civil Wars. Hobbes makes his political sympathies quite clear when he describes the time of Charles I's regicide as having been plagued with the horrors characteristic of a state of nature. By crafting such a brutal image of civil war, Hobbes's rhetoric strives to terrify his reader; in contemplating civil war, the reader is supposed to experience the same fear felt by natural man in a state of nature. Rather than sticking to an intellectual persuasion, Hobbes gladly employs more emotional techniques to convince his audience and thereby further displays his literary sensibility.

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