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Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes

Book I, Chapters 14-16

Book I, Chapters 10-13

Book II, Chapters 17-19

Book I
Chapter 14: Of the first and second Naturall Lawes, and of Contracts
Chapter 15: Of other Lawes of Nature
Chapter 16: Of Persons, Authors, and things Personated

Summary

A "Law of Nature" is a general rule that is discovered through reason. Such a law affirms human self-preservation and condemns acts destructive to human life. Unlike a civil law, which must be written down and publicized in order to be known, a law of nature is natural and inherently known by all because it can be deduced by innate mental faculties (reason, philosophy). Having described the horrors of the state of nature, in which fear reigns supreme, Hobbes concludes that natural man, in order to preserve life, must seek peace. Thus the first law of nature is: "That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he can hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps and advantages of Warre. The first branch of which Rule, containeth the first, and Fundamental Law of Nature; which is, to seek Peace, and follow it. The Second, the summe of the Right of Nature of Nature; which is, By all means we can, to defend our selves." Natural law demands that we seek peace because to seek peace is to fulfill our natural right to defend ourselves.

The second law of nature follows upon the mandate to seek peace: We must mutually divest ourselves of certain rights (such as the right to take another person's life) in order to escape the state of natural war. This second law requires: "That a man be willing, when others are so too (as farre-forth, as for Peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself." This mutual transferring of rights is called a contract and it is the basis of the notion of moral obligation. For example, I give up my right to kill you if you give up your right to kill me. For the sake of self-preservation, people will give up their rights only when others are willing to do the same. (However, the right of self-preservation is the one right that can never be given up, because it is the right upon which the contract is founded in the first place.)

From these first two laws of nature, Hobbes proceeds to deduce a series of other laws, each one building upon the last in the geometric fashion of which he is so fond. The third law of nature states that it is not enough simply to make contracts, but that we are required to keep the contracts we make. This law of nature is the foundation for the concept of "Justice." But because of the human desire for power, there is always incentive to break the contract, despite the logic of the third law and the natural mandate to preserve our own lives. Other natural laws--and eventually the concept of sovereignty--must come into play in order to preserve the functionality of this third law. But it should be recognized that the first three laws of nature, as an autonomous triad, have already provided a plan for escaping the state of nature.

The fourth law of nature is to show gratitude toward those who maintain the contract so that no one will regret having complied with the contract. The fifth law states that we must be accommodating to others for the purpose of protecting the contract and not quarrel over minor issues lest the contract collapse. The remaining laws are summarized as follows: 6) We must pardon those who have committed offenses in the past; 7) Punishment should be used only to correct the offender and to protect the contract, not for gratuitous retribution (e.g. "an eye for an eye"); 8) People must avoid making signs of hatred or contempt toward others; 9) Pride should be avoided; 10) One should retain only those rights that one would recognize in others; 11) Equality and impartiality in judgment should be maintained at all times; 12) Resources that cannot be divided, such as rivers, must be shared; 13) Resources that cannot be divided nor shared in common should be assigned by lottery; 14) Lots are of two sorts: natural (either through primogeniture or through first seizure of the resource) or arbitrary (random determination of possession); 16) Individuals who work to preserve the peace should be left in peace; 17) Disputes must be settled by an arbitrator (as Hobbes had already concluded in his discussion of the determination of first principles); 18) No one with self-interest may be an arbitrator; and 19) Witnesses and facts must be brought to bear in arbitration, lest decisions be made by force, contrary to the law of nature.

A law of nature is valid if it conforms to this general rule: "Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thy selfe." The nineteen laws of nature are the sum of morality, and the science that determines them is known as "moral philosophy."

Hobbes points out that the name of "law" is deceptive, for the "laws of nature" are simply conclusions drawn from natural reason rather than mandates of governmental authority. But in the sense that these laws are required by natural reason and that nature is ruled by God, "who commandeth all things," Hobbes supposes that "law" is a proper term after all.

The contract, or covenant, required and upheld by natural law represents the persons of all involved in the construction of the contract. There are two types of persons, natural and artificial. A "natural person" is one whose words are his or her own. An "artificial person" is one whose words are those of someone else. Thus, a natural person is analogous to an "author," who is the originator of words. All the natural men in the state of nature are natural persons; their words are their own when they make a contract to escape the state of nature, and so they are authors of the contract. The contract becomes a representative of the natural people, encompassing and joining their identities; the multitude of natural persons, all authors, condense their wills into the single representation and, in so doing, the multitude becomes unified. Because the contract is a representative, or an actor, personating the words of natural persons, it fits the definition of an artificial person. The contract, symbolizing social unity, is an artificial person, and with this equation Hobbes launches the powerful iconography of the Leviathan.

Commentary

Hobbes's philosophy has moved from its earlier consideration of kinetics and human nature into a controlled science of civilization. His proposals, building from elementary motion all the way into the creation of the social contract, lead to the construction of a real social science, the first sustained attempt in the history of ideas to submit human society to rigorous scientific examination. Accordingly, Hobbes is credited with the inauguration of social science in Western culture. Nevertheless, there is no real gap between Hobbes's natural science and his social science; the connection is completely seamless--or rather, the natural and the social merely represent two different points on a single spectrum.

Hobbes's philosophical program appears at a moment in history just before the Enlightenment, when a rigid distinction between the natural and the social did not yet exist. Bruno Latour has suggested that the chasm between nature and culture, which appeared during the eighteenth century, can be partly traced back to Hobbes and his debates with contemporary natural philosophers. When experimental philosophers such as Robert Boyle rejected Hobbes's radical program to reform the sciences and banned him from the English Royal Society, Hobbes was relegated to the category of social philosopher rather than natural philosopher (he was, in fact, both). The squabbles of intellectuals thus drew a line between natural and social sciences that had not existed in Hobbes's writings. Consequently, the science of nature and the science of society were perceived as having separate objects of study, and the difference between nature and society was born (see Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern).

But earlier in the seventeenth century, the difference between the natural and the social was not as defined as it is for the modern world, and Hobbes's work dramatically demonstrates that nature and society can be the subjects of a single scientific endeavor. Accordingly, Hobbes's ideas are similar to two radically different modern intellectual positions, both of which collapse the distinction between nature and society but for opposite reasons. Constructivism maintains that social practices and behavior construct our knowledge of nature. Sociobiology and psychobiology, on the other hand, argue that nature and natural factors determine our social practices. Hobbes is sympathetic to both positions and expresses each at various points in Leviathan. As we have seen, Hobbes advocates the formulation of first principles by social agreement; yet, as we have also seen, he argues that human knowledge, morality, and society are all products of the fundamental kinetic motions of matter. Thus Hobbes might be simultaneously considered a sociobiologist and a social constructivist.

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