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Thomas Hobbes

Book II, Chapters 25-31

Book II, Chapters 20-24

Book II, Chapters 25-31, page 2

page 1 of 3

Chapter 25: Of Counsell
Chapter 26: Of Civill Lawes
Chapter 27: Of Crimes, Excuses, and Extenuations
Chapter 28: Of Punishments, and Rewards
Chapter 29: Of those things that Weaken, or tend to the Dissolution of a Common-wealth
Chapter 30: Of the Office of the Sovereign Representative
Chapter 31: Of the Kingdom of God by Nature


Hobbes continues to detail the functionality of the Leviathan, addressing specific offices and legal issues of the commonwealth. Counselors to the sovereign must by worthy of their position; their knowledge, abilities, and experience must be adequate to the advice they give. Furthermore, the motivations and goals of a counselor must be the same as those of the sovereign or discord will ensue. The best kinds of governments are those administered by sovereigns privy to the advice of many counselors; the second-best kind of government is one administered according to the judgments of the sovereign alone. The worst governments are those administered with the help of counselors who must arrive, with difficulty, at a plurality of consenting opinions before offering their advice to the sovereign (Hobbes is tacitly describing a parliament). Consensus is only possible, according to Hobbes, when one man, having heard a variety of opinions, is responsible for making resolution.

For this reason, the sovereign alone is the final judge of laws. "Civil laws" are those rules commanded by the sovereign through word, writing, or other sign of his will. Laws must be made known in order to be laws, and if they cannot be known (for example, in the case where the sovereign does not communicate the laws or, in the case where the subject is a child or an idiot, incapable of knowing the laws), then they cannot be justly enforced. However, the just enforcement of the laws of nature, which are contained by and form the basis of civil law, are not contingent upon the laws' communication, for the laws of nature are knowable through reason alone.

All laws require judgment and interpretation, and while the sovereign is the final judge, he may appoint subordinate judges to administer his laws. A judge must be impartial, decide equitably, and reach his conclusions through proper exercise of reason.

A judge may sometimes excuse a law's transgression if the transgressor demonstrates reasonable ignorance of the law. However, breaking the law is never excusable when the law is known or should be known. Breaking the laws of nature, which are apparent to everyone's reason, can never be excused (except for children, madmen, and other creatures without reason).

"Punishment" is "an evil inflicted by public authority, on him that hath done... a Transgression of the Law." The sovereign has the right to punish criminals in order to defend the security of the commonwealth. The sovereign also has the right to require certain subjects to punish other subjects for transgressing the law. But the sovereign can never require a criminal to punish him- or herself, because this violates the fundamental right of nature--the right of self-preservation--for which the sovereign was created. Moreover, the actions of the sovereign can never be declared illegal, because he is the origin of the law, not governed by it. Consequently, the sovereign can never be punished.

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Hobbes Leviathan, Important Terms: PLENUM

by HerrDay, October 12, 2014

Sparknotes editors, you need to review your definition of PLENUM in the glossary for Hobbes' Leviathan. A picture of the universe as a plenum makes a vacuum impossible.

Fifteenth Law of Nature

by YHLD, March 16, 2016

Dear editors,
The 15th Law of Nature is missing in this summary (Book I, Chapters 14-16, first page). Because of the missing number, the 15th Law is explained as the 16th, the 16th as the 17th and the 18th has become a short version of both the 17th and the 18th Law of Nature. Could you please look into this?

Further information

by TravisJamesIV, October 04, 2016

useful coverage of Hobbes basic terms. For further in-depth knowledge of these terms check out my blog where I have a short introductory essay to Hobbes state of nature being a state of war.

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