Insights on Chapters 1–9

Hobbes’s materialist view of the world is built upon the belief that the universe is a plenum, meaning that it is composed entirely of bodies (and no empty space, or vacuum) and that everything that happens is a result of the motion of those bodies. He takes this view to surprising lengths, suggesting that human nature, encompassing our physical, mental, and emotional faculties, is a product of physical motions. Even the various human passions are explained by Hobbes in quantitative physical terms. The quantity and type of passion possessed by an individual defines his or her condition in the world: to have weak passion is “dullness,” to have indifferent passion is “giddiness,” to have an overabundance or disproportionate amount of passion is “madness.”

Another surprising and important assertion in the opening segment of Leviathan is that science and philosophy are equivalent endeavors. Hobbes is intent on illustrating the extent to which a proper philosophical method can explain and encompass all the varied areas of human knowledge. Unlike his contemporaries Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle, Hobbes does not believe in reaching true scientific knowledge through observation or experiment. Rather, he posits that all true science and philosophy must be based in language and in the solidity of definitions shared among many people, like the definitions of geometry. To Hobbes, “science is the knowledge of the consequence of words.” He demands logically built definitions that take universally accepted first principles as their base, rather than subjective opinions or articles of faith. Following the form of geometry, Hobbes demonstrates how his own philosophical model can take under its umbrella the whole of human scientific inquiry.

Insights on Chapters 10–16

Hobbes leaves no doubt as to the absolute centrality of power relations in his scheme of human affairs. This emphasis is underscored by his defining many adjectives used to describe the worth of humans in terms of power. Indeed, Hobbes defines human “worth” as the measure of power possessed by an individual, in terms of how much would be exchanged to attain his power. All the relative qualities that may affect human esteem and conduct toward other people, for Hobbes, are based on the relative presence or absence of different sorts of power, and the recognition—or misrecognition—of the amount of power possessed by another person. Power’s reciprocal companion, fear, dominates Hobbes’s discussion of the state of nature. Fear both defines the state of nature and is the primary cause of its end: civil society. Most precisely, as Hobbes proclaims in De Cive, it is not mutual love between men that informs their decision to enter into society, it is their mutual fear.

In discussing the transition from state of nature to civil society, Hobbes speculates that natural laws perhaps shouldn’t rightly be called “laws,” because they don’t come from commands but rather from innate faculties of reason. But then Hobbes states that since these laws are dictated by natural reason and that nature is ruled by God, “who commandeth all things,” “law” is indeed a proper term after all. The important distinction between natural and civic laws is that natural laws are not commanded by a human power but are instead visible to all through right reason. Just the first three natural laws on their own provide all the necessary foundation for the forging of the contract that will create a civil society.