by: Thomas Hobbes

Human Nature


Natural power is the eminence of the faculties of body, or mind: as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility. Instrumental are those powers which, acquired by these, or by fortune, are means and instruments to acquire more: as riches, reputation, friends, and the secret working of God, which men call good luck. For the nature of power, is, in this point, like to fame, increasing as it proceeds; or like the motion of heavy bodies, which, the further they go, make still the more haste.

In Book I, Chapter 10, Hobbes analyzes some basic societal conventions that contribute to a strong commonwealth. He begins with power as displayed in the exercise of reason. His discussion moves from how men reason, acquire knowledge, and express their passions to how they interact with each other. Hobbes sees personal advantages as means of power over others and he believes that one element of human nature is the struggle for power. However, as this passage makes clear, he expands the concept of power from physical compulsion to any means one person may have of influencing another.


So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power, but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which hath present, without the acquisition of more. . . Competition of riches, honor, command, or other power inclineth to contention, enmity, and war, because the way of one competitor to the attaining of his desire is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repel the other.

In Book I, Chapter 11, “Of the Difference of Manners,” Hobbes analyzes why men behave in so many diverse ways. He begins with the assumption that people by nature aspire to increase their power no matter how much power they already possess. He recognizes that insecurity propels the desire for power as much as greed. Hobbes also assumes that men will desire power enough to kill. Hobbes’s view of human nature seems dark, often echoing the concept of original sin. He takes for granted the selfishness of humankind who will fight for their own interests first.


Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war is of every man against every man . . . In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

The most widely quoted words of Thomas Hobbes occur in Book I, Chapter 13, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning their Felicity and Misery.” Here, Hobbes states his thesis that men need a common power feared by all in order to live at peace. To make this argument, he points to the accomplishments of civilization. Hobbes’s generalizations do not stand up to close scrutiny. For example, one could argue that war encourages innovations in navigation and instruments of force. But the passage appeals to the deepest human fears and thus forces the reader to consider the benefits of government.