Leviathan

by: Thomas Hobbes

Knowledge

1

For in a discourse of our present civil war, what could seem more impertinent than to ask, as one did, what was the value of a Roman penny? Yet the coherence to me was manifest enough. For the thought of the war introduced the thought of the delivering up the King to his enemies; the thought of that brought in the thought of the delivering up of Christ; and that again the thought of the 30 pence, which was the price of that treason: and thence easily followed that malicious question; and all this in a moment of time; for thought is quick.

As his commonwealth is created by human reason, Hobbes begins Leviathan with chapters that describe how humans think and acquire knowledge. In Book I, Chapter 3, he discusses trains of thoughts, or mental discourse. Hobbes introduces an example of unguided mental discourse, while he slyly establishes a train of thought that guides his readers toward his own opinions. Hobbes alludes to Christ to imply that those who betrayed the king committed treason for their own profit. The comparison of the king to Christ foreshadows the lengthy comparison, in Book III, between the kingdom of God and the human commonwealth.

2

But the most noble and profitable invention of all other was that of speech, consisting of names or apellations, and their connexion; whereby men register their thoughts, recall them when they are past, and also declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation; without which there had been amongst men neither Commonwealth, nor society, nor contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears, and wolves.

In Chapter 4, “On Speech,” Hobbes discusses how names and definitions affect the reasoning process. This sentence from the first paragraph exemplifies how carefully Hobbes structures his prose. He describes how language works to create order and differentiate humans from animals. At the same time, the sentence outlines the themes that Hobbes covers in succeeding chapters. Hobbes will begin his discussions of peace, contracts, society, commonwealth, and other key topics by naming them and establishing their definitions.

3

And consequently, when we believe that the Scriptures are the word of God, having no immediate revelation from God Himself, our belief, faith, and trust is in the Church; whose word we take, and acquiesce therein . . . So that it is evident, that whatsoever we believe, upon no other reason, than what is drawn from authority of men only, and their writings, whether they be sent from God or not, is faith in men only.

In Book I Chapter 7, Hobbes demonstrates why human reasoning cannot lead to absolute knowledge and why all beliefs are necessarily opinions. He boldly uses an extreme example, the belief that the Scriptures represent the word of God. Hobbes argues that since the belief comes from the Church, faith in the belief amounts to faith in men. By casting doubt on the Church’s authority, Hobbes prepares the reader for his later distinctions between laws of God and civil laws and between the kingdom of God and civil commonwealths.