“Leviathan” or, as it was originally titled: “Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiastical and Civil,” is 1651 by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. The title derives from the Biblical Leviathan, a chaotic sea-monster.
The book is a treatise on the idea of a structure of society that derives from the power of a sovereign without the influence of God. Although Hobbes was a Christian, he argued that a citizen of a commonwealth should not have to divide their loyalties between their king and their God and this is where the problems of society stemmed from. This work, seen today as one of the earliest examples of social contract theory, discusses the moral need to engage in actions that are thought of as “good” as opposed to “evil.”
Because of the religious nature of the time in which it was written, Leviathan was heavily disputed and panned by critics. However, Hobbes expected this outcome and even intended it. He felt that this controversy could possibly put an end to a war. Leviathan is now considered as one of the greatest masterpieces of the 17th-century philosophy.
The first section of Leviathan talks about the inner workings of the human mind. Mainly, the imagination, the sense and the train of thought. Hobbes says that our experience of the world comes from “external bodies” pressing against our senses. He saw the universe as an atmosphere consisting of matter in which object bump into each other over and over all around us. He talks about the passage of this motion from one material body to another. This universal dance transfers eventually to the skin of the human body where the nerve endings in our eyes, nose, tongue, and ears are moved, relaying their sensations to the brain. By this notion, the “sense” that we’re experiencing is merely the act of external bodies colliding with our sensitive inner organs.
During Hobbes’ time, “Vitalism” was a held belief. “Vitalism” was the idea that matter could move itself. However, Hobbes believed that it could not and that “when a thing is in motion, it will eternally be in motion.” Unless it is influenced by another body. Hobbes felt that this principal of the continuance of motion was responsible for the process of transforming thoughts into imagination.
When an external body makes a motion toward the human senses, it sets off a series of motions and these motions will keep going until they are stopped by something else.
Hobbes uses the term, “decaying sense” to describe imagination as it is the duration of a sensory motion.
Hobbes suggests that a good demonstration would be the persistence of one’s ability to visualize an image after they have closed their eyes. He believed that this was proof that the ocular sensory apparatus was still in motion. This motion would stop being the immediate sensory image and become imagination. And the over time it would become a memory. The memory of things that have been sensed from the world around you is called an “experience” while the memory of your internal thoughts is a “dream” or a “vision.”
Hobbes says that “understanding” was merely the feeling that was created by clear signs or physical sensations in the real world. A “train of thought” is a type of understanding in which ones own thoughts will provoke another similar thought and so on as a process of thinking. Two different possible trains of thought are the “regulated” train, in which one’s thoughts are directed to a specific goal and the “unguided” train where ones thoughts wander around with no particular direction.
By tracing these transfers of external bodies to the thoughts of the brain, Hobbes has correctly deduced the transfer from sense to thought and thought to a train of thought. This is the process in which a person’s sensory experience of the world around them creates a direct line of thought.
In the next section, Hobbes considers directed thought and language, reason and science. Hobbes says that speech was created to put mental discourse into the verbal discourse. This creates two known benefits. One, trains of thought are registered by giving words to one’s own conclusions which can later be recalled without having to reconstruct the entire train of thought. Two, your own thoughts can be shared with other people.
Hobbes then identifies four main usages of speech. One, recording knowledge gained by experience. Two, communicating said knowledge to other people. Three, communicating one’s desires or intentions to other people to possibly gain their help. Four, the entertainment of playing with words. Hobbes also identifies four main cases of abuse of speech. One, careless usage. Situations where we are inconsistent or let the meanings of words change. Two, Metaphorical language, the usage of certain words to mean other things. Three, Lying. Four, Language used specifically to hurt others.
Hobbes defines speech as, “consisting of Names or Appellations and their Connexion.” Truth and lies are consequent upon names as they cannot exist without it. To speak truly, a person has to use the proper meanings of names. Although, Hobbes realizes that humans have to have some reference to decide what the proper meaning is and suggests that we use the geometric method to do so. This involves getting a general acceptance of the definitions of words as in geometry of the time. He says: “In Geometry (which is the only Science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow upon mankind) men begin at settling the significations of their words; which settling of significations, they call Definitions; and place them at the beginning of their reckoning.”
Since geometry made it necessary to properly define terms in a way that everyone agreed upon, Hobbes thought it was a good model for philosophical language. Because of this, geometric arguments are unassailable. This means that philosophical definitions of this kind would begin after the first principals have been firmly established with regards to the language used and thus, conclusions can be reached easier. However, Hobbes still had the problem of how to define the meanings of words based on societal consensus.
Hobbes writes that the observation of the world around us is, of course, affected by the character of the observer and because of this, the experience of an individual do not necessarily constitute a good basis for grounding philosophical conclusions.
Hobbes suggests a governing body to settle the definitions of words and principals. He says that the judge who settles these definitions should be appointed by the people “by their own accord.” This judge would become the foundation of all knowledge. This judge would be agreed upon by everyone and thus their definitions would be upheld.
After outlining his ideas about the transfer of motion from object to object and it’s effect on the sense, Hobbes talks about the nature of motion in animals. Hobbes writes that there are two different type of motion particular to animals: “Vital” and “Voluntary.” Vital motions are automatic and innate in all types of animals and continue throughout it’s entire lifespan. These include blood flow, breathing, excretion and digestion among others. Voluntary motions are directed and take thought to pursue such as walking and speaking.
Hobbes considers that it is imagination and thought that proceeds voluntary motions. Human aversions and appetites were thought, by Hobbes to be the product of transferred motion and the interplay between these things constitute human nature as a whole.Every passion in the human comes from these two categories of feeling. From delight to anger. From ambition to sadness. Even the mythical ideas of good and evil come from these categories.
When a person begins the train of thought to decide whether something is good or evil they “deliberate.” At the end of this deliberation, a conclusion is reached about how to act which is called the “will.” When this deliberation is spoken, it is close to the process of constructing true thought from earlier. But Hobbes says that as this process is decided by the individual’s morals alone, it cannot be considered true science.
Hobbes then turns to the discussion of human “virtues” and “defects.”
To him, there were two types of virtue: natural wit and acquired wit. Natural wit comes from the act of imagining a train of thoughts from your everyday experience and acquired wit is what we develop from learning about the world around us. The differences between these two are shown in the differences in passions of the person concerned. For instance, whether a person has more or less desire for power or riches.
In talking about power, Hobbes begins talking about the concept and the human drive to achieve it.
He divides power into two different kinds: natural and instrumental. Natural power comes from the mind like strength and wit and instrumental comes from things one can acquire, like friends and riches.
The measure of power determines an individuals worth and their publicly recognized worth is their dignity. However, their worthiness is more about their measure of usefulness in a certain situation than their overall power.
Either way, these qualities affect any and all social relations and are different kinds of power. When people are unable to see the outcome of their actions or to foresee the future in general, they become fearful of possible outcomes and dangers. Religions have been invented to try and dispel this fear, but Hobbes believed that only philosophy could do so.
Hobbes next considers the notion of a “Prime Mover” who set the universe into motion. Although the Prime Mover was unknown, their work was obvious from the state of the universe. But Hobbes felt that the effect of improper reasoning showed in the production of so many false religions (as he believed that the only true religion was Christianity) and many other fanciful ideas like pagan gods and incorporeal spirits. It was his view that only “true religion” corresponds with true philosophy.
Hobbes then began to write about his theory for peace. As the reader has seen, he believed that true human nature derived from the total of our aversions and appetites and it was when two people’s appetites clashed that war was created. Hobbes says that the natural condition of man – before government was set into place – was constant warring. He defines this as the “state of nature” and says, “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man (…) In such condition, there is no place for industry (…) no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation (…) no commodious Building; no Instruments or moving (…) 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.”
In the next section, Hobbes discusses “laws of nature,” which is a law that is discovered through morality and reason. This is different from a civil law which has to be enacted and written down. Natural law is inherently known to humans because it can be deduced by reason. Hobbes first law of nature is that every man should strive for peace. The second is that we must miss out on some actions or what he calls “rights” to avoid war, such as the right to kill another person. The third law is the nature of the idea of “justice” which is the law most often broken. The fourth law is to appreciate those who uphold the laws so that no one with regret doing so.
There are 19 laws in total which Hobbes identifies. The main idea is that a law of nature must conform to the general rule “Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thy selfe.”
In chapter 18, Hobbes returns to his idea of a ruling judge to force people to uphold the laws of nature. He deems this judge, “The Sovereign” and he creates an analogy between the concept of sovereignty and the soul of an example person or commonwealth that he calls “Leviathan.” Sovereignty would be the soul of the Leviathan. The thing that keeps them moral.
The point of creating a Commonwealth is to escape nature and provide common defense and a sense of peace to the people. The sovereign would be responsible for this defense, and Hobbes refers to it as a “he” although he admits that it could be a group of people.
His job would permit him to do whatever he sees as necessary to protect the commonwealth. All of individual have to be given over to the sovereign for this idea to work in the interest of self-preservation of the individual. Self-preservation would, in fact, be the only right that the individual maintained.
The rights of the sovereign would include the notions that his subjects own him sole loyalty, that they cannot be freed of this obligation and that dissenters would have to yield to a majority in any dispute. There were already three kinds of sovereign authority in action at that time” monarchy (where the power was with one individual), aristocracy (where the power is a group of people) and democracy (where the power is with anyone who chooses to assemble for the government). Of these three, Hobbes argues that the monarchy is best because the monarchs interests are most likely to be the same as his subjects and he will likely receive better counsel.
Hobbes also talks about the differences between a sovereignty that are forced and one that is acquired by agreement. There aren’t many differences except in the way that it is installed and retained as a sovereign who comes to power by consent of the people is more likely to have their support.
Hobbes then discusses what an unhealthy Leviathan would look like. He says that this can arise if the sovereign lacks absolute power, if actions start being judged as good or evil by private citizens or if subjects think that ones one conscience should take precedence over one’s civic duty.
The sovereign is supposed to “procure the safety of the people” when this is no longer true; the soul leaves the Leviathan, and it becomes a corpse. The subjects would then be thrown back to nature and left to protect themselves.
In the first two sections, Hobbes considered the natural world and the facts that can be known by natural reason. In this section, he talks about the “prophetical word of God.” Or, in other words, the elements of Christianity that can not be seen by reason but still must be obeyed. In the idea of the Leviathan, the sovereigns laws are to be maintained. But in cases where the sovereigns laws contradict God’s laws, a citizen must know how to act.
Hobbes sought to ensure that the sovereigns laws would not conflict with the laws of God. The last two sections of the book concentrate less on geometrical rules and proper names and more on readings and interpretations of the Bible. These endeavor to show that his philosophy does not contradict the Bible. However, it is in this process that Hobbes undermines much of the seventeenth-century ideals of his faith, therefore alienating readers.
For example, he states the idea the world is the “Kingdom of God” has been the reason that Christians have such trouble serving both their sovereigns and God as it causes divided loyalties. Hobbes believed that the kingdom of God does not begin until the end of the world and therefore only the earthly sovereign is king of our world. He also did not see the logic behind miracle, angels, demons or the concept of hell. He writes that the Bible supports his idea that the earthly sovereign should be head of religion.
In the last section of the book, Hobbes goes back over his previous argument and summarizes it. He repeats the ideas that believes would serve peace in his commonwealth. He closes the book by stating that while he doesn’t know if it will have any effect on the current political state of affairs he is sure that no one can deny his ideas: “For such truth, as opposeth, no man’s profit, nor pleasure, is to all men welcome.”
Thomas Hobbes Biography
Thomas Hobbes was born on April 5th, 1588 in Westport, Wiltshire, England. Not much is known about his early childhood, except that his mother gave birth to him prematurely when she heard a rumor that the Spanish Armada was going to invade. Hobbes’ father, Thomas Sr. was a vicar in Westport and he had two siblings.
When Thomas was a child, his father abandoned the family after a fight with another local clergy member. Thomas Sr.’s older brother, Francis then took care of the family, sending Hobbes to a private school and then eventually, to University at Magdalen Hall, the precursor school to what is today Hertford College, Oxford. During this time, Hobbes began working on and subsequently publishing translations of the work of Euripides.
After school, Hobbes began working as a tutor to the Baron of Hardwick, son of William Cavendish, and later Earl of Devonshire.
Hobbes and the younger Cavendish became good friends and went on a tour of Europe in 1610. Hobbes began publishing works of his own. After the Earl died in 1628, Hobbes was dismissed, but he soon began working as a tutor for the son of Sir Gervase Clifton, 1st Baronet.
He later began working for the Cavendish family again, tutoring the son of his original pupil. Hobbes began debating in philosophy groups in Paris during the 1630’s and began considering himself a philosopher.
In 1642, the English Civil War began, and two years later many of the royalists devoted to the king fled to Paris, where Hobbes was still living. This same year, Hobbes wrote his first major political work called “De Cive,” the first of a trilogy of Hobbes devoted to human knowledge.
It was also during this time that Hobbes began working on his best-known work, “Leviathan.” A serious illness plagued Hobbes for several years during the writing, after which he began writing again in 1650 and “Leviathan” was published the next year. After the publication, Hobbes immediately had a reputation as both a genius and a heathen. The publication of the book severed his ties with the exiled royalists who now hated him and any ties with the Anglicans and French Catholics because of the comments on religion in the book. Hobbes appealed to the English government for protection and moved back to London in 1651.
In 1658, Hobbes published the last of his trilogy on human knowledge “De Homine.” This completed a notion that he had thought up 20 years earlier. Respectable society hated him so much by this point that the word “Hobbism” was created to denounce everything they ought to avoid. However, the new king, Charles II was the former pupil of Hobbes. He colluded to protect Hobbes when the House of Commons created a bill against atheism, which Hobbes was often suspected of. The only result of the bill was that Hobbes was never allowed to publish anything in human nature or conduct in England again. But his books still circulated in other countries.
At the end of his life, he continued to write but only produced translations of the Illiad and Odyssey and an autobiography. Hobbes died on December 4th, 1679 at the age of 91 of a paralytic stroke. He is interred in St John the Baptist’s Church, Ault Hucknall in Derbyshire.