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Hobbes Lectures

Political Science
Course Code
Rebecca Kingston

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011: hobbes- The State of Nature
I. The Human condition- four fundamental features: driven by passions; fragility of language;
basic equality; relative scarcity of the goods we seek
II. Imagining the worst: descent into the state of nature
-getting to the state of nature: the logic of where our passions would lead us, introspection, and
-characteristics of the state of nature: no established laws but only an unlimited right of nature;
no justice or injustice; governed by a principle of fear
-Hobbes’ response to possible objections to this picture of the natural condition of humankind
III. Time to get out!- mechanisms of escape- a) laws of nature and b) the covenant
IV. The Covenant- Leviathan
What is the covenant? a) a legal pact; b) a psychological transferral; c) an ethical submission;
d) a religious submission
Why a covenant?
Argument of the lecture: Hobbes provides a logically compelling account of the mechanisms by
which we can assume the worst politically (without assuming the worst of human nature) as a
basis for establishing a sovereign. We should consider the causes and mechanisms of the
covenant as overdetermined, i.e. being necessary for a number of reasons that overlap in the same
conclusion. It is particularly important to pay attention to the nature of the covenant. It is NOT a
contract between people and their government, but only an agreement among individuals
themselves to give up their unlimited right of nature. Leviathan is the result or outcome of this
agreement, but itself/himself takes no part in any agreement or contract. The sovereign
(Leviathan) remains within the state of nature.
Fundamental place of the passions
We all experience the same emotions and passions, but we differ in what drives these
emotions and passions
Appetites and aversions
Things that lead us to what we want vs. things that lead us away
Many ppl have termed Hobbes a reductionist or a materialist
Acknowledges that there are certain shared emotions and judgements about the world, that
humans hold
One is the fear of violent death – something that we all share
Related to that, is a desire for commodious living, i.e. something beyond the bare minimum
– we want to live well
Last aspect that is important to this discussion about the passions, is that our desires lead us
to want to acquire power
Passions are very important and Hobbess account of the passions is important in terms of
his radical departure of previous accounts of natural law
Previous accounts did not have a place for human psychology

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Second feature of the human condition is the fragility of language
The idea of his theory of language is that terms are arbitrary – things we identify with
particular ideas in our minds
This chapter undermines a lot of the scholastic or Aristotelian approaches to political theory
Attacks many of the metaphorical arguments that were used by philosophers and churchmen
– e.g. transubstantiation
Serves to criticize certain religious doctrines and certain schools of philosophy that he
disagrees with
Third feature of the human condition is the idea of natural equality
He derives natural equality from a number of things
On the one hand, there are features of our condition that we share in common – equality
through homogeneity – we are all creatures driven by passions
He goes on to say that we are all equally wise in a sense – he uses the term prudence (the
term that Aristotle used – practical wisdom – for A, practical wisdom was something that
people did not share equally in)
For A, prudence was something that distinguished ppl, for H, it is something that we share
relatively equally in
He says this b/c prudence can be understood as the sum of experience
We all have some experience to draw on
He also says that there are times for each one of us when we think in secret that we are
secretly more clever than anyone else – that we see and know things in ways that others
do not
So if each of us secretly thinks of ourselves as more clever, then we are probably actually all
along the same lines
Because we feel this way secretly, we must, in fact, be equally prudent
Another reason for equality is that we have roughly the same faculties in so far as we are
vulnerable, we are mortal and we have the capacities to harm others
We are, in the end, naturally equal
Given that we all desire different things and given that we are roughly equal, we are going
to come into a situation of conflict
No one is naturally going to defer to the other
Also, b/c of the uselessness of language to solve our questions of justice, we cannot just sit
down and talk about it
So, as he says in ch. 13, section 1 – nature hath made man so equal… yet when all is
reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so significant
If we feel ourselves as roughly equal, then we should be roughly equal in attaining the
things we require
We seek power not only over what we want, but over the whole situation, so that we dont
see any threat to our position of authority
The fourth element of the human condition is relative scarcity
Relates to the type of goods sought by human beings
There is another category of goods, aside from material goods – relative social goods… i.e.
honour, good opinion, etc.

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These things often function as ‘zero-sum’ things – you cant have honour if everyone else
has it too
Hobbes says that the searching out of these sorts of things can create division
Natural condition of mankind – the state of natural
Natural right
He shows how both passion and reason work in reaction to or in anticipation of this state of
He talks about the covenant – when we decide to move out of the state of nature
State of nature is discussed in ch. 13
Basically 3 avenues we can use to think about what is going on in the state of nature
1 – where our natural passions would lead us if there was nothing to restrain us
The three causes of quarrel – the desire for material goods, the wish to preserve what you
already have, or the seeking of a particular social good (competition, diffidence and glory
or the need for reputation)
We all either want to maintain what we have to get more – the insecurity of the situation
leads us to think about having more and more power over others in order to secure that
If we feel threatened, we will inevitably use violence
Degenerates to a war of all against all
This leads to a broad sense of insecurity and fear
Eliminates the conditions for peaceful coexistence and a reasonably peaceful life, that
Hobbes says all ppl seek, to some extent
‘the life of man – solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short
There is another way in which he seeks to validate this argument
Tells us to examine our own conduct
If we doubt his account of human nature, we must think of our own actions, and see that we
are constantly thinking of potential threats
For Hobbes, our own conduct indicates that the state of nature, as he describes it, exists
Third, is a series of examples that Hobbes give to prove his point
The main characteristics of the state of nature are three-fold
1 - A group of individuals governed by no laws – no institutional enforcements
Each individual in the state of nature is thought to be endowed with an unlimited right of
He defines the right of nature in ch.14 – the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as
he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature
He defines this again, later – by all means we can to defend ourselves
We will resort to anything to protect ourselves and to gain the things we want
Any way that you deem necessary in order to preserve yourself is okay
The best way to be secure is to dominate all
So Hobbes says this will lead us to want to dominate all
He is not saying that everyone will be driven to attack others because humans are naturally
hostile, but that in conditions in which we need to protect ourselves, we will be driven to
dominate others because that is the only way to secure our own safety
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