Questions to Ask: What is philosophy? What is it philosophers imagine themselves to be doing
There is not agreement about this. Some philosophers see themselves as aiming for the
truth. They are making progress, discovering, etc.
Seeking absolute truth ex- in metaphysics, philosophy is seen as religious in spirit.
In contrast, philosophers like Richard Rorty think of philosophy as providing new ways of
understanding our world...
Either way philosophy is an a priori (independent of experience, has been already
experience but can be further explained) endeavour
Thomas Hobbe’s Contract Theory
Today we are looking at Hobbe’s enormously influential work Leviathan (1649). It
represents the emergence of a modern political perspective
Looked at monarchy and ruler ship (how it was seen that they were divine rulers in the
past), although they were in fact just regular people
What was emerging was a different perspective on the world. Individuals mattered and
had rights, we all had legitimate interest.
Picture shown- sovereign
Before we turn to Leviathan it is worthwhile considering the historical background to this
work, specifically two crucial influences on Hobbe’s philosophical ideas, namely, Niccolo
Machiavelli’s and Galileo.
Michiavelli (1469-1527) began his career as a civil servant. Unfortunately, he backed the
wrong side in a political war and ended up being tortured and exiled from political life once
the Medicis had been reinstated in Florence, his native city state
In an attempt to regain favour with the ruler, Machiavelli wrote his famous book The
Prince (*pub, 1532). In it he gave advice to the ruler on how to maintain power.
Although there are great differences in the thinking of Machiavelli and Hobbes,
what they did share is a belief that political institutions can be genuinely reformed,
as opposed to holding that how people are governed is in some sense divinely
determined and hence fixed. Machiavelli’s writings were banned because they were seen as immoral and a form of
The ruler must be cruel yet kind, a bit of both for a correct form of ruling. This is what he
Hobbes was an early proponent of materialism, the naturalistic view that all that exists are
physical things. He denied that there were any supernatural or divine entities in the world.
Everything, he optimistically assumed could be explained in physical terms.
Therefore, nothing about how we, as material beings, organize our societies is
determined by any sort of divine intervention.
Galileo argued that nature was governed by strict laws and that we can discover these laws,
thereby enabling us to deduce how things are in the world. He famously stated that the
language of nature is mathematics.
What Hobbes shared with Galileo was an embracing of the geometrical method. This is
the method originally employed by the ancient Greek geometer Euclid in his work The
Euclid- What is geometry? Arose by dividing the land up and measuring areas and angles.
Euclid discovered that all these truths about geometry can be derived from axioms, self
evident truths (obvious). He realized he could work out other answers based on basic truths
and from them find out any truth about geometry. It was the beginning of mathematics and
is the geometric method.
Hobbes applied the geometrical method by attempting to determine how people interact
independently of any sort of authority, in what Hobbes dubbed a State of Nature
Not based on God but on the self and on individuality
Hobbes described how in this state of nature everyone is motivated to survive and more generally to
pursue their own interests. These are natural rights or liberties that are incontrovertible and can
never be taken away from someone- it would be absurd for anyone to renounce (give up) these
In this state of nature, Hobbes famously remarked, the life of man would be “solitary, poor,
nasty, brutish and short” (Bailey, pg.187)
In this endeavour he determined basic principles that underlie human interaction, these Hobbes
called natural laws
The two principles Hobbes identified-
1. That every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of attaining it; and when he
cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war- taking by force 2. That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself
he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much
against other men as he would allow other men against himself
These are reasonable ways of acting that fit in our self interest
In essence Hobbes argued that there is no such thing as natural justice, that is no one in a state of
nature is obliged to act justly.
These natural laws suggest a way of escaping the state of nature. If each person can reach
agreement with someone that he give up the pursuit of interests in exchange for an assurance of
security from him, for a peaceable existence.
So long as everyone makes such a contract with a designated individual (the sovereign) a state of
peace becomes possible- everyone has effectively ceded their interests to a sing