University of Pittsburgh, Summer Term 1997
Philosophy 0330: Political Philosophy
Ben Eggleston, Instructor

Hobbes, Leviathan

I. Background Information

Thomas Hobbes was born in England in 1588 and witnessed growing political conflict in his country in the first half of the seventeenth century. A royalist sympathizer in a time of increasing support for parliamentary supremacy, Hobbes fled to Paris in 1640 as Parliament contested King Charles I’s authority. Full-fledged civil war began in 1642, and Charles was beheaded in 1649 as Oliver Cromwell assumed power. Hobbes, horrified at the consequences of civil war, sought in his masterpiece Leviathan to explain how a sovereign with virtually unlimited power was the only solution to the problems of political authority that plagued England and to which any society was vulnerable. In 1651 Hobbes gave a manuscript copy of Leviathan to the executed monarch’s son (also a fugitive in Paris, but who in the Restoration of 1660 would become King Charles II), returned to England, and published his new work. As well as being acutely relevant in its own time, Leviathan revolutionized political philosophy and inaugurated the modern era of that subject. Many think, even now, that it is the greatest work of political philosophy ever published.

In reading Leviathan, it’s useful to understand its structure. The first and second parts, “Of Man” and “Of Commonwealth,” present Hobbes’s purportedly scientific theory of the state. But as political philosophy up to Hobbes’s time had been dominated by religious thought, Hobbes knew his theory would be more persuasive to many of his contemporaries if he also proceeded from this more traditional perspective. Such is the purpose of the third and fourth parts, “Of a Christian Commonwealth” and “Of the Kingdom of Darkness,” whose influence in modern political philosophy has been minor in comparison to the lasting impact made by the innovative arguments of the first two parts.

for May 20:

II. Reading Assignment

III. Study Questions

  1. What metaphor does Hobbes use to characterize the commonwealth?
  2. According to Hobbes, what makes something good?
  3. What, in Hobbes’s view, makes an act voluntary? According to Hobbes, when a bank teller surrenders cash to an armed robber, can the teller claim that the surrender was not really voluntary, since the robber had a gun?
  4. What are the three causes of quarrel that Hobbes finds “in the nature of man”?
  5. What sort of situation counts as a state of war, for Hobbes?
  6. According to Hobbes, what’s unjust in a condition or state of war? Why?
  7. What does Hobbes say is the first, or fundamental, law of nature?
  8. What does Hobbes say is the second law of nature?
  9. Under what circumstances is a covenant invalid, according to Hobbes?
  10. According to Hobbes, what is the main motive for keeping covenants?
  11. What is Hobbes’s definition of injustice?
  12. What is the objection of the character whom Hobbes calls “the fool”?

IV. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class

  1. Who was Hobbes?
    1. an Englishman
    2. a mechanist
  2. “The Introduction”: the state as an artificial man
  3. chapter VI: the good and the will
    1. ethical relativism
    2. free choice
  4. law
    1. positive law
      1. human positive law
      2. divine positive law
    2. natural law
  5. chapter XIII: the state of nature
    1. “causes of quarrel”
    2. the state of war
  6. game-theoretic models
    1. prisoner’s dilemmas
    2. free-rider problems
  7. chapter XIV: laws of nature
    1. right of nature
    2. general idea of a law of nature
    3. first law of nature
    4. second law of nature
    5. inalienable rights
  8. chapter XV: the last seventeen laws of nature
    1. third law of nature
      1. the fool’s objection
      2. Hobbes’s reply
    2. the other sixteen laws of nature

V. Suggestions for Further Reading

  1. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy: And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945) (Hillman circulating B72 R961), particularly book III, chapter VIII: “Hobbes’s Leviathan” (pp. 546–57).
  2. C. B. Macpherson, “Introduction,” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London: Penguin Books, 1968) (Hillman reserve JC153 H65 1972), pp. 9–63.
  3. Anthony Kenny, Oxford History of Western Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) (Hillman reference B72 O8 1994b), pp. 314–19.

for May 22:

VI. Reading Assignment

VII. Study Questions

  1. According to Hobbes, what is it necessary for everyone to give up in order for a commonwealth to be formed?
  2. What two ways of establishing sovereignty does Hobbes identify?
  3. Why does Hobbes say that it’s impossible for the sovereign to commit injustice?
  4. What is Hobbes’s reply to the objection that such a powerful sovereign would be oppressive to live under?
  5. What are some of the liberties that Hobbes says remain with subjects even after the sovereign is established?
  6. When does a subject’s obligation to the sovereign cease, according to Hobbes?

VIII. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class

  1. chapter XVII: the commonwealth
    1. the purpose of a commonwealth
    2. the generation of a commonwealth
  2. chapter XVIII: the sovereign’s conduct
    1. not limited by contract
    2. never unjust
  3. chapter XXI: the liberty of peoples and persons

IX. Suggestions for Further Reading

See the suggestions for further reading for May 20, above.