In reading Hobbes many of the concepts and ideas introduced went over my head for the first 3 times I laboured over the paragraphs. Eventually some of the ideas stuck (definitely not all) and I found myself, regardless of the labour needed to understand Leviathan, liking it, at least more than Plato. The sections I found most interesting were those in the very beginning regarding imagination, understanding and speech (2,3). What I found really interesting was the reoccurrence of an idea that I was introduced to in high school being the falsehood that arises with speech. The fact that “… true and false are attributes of speech, not of things” (11, p. 18) is extremely interesting to me as I never would have thought that there was a source for such concepts. Something else I found interesting was Hobbes apparent distain for the wordiness of some other academic texts: “Seeing then that truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth had need to remember what every name he uses stands for, to place it accordingly, or else he will find himself entangled in words.” (12, p. 19). I found this to not only be interesting in the sense that it is common in academic writing today (we seem to value clear, concise writing), but it seems to me to be Hobbes’ direct justification for his excessive defining. Leviathan is an interesting read, just one that takes me a great deal of time to get through.
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I think that many people may be too quick to label Hobbes as having a pessimistic view of human nature. But, obviously, I do not blame them. Hobbes is pretty explicit in his presentation of humans in the state of nature. He states that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them […]
The leviathan is definitely a risky and ambitious piece of literature, both in and out of its context. The risks Hobbes takes in recording such a definite opinion on human nature and society is substantial, considering the precarious times in which he lived- times when having any sort of strong resolve for much any principle could be dangerous. This said, it seems fitting that someone who valued the masses and ‘common man’ so much should be bold enough to independently try defining civilization. For as far as I know, Hobbes was in no position of authority or power (political or otherwise) at the time he wrote the Leviathan.
The text holds great potential for controversy in modern times as well. As accurate as Hobbes’ description of anarchy may be, it implies that humans are naturally selfish and bad. This position is a bold one, due if nothing else but to its bleakness. Also, it is an opinion that is easy to oversimplify and jump to conclusions about. The common interpretation of it is that people are by default innately malicious in their ‘natural state’, as malevolence is obviously linked to ‘bad’ or ‘selfish’ values. But I think it is important to note that Hobbes does not say that people will go out of their way to harm others without reason, but only in protection of themselves, or for their own benefit. And according to Hobbes’ theory regarding the commonwealth, people will only tend to do this in times of discord, war, and distrust which arise out of lack of unity. For it is not just that bad human nature creates war and anarchy, but vice versa as well. That is to say people act badly under circumstances in which they cannot trust or understand each other due to lack of a common goal. I don’t think this is much of a stretch. For lack of unity is a powerful inhibitor of empathy, which is an important factor in peace.
In Hobbes Leviathan, he discusses his philosophy on politics. He believes that one person should have total control to best protect the people. Hobbes states the sovereign “that is to govern a whole nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but mankind” (8). He is saying that the leader must understand not just one type of person, but all people. To be a good ruler, the sovereign power must understand everyone’s perspective. I agree with Hobbes on this point, but I think it is impractical. If a leader understood everyone, then he or she could be a great ruler, but they could also take advantage of the situation very easily. A ruler with total power and an understanding of why everyone acts the way they do could manipulate people for their own benefit. This type of government has the potential to become a tyranny depending on who the ruler is. Another flaw in Hobbes idea is no one can understand every single type of person. People are very complicated and have many motives to do one simple task. It would be very difficult to understand why one person acts the way they do. Psychologists studying people for years and still do not understand why their subject behaves a certain way. It would be nearly impossible for a ruler to understand every single person under their rule. Also, it is difficult to please everyone. The best type of government and laws, in my opinion, have compromises to help majority of the people. It would be difficult to make a law that encompasses every citizen’s perspective. And while a ruler who knows what everyone wants would make the best compromises, I do not believe it is worth the risk of tyranny to give one person total power in the hopes of generating an amazing ruler.
I found chapter 13 to be the most interesting chapter in The Leviathan. In chapter 13, Hobbes describes what he believes to be human beings’ natural state. He sees the natural state as one of war, violence, and selfishness.
I agree that human nature is determined by the physical nature of humans. I believe that most aspects of humanity and human behavior can be understood through the analysis of biology and evolution. However, I’d tend to disagree that humans are naturally in a state of war and selfishness. Hobbes does not clearly acknowledge family relationships such as the one between a mother and her baby, and I think those types of relationships are significant indications of natural positivity and selflessness. I think humans have evolved to naturally care for each other. I think humans have evolved feelings of sympathy and kindness as well as feelings of disgust and guilt in order for the species to advance and be able to form civilizations and live socially. Therefore, although war and selfishness may occur naturally, peace and selflessness can also occur naturally without the presence of a government because positive social qualities are necessary for humanity to thrive.
Years ago when I was much younger and finally had access to the internet I googled “Calvin and Hobbes.” This was a desperate measure then, as I’d not acquired the habit of googling all my life’s problems and looking for the answers/seeking solace in anonymous strangers; and this desperation was due to a drought in the addition of new Calvin and Hobbes strips. Imagine the surprise when I learned that the strip had ended the year I was born! The search, however, was not fruitless. I learned that the name of Hobbes, the pseudo-imaginary tiger in the strip, (and one I’d thought strange) had been based on a 16th century English philosopher. This brief reading of Leviathan (or at least the first dozen or so chapters) has been my only acquaintance with the philosopher since then, and I cannot read the text without wondering why Bill Watterson, the strip’s author and artist as well as notorious recluse, chose to name a six-year old’s best friend after so momentous a figure. (The boy Calvin is named after the theologian John Calvin, whom I know even less about.) In the strip, Hobbes is the more rational counterpart to Calvin’s impulsive and wild nature. As a tiger, he is pessimistic in regards to humans and their nature; he is especially pessimistic when it comes to their capacity for cruelty and insanity. As far as I know, the similarities end there, as Hobbes is often co-orchestrator with Calvin in his schemes against his parents, school, babysitter and classmates, all or one of which I presume would represent the authoritarian state that ought not be revolted against under any circumstances, no matter how terrible. I suppose it would be cliche to interpret the tiger, then, as Watterson’s personal remake of the philosopher’s ideas as he sees them–keeping the pessimism (which, really, is ultimately optimism-one does not complain unless one cares) while removing the more draconian elements of Hobbes’s state which were most likely a result of the historical context Hobbes was born and bred in. Nonetheless, I will be rereading my collection of the strips with an eye out for the similarities between the two. The tiger has always been my favourite character, and perhaps he will be able to sustain me through the murky, dense language of Thomas Hobbes!
(I shall summoneth my unguided train of thoughts on Hobbes, which is likely to be, according to, well, Hobbes, disharmonious and lacking consistency and pertinence.)
From my understanding, what Hobbes is trying to say is that humans are utterly selfish beings who would do anything for self-preservation. This egocentricity, apparently, stems from our nature. Perhaps humans are born insecure, and this insecurity propels us to take actions to gain control over our surroundings. To achieve a “man’s conservation”, i.e. to protect oneself, one must do so by “augmentation of dominion of [other] men” (Hobbes 75).
In a war of every man against every man, “nothing can be unjust” (Hobbes 78). I never realized that justice and injustice are merely products of subjectivity. A man’s justice may be another’s injustice, especially in a state of war in which both sides present their respective distorted justifications. If justice is influenced by one’s desires, then what would become of a society? Would it slowly degenerate into a state of anarchy?
But mankind are plagued by the ‘fear of death” (Hobbes 78).
Desire for peace is only due to this fearfulness, which makes me think of human’s selfishness. And this goes back to the idea of self-preservation. To self-preserve, humans must compete against each other and achieve mastery over others – a process which is likely to instigate a war of conflicting justice and injustice – until they feel their lives threatened by fear of death that they choose peace as the best alternative to war.
And so Hobbes got me thinking and confused all over again, though I appreciate how he manages to explain almost every single aspect of our state of being, of our mentality, of our thoughts, and of our physical sensations.
Is your realm in chaos? Yes, then I have some news for you! Maybe this testimonial is familiar: being “Locke’d” to a bad contract or fallen to a Rous-seau that it serve the general will no matter the form of your affliction, our good friend Thomas Hobbes has the answer. At first, absolutism may sound like a ludicrous form of government, especially now when one values the ideals of a libertarian code of rights and freedoms that are inviolable etc. Hobbes looks at it as a burden if all that there is in the world is chaos and the violation of our rights, why have them? All we need is our lives is it not? When in doubt with civil rights choose Hobbes and feel good with the fact you will live, and even better without the burden of rights! Exciting isn’t it? Social Contract? Just another thing to be broken, Hobbes says that people give up rights for protection and order. All in the name of public safety (Robespierre anyone?) will all other rights except for our natural right to life will be revoked. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing, Hobbes says that they were never really natural. Finally Hobbes tries to make it clear (posthumously) that if society were to opt to go with shared sovereignty. For in representational or full democracies, there are always the dissenters who criticise the leader (mind you, that the people placed them there in the first place). Though these days, we have shed the sovereign cloak of indivisibility and opted for constitutionalism, which works beautifully. However, maybe someday when some catastrophic event were to send society back into a state of nature, I hope we all read up on Hobbes.