Thomas Hobbes, selections from
Hobbes begins from the assertion that by nature all men are equal. The immediate
consequences of this natural equality, however, are not positive. Because all men
are equal, anyone has the same capacity as anyone else to take and claim. The
strongest individual, moreover, can be killed by the weakest as we all need sleep,
find ourselves in vulnerable positions and the weak, of course, can team up (XIII).
Our intelligence, furthermore, comes from
which makes equality
deeper: we all share general experiences (especially in a simple condition like the
state of nature).
For Hobbes, we are vain, ambitious and self-interested creatures by nature. It is
natural that we desire similar things, and that we will turn violently on each other
in the inevitable resulting conflicts. Conflict creates a violent situation and a
desire for glory. Hobbes states it is further inevitable that we desire to obtain
mastery over our fellow men as a means of securing our own lives (XIII). So the
causes of conflict in nature are: 1) conflict, 2) diffidence and 3) glory.
There can be no functional society, Hobbes concludes, without some central
power to overawe (control and coerce) the group. Without such an authority,
Hobbes claims we only regard others as possible means to our own ends (XIII).
This conclusion is the foundation for his argument in favor of absolute
We, indeed, have a natural
we feel is necessary to secure our
survival. Hobbes thus envisions nature as a space of full and terrible freedom.
This includes a right to all things, even including the bodies of other people
(XIII). Hobbes thus argues that without an absolute ruler we, “are in that
condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every
man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of
time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known,” (XIII).
In the state of war, each man is enemy to every other man. In this state life is
dangerous and terrifying, and no progress is possible, as Hobbes notes, “In such
condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and
consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities
that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving
and removing such things as require much force; 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,” (XIII).
Hobbes implies that the state of war is real wherever societies form, and asks