Literature Study GuidesLeviathanPart 1 Chapters 11 13 Summary

Leviathan | Study Guide

Thomas Hobbes

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Leviathan | Part 1, Chapters 11–13 : Of Man | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11 examines human behavior as it relates to others, and raises two core ideas of Leviathan. They are the "perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in Death," and the "desire of ease and sensual delight [that] disposes men to obey a common power."

Humans in their free and natural state are restless and competitive. Thomas Hobbes asserts they would be in a constant state of war if they did not make a contract to obey a common power. By making such a contract, people allow themselves to avoid a constant fear of death and injury and can enjoy the arts and other cultural delights that make life enjoyable. Hobbes acknowledges the ways people have gone about ensuring their safety in societies have varied because ignorance, credulity, and differing customs often interfere with people's reasoning and the science of philosophy. Subjective concepts of right and wrong have, therefore, caused confusion and conflict. In response to the desire for safety, people created religion in order to teach a moral code.

In Chapter 12 Hobbes notes humans are the only animals that have created religions. He explains religions evolved from the curiosity of humans to understand the world around them and to speculate on their origins. In asserting that Christianity is the only true religion to yield the end result of peace, Hobbes takes pains to undermine the religion of the Greeks and Romans and other pagan cultures in a section titled "The Absurd Opinion of Gentilism."

In Chapter 13 Hobbes drives home with more specificity the idea that the natural condition of humankind is a state of perpetual conflict and fear. The three main reasons he gives for war are "competition, diffidence, and glory." He outlines all the elements of society that would necessarily be absent because of the uncertainty of survival in a constant state of war: "In such condition, there is ... no culture ... no knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society." A person's life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." What is more, in the war "of every man against every man," nothing is unjust: "Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice." Justice and injustice are only relevant to people living together in a society, just as, in a state of war, the idea of property lasts only as long as a person is able to hold on to it before another person takes it.

Hobbes identifies three passions that drive people toward a state of peace: a fear of death, a desire for a satisfying life, and the hope to be able to obtain such a life through one's work. Because people have been given powers of reason, he says, they have the tools to draw up articles of peace that allow people to create a peaceful, stable society.

Analysis

When Thomas Hobbes speaks of "Manners" in the title of Chapter 11, he is referring to those human propensities that have an impact on the way people may or may not live in peace together. Because the behaviors that stem from these propensities have been repeated in human interactions across cultures and throughout history, Hobbes sees them as keys to determining the essential elements of a peaceful society. By knowing our strengths and weaknesses, we can make better plans to put in place structures that save us from ourselves.

Hobbes sets the stage for his study of the social contract by examining religion, a phenomenon unique to humans. Because the anxiety that causes people to form religion is akin to the anxiety that causes them to create laws, Hobbes purports that religious societies are more inclined to be obedient to laws and to desire justice.

Fear and reason go hand in hand with Hobbes's philosophy, and when humans use their reason to enter into a social contract with one another, the result is the establishment of justice. There is nothing warm or romantic about the community in Hobbes's society, however, because all decisions to participate in it are ultimately motivated by self-interest.

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