Literature Study GuidesLeviathanPart 1 Chapters 14 16 Summary

Leviathan | Study Guide

Thomas Hobbes

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Leviathan | Part 1, Chapters 14–16 : Of Man | Summary



Thomas Hobbes defines the natural right of humans as the freedom of each person to use his own power to preserve his own life. He explains that in a state of war, devoid of justice or injustice, people have a natural right to everything, even the bodies of other people. This leads Hobbes to identify the First and Second Laws of Nature: "To seek peace, and follow it," and "By all means we can, to defend ourselves." The key corollary to the Second Law of Nature is that in pursuit of self-preservation and a peaceful existence, people are willing to lay down their right to all things "and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself." By calling these concepts "laws of nature," Hobbes underscores their reason-based creation and the fact they are commonly known and accepted by all of humankind.

The mutual transferring of rights is called a contract, and Hobbes discusses at length the different ways people enter into covenant with one another, swear oaths, and bind themselves with promises. He points out it is impossible to make a contract with nonhuman animals or with God. It is also impossible for a man to promise not to defend himself because doing so is a natural law. Hobbes outlines 17 additional natural laws, listed below, that follow from the creation of the contract and create his vision of moral philosophy.

  • The Third Law of Nature states people must uphold the contracts they make, and once this law is in effect, the idea of justice also becomes relevant.
  • The Fourth Law of Nature reminds people to be grateful for the benefits the contract affords them and not make others regret having entered into a contract with them.
  • The Fifth Law of Nature advises that each person be sociable and strive to accommodate himself to the others, avoiding stubborn and unreasonable behavior.
  • The Sixth Law of Nature demands both parties fully pardon each other for any past grievances committed before they enter into a contract.
  • The Seventh Law of Nature forbids the infliction of any punishment "with any other design than for correction of the offender, or direction of others." Thus, revenge for revenge's sake is not in the interest of a peaceful society and returns people to a state of fear.
  • The Eighth Law of Nature encourages that "no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture [to] declare hatred, or contempt of another."
  • The Ninth Law of Nature, against pride, commands "every man acknowledge other[s] for his equal by nature," regardless of whether they may know themselves to possess certain strengths others do not. The reasoning here is that a person will not enter into a contract with those who refuse to treat them as equals.
  • The Tenth Law of Nature is closely related to the ninth and advocates for modesty, warning against arrogance: "That ... no man require to reserve to himself any right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest."
  • The Eleventh Law of Nature calls for equity, requiring any person trusted to act as judge between men over a controversy must be unbiased and treat them equally.
  • The Twelfth Law of Nature states what cannot be divided should be enjoyed in common.
  • The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Laws of Nature acknowledge that for those things that cannot be divided or enjoyed in common, the entire right or possession of such things should be determined by lot, first possession, or primogeniture.
  • The Fifteenth and Sixteenth Laws of Nature concern mediation: "All men that mediate Peace [should] be allowed safe Conduct," because if the goal is peace, then intercession is the means to that end. Also, those who "are at controversy submit their right to the judgment of an arbitrator."
  • The Seventeenth Law of Nature states no man can be his own judge because every man will make decisions for his own benefit.
  • The Eighteenth Law of Nature is similar to the Eleventh, but specifically requires that a person serving as arbiter must not be able to benefit personally from the victory of one of the parties in the controversy.
  • The Nineteenth Law of Nature states that in a controversy over facts, witnesses and evidence must be relied upon to determine the truth.

Hobbes acknowledges these "laws" are more aptly called "theorems" or "conclusions" that people have deduced from considering the best means of self-preservation. However, because they are compatible with the commandments of God, it is suitable to refer to them as "laws."

Hobbes concludes Part 1 by drawing a distinction between a "natural person" and an "artificial person." The natural person speaks for himself, while the artificial person speaks on behalf of others, as an actor or a representative. Also, a contract conceived of by natural persons can itself be considered an artificial person because its words represent the joined wills of those who abide by it. With this image of social unity, Hobbes lays the groundwork for the leviathan metaphor for the commonwealth he will develop in detail in Part 2.


Once the free-for-all, everything-for-everyone way of life is given up, parameters are set to establish what is fair for the parties involved, and these parameters are the natural laws Thomas Hobbes provides. He believes each of these must be incorporated into a government's plan if it is to function well. Being in covenant with others is a delicate matter that requires a certain amount of restraint and sensitivity if the contract is to be upheld, and the specificity of Hobbes's natural laws in terms of human behavior makes this clear.

In Hobbes's scientific analysis of human social behavior, the contrast between what he calls the "Rights of Nature" and those rules he calls "Laws of Nature" can be a bit confusing at first because both refer to nature. A "natural" man is described as lawless, self-centered, violent, and fearful because he has a natural right to everything, so what then could be "natural" about the rules he has made to curb this absolute freedom? Hobbes would argue that if natural freedom is the freedom to preserve one's own life, then the rules humans can agree on as essential to a peaceful, life-preserving society are also natural. The American idea of personal freedom derives from Hobbes's in that citizens are privately free to say, do, and make choices as they like, so long as they abide by the laws preserving public security.

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