Literature Study GuidesLeviathanPart 1 Chapters 4 7 Summary

Leviathan | Study Guide

Thomas Hobbes

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Leviathan | Part 1, Chapters 4–7 : Of Man | Summary



Thomas Hobbes sees speech, reason, and science as products of humans' directed thought. Referring to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, who were instructed by God to name the creatures of the world, Hobbes establishes God as the "first author of speech." He outlines four uses of speech: (1) to keep track of what one observes, (2) to communicate one's understanding, (3) to convey one's intentions and ask for help, and (4) to entertain oneself. To each of these uses, Hobbes sees a corresponding abuse of speech, as follows: (1) inattention to the accuracy of one's speech, (2) the use of metaphor to deceive others, (3) lying, and (4) the use of words to cause others harm with no intent to instruct. Hobbes also identifies various components of English orthography and grammar, still a fairly new concept in his day. He draws the distinction between common and proper nouns and advocates for the creation of a dictionary "so that in the right definition of names lies the first use of speech, which is the acquisition of science."

Hobbes describes reason as completely dependent on correct speech and the scientific method, something that does not occur naturally in people. He sees reason as a mathematical process that must be taught. This entails the adding and subtracting of correctly used words and names in various combinations, all of which mark or signify thoughts accurately. "Absurdity" is reason's antithesis, and Hobbes declares it a uniquely human "privilege" that is seen in the use of metaphoric language, senseless and ambiguous words, and religious concepts such as hypostasis and transubstantiation. He warns that absurdity should be avoided, as it leads inevitably to "contention, and sedition, or contempt."

After establishing the notions of good and evil as purely subjective, Hobbes provides a lengthy list of contrasting emotions, or "appearances of sense" relating to people's appetites and aversions. He explains that "will" is the aversion or desire connected to action or inaction, and "deliberation" is the act driven by this will.


Thomas Hobbes recognized the importance of establishing commonly agreed-upon definitions and rules of grammar in the quest for truth. Hobbes's explanations of speech and emotions are interesting to consider in a post-Freudian era. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)—often considered the father of psychology—sees an opportunity to better understand the human passions by encouraging a subject to articulate absurdities of thought. Hobbes, on the other hand, urges the silencing and avoidance of absurdity of any kind, deeming it an abuse of speech and a threat to reason and the established order of things. However, Hobbes's idea that human will, and behavior, is based on feelings of fear or desire is quite compatible with Freudian psychology. Freud takes the notion further, speculating that those emotions are locked in the unconscious but could possibly be reached through psychoanalysis. Hobbes, one might surmise, would just as soon keep the feelings locked up. Hobbes also has a distinct distrust of anything fictional, seeing metaphor as a potentially dangerous and deceptive figure of speech to be avoided. Objections to fictional texts were not uncommon among Puritans, as they were considered purposeless lies.

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