Literature Study GuidesLeviathanThe Introduction Summary

Leviathan | Study Guide

Thomas Hobbes

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Leviathan | The Introduction | Summary


Leviathan was written in 1651, approximately a century before the first dictionary established accepted spellings of words and standardized punctuation rules. Therefore, Thomas Hobbes uses different spellings of the same words in places throughout the book, and his capitalization and comma placements are erratic.

Hobbes broke Leviathan into three parts with individual chapters. This study guide further breaks down those parts into chapter groupings.


Before Thomas Hobbes launches into his discussion of man's relationship to a commonwealth, he introduces the guiding metaphor of the Leviathan—an artificial body politic with the awesome power of a sea monster. It has a head and jointed limbs and parts that, ideally, function as a well-oiled machine. Hobbes draws parallels between these imaginary body parts and the essential components of a commonwealth. The sovereign is the soul or animating center of the monster, the judiciary comprises the joints of the limbs, offices of reward and punishment are the nerves, the nation's wealth is its strength, the counselors are memory, laws are reason and will, peace is health, sedition is illness, and civil war is death. He follows this set of anatomical parallels with an outline of the work Leviathan. Hobbes prepares the reader to start with the subject most familiar to him—the self—as the first step toward understanding humankind and the concept of citizenship.


Thomas Hobbes focuses on the importance of being able to "read" oneself because he sees self-knowledge as the key to understanding those behaviors shared with other human beings. He acknowledges that individuals have particular personalities, proclivities, and talents that set them apart from each other. Hobbes takes a longer view of what it means to be human, and by doing so he considers a system of government that can be applied effectively to a large number of people. Furthermore, Hobbes believes those with the capacity to turn inward and truly know themselves can, by extension, also comprehend all of humanity. These, he claims, are the individuals most fit to be leaders of nations.

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