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The Pre-Kantian Modern Philosophy Witch Project

René Descartes
Thomas Hobbes
John Locke
Gottfried Leibniz
George Berkeley
David Hume

The Thomas Hobbes Project


Thomas Hobbes

THE PROJECT: To provide political theory without depending upon Church authority.

Before we go into the highlights of Hobbes' thought, we need to understand the ground rules. Like Descartes' before him, Hobbes assumes that all truths are either self-evident or are built from those self-evident truths (this model of axioms and deduction is often referred to as the "Geometric Model"). Also, Hobbes assumes that all ideas arise mechanically from the senses. This is important because Locke and Hume will run with this and go places with empiricism that Hobbes does not want to go with it -- like Heaven. Finally, it is vital that we understand that this is the philosopher from which Bill Watterson took the name for Calvin's tiger in the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip.

The particular work we read for class was called, in short, Leviathan.

On Politics

Hobbes has a certain idea of what man is like in the State of Nature -- the political existence that precedes any government or social contracts. He believes that man would be engaged in a constant state of war as a result of: 1) There's a limited number of stuff for everyone, and 2) Everyone has equal ability to fight for and defend their stuff. Every individual is against every other individual. Hobbes claims that, in such a State, there can be no justice or injustice (or morality and immorality, for that matter), because nobody has established any rules or standards. The English were duly repulsed by the thought that they were, in their natural state, savages and that a situation could exist where there was no way to determine injustice. Hobbes loses a lot of friends on this one.

To moderate the State of Nature, enter the Laws of Nature. Note that Hobbes, being an empiricist, does not believe these laws are formulated by Reason. They are suggested by Reason based on observation of the current situation. Let's face it -- everyone trying to kill everyone else just isn't going to work in the long run. So, Reason suggests what he calls Articles of Peace. He comes up with seven laws of Nature, the first two being the driving forces behind the state:

  1. By all means seek Peace.
  2. Where Peace isn't available, defend yourself

In order to enact Peace, Hobbes believes you must have two things. First, a group of people must enter into a covenant / contract with each other, voluntarily. Second, there must be a power who can enforce the contract and can provide a punishment that is worse than not being able to kill your neighbors and take their stuff. When these two things are present, then society can make judgment calls on justice and injustice, because now there are rules to violate and a person to spank you if you do.

On Rationality

This is perhaps the most radical element in Hobbes. Up to this point, after Aquinas, the commonly held view was that rationality meant using right reason to decide what your ends (goals) should be, then using right reason to determine the best means to achieve those ends. Hobbes drops a firecracker in the ant hill by suggesting that there's no such thing as irrational ends; rationality is choosing the appropriate means to accomplish your ends whatever those ends might be. The dispute about whether ends can be irrational continues.

Descartes | Hobbes | Locke | Leibniz | Berkeley | Hume | What Happened to Those Students?