Leviathan

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Overview

After the publication of his masterpiece of political theory, Leviathan, Or the Matter, and Power of Commonwealth Ecclesiastic and Civil, in 1651, opponents charged Thomas Hobbes with atheism and banned and burned his books. The English Parliament, in a search for scapegoats, even claimed that the theories found in Leviathan were a likely cause of the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

For the modern reader, though, Hobbes is more recognized for his popular belief that ...

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Leviathan

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Overview

After the publication of his masterpiece of political theory, Leviathan, Or the Matter, and Power of Commonwealth Ecclesiastic and Civil, in 1651, opponents charged Thomas Hobbes with atheism and banned and burned his books. The English Parliament, in a search for scapegoats, even claimed that the theories found in Leviathan were a likely cause of the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

For the modern reader, though, Hobbes is more recognized for his popular belief that humanity's natural condition is a state of perpetual war, with life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Despite frequent challenges by other philosophers, Leviathan's secular theory of absolutism no longer stands out as particularly objectionable. In the description of the organization of states, moreover, we see Hobbes as strikingly current in his use of concepts that we still employ today, including the ideas of natural law, natural rights, and the social contract. Based on this work, one could even argue that Hobbes created English-language philosophy, insofar as Leviathan was the first great philosophical work written in English and one whose impact continues to the present day.


About the Author:
Thomas Hobbes was born on Good Friday in 1588. Despite growing up in an impoverished clerical family, he was precociously intelligent and completed a classical education at Oxford. He decided not to follow in his father's footsteps, though, and instead became a tutor within an aristocratic family. When these royalist political connections and a number of personal writings in support of monarchical authority got Hobbes centrally involved in the turmoil of the English Civil War, he feared for his safety and fled to France in 1640. It was while in exile in France that he wrote Leviathan, the work that cemented Hobbes' philosophical reputation as the pre-eminent modern theorist of secular absolutism.

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Editorial Reviews

George Wright University of Wisconsin
"Internationally renowned Hobbes scholar A.P. Martinich has produced the definitive version of Leviathan for student use. Handsomely turned out by Broadview Press, this edition features a highly informative introduction, a brief chronology of Hobbes's life, as well as some useful notes on the text itself. Of special value are seven appendices drawn from the writings of contemporary critics of Hobbes's thought, including Filmer, Lawson, Bramhall, Hyde and others. Martinich has made a difficult but essential text as accessible to students as it is likely ever to become."
Kinch Hoekstra Balliol College
"An admirably accessible edition of Hobbes's masterpiece. The work is presented clearly, in its entirety, and with generous excerpts from Hobbes's formidable contemporary critics."
Thomas Christiano University of Arizona
"This very readable edition of Hobbes's Leviathan is an excellent resource for students of political philosophy and its history. The collection of published responses to Leviathan by some of Hobbes's most prominent contemporaries provides insight into the historical context in which he was writing, and philosophically challenging commentary on this great work of political philosophy."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780559061035
  • Publisher: BiblioBazaar
  • Publication date: 4/30/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

A.P. Martinich is Roy Allison Vaughan Centennial Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Brian Battiste is a graduate student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 Of Man
1 Of Sense 3
2 Of Imagination 4
3 Of the Consequence or Train of Imaginations 8
4 Of Speech 12
5 Of Reason and Science 18
6 Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions Commonly Called the Passions; and the Speeches by which They Are Expressed 23
7 Of the Ends or Resolutions of Discourse 30
8 Of the Vertues, Commonly Called Intellectual, and Their Contrary Defects 32
9 Of the Severall Subjects of Knowledge 41
10 Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour, and Worthinesse 43
11 Of the Difference of Manners 49
12 Of Religion 54
13 Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery 63
14 Of the First and Second Naturall Lawes and of Contract 66
15 Of Other Laws of Nature 74
16 Of Persons, Authors, and Things Personated 83
Part 2 Of Common-Wealth
17 Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Common-wealth 87
18 Of the Rights of Soveraignes by Institution 90
19 Of Severall Kinds of Common-wealth by Institution; and of Succession to the Soveraign Power 96
20 Of Dominion Parternall and Despoticall 104
21 Of the Liberty of Subjects 110
22 Of Systems Subject, Politicall, and Private 117
23 Of the Publique Ministers of Soveraign Power 126
24 Of the Nutrition, and Procreation of a Common-wealth 130
25 Of Counsell 134
26 Of Civill Lawes 140
27 Of Crimes, Excuses, and Extenuations 154
28 Of Punishments, and Rewards 164
29 Of Those Things that Weaken, or Tend to the Dissolution of a Common-wealth 170
30 Of the Office of the Soveraign Representative 178
31 Of the Kingdome of God by Nature 189
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Introduction

After the publication of his masterpiece of political theory, Leviathan, Or the Matter, and Power of Commonwealth Ecclesiastic and Civil, in 1651, opponents charged Thomas Hobbes with atheism and banned and burned his books. The English Parliament, in a search for scapegoats, even claimed that the theories found in Leviathan were a likely cause of the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. However, the newly restored king, Charles II, intervened on Hobbes' behalf, protecting the writer from prosecution but simultaneously ordering him to refrain from publishing any more work. For the modern reader, though, Hobbes is more recognized for his popular belief that humanity's natural condition is a state of perpetual war, with life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Despite frequent challenges by other philosophers, the secular theory of absolutism outlined in Leviathan no longer stands out as particularly objectionable. In the description of the organization of states, moreover, we see Hobbes as strikingly current in his use of concepts that we still employ today, including the ideas of natural law, natural rights, and the social contract. Based on this work, one could even argue that Hobbes created English-language philosophy, insofar as Leviathan was the first great philosophical work written in English and one whose impact continues to the present day.

Thomas Hobbes was born on Good Friday, April 5, 1588, just outside of Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Despite growing up in an impoverished clerical family, Hobbes was precociously intelligent and managed, with the help of an uncle, to complete a classical education at Oxford. Afterhe graduated, however, he decided not to follow in his father's footsteps, and instead of pursuing a career in the Church, he, like John Locke and other later philosophers, became a tutor within an aristocratic family. When these royalist political connections and a number of personal writings in support of monarchical authority got Hobbes centrally involved in the turmoil of the English Civil War, he feared for his safety and fled to France in 1640. It was while in exile in France that he was able to most clearly enunciate the secular theory of absolutism that he laid out in Leviathan, the work that cemented Hobbes' philosophical reputation as the pre-eminent modern theorist of secular absolutism. In Leviathan, Hobbes argued that men were naturally self-centered creatures who stood in need of authority to tame them. Here Hobbes, personally affected by the English strife, wished to demonstrate that anarchy was a far greater political, social, and personal danger than despotism. Despite the fact that Leviathan was not exactly friendly to events in England, French clerics, who were offended by the attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, were even angrier than English politicians, and as a result, Hobbes returned home soon after its publication. Leviathan continued to be his most controversial work and even after his death in 1679, heated debates raged over Hobbes' purported atheism, materialism, and political ideology.

In historical retrospect, it is tempting to see Hobbes as primarily a political thinker, a man who was shaped by the tumultuous events of his era. Even the events surrounding his birth would seem to confirm this opinion. Rumors of the Spanish Armada's invading fleet and had been circulating in England since late in 1587, so by the time that Easter approached, Hobbes' mother thought the end was imminent. Not only was she, like many English, convinced that 1588 would be an apocalyptic year, but as a pregnant woman, she expected to suffer particular hardships. In his later life, Hobbes was known to remark that these fears were the cause of his mother's premature labor and "at that point my mother was filled with such fear that she bore twins, me and together with me fear." Even though the Armada's invasion fleet was first delayed and then defeated by weather and the English navy, Hobbes' mother likely saw her son's birth, not incorrectly, as a harbinger of rocky times to come, for his life spanned an incredible ninety-one years that saw the execution of a king, the rise of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth, the end of that Commonwealth, and the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne of England.

However much English political upheaval may have influenced the author of Leviathan, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also saw an equally influential revolution in science. While today we do not generally speak of political theorists such as Hobbes and Locke in the same breath as scientists such as Galileo and Newton, secular political theories such as that found in Leviathan also have an important foundation in the seventeenth-century science developed by René Descartes, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton. The new scientific methods described and developed by these thinkers and others like them had a clear and direct impact on Hobbes' writing, especially the Leviathan. Hobbes' philosophy was materialist, that is, he subscribed to the metaphysical view that the only things that exist (or can be known to exist) are physical bodies. Hobbes' materialism was the source of the charges of atheism, because materialist philosophy explained the universe only by reference to matter, not God's existence or that of souls. In his materialism, Hobbes argued that all change in the universe came about from one material object striking another. For this reason, freedom lay not in choice but in the ability to move without impediment. Human beings and their choices were no more or less mechanical than other material objects. Much as William Harvey (whose work was deeply interesting to Hobbes) described the circulation of the blood and Isaac Newton the motions of the planets and the effect of gravity, Hobbes' work described the motions of the political man.

Even before writing Leviathan, Hobbes had already conceptualized a sweeping account of the relationship between science and philosophy based on materialistic assumptions. In this grand work, called The Elements of Philosophy, he intended to set forth the principles of materialism, then discuss physical and natural science by analyzing the behavior of bodies (non-human in terms of mechanics and physics and human bodies in terms of physiology and psychology). His final section and the greatest part of his work was to be an analysis of the "body politic." Though readers eventually got a sustained analysis of political behavior or, as Hobbes called it, "civil philosophy," in Leviathan, his previous work makes it clear that even without the influence of civil war, much of the philosophical content of Leviathan would have been included in his other works.

The difference, then, between Leviathan and Hobbes' earlier works was the urgent need Hobbes felt, sparked by the civil and religious warring in England, to expand the political component of his philosophical system in order to explain the breakdown of society. This breakdown (and the explanation of a system that could avoid such crises) was the source of Hobbes' governmental pessimism. As a materialist philosopher and a student of the new science, Hobbes wanted to explain, in mechanistic terms, how individuals were driven by their desires and not by higher spiritual or moral ends. Despite this, Hobbes argued, they would, in order to meet their personal needs, agree to participate in rational government, or at least the type of political order that would decrease the possibility of social breakdown such as that seen in England.

A close examination of the original frontispiece image of the all-powerful ruler, or "that mortal god" known as Leviathan, further illustrates the way that Hobbes conceived of the relationship between ruler and subject. In this image, the ruler looms over the landscape of the nation, holding a sword in one hand and a scepter in the other to demonstrate his absolute power. The rest of the picture is tranquil and orderly, from the churches in the village to the outlying countryside. Perhaps most significantly, the ruler's body is composed of distinct citizens who, with their backs to the viewer, face the head of state. The sovereign is quite literally the head of state who enforces the laws of nature and the right of citizens to self-preservation while the individuals consent to his rule, giving him life and power.

The theory of government in Leviathan used as its basis not divine right, or the idea that the absolute head of state was put into place by God, but the idea of a social contract. Unlike divine right absolutism, social contract theory assumed that there was a state of nature that existed before the formation of society. It was in this state of nature, Hobbes argued, that men, being concerned to keep themselves safe and increase their power, would fight only for personal gain, taking what they could get, as their desires were allowed free rein. This "state of war" allowed for no protection of even the most basic rights and therefore was an intolerable system that people would not allow to continue. In order to avoid the inconveniences of the system of each for himself, with no external control, human beings would make a social contract, or an agreement to form a civil society where all people subjected their personal desires and judgments to those of one ruler (be it a single person or a legislative body) . This ruler would have the backing of all people and would then be able to protect citizens from foreign or domestic threats.

Because some men, despite having chosen to give up their freedom, might prefer to continue to fight for what they perceived as their own short-term gain as opposed to the good of the state, the Leviathan was empowered by necessity to prevent anarchy. This meant that his power was completely absolute and included the right to coerce members of society and/or protect the political body against challenges to its authority. Hobbes believed that challenges might come from anywhere, but he was especially concerned with restraining the divisive forces of religion (in his context, these were both Puritanical and Roman Catholic).

Hobbes' argument found opposition on many levels. It was evident to even a casual reader that Hobbes rejected tradition and religion as politically binding. Theologians were horrified by Hobbes' materialist philosophy as well as his subordination of religious power to a secular sovereign. Philosophers who supported the divine right of kings also criticized the materialist and secular basis of Leviathan's absolutism and were deeply troubled by the possibility that the secular sovereign of the social contract might be a legislature and not a monarch.

Despite all the royalist opposition, Hobbes was hardly popular with republicans, who were alarmed by the fact that his theory seemed just as willing to hand all political power over to a monarch as to a legislature, and even other secular philosophers who were supportive of constitutional monarchies, such as John Locke, took issue with what they saw as Hobbes' pessimism about human nature and corresponding willingness to take away personal freedom and choice. Locke, for example, did not agree that men's only natural right was self-preservation (life) but instead expanded natural rights to include property and liberty, or freedom of action, which would in any case have been unimportant to the materialist Hobbes.

However, as political philosophy became more secular, and religious and political power became increasingly separated over the course of the next hundred years, , the influence of the ideas in Leviathan grew. Despite his opposition to the specifics of Hobbesian theory, Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1690) derived much of its force from an enunciation of the concepts discussed in Leviathan, particularly natural law, natural rights, and the social contract. Hobbes' belief in natural laws governing men's behavior also had a lasting effect on the political theories of Enlightenment philosophers such as the Baron de Montesquieu, whose Spirit of the Laws (1748) served as the underpinning for the United States Constitution. Even the radical Rousseau, whose thought is frequently traced back to Locke, owes a great deal of his theory and formulation of the "general will" to Hobbes' conception of the formation of the state. In short, Hobbes' secular approach to politics, especially the condemnation of religious influence and the philosophy of the divine right of kings, is the basis for most political theory today, so much so that it is difficult to imagine any contemporary political philosophy that doesn't concern itself, like Leviathan, with safeguarding men's natural rights and the social order.

Jennifer J. Popiel is a teacher at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2003

    ok book

    its ok..not very good seeing as how its rather old..and based on christian fundementals....a quick look and you can find this book online for free

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2004

    Important

    Hobbes presents a compelling picture of the wrokings of the political. Despite his detractors, Hobbes' insights still prove relevant in a world run by megalomaniacs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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