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Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan (1651)

by Thomas Hobbes

Other authors: W. G. Pogson Smith (Essay)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes is a perennial classic and a masterpiece of lucid thought. In this volume, Hobbes explores human nature to a natural conclusion, life is nasty, brutish, and short. The only way to alleviate man’s natural predilections is to have a powerful absolute monarchy.

This particular version that I own is the Oxford University Press edition. It contains in-depth information on Leviathan and the life and times that spawned it. Alongside the text are little asides that paraphrase what is being discussed.

The book proper is composed of four main sections; Of Man, Of Commonwealth, Of A Christian Commonwealth, and Of The Kingdom of Darkness. The book is similar to Spinoza’s Ethics in that it starts with basic premises and goes on to build from that. I suppose it would be more apt to say that it is similar to Euclid’s Elements. Each section is split into chapters. There really isn’t much else to say about it, other than that it uses the original text and it is somewhat annoying with how they phrase things. Also, the book was written before they invented spelling. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
(ed), and Alan Ryan (intro); Gaskin, J. C. A.
  narbgr01 | Aug 28, 2018 |
Duplicate volume
  bonedoc86 | Sep 27, 2017 |
Listened to this in audio form and found it a little hard to follow in places. ( )
  brakketh | Aug 3, 2017 |
In the 1640s, Europe was littered with wars, most of them pertinent to who ought to be in charge. The continent saw the last decade of the Thirty Years’ War, whose major impacts were reaffirming state sovereignty and killing an unprecedented number of people. Britain was itself embroiled in an on-and-off civil war, intending to settle a more philosophical debate over whether the king was answerable to parliament or vice versa; a substantial number of Britons died in the process. It was with this background that Thomas Hobbes, a royalist safely living in Paris, wrote his seminal work Leviathan.

Named for a (presumably) mythical sea beast, the work considers the nature of man, the state, their interactions with faith, and knowledge. Human thought, he argues, comes in several flavours: Sense, Imagination (or, decaying sense), Reason, and Science. People combine these in order that they might “obtain some future apparent good,” and he describes a variety of acts that build (or destroy) honour, and therefore reputation, and therefore power in people; and people seek power ad infinitum.
There’s just one problem with that desire: the natural condition is one of perpetual war of all versus all; referencing Thucydides, he believes that life on its own is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Therefore, sensing that to be unpleasant, peoples came together to create a “commonwealth,” which can (through fear of punishment) compel good behaviour – acquiescence to the laws of nature, adherence to contracts, etc. Considering three varieties of commonwealth – Monarchy, Democracy, and Aristocracy – he finds the former alone has the capacity to make conclusive, learned, reasoned, decisions; and therefore despite its “inconveniences” is far superior.

To a large extent, however, this ‘finding’ isn’t so much reasoned as empirical; nearly any observer, in the same context, would have come to the same conclusion. Not only was the entire known world governed by a monarch of one form or another, but historical attempts to create either democratic or aristocratic governments had all met failure. Famously, democratic Athens was conquered by monarchic Sparta; the Roman Republic dissolved into the Roman Empire. As Hobbes was writing, the Polish sejm (an aristocratic assembly) had become so ineffective that Poland was conquered by its neighbours. And, most immediately to Hobbes, the English Parliament, having won the civil war, was disintegrating in to factionalism.

One would be remiss, however, to overlook one additional factor: His exile notwithstanding, Hobbes was on the king’s payroll in the 1640s, and worked directly with the future King Charles II. His salary beholden to a strong believer in the divine right of kings, any argument against monarchical supremacy – especially in light of the parliamentary uprising – could come with dire economic consequences. “Taking of the sword out of the hand of the sovereign” is “contrary to the peace and safety of the people.”
Yet in the centuries since, it’s been shown that assemblies – whether of the entire population or a subset of it – can govern effectively and sustainably. Less than a decade after Hobbes’ death, the Glorious Revolution made England a constitutional monarchy; a century after that, a collective of wayward colonies shucked even the pretense of the crown, and has persisted for centuries even in the face of war, civil strife, and disagreement. Meanwhile, ‘monarchically’ ruled countries have risen and fallen around the world.

Hobbes believes that the human mind is incapable of understanding infinity; for this reason, he argues, we have anthropomorphized God as a vehicle with which to conceptualize that which we cannot… and in fact states that presuming the whereabouts of God is idolatrous (since idols are finite and God is not). He points out that God can speak to mankind either directly or indirectly (i.e. through prophets); but in the latter case, how does one distinguish a prophet from a liar? Or from misinterpreting the scriptures?

It seems that his answer neglects to include a useful answer (and, to be fair, it’s no easy task) – but the important point is to establish that laws temporal and spiritual must be enforced by the sovereign to ensure the success of the commonwealth. He delicately implies that the pope’s authority is derived from a misinterpretation of scripture – Charles I was protestant, after all, and Hobbes (like the contemporaneous Treaty of Westphalia) obligingly grants the sovereign power over religious activity. At the same time, though, his views on religion were somewhat unorthodox, and later accusations of heresy would inhibit publication of his later works.
Notwithstanding that his driving interest in Leviathan was relatively immediate, Hobbes’ view of man and of government would come to influence the Continental Congress. Both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1789) expressly enumerate the purpose of government and stress the importance of establishing and maintaining peace. The responsibilities accorded to governments are, with a few exceptions, not far removed from the rights of sovereigns enumerated; although his positions supporting governmental infallibility, and opposing free expression and separation of powers were rejected.

It seems clear that Hobbes isn’t so much a philosopher or thinker, as he is an observer of history and current affairs. Any Englishman, writing a comprehensive book on government in the 1640s, could reasonably be expected to have emphasized the same points and arrived at the same conclusions. This does not, however, render the text meaningless. On the contrary, it provides a unique perspective on how government itself was viewed at a pivotal moment in British history – perhaps the first moment that people much thought about it. (Most citizens, after all, will not much concern themselves over whether this or that nobleman is the king.)

Hobbes’ desire to affiliate with the ‘winning side’ in the English Civil War was ultimately successful; the Cromwell regime judged him to be of no threat (perhaps because he cleverly defined ‘monarchy’ in such a way to include the new Lord Protector), and the restored Charles II later granted him a pension. But his wish to shape politics failed. The crown answered to Parliament after 1688, and the American Declaration of Independence made demands on the king that would have been unthinkable a century before. By inspiring, even in a few, the idea that government – a finite entity – could be defined, Leviathan was paramount to the development of modern political existence. ( )
1 vote jarlalex | Apr 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
*Malmesburyn ateisti suomeksi*

Liberaalin markkinatalousjärjestelmän syntyä ja olemusta koskevat pohdinnat ovat suomalaisessa keskustelussa viime aikoina lisääntyneet. Mikäli Englantia voidaan 1600-luvulta lähtien pitää modernin, porvarillisen Euroopan pioneerimaana suhteellisen joustavan sosiaalisen rakenteensa sekä poliittisen ja taloudellisen kehityksensä osalta, on englantilaisen poliittisen ajattelun klassikoiden suomentaminen erityisen ajankohtaista. Tuomo Ahon suomennos Thomas Hobbesin Leviathan-teoksesta on suuri kulttuuriteko vielä kolme ja puoli vuosisataa alkuteoksen ilmestymisen jälkeen jo siksi, että Hobbes ottaa kantaa ihmistä, ihmisyhteisöjä ja ylipäätään olemassaoloa koskeviin kysymyksiin tavalla, joka on yhtä ajankohtainen nykyihmiselle kuin se oli Hobbesin aikalaisille.

» Add other authors (94 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Hobbesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Plamenatz, JohnEditormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, W. G. PogsonEssaysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curley, EdwinEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Macpherson, C. B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oakeshott, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuck, RichardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Nature (the ary whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal.
He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but Man-kind: which though it be hard to do, harder than to learn any Language, or Science; yet when I shall have set down my own reading orderly, and perspicuously, the pains left another, will be onely to consider if he also find not the same in himself.
The names of such things as affect us, that is, which please, and displease us, because all men be not alike affected with the same thing, nor the same man at all times, are in the common discourses of men of inconstant signification. For seeing all names are imposed to signifie our conceptions; and all our affections are but conceptions; when we conceive the same things differently, we can hardly avoyd different naming of them. For though the nature of what we conceive, be the same; yet the diversity of our reception of it, in respect of different constitutions of body, and prejudices of opinion, gives everything a tincture of our different passions. And therefore in reasoning, a man must take heed of words; which besides the signification of what we imagine of their nature, have a signification also of the nature, disposition, and interest of the speaker; such as are the names of Vertues, and Vices; For one man calleth Wisdome, what another calleth feare; and one cruelty, what another justice; one prodigality, what another magnanimity; and one gravity, what another stupidity, &c. And therefore such names can never be true grounds of any ratiocination. No more can Metaphors, and Tropes of speech: but these are less dangerous, because they profess their inconstancy; which the other do not.

And those who do deceive upon hope of not being observed, do commonly deceive themselves, (the darknesse in which they lye hidden, being nothing else but there own blindnesse;) and are no wiser than Children, that think all hid, by hiding there own eyes.
Fear of oppression disposes a man to anticipate or to seek aid by society, for there is no other way by which a man can secure his life and liberty.
The office of the sovereign (be it a monarch or an assembly) consists in the end for which he was trusted with the sovereign power, namely the procuration of the safety pf the people. To which he is obliged by the law of nature and to render an account thereof to God...and to none but Him.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140431950, Paperback)

Viewing politics as a science capable of the same axiomatic approach as mathematics, Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan" retains its appeal for the modern reader, not just in its elevation of politics to a science, but in its overriding concern for peace. This "Penguin Classics" edition is edited with an introduction by C.B. Macpherson. Written during the turmoil of the English Civil War, "Leviathan" is an ambitious and highly original work of political philosophy. Claiming that man's essential nature is competitive and selfish, Hobbes formulates the case for a powerful sovereign or 'Leviathan' to enforce peace and the law, substituting security for the 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short' life he believed human beings would otherwise experience. This world view shocked many of Hobbes' contemporaries, and his work was publicly burnt for sedition and blasphemy when it was first published. But in his rejection of Aristotle's view of man as a naturally social being, and in his painstaking analysis of the ways in which society can and should function, Hobbes opened up a new world of political science. Based on the original 1651 text, this edition incorporates Hobbes' own corrections, while also retaining the original spelling and punctuation, and reads with vividness and clarity. C.B Macpherson's introduction elucidates for the general reader one of the most fascinating works of modern philosophy. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher and political theorist, one of the first modern Western thinkers to provide a secular justification for the political state. Regarded as an important early influence on the philosophical doctrine of utilitarianism, Hobbes also contributed to modern psychology and laid the foundations of modern sociology. If you enjoyed "Leviathan", you might enjoy Plato's "Republic", also available in "Penguin Classics".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:39 -0400)

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Presents the seventeenth century treatise on power and politics.

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