2. Hobbes: Authority, Human Rights and Social Order

Uploaded by YaleCourses on 04.03.2011

Prof: Then let's go on to Thomas Hobbes.
And I do something what probably not everybody does in a
kind of history of ideas course: I give you an overview of the
individual whom you were reading from,
and around some sense of the historic times they lived in.
Occasionally I get negative comments in my course
evaluations for this.
People want just to talk about the text, what they have to
There are some people who like it, to see well this is how
Thomas Hobbes looked like, and who the character was.
So therefore I still will do this.
I think what I will try to do is to go very fast through the
sort of individual's life and history;
sort of to have my cake and eat it, right?
To give those of you who are interested in the historical
context, at least briefly; and those who are not
particularly interested, not to bore them with it.
But you can go back to the internet and get even more
Okay, so we'll start this with Thomas Hobbes.
Whether Foundations of Modern Social Thought should start with
Hobbes or not, that's a question.
In some other courses I've taught, occasionally I started
with Thomas Bacon; I will talk about him very
briefly later on.
But in some ways arguably Thomas Hobbes is the first who
laid the foundations of modern social science.
He was a genuine scientist, and a formidable one,
and an extremely controversial figure, addressing a number of
very important issues.
We are all still very divided, particularly on human nature.
Are we by nature good, or are we by nature evil?
I think probably half of the crowd here would go one way;
the other half would go another way.
And I hope to be able to discuss that in the discussion
Anyway there are a number of very important issues that
Thomas Hobbes framed, and which have a great deal of
impact on later social scientists--
of course, on Locke, but also on Adam Smith,
on Nietzsche, on Freud, on Max Weber and
Okay, so this is Thomas Hobbes, and let me just very briefly
talk about his life.
I mentioned that--in the introductory lecture--he was
born in 1588 in Westport.
I also mentioned that his father was a vicar and he had
actually a fistfight with a clergyman in,
of all places, in a cemetery which was
absolutely no-no by that time.
So he had to skip and disappear and leave young Thomas behind in
the care of an uncle who was actually a glover,
produced gloves.
And this all happened under the rule of Queen Elizabeth.
I will talk about this a little later.
In 1602, he went to Oxford, to Magdalene Hall,
and then in '08 he graduated, and he became a tutor of
William Cavendish II who became at one point a very important
In 1610, he went to France and Italy.
It is very important because he met Galileo and he was
absolutely turned on by Galileo and physics of his time.
I already mentioned that Hobbes cannot be classified in any of
the disciplines.
He even cannot be classified as a social scientist.
He was as much a mathematician--I gather a pretty
bad mathematician--but also he made important contributions to
sciences, particularly to optics.
Well, he had a close association with a person whom
you may have heard of, Francis Bacon.
And who was Francis Bacon, and what is his influence?
Francis Bacon was a philosopher who rejected the Aristotelian
logic and system, which basically was a
speculative system-- started out from some major
assumptions and through deductions developed his
philosophical system.
As I said, occasionally I've taught this course by starting
with Francis Bacon because Bacon, in some ways,
is the Founding Father of modern sciences.
Because he said every scientific investigation should
start with induction, from sensual observation,
and what you cannot observe, you should not assume it does
Therefore he advocated a methodology which was exactly
the opposite of the Aristotelian methodology, which was
He advocated induction.
Now he was very closely affiliated with William
Cavendish and had a great deal of impact on Hobbes initially,
though eventually Hobbes changed actually his mind.
And he went to Europe and, among other things,
he spent time--he knew where to spend time.
He went to Paris, and he began to investigate
natural sciences, Galileo and Descartes,
in particular.
Descartes was a great deal of importance for Hobbes.
From Galileo he learned an alternative to Bacon's inductive
Galileo offered a methodology that, by and large,
social scientists today who believe in normal social science
subscribe to.
Namely that was the methodology, what Galileo called
the resolutive-compositive method.
It basically meant that you start with deduction.
You have some initial hypotheses.
Then you move to observation, sensual observation,
and from the sensual observation you make inductions.
And you make that and you test your hypotheses.
That's how it we would say it today.
And this is what Bacon learned from Galileo and adapted his
Now this is René Descartes, one of the greatest
philosophers of his times and of all times.
Descartes ascribed to something what I call dualism.
Dualism really meant that he separated the soul and body from
each other, and Hobbes rejected this idea
of dualism because he suggested that--
in fact, they were engaged in a big debate on optics,
what we do see.
And he, Hobbes, was advocating that there must
be a real object whose movement we see, what we actually can
So he rejected the dualism.
And then he wrote--I mentioned very briefly--
his trilogy: De Corpore, this is
about the human body, De Homine,
about man, and finally De Cive, about society.
I see this as formidable and something which appeals a great
deal to social scientists today.
To try to develop a theory of society which begins actually
with biology, with biological processes,
and build it up gradually from biology to understanding of the
social, of the individual,
and from the individual to understand society.
That's highly controversial.
There are many social scientists who reject it.
But today there are many social scientists who are greatly
attracted to this, and we see a re-emergence today
of sciences and social scientists.
Well Hobbes entered politics as a Royalist when William
Cavendish entered politics.
And, in fact, Hobbes translated,
I also mentioned, Thucydides, basically because
Thucydides expressed some skepticism about the democracy
in Athens.
And he was greatly skeptical about democracy and believed the
need for a strong central authority.
Well these were very troubled times, troubled times and
religious conflicts.
I'll skip this one because I know you are all very familiar
with British history.
But it all started with Henry VIII who had a very troubled
marital relationship.
He had three wives; divorced one,
executed the second one in search for a son from one of his
But in the process of divorcing, he split from the
Roman Catholic Church, and that's when Church of
England emerged, and that's how England became
Protestant of a sort.
Well again, as I said, I'll skip this one and go on.
Well this is the eldest daughter of Henry VIII,
Mary I, called Bloody Mary.
She inherited the throne.
She was trying to establish Roman Catholicism but had to
There was too much resistance against it so he had to resign
and give the throne to his younger sister,
And this is Queen Elizabeth.
And Queen Elizabeth was at the time of Puritanism under a great
deal of pressure of Puritans who wanted to get rid of Catholics
altogether from government in England.
This became a very important issue later on.
And New Haven has its Puritan connections.
Anybody is from Davenport College?
Nobody is from Davenport.
Oh my goodness.
So no real Puritans around here.
Well that's a shame.
Anyway, this was Reverend John Davenport.
He was a Puritan who settled in New Haven, with his followers,
in 1638.
And already, of course, in I think 1703,
the Puritans created this institution,
and they were basically running this institution until the late
nineteenth century-- not anymore.
Now there will be a great deal of conflicts between--yeah,
Mary was called the Virgin Queen.
Well whether she was a virgin or not is unclear,
but she clearly had a lot of very close friendships with
various men in her life.
But she never married, and never gave birth to a
She was actually a very good queen, a smart,
good queen by the challenges of the time.
But she was the last one, and died without a son.
And then the Crown went over to the Stuarts, and they were a
total disaster.
James I was already a disaster, and Charles I was a real
And they were in a collision course with parliament,
and there was a constant war in England--civil war--culminating
in '42.
And finally Charles I was executed in '49,
and Oliver Cromwell came to power.
Now--well here I give you a picture of the execution of
Charles I.
If you don't believe it, you can see it.
Well Hobbes got into some trouble at that time because he
was too close to the Royalists, and he had to flee England in
1640, ahead of time,
and he went to live in Paris.
He was very close there to the Royalist exiles,
and in '51 he completed his major book,
Leviathan--what we will be talking about in a minute.
Well Leviathan became an extremely controversial book.
It was very controversial in his times--became actually a big
hot topic in the nineteenth century.
And it's a very hot topic in the last thirty or forty years
because a lot of economists and political scientists who are
interested in rational choice theories discovered in Thomas
Hobbes the first rational choice theorist.
Actually he's a wonderfully lucid mind,
and if you read the text, and you know enough
mathematics, you could do a lot of his
propositions in mathematical equations.
What else an economist wants to do?
It must be true if you can put it into an equation.
Well that's what certainly Thomas Hobbes is available to
do, because of extremely lucidity of his mind.
Well it was therefore a controversial book--also for the
Because in '51, Hobbes--and we will talk about
this in great detail-- was considering that probably
people should be allowed to transfer their loyalty to a new
authority which offers safety.
And that's what the Royalists did not want to hear--that
Cromwell actually can become a legitimate ruler.
And that's what, in a way, the book
Leviathan foreshadows.
So he better have to skip out of Paris and go back to London.
This is the First Edition of Leviathan,
This is about the idea that people are by nature evil,
and we need an all powerful sovereign to avoid the state of
war of everyone against everyone else--
a powerful proposition.
Again, I would think probably half of the people in this
classroom, when really think hard about it,
do believe Hobbes's argument; half of them would be violently
opposed to the argument.
So it's a very nice topic, to have heated discussions in
the discussion sections.
Leviathan is a sea-monster: the state or the
We need to keep order as such.
There were a great deal of controversies around him.
He actually was publishing rather neutral stuff,
only attacking universities--which is always a
good thing to do, right?
But when in 1660 the monarchy was restored,
and Charles II, the son of Charles I became
king, Hobbes was invited back to the
court, and it looked like he will be
just fine right now as a Royalist.
Not so, because in '66 there was a fire in London,
and because of this fire--some people believed that this fire
was the revenge of God because of the sinful New York-- not New
And they were therefore trying to find the guilty one.
And who was that?
Of course, Thomas Hobbes with his materialism.
No soul.
So how is then eternal life possible?
This must be an atheist.
His books should be burned, if not himself.
So they did not burn his book and himself, but he certainly
was out of grace and died in '79.
He was greatly admired in Continental Europe,
but was very controversial in England.
And well, if you don't believe there was a fire in London,
here is the proof.
There is the great fire of London, '66, which it looked
like Los Angeles to me.
Well okay.
Well it killed 3000 people, right?
The fire brigade was not as effective as today is in
Southern California.
Now that's about the person and the times.
I think extremely for my--as far as I'm concerned--extremely
important to understand this, the work, if you know the times
when he lived in.
All right, so now let me go on and talk to Leviathan.
And here we go.
This is the First Edition of Leviathan,
which came out in 1651, in two big volumes.
Each one was 500 pages long.
Well this is the structure of the book.
The first part is on man, and the first few chapters are
about the mechanisms.
Because of Galileo, Hobbes was obsessed with the
idea of motion.
So he described the biological motions, what moves man:
senses, imagination, speech, reason,
and so on and so forth.
Then chapter six is a fun chapter.
It is about appetites, desires, aversions and fears,
and the theory of voluntary action.
I will talk about this.
This is really very insightful, very important--a very great
deal of impact on contemporary times, and I hope you can also
relate to it individually.
And then chapter seven to eleven is the relationship
between people as such.
And then finally the state of nature and the two laws of
We will have to talk about this in greater detail.
So Part II is about commonwealth.
It's about really the first theory of politics--the rights
and duties of the governments and the subjects.
There are some very interesting arguments here;
that actually the sovereigns also have duties,
not only simply rights.
And then parts III and IV offer some theological justification
what he does.
Part III and IV, I think very rarely read,
or at least I see very few citations to it.
So what are the major themes of the book?
First, about the theory of human nature.
The second one is the relationship between nature and
the theory of social contract.
Hobbes is really the first of the contractarians,
who advocates that what brings society together is a social
If you want to understand society, you have to understand
that we have contracts with each other.
And then finally the theory of the sovereign.
The major desire, the essence of Hobbes's work,
is to try to find an identifiable sovereign.
He lived in turbulent times when you did not know who the
sovereign is.
Is this the king?
Is this the landlord?
Are these the burghers?
Is this the parliament?
Who on earth is the sovereign?
He wanted to find one identifiable sovereign--we can
all agree, this is the proper source of law.
That's what he was obsessed with.
So let me then move on and about human nature.
What are the themes here?
Well one important argument is that man will deliberate between
appetites and aversions, and as a result it will act
Well that's a fascinating issue--an issue we cannot get
rid out of our hair.
Well when I was your age, we always were vehemently
debating the question: Do we have free will or we
don't have free will?
Our action is over-determined.
This is exactly the question what Hobbes is talking about and
develops the idea of voluntary action which is kind of halfway
between absolute free will and complete determination.
The idea is that we are driven by appetite, by desires.
We will talk in this course later on about Sigmund Freud who
was talking about drives.
There are drives which makes us move.
These are what Hobbes called appetite, a few centuries before
Sigmund Freud.
But then he said we also have aversions, we have fears.
There are things what we want, but we have fears that we won't
be able to achieve what we want, and therefore we have to
somehow negotiate out between our desires, appetites,
and our fears or aversions.
And what comes out is voluntary action.
We have a choice. Right?
We have to measure up what the price of our action will be,
and then we decide whether it is worth to pay this price or it
is not worth to pay this price.
So I see somebody whom I desire a great deal,
I thought it would be a great partner for me.
But in order to approach that person and to say,
"Can I have a date?"
it has risks because it may say, "Go to hell."
And I don't want to be rejected.
I have fears that I will be rejected.
So I will be measuring up, right?
And some of you, if you are in such a situation,
if you sense that the answer will be no,
you don't place a phone call, and you will never get that
The fear overrules the appetite.
Or others will say, "Heck."
You know?
"If they say no, then I will try a second time,
I will try a third time, and if it's no a third time,
then I'll give up."
Okay, so this is voluntary action.
This is freedom. Right?
You are free to decide whether you want to try it again.
Whether you want to achieve your appetites.
And then the second point is we will seek power.
The essence of human nature is that we are striving for power.
Again an issue, a very good issue to discuss at
the discussion section.
Again, I think half of the class will probably agree with
Hobbes, that people are actually trying to dominate others.
Others will say we are much more benevolent.
We are actually nice people, we don't want to dominate.
Well we will see his argument for it.
Well he said actually--and the last point is,
you know--if we want to survive, we will need an all
powerful sovereign.
So voluntary action.
He actually said there are two kinds of motions.
One motion is what he calls vital motions,
and these are stuff like, you know, food,
that we want to have food or something.
And there is what he calls--well it sounds strange
today--animal motions.
But this is what I think is better called voluntary motions
which actually has something to do with appetites or desires,
or aversions, and how to deal with this.
So let me just speak about appetites and aversions.
Again, I don't want to read the text.
I will put it on the internet for you.
It just describes what I have said, that we all have
appetites, we have desires, we have needs.
And in order to satisfy our needs, it always has costs,
and therefore we have to figure out whether it's worth the cost
for us to satisfy that need.
And therefore we have a certain degree of freedom.
We can't do whatever we want to do, because we may not have the
resources to afford it.
Or we want to have many things, and then we will have to
prioritize what we want to have more and spend more on it.
As you can hear, Hobbes is very close to what
later on becomes the utilitarians.
Very close to what Adam Smith will argue in his economic
theory, or what John Stuart Mills will represent in his
Or, for that sake, what most economists today
believe, who call themselves
neoclassical economists, or who identify themselves as
"rat" choice, or rational choice;
economists or political scientists or sociologists,
for that sake; there are some sociologists who
also subscribe to rational choice.
All right, this is also very lovely: deliberation and the
And he said, well when we have desires and
we have aversions, that's when we're actually
beginning to figure out-- we deliberate what on earth is
worse for us.
And the end of this deliberation we have a will.
We decide I go for it, I want that date.
Or we decide I don't want it, because the costs are too high.
And this is what we call the will.
Your will will be that you decide I go for it,
or you decide, no, that's not worth for me,
it would be silly--I make a clawn out of me,
I just don't do it. Right?
That's the will.
Well about power.
The power is unending. Right?
He said there is a general inclination for us to seek
power, our influence on other people.
And he said there is nothing evil about it.
It is necessary because if we want to survive we will have to
try to exercise influence on others.
We have to seek power as such.
An extremely important idea, which foreshadows especially
Nietzsche and Max Weber who comes up later in this course.
Well then here comes a very interesting argument about
equality; a very exciting argument.
He is one of the very first philosophers who claims that we
are all born equal.
Now for you this is of course obvious, but it was not obvious
in 1651 that people--nobles and serfs, slaves and
slaveholders--were all born equal.
And he said, in fact--also extremely
important-- that we are equal actually in
strengths because even the weakest person has the capacity
to kill the strongest one.
Even David can kill Goliath.
But he said the same goes intellectually;
in fact, intellectually we are even more equal than by physical
So that sounds wonderful, and you probably all agree with
But then he makes a very controversial point,
and probably there are some people in this room who agree
with him, but others probably will
disagree with it.
Namely, he said what comes from this equality is this unending
fight; that because we desire the same
thing-- and he operates with the
scarcity assumption, that what is desirable is
actually scarce-- that we'll fight each other.
And we can't fight each other because we are equal--because we
can kill each other, we can outsmart each other.
This is a very unusual argument.
He is a very ironic guy. Right?
He always says things that you may not want to hear.
And this is something who believes in equality do not want
to hear; that, in fact,
equality can be interpreted as the reason for social conflict,
rather than the solution for social conflict.
That is his argument.
Very interesting, very unusual--right?--and
again, probably the closest to Nietzsche as we will see.
Well then we have--this is, I won't read it;
save it, this is the page you want to print,
because for the rest of your life, if you ever want to cite
Hobbes, this is the citation.
Namely that we will therefore be in a war of everyone against
everyone else, for the above reasons.
Now about the question of social contract.
Well he operates with this idea of state of Nature.
And we will talk a lot about this.
Because among most of the social theories--Founding
Fathers of social theories--there is a debate,
what is the original nature of humans?
And it's controversial whether this is a useful concept at all,
the state of nature.
But he did believe in this.
Well there are really two basic laws of nature.
One law of nature is that you are forbidden what is harmful to
You have to pursue self-interest.
Here again you see the rational choice theory speaking.
People are self-interested, and this is the law of nature
that we should be self-interested.
We have to do everything in order to preserve our life.
But there is a second law of nature, he argues,
and this requires that we-- what you would not do--yeah,
not to do others what you would not want them to do to you.
This is--again, you may want to save this
A very important citation--foreshadows major
theories of ethics, which come many,
many years or decades or centuries after him,
particularly Emanuel Kant and his categorical imperative.
Well in the state of nature if there are no restraints,
there is no civilization.
That's a very interesting idea, that pressure limiting the
state of nature is necessary.
This is again foreshadows absolutely Sigmund Freud and his
theory of civilization; that civilization comes out of
the repression of drives, rather than satisfaction of
If whatever you always need is immediately satisfied,
there is no civilization.
Civilization comes from sufferings, from suppressed
That's when you go back and you create great pieces of art or
you become a great scientist because you suppress your sexual
and other desires.
It's always from suffering the great products of humankind are
coming from.
That's what he's saying, and that's of course what
Sigmund Freud will say.
Okay, there are there are the two laws of nature.
And again, I don't want to elaborate on it;
this is quite obvious.
He said there is the elementary law of nature,
the first right, that we have to do whatever is
necessary for self-protection.
And the other one is that we actually should consider others,
what others will do.
Well, and then the contract.
Well what follows from the Second Law of Nature is that we
put our rights aside and transfer it to others.
Well this transfer of rights, there is some reciprocity in
We give up some rights, and we get something in
exchange--protection or safety or something,
as such.
And when we transfer this right to somebody else,
this is what is called the covenant or social contract.
As far as I can tell, this is the first formulation
of the theory of social contract.
It's not quite the theory of social contract that we will
read from Locke or from Rousseau.
Because he said two, again, controversial comments.
One, that, in fact, a contract we entered by fear
is also obligatory.
Just because we were forced into a contract out of fear does
not mean that we can walk out of this contract whenever we want
So it's very much status quo.
He's a conservative guy.
I think it has to be understand, he's deeply
And then he also said that in fact a former contract makes
void a later contract.
So there is no divorce, to put it this way.
Once you swear, you know, that well I'll stay
with you until we live, that's about it.
There is no new contract which voids it.
Now very briefly about the power of the sovereign.
Its power is to produce safety to the people.
He lives in unsafe times.
So he wants safer-- safety.
But obedience is only due to the extent the sovereign can
deliver this safety, and if it cannot--why Charles I
couldn't-- well you could withdraw your
obedience, your loyalty from it.
Okay, now what is important in his time, to find out who the
sovereign is.
And the sovereign actually can be--and I just point out two
words from this citation-- can be transferred on one
man, the king, or upon one
assembly of man.
That's, I think, extremely important.
Though he was very strongly in favor of absolutism,
he did consider that the sovereign can be a properly
assembled body of man.
But how they will be properly assembled, he doesn't have the
faintest idea, or doesn't have the guts to say
It will become much more clear in Locke,
and particularly in Rousseau, where the sovereign is,
and it becomes, of course, crystal clear in the
American Constitution, which starts,
"We the people."
That's where the sovereign is.
In Hobbes's time, it was not quite we the
people, but he did consider that it may not be the royalty,
the king.
Now the sovereign does have duties.
The office of the sovereign has to procure safety of the people.
And he said--he adds to this; extremely important--that it is
not bare preservation.
It has to give more than just survival, as such.
And therefore you can expect for the sovereign to deliver
this, and if the sovereign does not deliver, you can withdraw
your loyalty.
So even though he is a theorist of Absolutism,
he does see the need and possibility that you withdraw
your loyalty and you transfer it to a good king,
to a good sovereign, as such.
Well the question is also what are the good laws?
People say good laws are the laws which are good for the
And he said--and this is extremely important,
I highlighted it--it is not so, not true, that good laws serve
only the sovereign.
The good laws should serve the people.
Well, and this is the end of it.
What are his contributions and what are his shortcomings?
Well his emphasis is on peace and order.
But what he does not consider, that the sovereign might abuse
his power.
And this will be the big criticism of Hobbes by later
theorists; particularly by Locke.
We will set it already Wednesday.
Locke is primary considered by the possibility that the
sovereign may abuse its power.
Well, and then he actually does not develop, as a result,
any theory how power can be held in checks.
There is no theory of checks and balances.
There is one in Hobbes, and even one more developed in
And the American Constitution does not come from Hobbes,
but it comes from Locke, and particularly from
Montesquieu is the one which defined that checks and balances
which entered the American Constitution.
Well he was an apologetical theorist of an enlightened
absolutism--not any absolutism, right?
He was against real monsters, as I already demonstrated it.
As a result, he was not acceptable to the
monarchs because he put too much limitations on their powers;
but he was not acceptable to the emergent bourgeois class
because it attributed too much power to the monarch.
And therefore nobody really liked Hobbes,
but nobody liked--and you may not like him.
What is impossible is to ignore him;
you have to listen to him.
Well see you Wednesday and Thursday in discussion sections.