Summary (Ethics (Ready Reference series))
The moral language utilized by Hobbes in his Leviathan was expressed by the precise vocabulary of geometry, empirical science, and physics. The mathematical and scientific study of politics adopted by Hobbes did not incorporate a value-free or ethically neutral perspective. Hobbes’s political ethical theory was grounded in a causal-mechanical and materialistic metaphysical theory. Hobbes’s mechanistic scientific model was explanatory of all existence, since the universe consisted of interconnected matter in motion. This complex political theory and set of ethical arguments were deduced from Hobbes’s pessimistic interpretation of human nature in the context of an original, or primitive, condition. It was in this highly unstable, anarchic, and violent state of nature that individuals competitively pursued their self-interests. Hobbes depicted with bleak realism “the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The political ethics in Leviathan were justified primarily by the natural human egoistic motivation of fear of violent death, and secondarily by the passions for power and material possessions. Therefore, self-preservation was the most fundamental natural right and was the central reason for individuals to leave the state of nature and enter into commonwealths. Hobbes’s articulation of the normative egalitarian principle of universal natural rights was expressed in conjunction with his radical rejection of the principle of...
(The entire section is 399 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In considering the “matter, forme, and power” of the commonwealth, or state, Thomas Hobbes does far more than describe governments as he finds them. His goal is to explain the origin of political institutions and to define their powers and right limits. To this end he draws an analogy between the art of nature, which produces humanity, and the art of humanity, productive of the commonwealth. In drawing the analogy he first explains humanity, giving to the description a thoroughly mechanistic bias. He then proceeds to explain the state as humanity’s artful creation, designed to put an end to the war of all against all.
The state, “that great Leviathan,” is but an “Artificial Man,” writes Hobbes. The sovereign is an artificial soul, the officers of the state are artificial joints, reward and punishment are nerves, and wealth and riches are strength. The people’s safety is the business of the artificial man; the laws are its reason and will; concord, its health; sedition, its sickness; and civil war, its death.
All human ideas originate in sense, according to Hobbes—that is, they are derived from sense impressions. All sensation is a result of external bodies pressing upon the sense organs. Imagination is “nothing but decaying sense,” the effect of sense impressions after the external body has ceased to press upon the organs. If one wants to emphasize the past cause of the impression, one calls the fading image a...
(The entire section is 1761 words.)