According to Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan and John Milton's Areopagitica, what are humans for? What is our purpose?

For Hobbes in Leviathan, the purpose of humans is self-preservation. Milton, in Aeropagitica, suggests that humanity's purpose is the pursuit of truth, which brings humans to an understanding of the divine.

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Though they were contemporaries, Thomas Hobbes and John Milton had very different outlooks on humanity. In Leviathan, published in 1651, Hobbes articulated a view of humanity that was essentially naturalistic. He does not perceive that God works in the lives of men. Rather, people in the state of nature are driven by an urge to protect themselves and their property from other people. Hobbes saw humans in the state of nature as locked in a brutal struggle against each other for survival and self-preservation. Life in the state of nature, he wrote, was a "war of every man, against every man." For this reason, without a "common Power to keep them all in awe," Hobbes wrote, the life of man would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Because the purpose of man is self-preservation, it followed that the best government would be one that would keep people in "awe." Hobbes concluded that this government should be absolute in authority.

Aeropagitica, published in 1644, was an extended argument against a licensing law that would have in effect given the English government the power to censor books in a way known as "prior restraint." Milton concluded that this law was wrong because it kept people from doing what they were created to do: to pursue the truth. In a memorable passage, Milton characterized books as living things, and censorship as a form of murder: good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye.

To censor books was to deprive people of the ability to pursue their God-given purpose to seek the truth. Milton argued that God had given human beings the ability to reason precisely so they could pursue, even if they could not fully comprehend, his truth. Though both of these works emerged from a similar context—Milton wrote Aeropagitica early in the English Civil War and Hobbes wrote Leviathan near its end—they demonstrate two very different understandings of human nature and purpose.

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