English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is an empiricist, which by definition means he believes all knowledge acquired by human beings comes from sensory experiences. His body of philosophical works on the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence primarily centers around his political views.
Hobbes develops his political theories out of frustration over the atrocities committed by Western European governments. Since he is enthralled with the scientific advances of his era, he reasons that scientific principles might be applied to politics resulting in a science of politics based on sound philosophical principles leading to a peaceful society free of abuses.
Originally published in 1642, De Cive articulates his political philosophy. He begins by stating,
The faculties of Humane nature may be reduc'd unto four kinds; Bodily strength, Experience, Reason, Passion.
Hobbes theorizes that human beings use their senses of reason to create natural laws and then yield to those laws for the benefit of society. He believes that to build a peaceful society, citizens must forfeit some of their rights, thereby binding themselves to each other and the government they have created. In the absence of adherence to the laws they create, human beings remain in a continual state of war. This concept introduced in De Cive is explained in detail in Hobbes’ later work, Leviathan. In his view:
During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war.
Hobbes’ motivation for De Cive emanates from his belief that to achieve social and political order an authoritarian-type government is necessary. In his view, the “natural condition of mankind” is a state of violence and fear of violence. Human beings act selfishly, often ignorantly when they live by their natural propensities. To overcome fear, they must submit to a dominant government:
I hope no body will doubt but that men would much more greedily be carryed by Nature, if all fear were removed, to obtain Dominion, than to gaine Society. We must therefore resolve, that the Originall of all great, and lasting Societies, consisted not in the mutuall good will men had towards each other, but in the mutuall fear they had of each other. [sic]
Hobbes does not have faith in the ability of human beings to use their sensory perceptions of the world around them to secure peace with one another. The result, he concludes, is a perpetual state of conflict and war. Instead, seeking peace among human beings, he prefers to consider the natural laws or impulses of humans to form binding social contracts with other citizens who should collectively create sovereign societies based on the natural laws upon which they agree.