Political Philosophy: Unit 2 The state of nature

2.4 Hobbes

This section of your reading has two parts:

  1. A short extract from Hobbes’s masterpiece, Leviathan (Selection 2 in Rosen and Wolff (eds.)).
  2. A description and analysis of Hobbes’s argument from the Wolff textbook, pp. 8–17.

Please now read the extract from Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan is arguably the greatest work of political philosophy written in English. The other works that might compete for this title include John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and, some might say, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. Extracts from all these will be read on this course, and in fact Locke is part of the reading for this week.

Leviathan was published in 1651. It is long work, written in the context of the English Civil War, arguing for the advantage and legitimacy of an absolute sovereign as the only alternative to an anarchic situation of a state of nature, which would be a war of all against all. Please read the short selection now. Remember not to worry if you find it hard to understand. If necessary, skim-read it and then move on to the next reading.

Please now read the selection from the Wolff textbook, pp. 8–17.

Individual activity: Hobbes quiz

Please now answer the first section of the quiz, on Hobbes. Remember that you may, if you wish, write your answers in your blog or elsewhere before clicking on ‘Reveal’.

  1. Does Hobbes think that one of the reasons for war in the state of nature is that people are naturally equal or naturally unequal? Reveal

    Naturally equal, in the limited sense of being equally capable of killing each other.

  2. According to Hobbes, would natural human tendencies in the absence of government lead to war or to peace? Reveal


  3. What, for Hobbes, and using Hobbes’s own terms, are the three principal causes of ‘quarrel’ in the state of nature? Reveal

    Competition, diffidence and glory.

  4. Complete the following quote, that life in the state of nature is ‘solitary, poor, …’ Reveal

    nasty, brutish and short.

  5. Does Hobbes think that it is unjust for one person to kill or attack another in the state of nature? Reveal

    No. In the state of nature the notions of justice and injustice have no place.

Individual activity: Hobbes

Does Hobbes provide a plausible account of the state of nature? Write down some thoughts about this now in your blog or elsewhere, so that you will have notes to help you when you join in the discussion at the end of this unit.