Hobbes Essay

Hobbes Assignment—Answer one of the following questions in a paper of 4-6 pages. Show an understanding of Hobbes’ themes and ideas, demonstrate reading of the text (use quotes and cite), and an ability to think seriously about these issues yourself.

  1. At the very start of the book, Hobbes distinguishes between the relationship of humans within society under a sovereign, and that between cities (societies). “To speak impartially, both sayings are very true: that man to man is a kind of God; and that man to man is an arrant wolf. The first is true, if we compare citizens amongst themselves; and the second, if we compare cities. In the one, there is some similitude with the Deity; to wit, justice and charity, the twin sisters of peace. But in the other, good men must defend themselves by taking to them for a sanctuary the two daughters of war, deceit and violence…” (89-90) What is the relationship between states according to Hobbes? How does natural law apply? Why is it significant that there is no global sovereign? Why is there no need for a global sovereign?
  2. “The greatest part of those men who have written aught concerning commonwealths…suppose…that man is a creature born fit for society.” (110) By this, Hobbes means people like Aristotle and Aquinas who believe man is naturally inclined to society, friendship, and politics. Hobbes, however, denies that man is naturally social, saying “We do not therefore seek nature for its own sake, but that we may receive some honour or profit from it…” (111) Why does Hobbes think we are not naturally social? Is he right? What is the significance of that for politics? For the need for a sovereign? For international politics?
  3. Hobbes suggests that a state of nature is inherently unstable and a ‘state of war’. When is a state of war in existence? Why is a state of nature naturally a state of war? What is it about human nature which leads to a state of war? Why do individual humans need to leave the state of nature? Why is war not something we can rationally seek? Why can states stay in a state of nature? Is Hobbes right about nature and war?
  4. Hobbes says that “right reason” is “the law of nature” and claims that “that is done by right, which is not done against reason…those actions only wrong, which are repugnant to right reason” and “true reason is a certain law…”(122-123) He offers an account of twenty particular dictates of natural law which he suggests reason commands. Yet he also says that “those we call the laws of nature…are not in propriety of speech laws…” (152) What does he mean by a ‘law of nature”? How are they laws? How are they not laws? Are individuals bound by them? Are states in their actions upon each other? Are sovereigns bound by them? What is the role of the law of nature for Hobbes, and what do you think of his account? Is it coherent? Is it right?
  5. “…lasting societies consisted not in the mutual good will men had towards each other, but in the mutual fear they had of each other.” (113) Why does Hobbes suggest that our societies are built upon fear? Why are we afraid of each other? What are the implications of this for domestic and international politics? Is he right?
  6. Chapter Two is entitled “The Law of Nature concerning contracts.” (121) Contracts, promises and exchanges serve as the basis for the whole contract, and the keeping of them serves as the second law of nature and the basis for the formation of the state. (Ch. 5) But at the same time, Hobbes suggests that “It is not therefore to be imagined that by nature, that is, by reason, men are obliged to the exercise of all these laws…only when it may be done with safety.” (148-149) He even suggests that one of the errors of previous philosophers is the belief that “there were nothing else necessary than that men should agree to make certain covenants and conditions together, which themselves should then call laws. Which axiom…is yet certainly false…” (110-111) What makes us keep our promises, contracts and treaties? Should we do so if there is no sovereign to enforce them? What is our obligation to keep promises? If there is no true obligation to do so, can we ever form a state?
  7. Hobbes suggests that the two driving forces of conflict are our appetites and our vainglory. What makes our appetites lead us into conflict? What is vainglory, and how is it different? How do these parts compare to the part of us which is rational? What is Hobbes saying about human nature and its tendency to create conflict? Is he right? Can we act rationally to avoid those conflicts? How?
  8. Hobbes claims that natural law and our natural inclinations cannot bring us to agreement, peace and security without the institution of a sovereign. Why is agreement not enough to maintain a multitude? Why is the institution of a sovereign necessary?
  9. Hobbes says that the sovereign needs to have certain powers, including the sword of justice, the sword of war, the ability to judge legal doctrine and the ability to punish. What are the powers that Hobbes claims the sovereign needs, and why must it have these powers, according to him? What happens when there is a sovereign lacking some of these powers? Is Hobbes right about the need for a single institutionalized person or group with these powers? Why does Hobbes think these powers are necessary?
  10. Hobbes suggests throughout that the spread of certain opinions is dangerous to the tranquility of society and needs to be policed or replaced with safer doctrines. (i.e. 96-97, 179-180) In Chapter 12, he discusses a variety of opinions he identifies as dangerous to the commonwealth. (243-251) What are these opinions, and why does he see them as dangerous? What do you think of his analysis? Is he right about the potential danger of opinions? Of these opinions? How is Hobbes’ work supposed to be a correction to these opinions?
  11. Hobbes writes about ‘sin’ and ‘divine law’ at some length. Why does he have to discuss these topics? What does he see as the relationship between divine law, natural law, and civil law? What does he define as sin? What do you think of Hobbes’ interpretation of the Bible and theological doctrine? How does it compare to traditional readings? To Aquinas’?
  12. “…that sin, which by the nature of law is treason, is a transgression of the natural, not the civil law,” Hobbes writes (286). Why is this? What is the difference? What makes treason a crime? Why are civil laws against treason ineffective? Do we have an obligation not to rebel against the state, according to Hobbes? What do you think his doctrine about rebellion is? Does it fit with the rest of his work?

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