Thomas Hobbes

Place an order for a custom essay, research paper on this or related subject


Hobbes is remembered as one of the greatest philosopher of late 16th century and 17th century. Hobbes was basically concerned about the political and social order. He sought to answer the question on how the human beings can avoid fear of civil conflict and live together at peace with one another. The focus of his study was on right of the individual, character of political order and the men natural equality. To explain his ideas he used the concept of ‘sovereign power’ and ‘state of nature’. According to Hobbes, a true legitimate political power should be made through people’ consent and be a representative of all being ruled by such a government. His viewed liberal law as one which allows people to do all that is not explicitly forbidden by such law.  Hobbes was a proponent of the materialism which claims that all things are constitute of material which result to material interactions. (Morgan 2005).

Hobbes proposed that people should be their obedience to group or person who they will empower to decide on their behalf on both the social and political issues. The group or person to be obeyed is what he referred as ‘sovereign power’. He claimed that, if this did not happen, state of nature will take its course and will be the only option to the people. To him, the state of nature is comparable to civil war where there exists universal insecurity, human cooperation is impossible and all people have no reason to dread about violent death. (Morgan 2005).

Much of Hobbes work was influenced by the conditions in which he lived in. England was undergoing through political, religious, military and economical upheavals.  The rich and the poor were all largely divided.  Inequality prevailed in the country while the upheavals of civil wars lead to rise of strong political and religious groups.  Hobbes was opposed to any challenge against the king.  Hobbes intellect was driven by two aspects. He was opposed to religious authority and theories that defended and accepted such authority. He was also interested in emerging scientific methods and geometry. These two aspects determined how he presented his views. Hobbes proposed that religious disputes should always be kept out of politics. According to him, the subjects duty to God should not override their duty to obey the sovereign power but it should also be the role of the sovereign authority to determine which religious believes suite its subjects. He used deductive science that always borrowed conclusions from basic principles. Based on human motivations and action he was able to propose a political system that he thought will ensure civic peace and disposition mankind in fulfilling their civic duty. (Morgan 2005).

Hobbes also described society as a population which should be subject to a sovereign authority. It is from sovereign authority all individuals should derive their natural rights and expect to be protected. He argued that abuse of power by the sovereign authority is acceptable as a price to peace. On the other hand, he claimed that rebellion should only be acceptable when severe abuse of power occurs. Sovereign authority should be allowed to control civil, judicial, ecclesiastical and military powers. To him, government does not exist in natural condition.  In such natural condition, it is only mother authority on child exist since the child is much weaker than the mother and need her to survive. Among the adults the case is different. Any adult is capable of killing the other. The weakest are capable of persuading others to kill the strongest when he/she is at sleep.  Adults are equal in one way or another. This makes them able to threaten one another lives. (Morgan 2005).

State of nature is unlikely to develop an authority that will order human beings lives. Based on this, he opposed the religious claims that monarchs had God given right to govern over people. Thus, it is the role of human being to free themselves from the role of nature by organizing a form of government to which they will grant powers to make social and political decisions on their behalf. He claimed that any attempt to undermine such government will lead to unsuccessful move away from disorderly state of nature that will result into social and political conflicts. (Morgan 2005).

Hobbes also claimed that cooperation of the arms supporting the government will also determine how first the society will transit from state of nature to artificial state where their affairs are run by a one sovereign authority, peace and cohesion are prevalent and all people are subjective to the orders of the government.  Any attempt by the government supporting arms to separate is doomed to bring awful consequences unless some effective authorities replace these arms. (Morgan 2005).

Hobbes asserts that peaceful cooperation will not exist at all in the absence of overarching authority. The human beings will not live in security and peacefully without a government.  In absence of the government, people will not only compete but also compete violently in effort to secure basic needs of life and also further other material gains. Individuals will challenge others and fight, which is an occurrence that will be propelled by the fear and urge to ensure personal safety. Additionally, individuals will seek reputation/glory for no reason and also be protected from others harms and ensure that others will be afraid to challenge them. (Morgan 2005).

However, his critics claim that his work viewed human beings as solely self interested.  Others argues that this view lead to misconception of how people can live together peacefully without having to submit fully to group or individuals supposed to make all their social and political decisions. His claim that only an unaccountable sovereign can ensure order in the society has also received different views. In our present world, justification of human authority is very imperative.  Some rules are also accepted by few, political and social inequalities also continue to be questioned, and religious disputes are eminent and disputed.  Thus we still live a world where rights to all need to be allowed without discrimination.  However as Hobbes concern was, there is a need to establish who will enforce this. This links to political powers. Who should be entitled to this power? This is the question which Hobbes was trying to answer.  Some critics of Hobbes’s argument that only subjection to a sovereign group or person could result into order, have been basing their argument on existence of authoritarian authorities which have lead to more disorder despite being sovereign.  John Locke also argued that human beings cannot live together in absence of persuasive and effective justifications of power. He also claimed that there should be well established systems to ensure that political authority do not overstep their authority and deny their subjects of their rights. (Morgan 2005).

Hobbes argument is that individuals are selfish, coward while others are vainglorious. Others possess all these traits. Many individuals will opt to use violence as mean of attaining their ends in cases where some forces do not exist to stop them. His claim that some individuals behave fearfully, selfishly or vaingloriously has some truth in it.  If an individual thinks somebody is a threat he/she would rather attack first. One will gather reputation, as someone who is powerful and unbeatable if he thinks to have so many potential attackers. It is the wickedness of bad people that compel good people to have recourse as they seek to protect themselves especially in war time.  He also claimed that it is also hard for covenants to take place in state of nature society. One party will tend to fail in performing its part as they are no contracts enforcing authorities. The agreement is only likely to be performed by the weakest. Trust in which much of human cooperation relies on will not exist. State of nature will not develop trust and this will not allow for many human society achievements. This argument is based on the necessity of reciprocating fairly to others.(Morgan 2005 p568).


As a solution to result of state of nature, Hobbes argued that government/sovereign authority should be established by the people. Such authority will set up well established framework of law, clearly stating the judgment and punishment and also provide for enforcement of such punishments. Although it may be argued that individuals may have reasonable sense of what is wrong and right, absence of government will make individuals unwilling to be subjective to this reasonable sense of right and wrong. There also exists difference among individuals of what is right and wrong. (Morgan 2005).

Additionally, individuals will naturally seek to ensure their self-preservation. Such urge may lead them to act violently against others. He also urges that, individuals under state of nature not only have the right to ensure their self preservation but also judge what will secure them self preservation. Hobbes, claims that human never judge wisely. Morals in state of nature are relative. The absence of trust and feeling of insecurity will push the individuals not to solve their misunderstandings peacefully. No one has a right to judge others doings as bad. Every person is a judge of his/her own and be ready to face the counter reaction of others. The war of every man to every man will never cease. In nature of state, notion of justice and injustice, right and wrong do not exist. Individuals have a right to everything including others’ body and lives. No authority to object any individual desire to acquire an object, ones labor, and have other person killed. (Morgan 2005).

Some Hobbes critics perceived that his claim of absence of moral constraints in human living in the state of nature was a bit misleading. They believe such individuals will only exist in the absence of social interactions where idea of what is right or wrong will never exist. They argue that, this is viewing human beings as if they have emerged from earth as mushroom does.

They also term it as a mere description of interaction of amoral and selfish human beings. (Morgan 2005).

Based on such view of state of nature, Hobbes give a case why sovereign authority is important in ensuring disorders in the society are eliminated. He claims that judgment should only be sole province of the sovereign. However his claim will only be accepted by those who are less optimistic about human judgment.  His claim that individuals have unlimited obligation to the sovereign authority is also unacceptable to those who believes in democracy where liberty maximization is emphasized as the government continues to rule over the subjects. (Morgan 2005)

Despite this criticism, it is universally agreed that peaceful coexistence among people is indispensable.  It should be sort through all means even it means sacrificing some liberty, going through inconveniences, and even making some compromises. State and law are very necessary to ensure enforcement systems in the society so as human beings may cooperate peacefully. However, it is unacceptable to have only one judge as he/she may turn out to be very faulty given that human judgment is faulty and weak.  The great concern should be how to divide power among various individuals and peacefully adjudicate moral and political judgment.  Institutions and standards that provide for compromise on different conflicting judgment should also be established. With such consideration, Hobbes work will contribute towards finding a solution to ensuring peaceful coexistence and disposing of mankind toward fulfilling their civic duty.