rtment of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Hobbes – I: Intro and Human Nature
Hello and welcome everyone. In this lecture, today, we are going to study a new thinker, Thomas
Hobbes in western political thought. With Hobbes, we see a kind of new thinking and
theorization about politics which is very different from the religious modes of thinking about the
temporal or political power and authority in medieval Europe. And from the ethical or sense of
virtue, a predominant role in theorizing about politics in Plato and Aristotle.
So, with Hobbes, we see a kind of new approach to politics which is quintessentially modern.
And that is why with Hobbes, we see a kind of the beginning of modern political thought. On
Hobbes, we are going to have three lectures. In the first lecture, we will situate Hobbes in the
larger social, political, and intellectual context of England. We will discuss his views on human
In the first lecture, we are going to discuss these two things. In the second lecture, we will focus
particularly on his Leviathan or the idea of sovereignty, and how this civic authority or civil
authority has absolute power. And what is the justification for such absolute power and authority
in Hobbes, and how he argues such an absolute form of authority based on ‘the state of nature’.
Thus, all these theorizations about sovereignty, state, and its justification of absolute power and
authority, we are going to discuss in the second lecture. And in the concluding lecture on
Hobbes, we will particularly focus on his theory of political obligation. So, in modern political
discourse, the obedience of the ruled or the people or the governed is not given like in the
monarchy or like when we have the divine right theory of politics and the temporal politics.
Now, with modernity, government or the state must justify or legitimize its rule by getting
obedience from the people. The consent of the people or the ruled becomes the basis of
legitimacy for the modern state and the modern government. So, this theory of political
obligation is why a citizen should obey the rule. Not because it commands certain religious
authority or virtuous notion of life or ethical promises. But it has to justify in the unambiguous
term. What is the theory of political obligation? We are going to discuss in the third lecture.And in that lecture, we will discuss in the second part the criticism that is labeled against
Hobbes. Hobbes is regarded as the first modern political thinker in the western tradition. None
the less, he creates Leviathan or the sovereign which takes away all the rights of the individual
and the citizens. So, what is the point of creating that order, which will you know (04:03) as all
kinds of liberty or the choices that individuals, may have?
In the concluding lecture, we will discuss the criticisms against Hobbes. In this lecture, we are
going to study Hobbes by situating him in the largest socio-political and intellectual context, and
his brief biography before we start discussing his views on human nature.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:32)
As I have said that Thomas Hobbes is the first modern political thinker and this you can relate
with Machiavelli’s political thought that we have discussed in the previous three lectures. That
Machiavelli is someone who is in between that medieval mode of thinking about the politics and
He is a kind of precursor to modern political thought. But Hobbes truly represents the approach
or the methodology to politics that we have in modern times. Thomas Hobbes is the first modern
political thinker who provides us a new paradigm of politics. So, the reason for regarding
Hobbes as the first modern political thinker was because the kind of methodology, the kind of
approach, or the language that he deployed distinguished him from the previous political
philosophers. He deployed a kind of scientific and objective method. So would see how he defines human
nature and how that human nature leads to the creation of a state which is an artificial construct.
And why such an artificial construct should exercise the absolute power of those who construct
them in the first place. Thus, the justification that he provided, the language that he deployed,
and the approach were very different, scientific and objective from the previous medieval
political thinker or the classical era political thinkers and that distinguished Hobbes from the
earlier tradition of political thought and thinking.
He had a very scientific and objective approach to politics or the political phenomena and the
characteristic fault of Hobbesian political theory was its unambiguous language. And that
unambiguous language about the politics; he regarded as the science of politics. Before that,
there was subjective speculation or contemplation about politics for instance in Plato certainly.
But also, to his great extent, Aristotle was there.
So, he rescues in a sense of political thinking and theorization from the subjective speculation of
a particular thinker. In other words, a kind of science, objectivity, or a kind of neutrality that he
deployed in his theorization about politics, state, and political obligation.
There was a kind precision of language closer to the mathematical kind of reasoning. That’s
why, we should obey the sovereign, why we need a sovereign which should exercise absolute
power. The justification he gave was not based on some religious thinking or ethical or more or
less speculation. But he justified it based on the understanding of human nature. What will
happen without the state or absolute power of the state?
He provided a kind of unambiguous language to his theory of politics. And in contrast to
classical and medieval political theory; Hobbes replaces the notion like virtue, ethics, and the
religious authority with the idea of liberty or choice of the individual which was necessary for
the social, economic progress, and the prosperity of individual as well as the community.
So, the idea of liberty and the pursuit of self-interest which was different from public or political
interest. There was a kind of shift in the Hobbesian imagination of politics, state, and the theory
of sovereignty. If you remember in Plato and Aristotle, the whole purpose of the state or the
policy is to create a condition where human beings can realize his/her true potentialities. The best possible life or the fullest expression of one’s skill is possible in the associational life of
the community in the policy. Here, in Hobbesian thinking, the public and the political part of
human life are replaced with the private pursuit of interest. So, Hobbesian political thinking
regarded the individual as a private person and it is perfectly okay if that private person pursues
his/her particular interest and does not participate in public life.
The very existence of politics and state then was to create the condition for the people to secure
his life, and provide him/her the freedom to pursue his personal or private interest. There is a
kind of decisive shift in and that to a great extent becomes the understanding of politics today.
We live an individualistic life and we demand the state to provide law and order. In other words,
provides the condition where we can pursue our interest.
It is not necessary like in classical time to also proactively participate in the famous Aristotelian
dictum. The ability to rule and being ruled in turn does not define citizenship. Citizenship is a
kind of passive, personal life of the individual and a state is there to provide the condition of law
and order where an individual can pursue a personal interest or the particular interest.
So, that kind of shift was there in Hobbesian thinking which became the basis of modern
political thought and thinking or theorization of what a state is. He replaced notions like virtue,
ethics, and religious authority and how he does. We will discuss as we proceed with his
understanding of human nature and the ‘state of nature’.
Hobbes's philosophy of social contract is also something that gives the existence of the state and
its legitimacy a new paradigm. So, the state is not something given, it is not natural. It is the
artificial construct of human beings when they come together in the larger good of their
protection of life and liberty.
So, the existence of a state is dependent on the contract among the individuals when they come
together. His philosophy of social contract then becomes the kind of basis or the foundation for
thinking about politics, state, citizens, and their obligation to state in modern political discourse.
In modern terms, when we think about why should we obey the rule of the state? Why should we
obey the command of the rulers? The reason being that the ruling or the government of modern times is regarded as based on the
consent of the rule. So, we are not for some religious, ethical, or moral reason expected to obey
the rule or the government. We obey the government because we choose the government in the
first place. So, there is a kind of tacit consent that citizens give and thereby provide legitimacy to
the government. And once that consent is there that becomes the ground of our obligation.
And that is something new in Hobbesian thinking and here there is a kind of language of contract
like in the corporate world or world of industries. So, human beings as free individuals are not
subjected to obey the commands of others because of religious or ethical-moral consideration.
But, because he or she in his free will think that that rule or government, or the obedience to that
rule or the government is in the benefit of their own life and liberty.
This language of the contract becomes the basis of modern political discourse what is a state,
citizen, and obligation. So, beginning with the social contract tradition, thus the modern state is
seen not as a natural or given entity. But an artificial construct. Thus, human beings coming
together through contract and government constituted a legal and corporate entity which we
It was not given, not religious and this was a corporate legal entity that must provide certain
security or which must perform certain duties for the people to obey its command. There was a
kind of give and take the relationship between the state and the citizens. So, the existence of the
state is not for its own sake; it must provide the condition for the human being to pursue their
And so long it can provide that condition where individuals can pursue their interest that state is
legitimate and therefore the citizen should obey its command. So, it is a kind of contract between
the two-party, the state, and the citizens, and that makes the state in modern concepts a kind of
legal and corporate entity with its well-demarcated territory. That is the characteristic of a
modern state; it will have a very precise demarcated territory.
It is not like an unambiguous boundary in pre-modern times during the era of empire and other
forms of political authority. Here, the territory of the state is well-demarcating with its legitimacy
and monopoly of coercive means for violence. So, the state as a corporate legal entity enjoyscertain legitimacy and monopoly of coercive violence that distinguishes the modern state from
other forms of political authority.
And the legitimacy of this state as a corporate legal entity with a monopoly of violence within a
given territory rests so long as it can provide the condition for individuals or for the citizens to
pursue their private interest. So, there is a kind of different take on the understanding of a state,
participation in the public political life, and the Hobbesian conceptions. We will see later on how
it creates a kind of condition for the Bourgeoisie society or the modern capitalist society to
And it is rooted in that modes of thinking where prosperity, industries, trade, and business are
regarded as necessary for a happy life or human satisfaction, for the protection of the
community. And for that, you need a state which will exercise absolute power, the sovereignty
which is individual and non-transferable. So, this kind of image of the state as a legal corporate
identity with a monopoly of violence is rooted in this idea of a new subjectivity that does not
necessarily enjoy or force to participate in the public life of the state.
The Hobbesian individual is regarded as perfectly okay if he or she does not take any interest at
all in the political matter. But, the politics or the state and its existence are legitimate, so long it
provides the private citizen the condition for the pursuit of their interest. According to Hobbes,
its authority that is the state’s authority is sustained based on the legitimacy and the obedience it
commands from the citizen.
According to Hobbes, politics is part of civic philosophy which should share the methods and
language of other branches of knowledge such as natural science and particularly geometry. We
will see later on how when Hobbes theorizes his concepts of states or sovereignty and why such
sovereignty should be absolute? What is the justification? He developed a very scientific
objective and a kind of mathematical language; so there is no ambiguity is there.
So, why we should obey the ruler? Because if you do not obey there will be the war of each
against all. And then it will create a condition, where the prosperity in life trades and business
becomes impossible. And life will be nasty, brutish, and short. Therefore, we must obey the one.
So, the language that he deploys is unambiguous and very precise.And the rule of definition becomes a central part of his development of political theory and
political thought. And there he regarded that we should follow the method of natural science,
particularly, mathematics or geometry. His theory of state sovereignty is based on the
understanding of human nature, which we are going to discuss in today's lecture.
Hobbes built his theory, not on the premise of heaven or ethical or moral consideration. But
based on the exact understanding of human nature. So, the whole artifacts of Hobbes and
political philosophy are based on the understanding of human nature. And that we will see as we
move on these three lectures on Hobbes's political philosophy.
So, Hobbes's justification for the creation and sustenance of state or absolute sovereignty is
nearly mathematical in terms of its precision. He argued that to establish order, the state which is
the result of the association of free individuals coming and contracting together to form a
commonwealth. It would ensure the life and liberty of the individuals and thereby created the
condition of prosperity and industry.
That is the basis of the justification of state and its absolute power that is the result of the people
who are free individuals. And they come together and then have a kind of contract among
themselves. Through that contract, the state and sovereign power emerged. The existence of such
a state and sovereign power was based on its ability to create the condition for human beings to
pursue their interest.
And so long that the state or sovereign provides those conditions, its authority or power is
legitimate. Once it fails to do so, human beings have the freedom to come together and create a
new sovereign or state. So, that is the premise of Hobbes’s political theory.
Now, we try to situate Hobbes in the larger socio-political and the intellectual context of England
of the 17th century. And this you can connect with the methodological lectures that we have. The
thinkers and their ideas can be better understood in the historical and socio-political context. And
most of the political theory and theorization developed in the context of turbulence was in the
context of crisis. It is equally true in Hobbesian political theory.
(Refer Slide Time: 20:51)Hobbes was developing his political theory during a turbulent period in England’s history. What
was that turbulence or crisis in England's history? It was a period of a violent struggle between
the parliament, royalty, or monarchy. There was a kind of tussle or struggle which was violent
between the parliamentary forces that wanted to represent the voice of people.
And these people are not the poor or multitude. But those who have the property or in other
words, the aristocrats. They pay taxes or revenues to the government and monarchy. And once
they pay the taxes or revenues, the monarchy should be accountable to their opinion, views, and
scrutiny. Thus, there was a kind of tussle between the parliamentary forces which represented the
interests of the aristocrats or nobles or property, class, and monarchy.
The Parliament which was representing the interests of nobles or aristocrats and not the poor
unlike today, where we see the parliament as the representative body that reflected the will of the
people. And modern democracy is supposed to function as per the will of the people that
reflected in the parliament through their representatives. That is the basis of the legitimacy of the
modern democracy and liberal parliamentary state.
Unlike, the parliament in 17th century England, there was a group of propertied people, the
nobles, or aristocratic families. And they wanted to check the power of the monarchy or royalty.
So, the parliament represented the interests of nobles and aristocrats, not the poor who were
attempting to curtail the absolute power of the monarchy. Monarchy in contrast to the parliament claimed to represent the will or the interests of the
people. And not just the propertied class. This tussle led to civil war, a violent struggle between
the parliament and monarchy. There was a kind of polarization in society between the forces of
royalty on the one hand and the parliamentary forces on the other.
It led to the English civil war from 1642 to 48 or 49. It ended with the beheading of Charles-1,
the king of England in 1649, and the establishment of the leaders of the parliamentary army
which was Oliver Cromwell’s rule. There was a kind of political turmoil or instabilities when
Hobbes was trying to construct a new theory of politics or political order.
There was the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660 after the death of parliamentary
leader Cromwell in 1657. But the factionalism between the parliament and monarchy continued
in one form or the other. And more specifically, monarchy claimed to represent the views of the
Catholic Christian religion and the non-conformists which resulted in a religious war.
And when we discussed law, we see how tolerance is regarded as necessary for political stability.
So, after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, there was a kind of factionalism between the
parliament and monarchy. Specifically, between the Catholic and non-conformists, which
continued and settled to a great extent in 1689 with the passage of the Toleration Act. So, once
the parliament passed this Act, this kind of some understanding was there between these two
It was this ceaseless struggle between the royalist, parliamentarians politically and Catholic
Church and protestant movement religiously which shaped much of the political turmoil and
confusion in the 17th century in England and Europe. Thus, historically for the European
continent, this 17th to 19th century was a period of much political instability.
New imagination of political power, new thinking about the state, and conventional authority
such as the Catholic Church or absolutist monarchy were unable to provide political order or
command the obedience of people. That required a new discourse, new thinking about politics
which Hobbes in a sense provided.
Thus, there was a search for new forms of political authority and their legitimacy. The divine
right theory and the Catholic Church or even the absolutist monarchies were unable to command obedience from the people. So, Hobbes’s political philosophy in a sense, then particularly his
theory of sovereign or Leviathan, in some sense, institutionalized the protestant reforms
movement maxim, that ‘cuius region eius relgio’. That means it was up to the king to decide
And that was a kind of movement towards secular politics in modern political discourse,
particularly in Europe. As a result of religious war, the competitive struggle for the authority
between the Catholic Church and absolutist monarchies resulted in the Treaty of Westphalia or
with that a kind of understanding that the monarch who governed the territory that rules the
territory. So, decide the religious orthodoxy in that particular territory.
That led to the creation of the Church of England and the modern re-imagination of religion
which should not dictate the temporal power or political power. But, it should work within the
sphere of political power or political authority. So, Hobbes’s conception of a sovereign or the
Leviathan to a great extent institutionalized these protestant ethics.
The outcome of the religious war or religious intolerance that was prevalent widely in the
European continent among the Catholics and the protestant, among the royalist, and the
parliamentarians. So, Hobbes’s political philosophy, thus, developed in a context of the rejection
of the Christian metaphysics and the revival of Greek-Roman classics, and humanist traditions.
Copernicus in astronomy, Galileo in physics, Francis Bacons, and Descartes in philosophy were
extending the boundaries or the frontiers of human knowledge. By providing a new explanation
of planetary movement, philosophy, human nature, and the role of human agency in creating a
better society or understanding of the world in which we live.
So, Hobbes’s political philosophy was developing in a context where there was a kind of allaround progress in every sphere of life, in science, in philosophy, in physics, in mathematics, and
so on. And that to a great extent shapes the political thinking or theorization of Hobbes. So,
Hobbes derived much of the methodological tools from the natural sciences.
And will see later on how he deployed a different language or approach to politics that is free
from subjective biases or speculation of a particular thinker. He wanted to develop an ahistorical.
So, the very basis of the social contract is the idea that a state is not a trans-historical or a historical thing. It was created by the individual when they come together to protect their life and
And in protecting their life and liberty, they trade-off certain liberty. When others agreed to do
some similar kind of trade-off and then create a monarchy and sovereign with absolute power.
Thus, this is an artificial construct. In that artificial construct, it is ahistorical. So, he wanted to
develop an ahistorical and scientific theory of politics or state that would demonstrate from the
The essence of political authority was what rulers and subjects must do to avoid war and secure
peace and prosperity. So, the whole purpose of politics in that sense is to secure peace to
establish an order that is the precondition for any prosperity, socio-economic, and political. So,
like Plato, Aristotle, and Machiavelli, Hobbes also shared this anxiety to create a condition of
peace order in the society that is necessary for prosperity, economic, social, and political.
However, how in these turbulent times, where the conventional understanding or authority fails
to command obedience from the people. One can develop a new maxim, understanding of
politics, and theorization of politics which will lead to political obligation, to the creation of the
state where the state and citizens should function in a manner that would create the conditions of
political order, peace, and stability. And thereby, prosperity in society. Thus, in constructing that
political theory, Hobbes deployed an ahistorical method and scientific approach.
(Refer Slide Time: 31:41)Now, we will briefly, discuss the biography of Hobbes. He was born in 1588 in Malmesbury,
Wiltshire in England. His father was a clergyman with limited means and few intellectual
accomplishments. Hobbes had his education in Oxford with the support from his uncle and it was
in Oxford that he developed the criticism of Aristotelian ethics and Scholastic philosophy which
he thought was very little significance, to understand the prevailing circumstances in real life and
also, how to improve those circumstances.
He developed a critical approach to the Aristotelian ethics that was dominant in the university
circle and discourses. And also, the Scholastic philosophy and his approach was scientific and
materialistic understanding of politics and society. So, the first building block of politics and
society is the individual.
And to understand society and the state, one needs to understand the individual and the way he
defines the individual. And we will see it later when we discuss human nature is a very
materialistic understanding, not any kind of moral, and unethical approach to define a human
being and its behavior.
And this definition or understanding of human nature or behavior becomes the basis of his theory
of sovereignty or Leviathan or political obligation. Hobbes developed it in Oxford with his critic
of Aristotelian and prevalent Scholastic philosophy. His own scientific and materialistic
approach to politics and society. Hobbes spent most of his life in the family of an aristocrat.
William Cavendish despised the rule by people or multitude.In the Hobbesian approach, he was very apprehensive about the rule of people or the multitude,
and in that sense, he was a somewhat controversial figure. And as we will see in the third lecture,
while we assist his political thought. He was a supporter of the monarchy and for his thought, he
was being criticized by the royalty or the forces who supported the royalty.
Similarly, he was criticized by the forces of the parliamentary form of government and the
religious authorities of his time. And in that sense, Hobbes had a very peculiar situation to think
about the politics and political trait as it is. To his political theorization coincided with the civil
war and enclosure movement in England which was about dispossessing the poor from their land
and appropriation by the aristocrats or newly emerging middle class in England.
And that leads to mercantile capitalism and gradually, the industrial revolution. So, conventional
authorities such as the Church, papacy, and royalty were increasingly challenged by the people.
In the beginning, he was a staunch supporter of royalty and fearing the civil war in England. He
spent a good portion of his productive life in exile and spent many years in Paris and France,
where he wrote many of the text, including Leviathan.
However, after the end of the English civil war 1642 to 49 and the execution of Charles-I, the
king of England who ruled England without consulting the parliament. So, the parliamentary
forces wanted the monarchy to consult parliament, be accountable to parliament in governing.
However, Charles-I refused to consult the parliament and ruled England without being
accountable to the parliament that leads to the civil war.
And after the execution of Charles-1 in 1649, Hobbes returned to England in 1652 and he made
the peace with the new ruler Lord Cromwell who was the leader of the parliamentary army.
However, after the restoration of the monarchies in the 1660s and the return of Charles-II as the
king of England, Hobbes returned to the royal court and received a pension. He died aged 91 in
Thus, Hobbes in his personal political life, there was a kind of shift from being the staunch
supporter of the monarchy to coming into terms with the parliamentary leader and then going
back again to the monarchy. And in this movement, there was a kind of constant endeavor to
avoid violent or sudden death. So, this basis of avoiding the condition would lead to a sudden or violent death that becomes the premise of his all political theory which we will discuss with his
understanding of human nature.
In his personal life, it will see his exile coming back to support for the monarchy and coming
into terms with the parliamentary forces. So, it is a kind of preservation of life and avoiding
death as the sole basis of political action for the individual. That becomes the basis of his
understanding of Leviathan or the sovereign as well.
(Refer Slide Time: 37:25)
So, it was an exile that Hobbes came across major intellectuals and scientific luminaries of
Europe and cultivated friendship with them. And these men of letters and science were Francis
Bacon, Galileo-Galileo, Descartes, and others. He taught mathematics to the future king of
England, Charles-II. It was during this tour in exile that Hobbes came across Euclid’s work on
geometry. That becomes the foundation for his political thinking, his obsession with the
precision or unambiguous language of politics.
Thus, Euclid's geometry profoundly influenced his thinking and political thought, and his
emphasis on the precision of language and the value of definition. So, he defined everything that
is human nature. What is the movement? What is voluntary movement and what is involuntary
movement? what is a sense of what is the reason? He defined it very precisely and if you care to read his text, Leviathan. You will be mesmerized
by the mathematical language that he deployed. There was so much logical argument or
coherence from one to the other argument. That it created a kind of mathematical artifacts in a
sense, where premise ju
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