Econstudentlog

Leviathan

“Very boring writing style”

“To call his writing plodding is a gross understatement”

“This book is impossible to read; Hobbes’ style of writing is ridiculously long winded and very difficult to comprehend.”

“learned once again that I, unfortunately, just do not have the patience or attention span for the minutiae of philosophy.”

“The main idea is nice, but who cares about it if the whole book is inedible? The first part of the book is just bullshit which has nothing to do with the society. Read a summary, don’t waste your time.”

From the google reviews here. They really make you want to read the book, right? Of course I could have picked some other review quotes; there are significantly more 5 star reviews (42) than 1- (14) and 2 star reviews (14) combined. Anyway, I was first introduced to Hobbes’ thinking about 10 years ago in high school, and so I have already read ‘a summary’. I’m currently reading an abbreviated version of the book.

Sometimes half the fun of reading books like these is to spot assumptions and value judgments which were considered par for the course at the time the books were written, or at the very least not particularly controversial, yet today make the reader do a double take and think ‘what the f*#%$?’ Here’s an, interesting, example:

“as for witches, I think not that their witchcraft is any real power; but yet that they are justly punished, for the false belief they have, that they can do such mischief, joined with their purpose to do it if they can: their trade being nearer to a new religion than to a craft or science.” (Chapter 2, ‘Of imagination’).

Incidentally I do urge you here to remember that ideas like witchcraft are not in all parts of the world considered just a thing of the past; there are still people living today who are punished for witchcraft. Some other quotes from the book below:

“whatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire, that is it which he for his part calls good: and the object of his hate and aversion, evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable. For these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that uses them: thee being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man (where there is no commonwealth); or (in a commonwealth) from the person that represents it; or from an arbitrator or judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up, and make his sentence the rule thereof.” (Chapter 6, ‘Of the interior beginnings of voluntary motions; commonly called the passsions; and the speeches by which they are expressed’)

“The greatest of human powers, is that which is compounded of the powers of most men, united by consent, in one person, natural, or civil, that has the use of all their powers depending on his will; such as is the power of a common-wealth: or depending on the will of each particular; such as is the power of a faction or of divers factions leagued. Therefore to have servants, is power; to have friends, is power: for they are strengths united.” […]

“The value, or WORTH of a man, is as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power: and therefore is not absolute; but a thing dependant on the need and judgment of another. […] as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the price. For let a man (as most men do) rate themselves at the highest value they can; yet their true value is no more than it is esteemed by others.” (Chapter 10, ‘Of power, worth, dignity, honour, and worthiness’)

“the felicity of this life, consists not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such (utmost aim) nor summum bonum (greatest good) as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose desires are at an end, than he, whose sense and imaginations are at a stand. Felicity is a continual progress of the desire, from one object to another; the attaining of the former, being still but the way to the latter. […]

I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death. And the cause of this, is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight, than he has already attained to; or that he cannot be content with a moderate power; but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more. And from hence it is, that kings, whose power is greatest, turn their endeavors to the assuring it at home by laws, or abroad by wars: and when that is done, there succeeds a new desire; in some, of fame from new conquest; in others, ease and sensual pleasure; in others, of admiration, or being flattered for excellence in some art, or other ability of the mind.

Competition of riches, honour, command, or other power, inclines to contention, enmity, and war: because the way of one competitor, to the attaining of his desire, is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repel the other. […]

Men that have a strong opinion of their own wisdom in matter of government, are disposed to ambition. Because without public employment in council or magistracy, the honour of their wisdom is lost. And therefore eloquent speakers are inclined to ambition; for eloquence seems wisdom, both to themselves and others. […]

Want of science, that is, ignorance of causes, disposes, or rather constrains a man to rely on the advice and authority of others. For all men whom the truth concerns, if they rely not on their own, must rely on the opinion of some other, whom they think wiser than themselves, and see not why he should deceive them.” (Chapther 11, ‘Of the difference of manners’)

“Nature hath made men so equal, in the faculties of body, and mind; as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly quicker mind than another; yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himself. […]

For prudence is but experience; which equal time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the vulgar; that is, all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves” […]

“From this equality of ability, arises equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only), endeavor to destroy, or subdue one another. And from hence it comes pass, that where an invader hath no more to fear, than another man’s single power; if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united, to dispossess, and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty. […] there is no way for any man to secure himself, so reasonable, as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he see no other power great enough to endanger him: and this is no more than his own conservation requires, and is generally allowed. Also because there be some, that taking pleasure in comtemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security requires; if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should not by invasion increase their power, they would not be able, long time, by standing only on their own defence, to subsist. And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men, being necessary to a man’s conservation, it ought to be allowed him.” […]

“in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.

The first, maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety, and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second to defend them, the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man. […]

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time; wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, ther is no place for industry; because the fruits thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. […]

“The desires, and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions, that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them: which till laws be made they cannot know: nor can any law be made, till they have agreed upon the person that shall make it.

It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places, where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the concord whereof depends on natural lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. […] To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues. […] It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to every man’s, that he can get: and for so long, as he can keep it. […]

The passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggests convenient articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles, are they, which otherwise are called the Laws of Nature” (Chapter 13, ‘The natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity, and misery’)

As for South American ‘savages’, Darwin’s visit to Tierra Del Fuego was much later but if you want a description of how their social arrangements differed from those of the visiting Europeans it’s probably not a bad place to start; Europeans still had not interacted much with the Fuegians at that point. I wrote a post about that stuff not long ago. This book also has a few chapters devoted to related topics. Another previous post of mine related to topics covered in Hobbes that you may want to consider (re)reading is this. Hobbes was to a significant extent a product of his time, but it’s easy to forget that so are we – the people who read him today.

I’ve read the first half of the abbreviated version today and I’m not sure I’ll read any more of it today. I may give the book another post later on, I haven’t decided yet.

October 13, 2012 - Posted by | books, philosophy, politics

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