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Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
Hobbes Instructor Resources
Reading Selections from the Leviathan
I allot two days to teaching Hobbes, in which I breakdown the readings from the
Leviathan as follows:
Day I
Introduction & Chapters I, VI, X-XI, XII (sections 1-12, 22-32), XIII-XVI
Day II
Possible ways of trimming:
 There is inevitably some overflow from the first day into the second. If you are
disinterested in discussing Hobbes on religion, the selections from XII can be cut.
 If you are disinterested (though I strongly favor engaging students on this topic)
in discussing Hobbes’s purported egoism, then you might cut XI (however, the
first six sections, at least, seem to me to be essential to understanding Hobbes’
account of power and motivation).
 Some instructors omit XVI, but I find that the discussion of personation and
authorization is helpful (if not essential!) to understanding the social contract.
 XIX may be cut to selections and XX may be omitted, if one is not interested in
discussing the relationship between commonwealths instituted by contract and
those instituted by acquisition.
 If one is disinterested in discussing Hobbes’s theory of liberty (though again, I
strongly encourage this) one may omit XXI. Such an omission, I suggest, would
be a mistake. Hobbes’s theory of freedom is usefully juxtaposed with that of
Locke and especially Rousseau (as well as Plato, Mill, and Hegel). He offers a
strongly negative conception of freedom (non-interference) to which students are
often quite initially attracted (whether or not they should be is a matter of debate
and one that Rousseau will usefully problematize).
 If one is disinterested in discussing the relationship between Natural and Civil
Law, one might omit XXVI.
 XIX offers useful discussions about the limits and dissolution of sovereign
authority, which are quite helpful to putting Hobbes in conversation with Locke.
But, if time is short, they may be cut without terribly significant loss.
 XXX offers some further explication regarding the powers of the Sovereign Body,
and it reveals Hobbes offering a fascinating reconstruction of the Decalogue.
However, I suspect that this might all be cut with little loss to a good class.
What follows are a series of (all too sketchy) discussion questions/notes, organized by
chapter. I often send something like this to my students before the classes so as to offer
some framing questions and ideas to guide their reading. At the very least, they may
illuminate potential questions/discussion topics.
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
Discussion Notes for Hobbes Day I
To begin with, have a look at Hobbes’ Introduction. What can we learn here about
Hobbes’ Method in the Leviathan? Compare what Hobbes has to say here with Plato’s
method of appealing to the City/Soul Analogy in the Republic. Also, think about what
Hobbes shares in common with our writes of the Scientific Revolution, in particular
Galileo, Bacon, and Gassendi (you might think back to Epicurus here, as well).
There are also important points in Hobbes’ methodological discursion, which bear on the
notion of individualism, which is much more present here than in many of the political /
ethical works that we’ve examined so far—take a look at what Hobbes has to say when
he entreats us to ‘read thyself’ (8).
Chapters 1 & 6—Man, Motives, and Materialist Psychology
How are human beings to be understood and explained according to Hobbes? In what
ways does Hobbes’ account of human beings differ from that of Descartes?
How are the senses treated in Hobbes’ psychology? Are they given more or less
prominence, than in the works of other writers we’ve thus far encountered?
What is the difference between Vital Motion and Voluntary Motion?
Is Hobbes an Egoist / a Hedonist?
I think it is in these passages about Voluntary and Vital Motion (though there are others)
where Hobbes looks to be endorsing a theory of egoistic hedonism. However, I think that
there are many passages which suggest that Hobbes endorses a richer psychology of
motivation. Have a look at the following distinctions between egoism, hedonism, and
altruism (adapted from Sober & Wilson). We can use them to build a moral
psychological framework which may be helpful in understanding Hobbes notoriously
(though perhaps unfairly attributed) selfish, egoistic-hedonist account of human nature.
Egoism = all of one’s ultimate desires are self-directed. People desire their own
wellbeing and nothing else as an end in itself. If you care about the wellbeing of others,
this is only as instrumental means to benefiting yourself.
Hedonism = the only ultimate desires one has are directed towards getting pleasure and
avoiding pain.
Altruism = people have some other-directed desires. They often desire to promote the
wellbeing of others as an end in itself (not as instrumental to their own wellbeing).
[side note: many thinkers treat Hedonism as a species of Egoism. However, this seems
like a questionable move. Nothing in the definition above actually commits them to
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
egoistic hedonism. To see an example of a theory that allows for the possibility of
altruistic or non-egoistic hedonism, all one has to do is consider the Classical Utilitarian
accounts of Bentham and Mill. Consider the Greatest Happiness Principle: Actions are
right iff they promote the greatest overall happiness for all persons (if not all sentient
beings). If we assume that ought implies can, and we follow Mill and Bentham in
thinking that it is indeed possible to have ultimate desires for the happiness of others,
though only ultimate desires directed at happiness we arrive at a version of altruistic
hedonism. Hume also seems to allow for the possibility of altruistic hedonism. Even if
they were wrong about the psychology, Altruistic Hedonism is a conceptual possibility.]
Thus, we might add…
Egoistic Hedonism = the only ultimate desires one has are directed towards achieving
one’s own pleasure and avoiding pain.
Altruistic Hedonism = persons have some ultimate desires that are directed towards
realizing the pleasure and avoiding the pain of others. Still their only ultimate desires are
only directed at realizing pleasure and avoiding pain.
We seem to all have an intuitive grasp between Egoism and Altruism. But, do we really
know the difference? It’s not as obvious as it might seem. We’ll talk this through, while
trying to discover whether or not Hobbes is truly an Egoistic Hedonist (as he’s often
taken to be). For passages that suggest this Standard View, see Chapter 6, para 10
(6.10.36) & Chapter 14, para 8 (14.8.88) [I’ll use the convention of].
How does what Hobbes has to say at 6.22/30/34.37 fit within the Standard View?
What theory of Good and Evil (wellbeing, we might say) does Hobbes offer at 6.7.35?
Chapters 10-11—Power & Honor
What does Hobbes mean by Power (10.1.58)?
How might you related Hobbes’ discussion of Power to Machiavelli’s discussions of
Virtu and Fortuna?
What is the Greatest Power human beings can achieve?
What is Honor / Dishonor, and how does it relate to Hobbes’ account of the value of
persons (see 10.16.59)?
Why does Hobbes argue that there is no summum bonum, no highest good for human
beings (11.1.65)? How does he base this claim in his materialist / mechanical
understanding of humans and human psychology?
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
Why does Hobbes maintain, “So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of
all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in
death” (11.2.66)?
Chapter 12—Religion
What are the natural origins of religion in human beings, according to Hobbes?
How do they differ with respect to polytheistic and monotheistic (true) religion?
What does Hobbes have to say regarding the differences between civic religion and
salvation-oriented, true religion?
Chapters 10-11 &13—The Elements of Conflict: State of Nature / State of War
What is a State of Nature?
What is a State of War?
Hobbes’ discussions of Power in both 10 & 11 provide some of the initial elements of the
conflict involved in the State of War that he discusses in Chapter 13.
How does the struggle for power lead to the state of mutual distrust and enmity (the state
of war) as outlined in Chapter 13?
Our task will be to reconstruct his argument here by putting together the following
elements—see if you can see how they all fit:
The desire for power
The desire for power after power
Natural Equality of persons in Body and Mind
Equality of Hope
Scarce and/or Indivisible Goods
All of these elements lead Hobbes to argue that a State of Nature (which by definition is a
state of living in which there is no common authority—no commonwealth) will
inevitably be a State of War, where persons live with “continual fear, and danger of
violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (13.9.84).
Chapters 14-15—from War to Civil Society
What is the difference between a Right of Nature and a Law of Nature?
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
What is the relationship between Laws of Nature and Justice and Private Property?
Are there Laws of Nature in the State of Nature/War? This is a trickier question than it
may seem because we have to make sense of passages such as 13.13.85, 14.18.91,
14.29.93, 15.3.95 (all in favor of there being no laws of nature in the State of War) with
respect to other passages such as 15.4/5.96-7, 15.36.105 (which suggest that the laws of
nature are eternal).
What is a Covenant? And, how is it different from a Contract? Why is Hobbes primarily
interested in Covenants?
Understanding Covenants is central to realizing the main puzzle of the origins of Civil
Covenants and a Puzzle of the Rationality of Civil Society
We realize that we will never emerge from the State of War unless we relinquish our
unlimited right to all things. It is only by doing this that we can begin to dismantle the
pervasive conditions of conflict.
Divesting ourselves of this unlimited right requires a covenant of mutual trust.
Why is this a problem?
(14.18.91) “If a covenant be made, wherein neither of the parties perform presently, but
trust one another; in the condition of mere nature…upon any reasonable suspicion, it is
void: but if there be a common power set over them both, with right and force sufficient
to compel performance, it is not void. For he that performeth first, has no assurance the
other will perform after; because the bonds of words are too weak to bridle men’s
ambition, avarice, anger, and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power;
which in the condition of mere nature, where all me are equal, and judges of the justness
of their own fears, cannot possibly be supposed. And therefore he which performeth
first, does but betray himself to his enemy; contrary to the right (he can never abandon)
of defending his life, and means of living.”
Also see 15.3.95
It seems like any first move of concession in forging a covenant violates man’s
inalienable right to self-preservation. We have to figure out a way that men can assuredly
enter into the divestment-covenant without fear of losing power (and indeed, with hope of
gaining it).
(a) How can the contracting parties trust one another in the state of war before there
is any sovereign power set over both parties sufficient to compel performance of
the contract?
(b) Another way of developing this worry is in terms of the clause from the 2nd Law
of Nature: that one should only divest oneself of one’s natural unbounded right if
one has some assurance that others will do the same in the name of endeavoring
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
for peace. It seems that one needs something like trust in others in order to be
assured that they will divest as well. Yet, again, there seems to be no grounds for
this trust until there is a sovereign.
We might, if we have time, attempt to characterize this Hobbesian Dilemma with the
game theoretic tools of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. We’ll see. Anyway, this is more than
enough to get you thinking.
Discussion Notes for Hobbes Day II
Chapters 14 & 15
Last time, we reconstructed the argument for what I called (following John Rawls)
‘Hobbes’ Thesis’: a State of Nature inevitably amounts to a State of War. By connecting
a series of fairly uncontroversial claims about human nature and about the world, Hobbes
was able to argue in 13 that SoNSoW.
The SoW arises not because human beings are wicked, malicious monsters. Rather, it
arises from broadly self-interested, partialist individuals acting rationally to pursue and
promote their fundamental interests: self-preservation, conjugal affections, and a
commodious life. This what we see at the beginning of 14, when Hobbes writes that we
all have as Right of Nature the liberty to rationally pursue the power to promote our selfpreservation. In the SoN/SoW, replete with mutual distrust, this right extends us the
liberty to any means whatsoever to promote our self-preservation: “every man has a right
to every thing, even to one another’s body” (14.4.87). Rationally pursuing our selfinterest leads to the SoW in which no one is assured of one’s own security. This is the
abhorrent conclusion: individuals rationally pursuing security leads to a state of affairs
that is totally lacking in security, to a state of affairs that is less collectively rational and
less mutually advantageous for all. We must try to change the game we are playing to
exit the SoW and enter into a new game, a state of affairs (civil society) in which we
achieve the security that we all fundamentally desire and that is in our collective interest.
The trick is to figure out how this happens.
In 14 & 15, Hobbes introduces the Laws of Nature. What exactly are these Laws? What
is their content and how are they justified?
What does Hobbes mean when he says that, “The laws of nature oblige in foro interno,
that is to say, they bind to a desire they should take place: but in foro externo; that is, to
the putting them in act, not always” (15.36.105)?
We talked last time about Covenants as they’re discussed in Chapter 14. This led us to
the following puzzle: we (in the SoW) realize that we will never emerge from the State of
War unless we relinquish our unlimited right to all things. In turn, we realize that living
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
within the bounds of the Laws of Nature, will better allow us to satisfy our fundamental
interests and to achieve security. It is more rational for us to relinquish our unlimited
right to every power to achieve our fundamental interests. To relinquish some of our
freedoms we must enter into a covenant with others—each mutually covenanting to
relinquish the same liberties. This mutual relinquishing of liberties, and of transferring
them to a Sovereign Body is the Social Contract.
But, it seemed that one lesson of 13 & 14 was that it is irrational for individuals to enter
into covenants in the SoW. Thus, we arrive at an apparent dilemma: it is rational to exit
the SoW. Exiting the SoW requires covenanting. But, covenanting is irrational in the
How do we get out of the SoW and into Civil Society?
No-Covenant-Is-Rational in SoW Account: Portrait of the State of War in 13 + 14.8
where Hobbes explains that there is
Widespread Suspicion—little Trust
This suspicion is reasonable—i.e. directed towards self-preservation
Suspicion is strong enough to belie any assurance in Covenants
Thus, it is always rational to stay out of contracts or to cheat those naïve
enough to offer them.
Thus, it is irrational to make covenants (b/c against self-interest)
Even the Basic Laws of Nature tell you avoid Covenants—Law 2 explains
that you should give up your right to everything only when others are also
willing to divest themselves of such right.
(vii) Problem: It seems that there are simply no conditions for ever cooperating and
contracting. It is irrational to contract. If so, then men will never come
together for the hypothetical contract that establishes the Sovereign.
This Account is in conflict with the…
Covenant-Is-Rational in SoW Account: Reply to Fool in 15.5
It is rational to keep contract if one party has already fulfilled his half of the
bargain: ‘And I say it is not against reason.’
Backwards reasoning—it is rational to join most contracts (unless there is
some evident reason to distrust the other party) [Alice & Bill e.g.]
Reiteration of X.3 realization that one can have more power (ability to selfpreserve) by joining forces with others to form a cooperative confederacy,
than one can have by oneself.
Within a protectorate, one has assurance of the defense of the group.
If one defects from the group, then one is left to rely on one’s own power for
safety, and this power is much less than that of the protectorate.
Problem: 1) H claims that contracting is irrational, and now he claims that it
can be rational. 2) If it is rational to contract, then is there isn’t really a State
of War  If no SoW, then there is no justification for Absolute Sovereign
Power. Some more mild form of governance should do. (cf. VII.4.112)
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
Not only is there the problem that the two accounts appear to be in tension with each
other on the issue of whether contracts are rational, they each have their own problems:
Irrational Contract: It is hard to see how we can ever get out of the State of War
Rational Contract: It seems like there shouldn’t really be a State of War at all, and thus it
isn’t clear why individuals should rationally desire to establish an Absolute Sovereign.
How can contracts be both rational and irrational? (in these passages I switch between
talk of contract and covenant, but do not mean to imply any important difference between
the two).
Chapter 16
What does it mean to Personate? How does personating account for the transferal of
authority and rights to a Sovereign, as Hobbes discusses it in 17?
Chapter 17
Why is it rational for individuals to give up some liberties and introduces restraints upon
themselves (as outlined in the Laws of Nature) by establishing civil society? What does
this tell us (again) about the relationship between the Laws of Nature and rationality as
well as the interests of individuals?
How is the disagreement of private individuals with their private judgments a source of
the conflict that amounts to a SoW?
What are the two ways in which a Commonwealth may be generated? Which of these
two ways is Hobbes most concerned with?
Chapter 18
Who are the Parties to the Social Contract? Do individuals contract with the Sovereign
or with each other?
How does the Sovereign play the role of an Impartial Judge in settling disagreements
between individuals?
How powerful is the Sovereign? Or, what is the extent of the rights that individuals
relinquish and transfer to the Sovereign?
How do you understand what Hobbes is saying in the following: “because the major part
hath by consenting voices declared a sovereign; he that dissented must now consent with
the rest; that is, be contented to avow all the actions he shall do, or else justly be
destroyed by the rest. For if he voluntarily entered into the congregation of them that
were assembled, he sufficiently declared thereby his will (and therefore tacitly
covenanted) to stand to what the major part should ordain” (18.5.117)?
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
How is it that the Sovereign cannot do any injustice or commit any injury against its
Chapter 19
What are the three types of Commonwealth? Which does Hobbes suggest is best and
Why is it essential that the Sovereign body governing the Commonwealth be Absolute,
that is, undivided?
Chapter 20
How does fear factor as the basis for both sovereignty by institution (by social contract)
and sovereignty by acquisition (conquest)?
What is Dominion by Generation? Who has authority over a child?
Chapter 21
What is Hobbes’ theory of Liberty? How does it differ from the accounts of freedom that
we’ve seen thus far in our earlier readings?
What does Hobbes mean when he says that fear and liberty are consistent?
What does Hobbes mean when he says that fear and necessity are consistent? How does
Hobbes’ compatibilist view compare to that of Augustine or Averroes?
What is the relationship between the liberty of subjects within a Commonwealth and
Civil Laws?
Do individuals have any legitimate liberty or right of resistance against Sovereign Power?
Chapter 26
What exactly are Laws?
What are Civil Laws and how are they related to the Laws of Nature?
Hobbes, in various places, makes the following rather cryptic claim: “the laws of
nature…are not properly laws, but qualities that dispose men to peace, and obedience.
When a commonwealth is once settled, then are they actually laws, and not before; as
being then the commands of the commonwealth; and therefore also civil laws: for it is the
sovereign power that obliges men to obey them” (26.8.177). Can you make sense of
what Hobbes means when he says, somewhat arrestingly, that the laws of nature are not
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
properly laws? For help interpreting this remark, look back to the last paragraph of
Chapter 15.
Who legislates the Civil Law?
What is the relationship between Civil Law and the Moral Standards of Justice and
Why do laws need to be interpreted? Who is to interpret the law?
On what grounds are persons to accept and obey divine positive law of revelation?
Chapter 29
Here it is important to grasp the main sources that contribute to the dissolution of a
commonwealth. What are some of these sources of dissolution?
Why isn’t the Sovereign subject to Civil Laws?
Hobbes offers some very fascinating remarks on the relationship between faith and
reason at 29.8.214-15. Which camp is Hobbes in—the Disharmony of Faith and Religion
camp associated with Al-Ghazali and Montaigne or the Harmony of Faith and Religion
camp associated with Averroes (and perhaps Augustine and Descartes)?
Do individuals have absolute property rights? By absolute property rights, I mean that
they have total (and, thus, unimpeded) liberty to decide how and when to dispose of their
property—no one(s) has the authority to dispossess an individual of his property without
his consent?
At 29.15.218 Hobbes discusses those theories that claim persons are subject to two
kingdoms the temporal and the ghostly. This should remind you of Luther’s essay On
Governmental Authority. How does what Hobbes has to say here bear on Luther’s
Chapter 30
In 30.7-13.224-7, Hobbes tells us a story about how we are to educate individuals to
appropriately respect and acknowledge Absolute Sovereignty. In what ways do these
passages reveal a reconstruction of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments)?
At 30.17.229, Hobbes asks, regarding taxation, “the equality of imposition, consisteth
rather in the equality of that which is consumed, than of the riches of the persons that
consume the same. For what reason is there, that he which laboureth much, and sparing
the fruits of his labour, consumeth little, should be more charged, than he that living idly,
getteth little, and spendeth all he gets; seeing the one hath no more protection from the
commonwealth, than the other?”
Jon Rick, Core Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University, June, 2011
Do you agree with Hobbes that the most fair tax is one on how much a person consumes
as opposed to on his wealth (e.g. income, capital gains, inheritance)?
List of Secondary Sources
My new Suggestions (scanned and emailed):
1) The three chapters on Hobbes from John Rawls’s Lectures on the History of
Political Philosophy. Some of Rawls’s discussions go into depths unnecessarily
plumbed, with respect to teaching an effective CC class on Hobbes. However, I
strongly recommend his discussions of the Social Contract, the State of Nature,
Egoism, the Laws of Nature, and Absolute Sovereignty.
2) Sharon Lloyd & Susanne Sreedhar, ‘Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy,’
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, online resource. This short article provides
a number of useful (all be them brief, which is, perhaps, a virtue) introductions to
core themes in Hobbes’s moral and political thought. I suspect that instructors
will find it quite effective in generating topics for discussion as well as for their
own edification.
After a brief perusal of the files in the Core Office, I have the following
Articles that ought to be Scanned:
 Alan Ryan’s ‘Hobbes’s Political Philosophy’
 C.B. Macpherson’s ‘Hobbes’s Bourgeois Man’
 Richard Tuck’s ‘Hobbes’s Moral Philosophy’
As for the remaining articles in the two Hobbes files, my feeling is that they are often a
bit too specialized and/or historical to be of much use to preceptors and instructors. I
hope that this is not merely my philosophical-background-bias coming through. Many of
the articles included in the office files are quite excellent, but I cannot personally imagine
using them in my class preparations, given the specificity of their arguments.
Jon Rick, Philosophy Department, Columbia University