Thomas Hobbes and his concept of the natural state

Term Paper, 2005

11 Pages, Grade: 2,3



I. Introduction:

II. Anthropology:

III. Natural state:
III.1 Right of nature:
III.2 Law of nature:

IV. Conclusion and outlook


I. Introduction:

In the following work the conception of the natural state of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) will be discussed. Hobbes’ entire understanding of the state can be regarded as a development series, thus his idea of people and the natural state are important

conditions for the later state resulting from it. Only due to this, it becomes understandable why Hobbes designed the state as one with a sovereign leader who has almost unrestricted power. The work refers primarily to the mainwork of Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan. The particularly relevant chapters are chapters 13 and 14. The first part of this work will display Hobbes’ idea of people, the second part will analyse the natural state and the final consideration will critically point out the coherence of the anthropology and natural state and will present my personal opinion.

II. Anthropology:

Hobbes accepts two basic axioms for human nature as given and constant.[1]

But firstly he defines with the help of the mathematical method, i.e. dismembering into its components (analysis), what a human being is. The way a quad consists of equilaterally and

right-angled squares, human beings consist of the characteristics "reason-talented" and "animated body"[2]. Furthermore, he sees another specific characteristic of man: inquistiveness. Hobbes sees it as a "[...] mental lust [... ] "as a"[...] continuous joy in the steady and untiring production of knowledge [... ] "[3] Human-beings who are able to speak and understand[4] use their rationality and their ability to develop something new - this also includes weapons - to reach the first basic axiom: the avoidance of a violent death. Regarding Hobbes’ conception of the natural state (latin: status naturale) mankind has the right to strive for this axiom, an ambition which is legitimated by the natural right.

The second important axiom supposed by Hobbes is the human striving for

well-being in all patterns of life, e.g.: love, delight, lust etc.. This “commodius living” should not be considered as a final objective but as a progressive longing. “A man having no wishes anymore can live on no less than someone whose emotions and ideas have come to a standstill. Happiness is a constant progress of desire of one object to another whereas the obtaining of one thing is only the way leading to the next object”[5]. Every single wish, as soon as it has come true, immediately arises a new one. A Telos, a final objective, described in a sense of happiness by Aristotle is unknown to Hobbes. He gives permission to everyone to enjoy his everyday life and considers this joy not only as a method to reach a “summum bonum” like Aristotle. Hobbes’ philosophy is rather topical and man a creature which is constantly moving in motion. But still Hobbes does not give general permission to all actions in order to reach a goal. He only permits the striving for wealth as long as it is achieved using irreproachable methods.[6] Thus he should not be seen as a thinker without any moral standards. (At least not because the whole conception was made for the wealth of people) But in his anthropology there is a difference between the way man should behave and the reality, because in reality moral standards are normally not applied. The perception of this reality is very similar to what Machiavelli wrote in his Principe.[7] Hobbes is aware of the contradictory behaviour of mankind and describes the worst case scenario in his works. Man is lit up by his darkest side and the whole state conception is based on this gloomy description. By all means Hobbes also sees the positive sides of man but in the end he regards these aspects as too weak. “Man is a god for man, and: Man is a wolf for man“[8] Hobbes’ Leviathan can be considered as a state’s conception which protects man from total destruction and evil of war and as a conception that provides peace at the end. Only the fear of punishment prevents an unhindered spreading of human destruction. In his later conception of state an almost unrestrictedly powerful state prevents from a violent death and allows a “commodius living”. Such a strong state would not be necessary if Hobbes really saw man as a god to his fellow man which proves that, in the end, a negative idea of man predominates. Since Hobbes does not trust mankind, an authoritative state is needed. We can only speculate on the reasons for this negative evaluation. As an explanation, his thoughts must be set against historical events, such as the English civil war (1642-1649) and the attack of the Spanish Armada against England in the year of Hobbes’ birth (1588).

Hobbes feels that everyone inherently has the same characteristics and abilities. In Chapter 13 of the Leviathan he describes a person as someone who is basically able to triumph over any rival, however strong or intelligent. In contrast to Aristotle , who looks upon slavery as naturally legitimate, Hobbes feels it is unnatural and "stupid" when people relinquish their freedom and their own decision-making ability. "Every one should look upon the other as basically being himself."[9] In contrast to animal packs who orientate themselves to their "leader", human life is anarchic and thus entails greater risks. No order is on hand. Just being the physically stronger does not guarantee safety. Only constant vigilance and an increase of one's own power can maintain a highly fragile system of order. "Let it not be forgotten that the weakest person is still strong enough to kill the strongest – either through insidiousness or by allying himself with others who are under the same risk as he is."[10]

At variance with what Aristotle thinks, cleverness is not a special characteristic. Hobbes degrades the Aristotle "phronesis“ (English: ≈ cleverness) as the specific characteristic of an ideal statesman to an "experience which all people acquire to the same extent given that they have occupied themselves equally long with the same things".[11] As a result, Hobbes does not recognise any excellence in the sense of an authority arising from a particular aptitude. While he accepts the fact that some people are more eloquent and gifted for proceeding on the basis of scientific rules, he describes a form of self-exaltation, which some aristocrats and, in particular, successful people display, as self-complacent bias of their own wisdom.[12]


[1] Chwaszcza Christine : “Thomas Hobbes”. In: Denzer, Horst / Maier, Hans (ed.): Klassiker des politischen Denkens. Von Plato bis Hobbes. 6 Auflage. München: C.H.Beck Verlag, 200,1 S.218

[2] Hobbes, Thomas. Elemente der Philosophie. Erste Abteilung. Der Körper. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1997, S.18

[3] Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Neuwied und Berlin: suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft, 1966, S.44

[4] ibid. S.31

[5] ibid. S.42

[6] ibid. S.43

[7] Machiavelli, Niccolo. Il Principe/ Der Fürst. Stuttgart: Phillip Reclam Verlag, 1986 S.119

[8] Hobbes, Thomas. Elemente der Philosophie. Vom Menschen. Vom Bürger Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1994 S.59

[9] Hobbes Leviathan S.118

[10] ibid. S. 94

[11] ibid. S.94

[12] ibid S.94

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Thomas Hobbes and his concept of the natural state
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Georg Fichtner (Author), 2005, Thomas Hobbes and his concept of the natural state, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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