Hobbes: A Biography

A.P. Martinich writes in this 1999 book:

* no matter how stupid and weak a person may be, he still has enough wit and strength to kill another person, no matter how smart and strong.

“If we consider…with how great facility he that is the weaker in strength or in wit…may utterly destroy the power of the stronger, since there needs but little force to the taking away of a man’s life, we may conclude that men considered in mere nature, ought to admit amongst themselves equality.”

Even the strongest, most intelligent person has to sleep sometime; when he does, sneak up and bash his brains out. This is the “nature red in tooth and claw” argument. Natural equality contributes to universal warfare. A corollary of equal vulnerability is equal lethality.

Hobbes emphasizes the idea of human equality in the state of nature for rhetorical purposes. He wants the state of nature to be an unpleasant place; most of his audience would have thought of equality as socially and morally disastrous and wrong.

The causes of war are roughly the same as presented in The Elements, De Cive, and Leviathan: competition for the same things, diffidence (distrust toward one’s fellowman) and the desire for glory.

* [Hobbe’s] unswerving position is that there is no private property in the state of nature… Property originates within the civil state and ultimately belongs to the sovereign.

* One sign of sovereignty is the status of being above the law.

* The practical consequences of Hobbes’ position is that Englishmen had no right to complain about any of the king’s taxes… People are sadly mistaken and in fact contribute to rebellion “when they are commanded to contribute their persons or money to the public service and think they…are not bound to contribute their goods and persons, not more than every man shall of himself think fit.

* …the effectiveness of laws depends on the fear of being punished by something with power, and that although God is the stronger power, people are usually more afraid of their fellows.

* All human creations dissolve. All civil governments are human creations. Therefore, all civil governments dissolve. In The Elements, Hobbes lists three necessary and sufficient conditions for civil war. The first is discontent… The second is the belief that one is right to be discontented. The third is the belief that one has a chance to change circumstances and to make oneself happy…

Hobbes in effect calls rebels cowards and glory seekers…

* Much of what Hobbes and Descartes said to each other has little to do with the philosophical issues. Each was maneuvering to discredit the other. They thought that the fight for glory was a zero-sum game, and originality was a necessary condition for winning.

Similarity breeds contempt. …both were vain, glory-seeking, self-absorbed, self-proclaimed geniuses.

* Hobbes’ enemies who knew about his obsession to be first used it to get his goat…

Just as praise is worth only as much as the person giving it, so is criticism. Thus, it is not surprising that having failed to win the admiration of Descartes, Hobbes discredited him.

* 1651-1653. He lived in London for two reasons. He wanted to enjoy his fame and to be where the action was.

* …much of his life was spent in fear of war.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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