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Leviathan Summary


Here you will find a Leviathan summary (Thomas Hobbes's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Leviathan Summary Overview

The strongest form of social unity and civil tranquility can be achieved by founding a commonwealth based on a collective agreement, according to a particular philosophical argument. The optimal commonwealth, as per this theory, is governed by a supreme entity tasked with safeguarding its security and bestowed with limitless power to maintain collective defense. The ruling entity, metaphorically depicted as the head of a colossal human-like construct made up of its citizens, symbolizes this commonwealth. The construct represents an all-powerful governmental entity needed to maintain peace and avert internal conflict. The arguments are presented in four sections discussing the nature of man, the concept of a commonwealth, the amalgamation of Christian doctrines with this philosophy, and lastly, the realm of darkness. The initial section lays the groundwork for the entire philosophy, while the remaining segments further extend and expound the initial arguments. The philosophy's cornerstone is the understanding that human nature and all its dynamics can be understood from materialistic principles. The natural condition of humanity, termed the 'state of nature,' is portrayed as inherently brutal and filled with dread. This natural state leads to a war of all against all, pushing humans to yearn for peace. The most effective way to achieve this peace is by creating a strong governing entity through a collective agreement. The subsequent sections detail the construction of this governing body, the rights and duties of rulers and their subjects, and the political and civil dynamics within the commonwealth. They also examine the compatibility of Christian doctrines with this current philosophy. The final section debunks mistaken religious beliefs and affirms that the implementation of a governing entity is necessary to establish a secure Christian commonwealth. The methodology used in this philosophy mirrors a geometric proof, built on basic principles and definitions where each step of the argument validates the preceding one, leading to an irrefutable conclusion.

book 1

Leviathan's opening chapters delve into how the human mind works, discussing perception, imagination and thought processes. For Hobbes, understanding of the universe is rooted in the physical impact of "external bodies" on our senses. He uses the idea of objects continually bumping into each other on a universal scale, and explains how this motion eventually reaches our sensory organs, which in turn send this information to our brains. This process of external bodies contacting our sensory organs, Hobbes labels as "sense". Hobbes refutes the notion that matter can move on its own, and therefore concludes that once something is in motion, it will continue unceasingly unless interrupted by another body. This idea explains how thoughts or "imagination" develop from sensory experiences. Hobbes labels the continuation of sensory motion after the initial event as "decaying sense", which morphs into imagination. This imagination, with the passage of time, becomes "memory". Memories of external sensory experiences are termed "experience", while internal sensations are labeled as a "dream" if asleep or a "vision" or "apparition" when awake. Hobbes introduces "understanding" as a form of imagination, rooted in the physical sensation of words or signs. He also discusses two types of thought processes: the "unguided" train, which wanders aimlessly like dreams, and the "regulated" train, where thoughts are directed in a specific direction. He explains how language, reason, and science evolved from these thought processes. Hobbes argues that speech was developed to transform mental thought into verbal discourse, which aids in remembering thoughts and communicating them to others. He lists four uses and abuses of speech, emphasizing on the importance of maintaining constant word meanings to avoid miscommunication and deception. Hobbes suggests that truth and falsehood, which are tied to speech, are dependent on the connections made between words. The book also discusses the concept of "Power", dividing it into Natural and Instrumental. Natural power originates from physical or mental abilities, while Instrumental power is derived from acquired abilities. Hobbes also discusses the concepts of "Worth", "Honor", "Dignity", and "Worthiness", all of which are related to power. Hobbes presents the idea of "state of nature" - a hypothetical condition where human life is characterized by continuous war and fear due to the absence of a common ruling power. He then introduces the "laws of nature", which he defines as general rules discovered through reason that prioritize human self-preservation and forbid actions that threaten human life. The book establishes the first law of nature as the pursuit of peace, followed by other laws which include the requirement to uphold contracts, show gratitude, and demonstrate equal judgement. These laws provide the framework for escaping the state of nature and are considered the foundation of morality. Lastly, Hobbes introduces the idea of the contract or covenant which he refers to as an artificial person representing the multitude of natural persons. This contract symbolizes social unity and lays the groundwork for Hobbes's concept of a social contract, the Leviathan.

book 2

Despite the natural laws prompting humans to seek peace through contracts, the inherent human thirst for power often jeopardizes these agreements. Hobbes argues that a central, authoritative body, or a sovereign, is necessary to ensure the upholding of these contracts. This sovereign, established by the populace and vested with their collective power and will, has the authority to enforce penalties on those who fail to honor their contracts. The enforcement is carried out via fear and the threat of punishment, thereby securing the continuation of the social contract. According to Hobbes, the sovereign is the force driving the social contract and in the metaphorical comparison of the contract to an artificial person, the sovereign is the soul. This artificial entity represents the state as a whole, dubbed as the "Leviathan" by Hobbes. The establishment of such a common power, or Leviathan, is to safeguard against harm and to ensure collective defense, and the responsibility for this falls onto the sovereign. The establishment of a commonwealth can either be through force (acquisition) or through collective agreement (institution). Both types of establishment essentially aim to protect society and maintain peace and grant the same rights to the sovereign. Hobbes suggests that the authority of the sovereign can take three forms: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. He, however, favors monarchy, stating that the ruler has the same interests as the people, receives superior counsel, maintains steady policies, and reduces chances of civil war. Hobbes also explores the concept of liberty under a sovereign and argues that liberty is the ability to act as per one's will without physical constraint. Therefore, under a sovereign, subjects experience absolute liberty, despite certain "artificial chains" formed by civil laws. In the event that a sovereign fails to provide protection, the agreement with the subjects is null, returning the subjects to the state of nature. They would then need to form a new contract or be trapped by fear. Using the metaphor of the Leviathan, Hobbes describes systems within the commonwealth, such as towns, trade organizations, and households, and identifies "public ministers" as representatives of these systems. In the concluding part, Hobbes touch upon commonwealths that fail or are in disarray. He likens these to birth defects and cites various potential causes for their instability, including lack of absolute power for the sovereign and divided sovereign power. Such conditions could lead to internal division and civil war. Hobbes' solution to avoid such an outcome is to obey the sovereign to enable them to protect the commonwealth.

book 3

After establishing the laws of nature and government in his first two books, Hobbes moves on to cover the "prophetical word of God", essentially the elements of Christianity that cannot be entirely understood through reason. Hobbes previously stated that the sovereign power must govern all knowledge and beliefs to maintain peace. Now, he considers what should happen if this authority clashes with God's prophetical laws. He maintains that people cannot serve two masters, as this leads to confusion. He aims to align the sovereign's laws with these potentially conflicting elements of Christianity using careful analysis and interpretation of biblical scriptures, undermining much of the contemporary Christian doctrine. Hobbes criticizes the belief that the world is God's kingdom. This belief, he argues, divides people's loyalty between God and the civil ruler, causing confusion. Through biblical interpretation, he concludes that God's kingdom will only exist in the end times, meaning the civil ruler is the only king in the current world. He also attacks the existence of a separate religious authority, like the church and its officials. This authority, founded on God's power, creates a gap in the civil power structure, dividing people's loyalties and potentially leading to civil unrest. Hobbes insists that the civil ruler must also head the religion to avoid this situation. Hobbes argues against certain religious doctrines that contradict his philosophy, such as belief in angels, spirits, and miracles. He asserts that these beliefs can be explained within his philosophical framework. For example, he claims the universe is full of bodies, making the existence of bodiless entities like spirits and angels impossible. These phenomena are just illusions caused by the brain's reactions to the movement of matter. Hobbes also critiques beliefs relating to Hell, damnation, and devils, seeing them as tools used by religious authorities to manipulate people. He insists that these concepts are metaphorical and incompatible with a materialist understanding of the world. Hobbes concludes that both Christian scriptures and natural laws affirm the necessity of the civil ruler being the head of the religion. If religious authority is separate from the sovereign power, people will learn conflicting doctrines, which can lead to civil war. He also states that the only essential doctrine for Christians is faith in Jesus as the Savior and obedience to natural laws. Hobbes clarifies that faith cannot be enforced. If a ruler commands a subject not to believe in Jesus, the subject can pretend compliance, but inner faith cannot be controlled. Even if the subject is punished or killed for this, their martyrdom only solidifies their faith in God's eyes. Finally, Hobbes reiterates that for peace, citizens must obey their sovereign in all matters. He insists that religious figures should be subordinate to the sovereign, and concludes that his model of the ideal state is completely compatible with the essential tenets of Christianity.

book 4

Hobbes interprets the Kingdom of Darkness, depicted in the Bible as Satan's dominion, differently. He sees it as an allegorical term for a group of deceivers who, with false doctrines, aim to control others and obstruct the arrival of God's Kingdom (Chapter 44). He continues his critique of false religious teachings from Book III, asserting that they contaminate Christianity and hinder societal readiness for God's Kingdom. According to Hobbes, this Kingdom of Darkness is a current reality, sustained by individuals spreading false doctrines to maintain their power. Hobbes argues for a change in behavior, specifically adopting his philosophy for genuine Christian obedience. Four factors contribute to the Kingdom of Darkness: incorrect interpretations of scriptures about God's Kingdom, as pointed out by Hobbes in Book III; the idea that God's Kingdom is the present Church; considering the Pope as Christ's Vicar general; and the notion that the clergy, with a unique understanding of divine will, are superior to Christian followers. These misconceptions foster the false idea that priestly incantation can change one's spiritual state, such as in baptism or consecration. Hobbes rebuts this, asserting that these rituals are merely symbolic and hold no power over God. Hobbes criticizes those who interpret scriptures to prove the existence of spirits, devils, angels, or spiritual possessions, considering them mistaken. He dismisses priestly exorcism, saint invocations, purgatory, and Hell as fallacies. Heaven will materialize on Earth following God's Kingdom's arrival, and the soul's natural immortality isn't scripture-supported. Hobbes contends that scripture doesn't portray spirits as incorporeal and traces these beliefs back to pagan religions, seeing these as remnants that have crept into and persisted in Christian doctrine. Hobbes blames those who gain from perpetuating these "relics," particularly ecclesiastical authorities who utilize these false doctrines to manipulate the uninformed. He holds these authorities responsible for the prevailing Kingdom of Darkness, likening them to a fictional society of Fairies that has fostered many superstitious beliefs. Hobbes advocates that once false teachings are dispelled, a Christian commonwealth should establish the Leviathan. Hobbes asserts that false doctrines have no place in philosophy and reproaches theologians, Aristotelian philosophers, university scholars, and the Church for undermining truth. He condemns Galileo's execution, arguing that philosophical truths must corroborate religious truths (Chapter 46). He maintains that only his philosophy can provide truths that guarantee societal peace as required by God's laws of nature. In his conclusion, Hobbes recapitulates his arguments, underscoring that his philosophy, if adopted, promises peace. He admits uncertainty over his work's impact on the political landscape, but is confident that no one can refute his arguments since they don't challenge anyone's pleasure or profit.

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