Analyzing the Theme of Equality in Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan"

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Luke works as a middle school English, ELD, social justice, and mindfulness teacher in the sanctuary city, San Jose, CA.

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, Chapter XIII: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery

In this article, I will discuss Chapter 13 of Thomas HobbesLeviathan. In my discussion of this chapter, I will focus on Hobbes’ argument that all men are by nature equal, the argument that the natural equality of all men leads to a natural state of war against all, and the strengths and weaknesses of Hobbes’ arguments. As I analyze this chapter, I hope to bring about a better understanding of the natural condition of mankind.

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Men are Equal in Body

At the beginning of the chapter, Hobbes argues that all men are by nature equal, he presents his argument in two forms: “...in the faculties of body and mind” (Hobbes 74). Hobbes acknowledges that there will be bodies that are stronger than others, and minds that are quicker witted than others, but ultimately, he says, they are equal by nature. In the case of the strong 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” (74). Hobbes claims that if correct means are put to use, whether by plotting against someone or by gathering allies for a group victory, anyone can kill anyone. This is reason enough to establish that men are equal in relation to body.

Men are Equal in Mind

When the equality of mankind comes to the mind, Hobbes feels that the mind is yet an even greater equality of mankind than strength was. As he reasons that all men are equal within the mind, he takes into account the variable of time. Prudence or wisdom, Hobbes states, “is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto” (75). Within the mind, everyone thinks they have superior wisdom to all other beings. A man 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” (75). Therefore, Hobbes’ reasoning is that since all men feel they have superior wisdom to all others, and since if given equal amount of time to gather such wisdom, this must mean that they are satisfied with their distribution of knowledge. “For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of equal distribution of anything than that every man is contended with his share” (75).

Men are Equal by Nature

Next, as Hobbes concludes his argument that all men are equal by nature, he then states that because of this equality, war is destined to arise. Hobbes describes war as a time when men “live without a common power to keep them all in awe” (76). Since it has been observed that humans are equal, this means that humans desire what will be best for themselves. “And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies” (75). With equal faculties of body and mind, we are bound to eventually want what we perceive as better for our own life. This means that humans will eventually desire what other humans have; this creates war.

Thomas Hobbes: Natural Equality

Fear Brings War

In this chapter, it is almost as if Hobbes is suggesting that hard work and ingenuity comes in vain. Hobbes gives the analogy of a man who sows his seed, grows good crops, and lives in a well established home. Instead of being satisfied with his life’s work, as would be expected, he lives in constant fear that “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” (75). As a result of this fear, men will not trust each other.

With a lack of trust between any bond of humanity, and man against man in an all out dispute over who is naturally entitled to what, quarrel arises. The three principal causes of quarrel are “first, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; second, for safety; and the third, for reputation” (76).

In this time of quarrel there is no peace. Hobbes states that the time of war is like a storm within nature. Currently, there is no storm occurring, however, you can see the storm clouds in the distance and are in constant anticipation of whether or not the storm will hit your doorstep. Likewise, war does not necessarily mean that there is a battle that is currently taking place. Instead, war denotes that there is a possibility of battle. Those who live in this possibility are in constant fear for their lives and liberty. Because men “all hope for equal success in getting what [they] want,” (Finch 1), there can be no peace unless a sovereign is established.

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Thomas Hobbes and the "Natural Condition of Mankind"

Throughout Hobbes’ arguments, it seems as though he is has created a strong theory of the natural condition of mankind. However, we find that he has no historical evidence to back up his arguments other than simple observations of human nature. To Hobbes, it is quite clear that men do not trust each other. Perhaps we are in a state of war. He states that “when taking a journey, [man] arms himself, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, [man] locks his doors; when even in his house, he locks his chests” (77). If this all occurs with a sovereign in charge, with laws enforced, and public officials ready to amend any and all wrong doings that occur, how can we be in any current state aside from war? Although Hobbes is not in a nature such as the “savage Americas,” his speculations on civilized mankind are quite intriguing. Hobbes concludes that in a state of nature there will be no justice or injustice, for there is no law without a sovereign to enforce such laws. Of the natural condition of mankind, in a state of nature, “Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues” (78). The only reason mankind would be inclined to develop peace would be the fear of a terrible death.

In conclusion, in Hobbes’ discussion of the natural condition of mankind, he argues that men are equal in both faculties of the body and mind. Since men are equal, all feel superior to all, each wanting equal success in all their desires. This causes men to be natural enemies, none trusting the other, living in a constant state of war. Finally, it was said that even though Hobbes has no historical evidence to back up his theories, all one must do is observe natural human nature. Even when there is a sovereign, man feigns trust of man. Ending his discussion of the natural condition of mankind, Hobbes notes that the only reason peace will occur is because without it, people fear the gruesome circumstances and death that will arise.

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© 2017 JourneyHolm

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