An Outline of Thomas Hobbes’ Social Contract

Outline Hobbes’ theory on the social contract giving details on what he believed was needed to maintain it. I will attempt to answer this question by initially explaining what Hobbes’ view on humanity was, since these views were what caused him to write his theory on the social contract, quote part of what he wrote regarding the subject and what it means in layman’s terms What Hobbes believed: Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century British philosopher, had a rather pessimistic (but, in my opinion, not untrue) view on humanity.

In a nutshell, he believed that humanity was born evil and needed society and law to keep it in order. Hobbes wrote that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”. In this state any person has a natural right to do anything to preserve his own liberty or safety, and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ” He believed that in the international arena, states behave as individuals do in a state of nature.

Within the state of nature, according to Hobbes, there is no injustice, since there is no law, excepting certain natural precepts, the first of which is “that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it”; and the second is “that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself”.

From this, Hobbes develops the way out of the state of nature into civil government by mutual contract. Hobbes coins a Latin phrase, Bellum omnium contra omnes, meaning “the war of all against all”, and this is the description that he gives to human existence in the state of nature thought experiment that he conducts in De Cive (1642) and Leviathan (1651). To prove that this state of nature is a state of war, Hobbes begins with four assumptions listed below: 1) Natural Equality – People are roughly equal in their mental and physical powers. No one is individually radically superior in strength or cunning.

2) Scarcity – The supply of many commodities is not large enough to satisfy the desires of all who want them. Imagine two people both want the same thing. This thing can’t be shared, so obviously this will create conflict between the two people who demand this object. In an extreme case, the only way that one person will obtain the object is to “remove” the other person. 3) Equality of need – People, if they are at least minimally rational, are all concerned with their own long-term well-being. They care about the satisfaction of their future, as well as present desires, and strongly desire to prolong their lives.

Since we all need the same basic things to survive, this may create conflict. 4) Limited Altruism – Individuals value their own survival and well-being much more highly that the survival and well-being of others. Even if people are not completely selfish, they nevertheless care very much about themselves; and you cannot simply assume that whenever your vital interests conflict with their vital interests, they will step aside. Almost no one will be willing to forego the satisfaction of his or her needs in favour of others. What Hobbes proposed:

“The only way to secure self-preservation is to set up a certain kind of commonwealth by social contract that involves the “real unity of them all. ”

The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgements to his judgement.

This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a Commonwealth; in Latin, Civitas.

This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the Commonwealth, he hath the use of so much power and strength conferred on him that, by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad.

And in him consisteth the essence of the Commonwealth; which, to define it, is: one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defence. ” Hobbes, Lev XVII 13 What this means: To escape the state of nature people must agree to the establishment of rules to govern their relationships with one another.

This agreement, to which every citizen is a party, is called the social contract. The essence of the social contract is: morality consists in the set of rules governing how people are to treat one another, that rational people will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well. This justifies the initial statement that humanity, since it is evil, needs law to keep it in a state of harmony. This contract is constituted by two distinguishable contracts.

First, people must agree to establish society by collectively and reciprocally renouncing the rights they had against one another in the State of Nature. Second, they must imbue some one person or assembly of persons with the authority and power to enforce the initial contract. In other words, to ensure their escape from the state of nature, they must both agree to live together under common laws, and create an enforcement mechanism for the social contract and the laws that constitute it.

Since the sovereign is invested with the authority and power to mete out punishments for breaches of the contract which are worse than not being able to act as one pleases, men have good, albeit self-interested, reason to adjust themselves to the rules of common moral interest, and justice in particular. Society becomes possible because, whereas in the state of nature there was no power able to “overawe them all”, now there is an artificially and conventionally superior and more powerful person who can force men to cooperate.

While living under the authority of a Sovereign can be harsh (Hobbes argues that because men’s passions can be expected to overwhelm their reason, the Sovereign must have absolute authority in order for the contract to be successful) it is at least better than living in the State of Nature. And, no matter how much we may object to how poorly a Sovereign manages the affairs of the state and regulates our own lives, we are never justified in resisting his power because it is the only thing which stands between us and what we most want to avoid, the State of Nature.