Selections from Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan(As modernized by Prof. Jonathan Bennett)


Copyright © Jonathan Bennett

[Brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small ·dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as

though it were part of the original text.. Four ellipses . . . . indicate the omission of a

brief passage that seems to present more difficulty than it is worth.



Chapter 13. The natural condition of mankind as concerning their happiness and misery


Nature has made men so equal in their physical and mental capacities that, although sometimes we may find one man who is obviously stronger in body or quicker of mind than another, yet taking all in all the difference between one and another is not so great that one man can claim to have any advantage ·of strength or skill or the like· that can’t just as well be claimed by some others.


As for strength of body: the weakest man is strong enough to kill the strongest, either by a secret plot or by an alliance with others who are in the same danger that he is in.


As for the faculties of the mind: I find that men are even more equal in these than they are in bodily strength. (In this discussion I set aside skills based on words, and especially the skill - known as ‘science’ - of being guided by general and infallible rules. Very few people have this, and even they don’t have it with respect to many things. I am setting it aside because it isn’t a natural faculty that we are born with, nor is it something that we acquire - as we acquire prudence - while looking for something else.) Prudence is simply experience; and men will get an equal amount of that in an equal period of time spent on things that they equally apply themselves to.


What may make such equality incredible is really just one’s vain sense of one’s own wisdom, which most men think they have more of than the common herd - that is, more than anyone else except for a few others whom they value because of their fame or because their agreement with them. It’s just a fact about human nature that however much a man may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned than he is, he won’t easily believe that many men are as wise as he is; for he sees his own wisdom close up, and other men’s at a distance. This, however, shows the equality of men rather than their inequality. For ordinarily there is no greater sign that something is equally distributed than that every man is contented with his share!


·Competition·: This equality of ability produces equality of hope for the attaining of our goals. So if any two men want a single thing which they can’t both enjoy, they become enemies; and each of them on the way to his goal (which is principally his own survival, though sometimes merely his delight) tries to destroy or subdue the other. And so it comes about that when someone has through farming and building come to possess a pleasant estate, if an invader would have nothing to fear but that one man’s individual power, there will probably be an invader – someone who comes with united forces to deprive him not only of the fruit of his labor but also of his life or liberty. And the ·successful· invader will then be in similar danger from someone else.


·Distrust·: Because of this distrust amongst men, the most reasonable way for any man to make himself safe is to strike first, that is, by force or cunning subdue other men - as many of them as he can, until he sees no other power great enough to endanger him. This is no more than what he needs for his own survival, and is generally allowed. ·And it goes further than you might think·. Some people take pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, pursuing them further than their security requires, ·and this increases the security needs of others·.  People who would otherwise be glad to be at ease within modest bounds have to increase their power by further invasions, because without that, in a purely defensive posture, they wouldn’t be able to survive for long. This increase in a man’s power over others ought to be allowed to him, as it is necessary to his survival.


·Glory·: Every man wants his associates to value him as highly as he values himself; and any sign that he is disregarded or undervalued naturally leads a man to try, as far as he dares, to raise his value in the eyes of others. For those who have disregarded him, he does this by violence; for others, by example. I say ‘as far as he dares’; but when there is no common power to keep them at peace, ‘as far as he dares’ is far enough to make them destroy each other. That is why men don’t get pleasure (and indeed do get much grief) from being in the company of other men without there being a power that can over-awe them all.


So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of discord. First competition, secondly distrust, thirdly glory.


The first makes men invade for gain; the second for safety; and the third for reputation. The first use violence to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second use it to defend themselves and their families and property; the third use it for trifles - a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of a low regard for them personally, if not directly then obliquely through a disrespectful attitude to their family, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.


This makes it obvious that for as long as men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in the condition known as ‘war’; and it is a war of every man against every man.  For WAR doesn’t consist just in battle or the act of fighting, but in a period of time during which it is well enough known that people are willing to join in battle. So the temporal element in the notion of ‘when there is war’ is like the temporal element in ‘when there is bad weather’.  What constitutes bad weather is not a rain-shower or two but an inclination to rain through many days together; similarly, what constitutes war is not actual fighting but a known disposition to fight during a time when there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.


Therefore, whatever results from a time of war, when every man is enemy to every man, also results from a time when men live with no other security but what their own strength and ingenuity provides them with. In such conditions there is no place for hard work, because there is no assurance that it will yield results; and consequently no cultivation of the earth, no navigation or use of materials that can be imported by sea, no construction of large buildings, no machines for moving things that require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no practical skills, no literature or scholarship, no society; and - worst of all - continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


It may seem strange to you, if you haven’t thought hard about these things, that nature should thus separate men from one another and make them apt to invade and destroy one another. So perhaps you won’t trust my derivation of this account from the nature of the passions, and will want to have the account confirmed by experience. Well, then, think about how you behave: when going on a journey, you arm yourself, and try not to go alone; when going to sleep, you lock your doors; even inside your own house you lock your chests; and you do all this when you know that there are laws, and armed public officers of the law, to revenge any harms that are done to you. Ask yourself: what opinion do you have of your fellow subjects when you ride armed? Of your fellow citizens when you lock your doors? Of your children and servants when you lock your chests? In all this, don’t you accuse mankind as much by your actions as I do by my words?


Actually, neither of us is criticizing man’s nature. The desires and other passions of men aren’t sinful in themselves. Nor are actions that come from those passions, until those who act know a law that forbids them; they can’t know this until laws are made; and they can’t be made until men agree on the person who is to make them. But why try to demonstrate to learned men something that is known even to dogs who bark at visitors - sometimes indeed only at strangers but in the night at everyone?


It may be thought that there has never been such a time, such a condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally like this all over the world. Still, there are many places where people live like that even now. For the savage people in many parts of America have no government at all except for the government of small families, whose harmony depends on natural lust. Those savages live right now in the brutish manner I have described. Anyway, we can see what way of life there would be if there were no common power to fear, from the degenerate way of life into which civil war has led men who had formerly lived under a peaceful government.


Even if there had never been any time at which individual men were in a state of war one against another, this is how kings, and persons of sovereign authority relate to one another at all times. Because of their independence from one another, they are in continual mutual jealousies. Like gladiators, with their weapons pointing and their eyes fixed on one another, sovereigns have forts, garrisons, and guns on the frontiers of their kingdoms, and permanent spies on their neighbors - this is a posture of war, as much as the gladiators’ is. But because in this the sovereigns uphold the economy of their nations, their state of war doesn’t lead to the sort of misery that occurs when individual men are at liberty ·from laws and government·.


In this war of every man against every man nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place there. Where there is no common power, there is no law; and where there is no law, there is no injustice. In war the two chief virtues are force and fraud. Justice and injustice are not among the faculties [here = ‘natural capacities’] of the body or of the mind. If they were, they could be in a man who was alone in the world, as his senses and passions can. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. A further fact about the state of war of every man against every man: in it there is no such thing as ownership, no legal control, no distinction between mine and thine. Rather, anything that a man can get is his for as long as he can keep it.


So much for the poor condition that man is actually placed in by mere nature; but ·as I now go on to explain·, he can extricate himself from it, partly through his passions, partly through his reason.


The passions that incline men to peace are fear of death, desire for things that are necessary for comfortable living, and a hope to obtain these by hard work. And reason suggests convenient items in a peace treaty that men may be got to agree on. These items are the ones that in other contexts are called the Laws of Nature. I shall have more to say about them in the two following chapters.



Chapter 14. The first and second natural laws, and contracts


The RIGHT OF NATURE, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty that each man   has to make his own decisions about how to use his own power for the preservation of his own   nature - i.e. his own life - and consequently ·the liberty· of doing anything that he thinks is the  aptest means to that end. [The Latin phrase jus naturale standardly meant ‘natural law’; but jus could mean ‘right’, and Hobbes is clearly taking the phrase to mean ‘natural right’.]  The proper meaning of LIBERTY is the absence of external obstacles. Such obstacles can often take away part of a man’s power to do what he wants, but they can’t get in the way of his  using his remaining power in obedience to his judgment and reason.  A LAW OF NATURE (lex naturalis) is a command or general rule, discovered by reason, which forbids a man to do anything that is destructive of his life or takes away his means for preserving his life, and forbids him to omit anything by which he thinks his life can best be preserved. For although those who speak of this subject commonly run together right and law (jus and lex), they ought to be distinguished. RIGHT consists in the liberty to do or not do ·as one   chooses·, whereas LAW picks on one of them - either doing or not doing - and commands it. So law differs from right as much as obligation differs from liberty - which ·are so different that· it would be inconsistent to suppose that a person had both liberty and an obligation in respect of the same action.  


As I said in chapter 13, the condition of man is a condition of war of everyone against everyone, so that everyone is governed by his own reason and can make use of anything he likes that might help him to preserve his life against his enemies. From this it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything - even to someone else’s body. As long as this continues, therefore - that is, as long as every man continues to have this natural right to everything - no man, however strong or clever he may be, can be sure of living out the time that nature ordinarily allows men to live. And consequently it is a command or general rule of reason that every man ought to seek peace, as far as he has any hope of obtaining it; and that when he can’t obtain it he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of this rule contains the first law of nature - the fundamental one - which is this:


First law of nature: Seek peace and follow it.


The second branch contains in summary form the right of nature, which is the right to defend ourselves by any means we can. From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to seek peace, is derived this second law:


Second law of nature: When a man thinks that peace and self-defence require it, he should be willing (when others are too) to lay down his right to everything, and should be contented with as much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself.


For as long as every man maintains his right to do anything he likes, all men are in the condition of war. But if other men won’t also lay down their right, there is no reason for him to divest himself of his; for ·if he alone gave up his rights· that would be to expose himself to predators (which no man is obliged to do) rather than to dispose himself to peace. This is the law of the Gospel: Whatever you require others to do to you, do it to them. And this law of all men: Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris - ·Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you·.


[Several pages discussing the nature of contracts are here omitted – TA]



Chapter 15. Other laws of nature


From the ·second· law of nature, which obliges us to transfer to someone else any rights of ours the retention of which would hinder the peace of mankind, there follows a third:


Third law of nature: Men should perform the covenants they make.

Without this, covenants are useless, are mere empty words, and all men retain the right to all things so that we are still in the condition of war. This ·third· law of nature is the source of JUSTICE. When no covenant has been made, no right has been transferred, so every man has a right to everything, so no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, to break it is unjust; and the definition of INJUSTICE is simply the non-performance of a covenant. And whatever is not unjust is just.


As I said in chapter 14, covenants of mutual trust are invalid when one party fears that the other party will not perform. Although the origin of justice is the making of covenants, there can’t be any actual injustice until the reason for such fear be taken away, which can’t be done while men are in the natural condition of war. So the labels ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ can have application only when there is some coercive power to compel all men equally to perform their covenants, through the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect from breaking their covenant, and ·thereby· to ensure that men get the benefits they contract for, this being their compensation for giving up some of their rights. And there is no such power before the creation of a commonwealth.


This can also be gathered from the ordinary definition of justice in the Schools; for they say that justice is the steady willingness to give every man his own. Where there is no own - that is, no property - there is no injustice, and where no coercive power has been set up - that is, where there is no commonwealth - there is no property (all men having a right to all things); therefore where there is no commonwealth, nothing is unjust. So that justice consists in the keeping of valid covenants; but the validity of covenants begins only with the setting up of a civil power sufficient to compel men to keep them; and that is when property is also begins.


[Long discussion of varieties of justice here omitted – TA]


As justice depends on a previous covenant, so GRATITUDE depends on a previous grace, that is to say, a previous free-gift. There is a law of nature about this, which can be put thus:


Fourth law of nature: A man who receives benefit from another out of mere grace should try to bring it about that the giver of the benefit doesn’t come to have reasonable cause to regret his good will.

For no man gives except with the intention of bringing good to himself, because giving is voluntary, and the aim of each voluntary act is the good of the person whose act it is. If men see that they will be frustrated in that aim - ·as they will be if ingratitude is prevalent· - there will be no beginning of benevolence or trust, or (consequently) of mutual help, or of reconciliation of one man to another; so that men will be left still in the condition of war, which is contrary to the first and fundamental law of nature, which commands men to seek peace. The breach of this ·fourth· law is called ‘ingratitude’. It has the same relation to grace that injustice has to obligation by covenant.


A fifth law of nature enjoins COMPLAISANCE. That is to say,

Fifth law of nature: Every man should strive to accommodate himself to the rest.

To understand this, think about the fact that differences in men’s affections create differences in how fit they are for society; like differences among stones that are collected for building of an edifice. If a stone’s roughness and irregularity of shape causes it to take more space from others than it itself fills, and if it is too hard to be easily smoothed, it is awkward to build with and the builders discard it as unprofitable and troublesome. Similarly, a man who is led by the roughness of his nature to try to keep for himself things that others need and he does not, and whose passions are so stubborn that he can’t be corrected, is to be dropped or thrown out of society as giving it too much trouble. For seeing that every man is supposed - not only by right, but also by necessity of nature - to do all he can to obtain what he needs for his own survival, anyone who goes against this in order to have things he doesn’t need is guilty of the war that his conduct will start; and that is contrary to the fundamental ·or first· law of nature, which commands the pursuit of peace. Those who observer this ·fifth· law may be called SOCIABLE, and those who break it may be called ‘stubborn’, ‘unsociable’, ‘perverse’, ‘intractable’.


And then there is this:

Sixth law of nature: A man ought to pardon the past offences of those who repent of their offences, want to be pardoned, and provide guarantees of good behaviour in the future.

For PARDON is simply the granting of peace. If granted to people who persevere in their hostility, it isn’t peace, but fear; but if it is not granted to people who give guarantees of their future conduct, that is a sign of aversion to peace, and is therefore contrary to the ·first· law of nature.


And this:

Seventh law of nature: In revenge (that is, returning evil for evil), men should look not at

the greatness of the past evil but at the greatness of the future good.

This forbids us to inflict punishment with any purpose other than to correct of the offender or to direct others. This law follows from its immediate predecessor, which commands pardon when there is security for the future. Besides, taking revenge without thought for the example that is being set or for the profit that will come from it is triumphing or glorying in someone else’s pain. And it is doing so without aiming at any end, for the end is always something in the future; and glorying to no end is vainglory and contrary to reason, and to hurt without reason tends to start war, which is against the ·first· law of nature. Such conduct is commonly called ‘cruelty’.


Because all signs of hatred or contempt provoke men to fight, as most men would rather risk their lives than not to be revenged, we may set down this command:


Eighth law of nature: No man should - by deed, word, facial expression or gesture - express hatred or contempt of someone else.

The breach of this law is commonly called ‘contumely’ [= ‘gratuitous insult’].


The question of who is the better man has no place in the raw condition of nature, where (as I have shown) all men are equal. The inequalities that now obtain between men have been introduced by the civil laws. I know that Aristotle in the first book of his Politics bases his doctrine on the thesis that some men are by nature more worthy to command, others more worthy to serve. He took the former to be the wiser sort (and thought his philosophy showed him to be one of them); the latter were those who had strong bodies, but were not philosophers as he was. He was implying that the line between master and servant (or slave) is drawn not by the consent of men but by differences of intellect - which is not only against reason but also against experience. For very few men are so foolish that they wouldn’t rather govern themselves than be governed by others; and when those who fancy themselves as very intelligent contend by force against people who distrust their own intellects, they don’t always - they don’t often, they almost never - get the victory. So if nature has made men equal, that equality should be acknowledged; and if nature has made men unequal, it remains the case that men who think themselves equal will refuse to make peace treaties except on equal terms, and so their ·believed-in · equality must be admitted. And so I offer this:


Ninth law of nature: Every man should acknowledge ·every· other as his equal by nature.

The breach of this command is pride.


From this law there follows another:

Tenth law of nature: At the entrance into conditions of peace, no man should insist that he retain some right which he is not content to be retained by everyone else.

As it is necessary for all men who seek peace to lay down certain rights of nature, that is to say, not to have liberty to do whatever they like, so it is also necessary for man’s life to retain some rights - the right to take care of their own bodies, to enjoy air, water, motion, ways to go from place to place, and everything else that a man needs if he is to live, or to live well. [Curley reports that the Latin version ends ‘. . . needs if he is to live’, with no mention of living well.] This being the case, if at the making of peace someone requires for himself something that he is not willing to have granted to others, he infringes the ninth law, which commands the acknowledgment of natural equality, and so he also infringes the ·first or basic· law of nature. Those who observe this ·tenth· law are called ‘modest’, and the breakers of it ‘arrogant’. . . .


Here is a further precept of the law of nature:

Eleventh law of nature: If a man is trusted to judge between man and man, he should deal equally between them.

For without that, the controversies of men cannot be settled except by war. So someone who is biased in his judgments is doing his best to deter men from the use of judges and arbitrators, and so he is - against the basic law of nature - a cause of war. The observance of this law involves the equal distribution to each man of what in reason belongs to him, which is why it is called EQUITY, and (as I have said before) ‘distributive justice’; the violation of it is called ‘acception of persons’ [= ‘favouritism’].


From this law there follows another:

Twelfth law of nature: Anything that can’t be divided should be enjoyed in common, if that is possible; and it should be enjoyed without limit if possible; and if there isn’t enough of it for that, those who have a right to it should have equal shares of it.

If this law is not followed, the distribution is unequal, and ·therefore· contrary to equity.


But some things cannot be either divided or enjoyed in common. In that case, the law of nature prescribing equity leads to this:

Thirteenth law of nature: If a thing that cannot be divided or enjoyed in common, a lottery should be set up to determine who is to have the entire right to the thing or (for an alternating use of it) who is to have it first.

For the law of nature demands equal distribution, and we can’t imagine any other way - ·in the case in question· - of doing that.


There are two sorts of lottery - arbitrary and natural. An arbitrary lottery is one agreed on by the competitors; a natural lottery is based either on who was born first or on who first took possession. So:

Fourteenth law of nature: Things that can’t be enjoyed in common or divided ought to

be judged to have been acquired through a lottery to the first possessor, or in some cases

to the first-born.


Here is another law:

Fifteenth law of nature: All men who mediate peace should be allowed safe conduct.

For the law that commands peace as an end commands intercession [= ‘pleading on someone

else’s behalf’] as the means, and the means to intercession is safe conduct.


However willing men may be to observe these laws, questions may still arise concerning a man’s action: Did he do it? If he did it, was it against the law ·of nature·? (The former is called a ‘question of fact’, the latter ‘a question of right’.) ·When this happens·, men are as far from peace as ever unless they covenant to abide by the judgment of some third party - known as an ARBITRATOR. And therefore:

Sixteenth law of nature: When men have a controversy, they should submit their right to the judgment of an arbitrator.


And seeing every man is presumed to do everything with a view to his own benefit,

Seventeenth law of nature: No man is a fit arbitrator in his own cause.

Even if a man were an entirely suitable arbitrator in his own cause, the demand of equity that each party receive equal benefit implies that if one is allowed to be a judge the other should be allowed also; and if that happens the controversy - that is, the cause of war - still stands, which is against the law of nature.


For the same reason,

Eighteenth law of nature: No man ought to be accepted as an arbitrator in any case where it seems that he will get greater profit or honor or pleasure from the victory of one party than from the victory of the other. That is because he has taken a bribe - an unavoidable one, but still a bribe - and no man can be obliged to trust him. So here again, ·if such an arbitrator is appointed·, the controversy remains, and thus the condition of war remains, contrary to the law of nature.


·The seventeenth and eighteenth laws are relevant to controversies of both kinds - of fact and

of right. One final law concerns only the former·:

Nineteenth law of nature: In a controversy of fact, the judge should not give more credence to one party than to the other; and so if there is no other evidence he must give credence to a third ·person as witness·, or to a third and fourth, or more; For otherwise the question is undecided, and left to be settled by force, which is contrary to the ·first· law of nature.


Those are the laws of nature, which dictate peace as the means to the preservation of men in multitudes. Their only concern is with the doctrine of civil society. There are other things tending to the destruction of particular men - for example drunkenness, and all other kinds of intemperance - which could be counted among the things the law of nature has forbidden; but they are not relevant to my present concerns.


 This ·chapter· may seem too subtle a deduction of the laws of nature to be attended to by all men, most of whom are too busy getting food to understand it, and the rest are too careless to do so. However, these laws of nature have been contracted into one easy sum that can be grasped even by the poorest intelligence, namely:

Don’t do to someone else anything that you wouldn’t want done to you.

That shows a man that in learning the laws of nature all he has to do is this: When weighing the actions of other men against his own, ·if· they seem too heavy then he should put them into the other pan of the balance, and his own into their pan, to ensure that his own passions and self-love are not adding anything to the weight. If he does that, all of these laws of nature that will appear to him very reasonable. ·Because this procedure is available·, he cannot excuse himself ·for not knowing the laws of nature on the ground that they are too complicated and difficult·.


[In the next paragraph Hobbes uses the Latin phrases in foro interno (= ‘in the inner court’) and in foro externo (= ‘in the outer court’). Traditionally, a judgment in foro interno has been understood to be the voice of the person’s own conscience, while a judgment in foro externo is a public one - by other people or of a court of law. Hobbes’s adapts these terms for his own slightly different purposes.] The laws of nature oblige one in foro interno, that is to say, they require one to want certain things to occur; but in foro externo - that is, in respect of acting on them - they are not always binding. For someone who is modest and pliable and faithful to his promises, at a time and place where nobody else would be like that, merely makes himself a prey to others, and procures his own certain ruin; this is contrary to the basis of all the laws of nature, which tend towards ·his· nature’s preservation. ·But this holds only in situations where nobody else would conform to the laws·. Someone who has good enough evidence that others will observe those laws with respect to him, yet doesn’t observe them himself, is not seeking peace but war, which amounts to seeking the destruction of his nature by violence.