Thomas Hobbes was one of the core social contract philosophers andis probably best known for his work Leviathan.The doctrine of Leviathan has come to be regarded as ‘an isolated phenomenon inEnglish thought, without ancestry or posterity ‘ (Trevor-Roper, 2001, p.233).For Hobbes, the Leviathan was the ultimate ruler whom had absolute power. Hobbes recognized that people worked and behaved to further theirself-interests. In a society where people disagreed, it would eventually leadto conflict and civil war.
He believed that people should obey what thesovereign said and did, as he had their best interests at heart. However, whilethe survival of men in a civil society with stable political order is the toppriority of Hobbes, it is hard to see that government and a sovereign is theonly possible alternative to anarchy. By having a sovereign with absolutepower, Hobbes does not allow citizens of this society to represent themselvesas they must be constantly submissive.
Scholarshave attempted to criticise and condemn Hobbes’ work. They believed that hiscombination of science and philosophy would severely morph the world and thatpeople would behave irrationally. Many have interpreted Hobbes’ views as unhistorical and have beenmisled by his writings, especially Leviathan.’He has been treated as a figure in complete isolation, the inventor of ‘anentirely new type of political doctrine'(Strauss, 1953, p.
182). That beingsaid, Hobbes drew on material that was already there, in order to develop hisdoctrines. He was a fan of looking to the past and learning from it to create abetter future. He did not want to dwell on the past, and on things that hecould not change. ‘The prevailing view, moreover, about the meaning of Hobbes’sown political doctrine depends in effect on discounting all such evidence abouthis contemporary intellectual relations.’ (Skinner, 1966, p.287)Hobbes idea of the state of nature is one in which no state orgovernment would be present. Everyone would have the right to everything.
Hobbes states that we need power to fulfil our desires and control our futures.It is very unlikely that we would be able to survive in the state of nature unlesssome sort of authority was wielded over us. We need power to ensure oursurvival. Shaftesbury believes that If there was a state of Nature, ‘let it bea state of war, rapine and injustice’, for ‘to speak well of it is to render itinviting and tempt men to turn hermits.
‘ (Shaftesbury, 1900, p.83). It appearsthat many scholars, as well as Hobbes, are against this state of nature, as menwould have equal right to others’ possessions and would do whatever it takes tofurther their self-interest. This would lead to a likelier outcome of war andviolence, something which Hobbes has tried to avoid. In conclusion, Skinner has outlined the many critiques and complimentswhich scholars have given to Hobbes as they try to understand his writing. Manyhave misinterpreted Hobbes’ doctrines and have attempted to over-simplify histeachings.
He is probably most famous for his work of Leviathan, showing that men are motivated by self-interest and thatin order to get out of the state of nature, a sovereign with absolute powerwould be the best solution. His combining of science and philosophy has positeda new way of thinking about society and how to survive in order to get what youwant. While trying to avoid anarchy andconflict, Hobbes has proffered a solution with both advantages anddisadvantages. While violence would be reduced, it is difficult to believe thatthis is the only option to maintain peace in a civil society.