The Hidden Axiom and
This paper examines some of the ideas Thomas Hobbes presents in his Leviathan, and compares them with the corresponding ideas from John Locke. Some of the comparison is presented in the form of comparison-as-critique, the justification of which will hopefully be clear by the end of the paper.
A couple of quotes used may surprise unsuspecting readers. Sometimes thoughts are best expressed subtly, sometimes they are not.
Having limited knowledge of the Christian Bible, the author of this paper makes no challenge of Hobbes' interpretations thereof. However, it is of some interest that Hobbes cites Leviticus 25.11-12 in condemnation of private zeal. This particular passage deals with the year of jubilee. Hobbes' citation must be a typographical error, since the scripture he mentions is to be found in Leviticus 24.11-12. Such is the fallibility of mortals.
Abbreviations of book titles should be touched on: Essay is Locke's Essay in Human Understanding and Deu stands for Deuteronomy.
Among other things, Hobbes values certainty. He likens all reason to arithmetic, claiming the process is an adding and subtracting of ideas. Ideas themselves all derive from sensation, the pressing of external objects on one's sense organs by various motions which the brain interprets. Thus, the qualities of an object lie not in the object itself, but the mind. Even then, there is some sort of order to how things are perceived when one is awake; the train of thought people experience does not proceed indifferently, but always follows in succession in accordance to the succession of past events (e.g., we perceive the flow of events in kicking a ball, later imagining these events in the same order). Hobbes calls the train of thought 'Mental Discourse'. Guided mental discourse is "regulated by some desire and design" with the purpose of obtaining that which is desired. Either the person sees an effect and seeks its cause, or imagines something and then seeks "all the possible effects...by it be produced". Wisdom is an example of the latter process, predicting the outcome of an event based on past similar events. Past events can mislead, though, if not all pertinent circumstances are accounted for. Since it is impossible for a person to be aware of all factors present in an event, much less discern a priori which ones are important, the predicted future is more "a fiction of the mind". There is always an element of uncertainty in the future, but his diminishes inversely to how frequently particular relationships are observed. So certain are people that unsupported objects always fall down, for instance, that few venture to throw themselves off a cliff unless their intent is suicide. This idea is made certain by the abundance of examples of it observed, and the lack of examples contrary to the idea.
Speech is an aid "to the remembrance of the consequence of causes and effects...[by] imposing of Names and the Connexion of them". Humans give names to various things as a time-saver too; common names (e.g., 'horse') allow people to generalize and examine traits things share with each other- allowing people to develop ideas to a higher degree than they would otherwise be capable.
Having made a connection between names and events, speech remains useful so long as it is applied consistently. A word, once defined, should always signify the same thing. As nature does not err, the truth or falseness of a proposition is an attribute of speech itself. For speech to be true, one must order the names of his affirmations rightly, and use words which are clearly defined. The definition is extremely important since one cannot understand speech until one grasps the thoughts which words signify. Thoughts are the true grounds of reasoning. As mentioned above, Hobbes considers all reason to be a form of math; indeed, Leviathan shows the marks of an author lately exposed to geometry who, being taken with the discipline, adopts its methods for his own work as the method by which one may obtain absolute truth. After all, if reasoning is "nothing but Reckoning...of the Consequences of generall names agreed upon", and the deductive method is certain for geometry, it should follow that any field of thought as carefully grounded in general names and logic will be equally certain.
Unfortunately, the task of precise reasoning is seldom free of human inaccuracy. Even the ablest thinkers may at times deceive themselves and infer false conclusions from an abuse of logic or an inconsistency of definition. Consider also that people call the object of their desire good and the object of their aversion evil, but individuals may have desires which do not necessarily coincide. Unless they take pains to explain to each other what they mean by these terms, they are certain to judge the other's reasoning wrong. Even if they do explain themselves, one or both may be convinced his own personal desires are rooted in Truth, and the controversy becomes a contest of wills which can only be resolved through arbitration by a third party or a fight.
Fighting is the traditional method of settling disputes. Hobbes declares all men to be equal in the natural condition, this equality including conviction in one's superior wisdom and the hope of attaining one's goals. Those who compete for a common goal are mutual enemies. Being equal, they have equal right in nature ot anything; their success in acquisition depends on how powerful they are relative to each other. One may become more powerful by gaining the control of as many people as needed to render hostile powers impotent. However, this power is never secure. So long as all people have the right to everything, including each other's resources, the quarreling over common goals (nearly everything) will be ceaseless. People will attack each other in the name of acquiring or defending what is rightly theirs, the glory of their truths being one such item.
A life wherein one is in constant danger of being deprived of everything, including one's life, is precarious. Wise people remedy this situation by making agreements, or covenants, which they find beneficial. This is a trade off of rights, each party agreeing to give up certain rights in exchange for something else desired. If making covenants was the only thing needed to assure peace, Leviathan would be much shorter. In making covenants though, people have no guarantee the other party will not break it, nor can they assure others they will not breach it themselves unless perhaps they have a convincing reputation. So the contract is void as there is no obliging force present. What the condition requires is an external force sufficient to terrorize both parties into keeping their word and prevent them from reverting to the condition of war. With this power installed, people may enjoy some degree of security.
Peace, being more advantageous, is to be sought; Hobbes considers this a fundamental law of Nature. In keeping the peace, Hobbes develops the other natural laws which prescribe general obligations regarding social conduct. Hobbes maintains that by natural law, one is expected to part with as many rights as obstruct the attainment of peace, to be just (i.e., to honor covenants), etc. These laws run counter to the natural inclinations and passions of men, but pride et al are the agitators that cause war and violate the natural commandment to preserve life, and "Immutable and Eternall" rule. They must be suppressed.
Common law requires a common power to enforce it. The generation of this power, this 'Leviathan', is accomplished by the concentration of power (rights) in one person or a small assembly capable of directing the people. This person(s) is/are sovereign. Hobbes insists they cannot be deposed for breach of covenant or any other reason save they resign in explicit terms. Along with the right to direct peoples' actions comes the means; for instance, a sovereign can censor his subjects so as to isolate ideas from the common-wealth deemed by him dangerous. Sovereigns have all legislative, judiciary, and administrative powers by definition of their office. Otherwise their power is compromised, defeating their purpose. They may delegate authority of course, but magistrates and officers are stewards of the power they wield. Their authority may be revoked any time by the sovereign.
It is in the best interest of subjects to remain obedient to the sovereign that protects them. They are not obliged to one who fails this end, and may justly defy him if he requires them to forfeit their lives or lives of others when their continued existence does not threaten the common-wealth. Nevertheless Hobbes advises against even this challenge of civil authority. He reminds his readers that by the sheer might of his power, god is king of all mortals whether they consent to his rule or not. Those who follow the divine "praecepts and propounded Rewards and Punishments" given to humans are considered his subjects and are protected accordingly, all others being enemies of the kingdom of God. He (i.e., God) declares his laws by natural reason, revelation, and the prophesy of "some man, to whom by the operation of Miracles, he procureth credit with the rest". Required to show each other equity, justice, etc. as prescribed by natural law, they are also required to have "Faith in Christ" and "Obedience to Laws", the latter being obedience to civil as well as natural law. These commandments are given to mortals, that they may be saved eternally. What does earthly pain matter, then, if one is admitted to an eternal paradise afterwards? One need only believe Jesus is Christ to be saved, and Hobbes offers the testimony of the gospel as proof. Everything else is inconsequential. With this faith humans may keep peach among themselves on earth, which is God's basic law.
... I pretend not to advance any Position of my own, but only to
what are the Consequences that seem to me deducible from the
principles of Christian Politiques (which are the holy Scriptures)...
The laws are based on faith in the scriptures, faith being nondemonstrable and a gift from God.
Like Hobbes, Locke states in his Essay that all ideas ultimately derive from sensation. That is, there are no innate ideas in the human mind; the mind develops its knowledge from whatever sense offers it and nothing else. Unlike Hobbes, Locke suggests a second source of ideas to be reflection. Since this is a perception of the mind's operations on ideas it already has, one may coalesce the latter source under the former and consider this distinction between Locke's and Hobbes' philosophies to be in notation only. Both men attribute sense perception to motions that originate from some external object, and neither explains that this object may be. This is understandable; Locke claims it is impossible to know, and Hobbes' treatment of sense is part of a base for his politics, not a pure investigation into human understanding.
Their approaches to understanding differ though. Locke admits it is finite, and Hobbes does as well, but for slightly different reasons. "...When we have well surveyed the powers of our own minds, and...what we may expect of them.." writes Locke, acknowledging the finitude of such powers. One's understanding is also limited by the sensations one experiences, and Hobbes agrees. Hobbes' diction, however, suggests the powers of men's minds are not wanting so much as their application thereof. For him, "Reason it selfe is alwayes Right Reason", but men, for whatever reason, apply it incorrectly and thus reach incorrect conclusions. This might explain how he can, on the one hand, advocate blind obedience to a tyrant as a safeguard to peace and a preserver of life, and on the other, advocate continued obedience even when the tyrant obviously fails to preserve the lives of the people his authority is supposedly meant to protect.
Whether an idea is true or false is determined by the proposition it stems from. For Locke, a proposal that is either true or false refers an idea to something external to the mind with the assumption that the idea in some way conforms to the extraneous thing. When the idea confirms, it is deemed true. Hobbes also ties the attributes of true and false to speech, the relationships people makes between ideas. His example is unfortunate, though.
If the later name Living creature, signifie all that the
name Man signifieth, then the affirmation... is true...
This remark is made regarding the proposition that "if he be a man, he is a living creature". From the proposition a 'man' is something that can also be defined as 'a living creature'. It does not logically follow that 'a living creature' is something that can be defined as a 'man' since the phrase fails to specify if the two names are equivalent. Hobbes opines the statement true on the condition that "...Living creature, signifie all...Man signifieth...", which is to imply something called 'living creature' is part of the set of things called men. It is doubtful that Hobbes means to say mice, which are living creatures, are men, yet from what he states this may be logically inferred. His point regarding the truth of ideas is well taken, but this example shows how his own reason at times fails to conform to his definitions and logic, and that his arguments fall short of reasonable truth.
Hobbes emphasizes unfailing obedience to law as the element which makes a common-wealth work, allowing people to fulfill the laws of nature. These laws are all specific examples of the general definition on page sixty-six of Leviathan:
A Law of Nature...is a Precept...found out by Reason, by which
a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life,
or...the means of preserving the same...
In condensed form, this says people are obliged to preserve their lives by whatever means. The best way, Hobbes contends, is peace. How people come into this obligation is not clear, but supposedly this is a commandment issued by the ultimate sovereign, God.
If all ideas come from sense (as he says), this includes those which compose revelations and miracles. Miracles are phenomena that defy the laws of nature, but the 'laws of nature' are generalizations based on observation and therefore never totally certain. A 'miracle' may prove to conform to natural order when all the surrounding circumstances are accounted for. Revelation can be considered self evident truth, but this does not assure its origin is divine. Natural reason is a tool by which new combinations of ideas are generated, but who said the original ideas are divine? For that mater, how do we know God exists, much less what a god wants mortals to do? Hobbes claims God is "...acknowledged...from the desire men have to know the causes of naturall bodies...". In other words people come to realize God when they recognize deity as the first cause of the universe. This argument possess a hidden innateism that both Hobbes and Locke subscribe to: causality. The assumption that there is something "out there" which exerts an effect is inferred by the mind. One notes that the presence of his hand in a glass furnace is normally, if not always, accompanied by pain. First the mind observes the hand in the fire, then it notes pain. The connection between the two sensations that supposes fire to cause pain is a product of experience and not of reason. The presumption of causality is needed to make empiricism a sound basis of knowledge, but if fails to prove the existence of a god.
While Hobbes attempts to rationally prove his view of sovereignty by employing logic, the laws of God on which Hobbes founds his politics he accepts out of faith. The faith itself is a gift from God, but the immediate learning comes through the aid of teachers. Unless one receives revelations personally, one is obliged to believe the words of the "Supreme Pastor", namely the sovereign. But how does one determine whether one's ideas concerning a given subject are a revelation or not? How does one determine the worth of a teacher's teachings if one's own reason is considered inadequate for the job? Hobbes entrusts so much in those with authority he even ventures to say that "...Truth of Doctrine dependeth either upon Reason, or upon Scripture...".
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true. --Lewis Carroll
The relationship between reason, faith, and the sovereign is too convenient for the sovereign to escape notice. In his Essay, Locke discusses how principles come to be regarded innate. Though Hobbes takes great pains to show he does not consider his proposition s innate (save perhaps his faith in God), one passage is still pertinent.
Nor is it a small power it gives one man over another, to have
the authority to be the dictator of principles, and teacher of
unquestionable truths, and to make a man swallow that...
which may serve to his purpose who teacheth them.
Hobbes insists such a condition is only for the subjects' good. Otherwise, people would be swayed by conflicting, mutually antagonistic tenets. They would fight among themselves and only bring themselves a misery which would make the troubles people experience under government pale to insignificance. But is that really so? The 20th Century offers plenty of examples of governments killing off the people they are apparently there to protect. If the primary rule is to preserve life, then, contrary to Hobbes' claim, it would seem that the wholesale slaughter of people made possible by a tyrant wielding absolute power over them is less desirable than an anarchy wherein the power of people is relatively balanced, giving them a fighting chance to survive. It should be noted that there is nothing wrong with faith per se. Where demonstration is impossible one must act on faith or else not at all, accepting the consequences either way. However, no one is obliged to act from faith which he does not possess, and any person who expects others to honor a faith they do not at least in part share is making an unreasonable demand.
Considering Hobbes' theory of knowledge, the politics he deduces from it is unexpected (though in light of his aristocratic connections it is hardly a shock). One would expect Hobbes' attitude to be more liberal and tolerant- more Lockeian. Uncertainty abounds in knowledge, everyone is fallible, and there is no proof his natural laws et al come from God. An absolute sovereign, whose function is to maintain peace for his subjects, is inconsistent with a declaration that knowledge is empirical. Individuals generate the ideas from experience that are found in a society, just as the contribute to its passions. Experience varies from person to person, which means an element of pluralism is present in every society whether it is publicly recognized or not. Different ideas may exist and be equally true if they are conformable to the experience of the mind that generates them. The last statement does not justify absurdities; it leaves no room for disparity regarding logic, and common elements to peoples' experience assure a considerable measure of conformity in their ideas anyway. A great deal of controversy and contradiction arise concerning ideas accepted on faith, but this is not grounds itself for persecution at the hands of an offended fellow. Hobbes advises sovereigns to enforce codes assimilating all subjects into a uniform, public faith. Yet how is this measure justified? The coexistence of different faiths and their practices leads to sedition and war where there is no tolerance (Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration). In all respects, it is hard to believe such a measure in the name of peace is honest.
...it will be very difficult to persuade men of sense that he who
dry eyes and satisfaction of mind can deliver his brother to the
executioner...does sincerely and heartily concern himself to save
that brother from the flames of hell... --John Locke
In the review, Hobbes summarizes his theories and slits his throat in the process. He admits his presenting new doctrines without leave usurps the place of the state teachers, but justifies this on the grounds that he thinks them all true and beneficial to the situation at hand (viz. The civil war that was in England at the time). But if good intentions excuse Hobbes, why would that not give anyone else leave to propagate his own, differing theories so long as he meant well? Hobbes claims people generally prefer "Ancient Errors, before New and well proved Truth". But his political theory rests more on scripture and his faith in God than any doctrine that could be said to be new even by the standards of his era, so it's not clear how this declaration would in any way recommend his ideas concerning sovereignty to anyone except perhaps a tyrant who would like to play god.