Human Nature in The Leviathan

I found chapter 13 to be the most interesting chapter in The Leviathan. In chapter 13, Hobbes describes what he believes to be human beings’ natural state. He sees the natural state as one of war, violence, and selfishness.

I ¬†agree that human nature is determined by the physical nature of humans. I believe that most aspects of humanity and human behavior can be understood through the analysis of biology and evolution. However, I’d tend to disagree that humans are naturally in a state of war and selfishness. Hobbes does not clearly acknowledge family relationships such as the one between a mother and her baby, and I think those types of relationships are significant indications of natural positivity and selflessness. I think humans have evolved to naturally care for each other. I think humans have evolved feelings of sympathy and kindness as well as feelings of disgust and guilt in order for the species to advance and be able to form civilizations and live socially. ¬†Therefore, although war and selfishness may occur naturally, peace and selflessness can also occur naturally without the presence of a government because positive social qualities are necessary for humanity to thrive.

2 thoughts on “Human Nature in The Leviathan

  1. mbos

    I have always tended to agree with Hobbes in his notion that humans are innately selfish beings even when examining a familial relationship. It seems to me that people will always have a motive for having children and then caring for them, whether it’s for carrying on their legacy (their shot at immortality) or providing insurance for their elderly years (etc.). I do not think people are actively thinking about these things when they have children, but I believe the selfish motives lie underneath and from them devotion and love grow. Maybe not though… it is fairly depressing.

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  2. Christina Hendricks

    Good point, Griffin–Hobbes doesn’t talk about family relationships hardly at all, except a little bit in chapter 20 (but then only to determine which parent has dominion over the children!). I think it’s true that in a state of nature, were such a thing ever to exist, there could still be loving families. The problem is just that you couldn’t trust whether other people are going to leave you alone or attack you without a reliable common power to stop them from doing so. And then, if that’s the case, it makes sense to do whatever you can to defend yourself, including joining a group that attacks others if that would help. So I think we can still have some loving relationships in the state of nature, it’s just that there will also be distrust of others that can lead to fighting.

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