School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Conflict and cooperation in Hobbes' "Leviathan" : a study of the state of nature
    In Leviathan, the book which is the culmination of his political philosophy, Hobbes develops a form of Social Contract theory to explain the nature of a properly constituted Commonwealth. The institution of the Commonwealth through the Social Contract supposedly delivers people from the State of Nature, a time when they live without common political authority, which is depicted by Hobbes as a period of chaotic insecurity. This thesis is primarily an examination of the State of Nature and the role it plays in Hobbes' system in Leviathan. The notion of the Social Contract as a contract is taken seriously. For parties to contract together they need to be describable in ways which make them suitable as contractual partners; many of their actual characteristics will be irrelevant to such a description. In the first two chapters of the thesis I try to show bow the State of Nature can be used as a way of isolating those features of agents which are relevant to their role as potential contracting parties. In the first chapter I ask whether the Hobbesian State of Nature can be understood as a pre-political condition, and argue that it cannot. In the second chapter I argue that the State of Nature can be seen as an abstract version of specifically political relations; it is a device by which the nature of these relations can be understood. The State of Nature displays the essential nature of the contractual parties: they are anonymous beings with certain faculties. Using these sparse elements Hobbes derives the nature of the Commonwealth in great detail. In the third and fourth chapters of the thesis I examine some of the ways in which the Hobbesian Commonwealth is so derived. In Chapter 3 I examine Hobbes' notion of authority, and argue that he uses a clear and consistent account of the nature of authority in various contexts throughout Leviathan. Ultimately political authority demands obedience not because it is contrary to individual self-interest to disobey it, but rather because it establishes the order which makes possible meaningful calculation about future action. In Chapter 4 I examine Hobbes' use of the fear of death as the common factor on which to build a political science, and point to the tensions between the description of the contracting party and the actual nature of the individual faced with choice of action.