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Why does Thomas Hobbes choose "Leviathan" as the model for his Commonwealth? It is, after all, an Old Testament sea-monster that God will slay at the end of conflict. It does not seem a very promising image for an argument in favor of civil society.

March 11, 2006

Response from Bernard Gert on March 27, 2006
In the last paragraph of Chapter 28 of Leviathan, Hobbes explains why he chose "Leviathan" as the model for a commonwealth.

"Hitherto I have set forth the nature of man, whose pride and other passions have compelled him to submit himself to government, together with the great power of his governor, whom I compared to Leviathan, taking that comparison out of the last two verses of the one and fortieth of Job, where God, having set forth the great power of Leviathan, calleth him King of the Proud, 'There is nothing,' saith he, 'on earth to be compared with him, He is made so as not to be afraid. He seeth every high thing below him, and is king of all the children of pride.'" [Job 41:33-34].

What is interesting about Hobbes choosing the name "Leviathan" for the reasons he says, is that it shows that Hobbes held that the govenor or sovereign needs so much power, not because man is self-interested or egoistic, but because he is proud. It is because each citizen holds that his own views about justice and right and wrong are better than those of other men that the sovereign needs so much power. This interpretation allows for the importance of views about justice and morality, whereas the standard egoistic interpretation makes all of Hobbes's talk about justice and morality seem beside the point.


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