Unit overview

The enlightenment is a period in Europe that is usually dated from 1650-1800. It roughly corresponds with the beginning of the modern period of history. In this period European society began the transition of its basic political system from monarchy to democracy and its economic systems from feudalism to capitalism. This brought with it tremendous changes and many new ideas including new ideas about morality and politics. The video on the French revolution which takes place at the end of this period in history is useful to gaining an understanding of how these ideas actually played out in dramatic fashion in France. Social contract theory as articulated by Hobbes was incredibly influential and this particular view eventually led to revolutions in Britain, France, and even the United States. John Locke was a political philosopher writing shortly after Hobbes and portions of the American constitution read as if they had been written by Locke. The founders of the United States were deeply steeped in the philosophy of the enlightenment. The basic idea of the enlightenment is that the government should exist for the benefit of the people rather than the people existing for the benefit of the government. The “common good” is the central idea of enlightenment moral and political philosophy.

Social contract theory in its various forms has come to largely shape moral and political discourse. Utilitarianism is the only popular moral theory that is not explicitly a form of social contract theory. Hobbes is writing this 1642-51 at a time when all of Europe is ruled by Kings who claimed the divine right to rule. And morality was presumed be the commands of God. In his work Hobbes makes the radical claim that no one has a right to rule over other people, or that all people are equal. And he offers a rational account of morality that doesn’t involve God. Both of these ideas were very revolutionary at the time and indeed led to revolutions across Europe. Hobbes is the first social contract theorist. Other theorists including Kant and Rawls, who we will cover later, propose slightly different versions of social contract theory.


The Enlightenment

Some notes on the enlightenment:

  • Modern period of history begins around the time of the protestant reformation (roughly 1500)
  • Also coincides with the invention of the printing press, the protestant reformation probably wouldn’t have happened so rapidly without the printing press. The Enlightenment begins 100 or so years later.
  • Hobbes (1588 – 1679) and Locke (1632 – 1704) are examples of early enlightenment philosophers
  • Isaac newton (1642 – 1727) was a famous enlightenment scientist.
  • Most historians date the official end of the enlightenment to the end of the French Revolution in 1799
  • Also known as the age of reason
  • All beliefs had to be justified by rational or scientific basis, scripture or tradition were no longer considered as justifications for any beliefs whether moral, political, scientific.
  • Dramatic advances in mathematics, science and technology.
  • And in moral and political philosophy.
  • As a society, Religious transformation from Catholicism to Protestantism to Secularism
  • Transformation from superstition and Aristotelian pseudo-science to science.
  • Industrial revolution is beginning to gear up. It doesn’t officially start until 1760 but printing press was invented in 1500s
  • And there is an incredible political transformation from monarchy / aristocracy to democracy, at least in Britain and France.
  • Philosophers argue against the divine right of kings to rule. So, the next time anyone says philosophers don’t do anything tell them to look around because everything we know as society was shaped during this period by philosophers
  • Philosophers sought rational principle that could be used to justify the existence of the state and provide guidance as to how the state should be organized.
  • The basic principle of enlightenment political philosophy is that the state, and the rulers, exists to benefit the people, not that the people exist to benefit the rulers as was traditionally the case
  • A transformation in from religious based ethics to rational ethics. Religion could no longer serve as the foundation of ethical belief so philosophers sought a rational foundation for ethics.

Here is a short excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the enlightenment:

The Enlightenment is most identified with its political accomplishments. The era is marked by three political revolutions, which together lay the basis for modern, republican, constitutional democracies: The English Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1775–83), and the French Revolution (1789–99). The success at explaining and understanding the natural world encourages the Enlightenment project of re-making the social/political world, in accord with the true models we allegedly find in our reason. Enlightenment philosophers find that the existing social and political orders do not withstand critical scrutiny; they find that existing political and social authority is shrouded in religious myth and mystery and founded on obscure traditions. The negative work of criticizing existing institutions is supplemented with the positive work of constructing in theory the model of institutions as they ought to be. We owe to this period the basic model of government founded upon the consent of the governed; the articulation of the political ideals of freedom and equality and the theory of their institutional realization; the articulation of a list of basic individual human rights to be respected and realized by any legitimate political system; the articulation and promotion of toleration of religious diversity as a virtue to be respected in a well ordered society; the conception of the basic political powers as organized in a system of checks and balances; and other now-familiar features of western democracies. ..

. . .

Many of the leading issues and positions of contemporary philosophical ethics take shape within the Enlightenment. Prior to the Enlightenment in the West, ethical reflection begins from and orients itself around religious doctrines concerning God and the afterlife. The highest good of humanity, and, accordingly, the content and grounding of moral duties, are conceived in immediately religious terms. During the Enlightenment, this changes, certainly within philosophy, but to some significant degree, within the population of western society at large. As the processes of industrialization, urbanization, and dissemination of education advance in this period, happiness in this life, rather than union with God in the next, becomes the highest end for more and more people. Also, the violent religious wars that bloody Europe in the early modern period motivate the development of secular, this-worldly ethics, insofar as they indicate the failure of religious doctrines concerning God and the afterlife to establish a stable foundation for ethics. In the Enlightenment, philosophical thinkers confront the problem of developing ethical systems on a secular, broadly naturalistic basis for the first time since the rise of Christianity eclipsed the great classical ethical systems. However, the changes in our understanding of nature and cosmology, effected by modern natural science, make recourse to the systems of Plato and Aristotle problematic. The Platonic identification of the good with the real and the Aristotelian teleological understanding of natural things are both difficult to square with the Enlightenment conception of nature. The general philosophical problem emerges in the Enlightenment of how to understand the source and grounding of ethical duties, and how to conceive the highest good for human beings, within a secular, broadly naturalistic context, and within the context of a transformed understanding of the natural world.

One thing you should keep in mind, as we proceed through the rest of our ethical theories and into the applied ethics portion of the course, is that the moral and scientific enlightenment of humanity is an ongoing project. In one sense, the enlightenment was one period of modern history followed by other periods, but in another sense, the enlightenment continues. Officially the enlightenment ends in 1799 with the end of the French Revolution, but by 1799 there were only 3 democracies in the world (Britain, France, and the United States. But even these three counties were not anything close to what we would think of when it comes to a democratic state that protects the rights of its citizens and conducts itself according to current standards of ethical behavior. Europe was still mostly monarchical and France and Britain were colonial empires by the end of the official enlightenment. In the U.S. slavery was alive and well and the genocide of Native Americans was an ongoing project. In none of the so-called democracies did women have any rights and of course the same is true for gay people.  In short, there were only a few democracies and these democracies fell far short of even the most basic standards in terms of recognizing the rights of all of their citizens. Women and African Americans didn’t get their basic rights recognized until the 20th century and they are still fighting for the enforcement of those rights. Basic economic rights like safe working conditions, time off, minimum wages were not even a thought at the time and would not gain real attention until after Karl Marx’s writings in the mid 1800s. So, make no mistake we are very far from being enlightened, as a society, and the moral and scientific enlightenment of humanity is somewhere between infancy and adolescence.

Hobbesian Social Contract Theory

Thomas Hobbes is the founder of social contract theory. Later versions of this theory came to differ from Hobbes’ original theory in important ways. Kantian ethics for example is a kind of social contract theory, although very different than Hobbes’ theory. Hobbes’ version of the theory came to be know as “contractarianism.” Hobbes’ theory of ethics is found in his book The Leviathan.

One of the main advantages of contractarianism is that it provides a completely naturalistic and empirical explanation of ethics. Morality is a natural phenomenon that arises in the natural world by the simple mechanism of self-interest. Contractarianism begins with the simple notion of a “state of nature.” The state of nature is the pre-contract state of human beings or what life would be like without a social contract, or without any government. In his book Leviathan Hobbes describes the state of nature as a “war of all against all . . . in which the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The situation of those in the state of nature is sometimes referred as “the prisoners’ dilemma.” A prisoners’ dilemma is a situation where everyone would be better off by cooperating but in attempting to minimize risk and maximize gain, through the direct pursuit of self-interest, both become worse off.

Imagine two mafia hit men, Franky and Joey, are being interrogated for a murder. They are each independently offered a plea bargain if they confess so that they will only get 2 years in jail and if they don’t confess and are found guilty they will get life imprisonment. They will be found guilty if they don’t confess and their partner confesses. And of course if neither confess they will go free as there is no actual evidence of the crime. What should they do? This is a prisoner’s dilemma. If they both keep quiet then they both walk. But if one confesses then the other will get life imprisonment. So the safest bet in the situation is to confess and take the two years rather than risk life imprisonment. Notice how by acting purely out of self-interest both fail to maximize their self-interest. It would have been in both their interest to cooperate with each other and for neither of them to confess.
The prisoners’ dilemma is analogous to the state of nature. The state of nature is a prisoners’ dilemma because by attempting to maximize self-interest everyone is made worst off. To get out of the state of nature we need two things: rules that work to everyone’s benefit if followed and someone to enforce the rules. To get a better idea of how this works let’s now look at what Hobbes has to say in the excerpt from his book Leviathan.

Thomas Hobbes’ Social Contract Theory

Hobbes begins the section of the book in which he describes the state of nature with the assertion that everyone is roughly equal. This is not some philosophical or religious statement about the absolute dignity of all persons. It is a crude statement of the facts the facts of life. What Hobbes means when he says that everyone is roughly equal is that, “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” In the state of nature, no matter how strong you are you can be killed by someone else or by a group of other people. Certainly there are differences in strength and natural abilities but Hobbes’ point is that in spite of the differences in ability there is no one who can lay permanent claim to anything because there will always be someone or some group of individuals to challenge them. Hobbes is making the point that no one has more of a natural right to goods in the state of nature than anyone else, which was actually quite a radical view at this time in Europe when kings and ruling classes claimed a natural right to greater wealth and position in society.

And because everyone is roughly equal, in this sense, there arises competition and fighting and which leads to what Hobbes calls a state of war, a state of war of everyman against everyman where “everyman is enemy to everyman” and “there is no security.” Hobbes paints a bleak picture of what life would be like in the state of nature. He says there is:

. . . No industry because the fruit of industry is uncertain, No navigation or trade by sea, no commodious building, no large moving equipment, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, not arts, no letters, no society

And most importantly there is “continual fear and danger of violent death.” And famously “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The state of nature is a bad place to be and the best thing anyone can do for themselves is to do whatever it takes to get out of it.

You may have heard the expression “all is fair in love and war”, although the expression didn’t originate from Hobbes he does agree that nothing is unjust in a state of war. This is because there is no such thing as justice or right and wrong in the state of nature:

“The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are the two cardinal virtues.”

So, in a state of war everyone has a right to everything or more precisely to everything they can get their hands on, by hook or crook or as Hobbes says by force or by fraud. Hobbes’ basic principles are the following:
1) In the state of nature one ought to use “all helps and advantages of war”
2) But one ought to endeavor for peace because peace is always preferable to war
3) One ought to be willing to give up his right to everything if others are also willing to do so

He says:
. . . as long as this natural right of every man to everything endureth, there can be no security to any man, how strong or wise soever he may be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. . . From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavor peace, is derived this second law: that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself.

In summary, in the state of nature everyone has a right to everything, and we can get out of the state of nature by agreeing to renounce our right to everything if others are also willing to do so.

The title of Hobbes’ book is Leviathan, which is a mythical sea monster mentioned in the Old Testament. One of main ideas that Hobbes is attempting to argue for in his book is the absolute necessity of a monarch powerful enough to ensure that all members of society obey the rules of the social contract or face his wrath. The commonwealth ensures that the punishment for breaking contracts is sufficiently great and reliable such that it is not in anyone’s interest to break a contract or more generally act unjustly in any way. He says:

“Therefore before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant, and to make good that propriety which by mutual contract men acquire in recompense of the universal right they abandon: and such power there is none before the erection of a Commonwealth.”

The Fool Objection
The most prominent objection to contractarianism is known as “the fool objection.” Hobbes describes the fool as someone who thinks that he doesn’t have to follow the rules of the social contract. Hobbes asks “Is it against one’s interest to follow through with contracts made?” and he thinks that it is in one’s interests to not break the rules of the contract.

He says two basic things in response to the fool:
(1) Something may work out in your favor but that doesn’t mean it is wisely done. Breaking the rules of the contract is risky.
(2) If you break your covenants you are removing yourself from society and putting yourself back into the state of nature, which is a bad thing. You will not be able to be received by any society. You might happen to fool some group of people but it is not wise (rational and prudential to assume that you will be able to do so).
Here is a more formal reconstruction of (2):
1) A rational person always prefers a state of peace than a state of war.
2) If you break contracts (act like a fool) then you are removing yourself from a state of peace and putting yourself in a state of war.
3) No breaking of a contract is ever guaranteed to go undetected.
4) The odds of one’s being detected, no matter how small, and punishments that might result from that breach of contract always make it irrational to break a contract.
5) So, breaking a contract is never rational.

Premise 4 is the crucial premise that seems somewhat implausible, although 1 also seems somewhat suspect as well. One thing that it looks like is that Hobbes’ argument really only works with the assumption of very severe penalties for breaking the social contract, and an argument could be made that none of the modern liberal states would meet this standard. It is possible to modify Hobbes’ argument to show that in most cases it is rational to follow the rules of the social contract so that acting like a fool is generally irrational. However, this is in conflict with our standard intuitions on morality. We don’t think murder is wrong when there is a reasonably high likelihood of being caught and punished, we tend to think that murder is always wrong.

The Role of Reason in Contractarianism
In contractarian ethical theory what is rational is what is moral, which will also be the case with the next theory we will discuss. But contractarianism has a very different account of what is rational than our next theory, contractualism, has. In contractarianism what is rational is whatever is in one’s self-interest, which is also what is moral. This will pose some problems, as we will see shortly. The contractarian formula is: Morality = Rationality = Self-Interest. The action that is rational and moral is the action that is in one’s self-interest and the action that is in one’s self-interest is the action that is moral and rational. Murder, rape, torture, genocide and anything else that might be considered immoral are considered moral if they are in one’s self-interest.
Contractarianism employs what is called, in philosophical jargon, a prudential conception of reason. This means that reason is merely prudential rather than what might be called universal or objective.

Advantages of Contractarianism
Contractarianism offers a clear metaethical justification of moral rules. And this justification is rooted in self-interest, which is an undeniable source of motivation. Contractarian ethical theory provides a naturalistic and scientific explanation of what morality is and how it arises. Expressing this sentiment David Gauthier in his essay “Why Contractualism?” says, “Morality faces a foundational crises. Contractarianism offers the only plausible resolution of this crisis.” If you feel that morality must somehow be tied to egoistic motivations a theory like this will be attractive. The other two theories we will consider, utilitarianism and contractualism, don’t necessarily have quite as strong of an answer to the “Why be moral?” question. Their answer is going to be that as a rational being you have reason to act rationally, but the contractarian can offer a much stronger answer which is that being moral is in your self-interest. The catch is that it then becomes moral to act in ways that are normally considered immoral when those actions are in one’s self-interest.

Objections to Contractarianism

The Fool Objection
Hobbes tries to show that even the person who is entirely self-interested ought (prudentially) to follow moral rules/laws of society. I don’t think he is successful in doing so and I find this objection to be decisive against contractarianism. The problem this objection presents is that any instance, or any possible instance, where it would be to one’s advantage to break the rules of the social contract strongly conflicts with our intuitions about these issues. Essentially according to contractarianism one ought not to lie, steal, kill, etc. except when it is to one’s advantage. The problem is that because contractarian theory equates morality with self-interest in cases where it is to one’s advantage to act “immorally”, that is in a way that we normally consider immoral, it is actually the moral action. So, the contractarian is forced to say that murder is sometimes the rational and moral thing to do. Consider the following example: You are stranded on a deserted island with someone. As he is dying he tells you about some money in an anonymous Cayman Islands bank account and asks you to donate the money to a country club in his name. According to utilitarianism one ought to donate the money to an organization that can do more good with it. This is a somewhat plausible answer but as previously discussed this is also somewhat problematic. But, contractarianism implies that we morally ought to take the money for ourselves, that is the morally correct thing to do, and that just seems wrong.

The Moral Community
Another problem is that contractarianism doesn’t seem to countenance moral duties to people outside our contract, this could include animals, children, other societies, intelligent life on other planets, etc. What this means essentially is that we have no moral duties or obligations to anyone who we do not benefit from by treating with moral consideration. Animal rights are a good example of the types of moral obligations that contractarianism doesn’t countenance. Consider the following argument:

1. If a theory is the right ethical theory then it will provide some rights to animals.
2. Contractarianism doesn’t provide any rights to animals.
3. So, contractarianism is not the right theory.

This of course will be an issue we will discuss in depth a bit later but as a preview a standard approach to animal rights, that could be seen as contractarian, is that, as Jane English says, animals get their rights second hand. By this she means that certain behaviors are unacceptable not because it is wrong in and of itself to treat animals in a certain way but it is wrong because treating animals poorly would predispose one to treat other persons, who are members of the social contract, poorly. Although someone who thinks it really is wrong to treat animals cruelly, in and of itself, might find such a response unsatisfying. There is also an analogous problem when we consider our obligations to future generations. Since ethics, for the contractarian, is all about self-interest, he or she has no obligations to future generations since he or she has nothing to gain from them. There is no point in making a mutual agreement with entities that have no bearing on our self-interest.

Overall, we can see that contractarianism is strongly in conflict with many of our common intuitions about ethics. This is most clearly seen in the fool objection. We believe that the moral thing to do is different from the self-interested thing to do. And many believe that we have moral obligations to beings that we don’t benefit by treating with moral concern, like animals.

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (Excerpt)


NATURE hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.

And as to the faculties of the mind… I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength… For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share.
From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only) endeavour to destroy or subdue one another. And from hence it comes to pass that where an invader hath no more to fear than another man’s single power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader again is in the like danger of another.

And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself so reasonable as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can so long till he see no other power great enough to endanger him: and this is no more than his own conservation requireth, and is generally allowed. Also, because there be some that, taking pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security requires, if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should not by invasion increase their power, they would not be able, long time, by standing only on their defence, to subsist. And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men being necessary to a man’s conservation, it ought to be allowed him.

Again, men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself, and upon all signs of contempt or undervaluing naturally endeavours, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power to keep them in quiet is far enough to make them destroy each other), to extort a greater value from his contemners, by damage; and from others, by the example.
So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.

The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.
Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man…
In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason.
The passions that incline men to peace are: fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles are they which otherwise are called the Laws of Nature…


A law of nature, lex naturalis, is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved…

And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of every one against every one, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies; it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to every thing, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to every thing endureth, there can be no security to any man, how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which rule containeth the first and fundamental law of nature, which is: to seek peace and follow it. The second, the sum of the right of nature, which is: by all means we can to defend ourselves.
From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavour peace, is derived this second law: that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself. For as long as every man holdeth this right, of doing anything he liketh; so long are all men in the condition of war. But if other men will not lay down their right, as well as he, then there is no reason for anyone to divest himself of his: for that were to expose himself to prey, which no man is bound to, rather than to dispose himself to peace…

Right is laid aside, either by simply renouncing it, or by transferring it to another…
The mutual transferring of right is that which men call CONTRACT….
Again, one of the contractors may deliver the thing contracted for on his part, and leave the other to perform his part at some determinate time after, and in the meantime be trusted; and then the contract on his part is called PACT, or COVENANT….

If a covenant be made wherein neither of the parties perform presently, but trust one another, in the condition of mere nature (which is a condition of war of every man against every man) upon any reasonable suspicion, it is void: but if there be a common power set over them both, with right and force sufficient to compel performance, it is not void. For he that performeth first has no assurance the other will perform after, because the bonds of words are too weak to bridle men’s ambition, avarice, anger, and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power; which in the condition of mere nature, where all men are equal, and judges of the justness of their own fears, cannot possibly be supposed. And therefore he which performeth first does but betray himself to his enemy, contrary to the right he can never abandon of defending his life and means of living.
But in a civil estate, where there a power set up to constrain those that would otherwise violate their faith, that fear is no more reasonable; and for that cause, he which by the covenant is to perform first is obliged so to do…


FROM that law of nature by which we are obliged to transfer to another such rights as, being retained, hinder the peace of mankind, there followeth a third; which is this: that men perform their covenants made; without which covenants are in vain, and but empty words; and the right of all men to all things remaining, we are still in the condition of war.

And in this law of nature consisteth the fountain and original of justice. For where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything and consequently, no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust and the definition of INJUSTICE is no other than the not performance of covenant. And whatsoever is not unjust is just.
But because covenants of mutual trust, where there is a fear of not performance on either part (as hath been said in the former chapter), are invalid, though the original of justice be the making of covenants, yet injustice actually there can be none till the cause of such fear be taken away; which, while men are in the natural condition of war, cannot be done. Therefore before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant, and to make good that propriety which by mutual contract men acquire in recompense of the universal right they abandon: and such power there is none before the erection of a Commonwealth. And this is also to be gathered out of the ordinary definition of justice in the Schools: for they say that justice is the constant will of giving to every man his own. And therefore where there is no own, that is, no propriety, there is no injustice; and where there is no coercive power erected, that is, where there is no Commonwealth, there is no propriety, all men having right to all things: therefore where there is no Commonwealth, there nothing is unjust. So that the nature of justice consisteth in keeping of valid covenants, but the validity of covenants begins not but with the constitution of a civil power sufficient to compel men to keep them: and then it is also that propriety begins….


THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of nature set down [above]….
The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgements to his judgement. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the Commonwealth, he hath the use of so much power and strength conferred on him that, by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad. And in him consisteth the essence of the Commonwealth; which, to define it, is: one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defence.
And he that carryeth this person is called SOVEREIGN, and said to have sovereign power; and every one besides, his SUBJECT….



A COMMONWEALTH is said to be instituted when a multitude of men do agree, and covenant, every one with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part the right to present the person of them all, that is to say, to be their representative; every one, as well he that voted for it as he that voted against it, shall authorize all the actions and judgements of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner as if they were his own, to the end to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men….
…. [To the Sovereignty,] is annexed to the sovereignty the whole power of prescribing the rules whereby every man may know what goods he may enjoy, and what actions he may do, without being molested by any of his fellow subjects: and this is it men call property. For before constitution of sovereign power, as hath already been shown, all men had right to all things, which necessarily causeth war: and therefore this proprerty, being necessary to peace, and depending on sovereign power, is the act of that power, in order to the public peace. These rules of proprerty (or meum and tuum) and of good, evil, lawful, and unlawful in the actions of subjects are the civil laws; that is to say, the laws of each Commonwealth in particular….

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