The state of nature and the genesis of commonwealths in Hobbes's political philosophy

1997 1997

Other formats: Order a copy

Abstract (summary)

A careful reading of Hobbes' philosophical writings reveals that this author forwards no fewer than three distinct conceptions of the pre-political situation which he labels "the natural condition of humankind," or "the state of nature." By examining the relevant passages from The Elements of Law, De Cive and Leviathan, Hobbes' three principal works of political philosophy, I demonstrate that Hobbes' state of nature should not be interpreted as a single invariant concept but rather as a series of three distinct heuristic or expository models. Further, I claim that distinctions between Hobbes' various conceptions of the state of nature reflect differing background assumptions concerning such factors as the prevailing degree of group stability and the level of abstractness with which representative human beings are characterized.

After establishing this framework, I examine why Hobbes chose to include three distinct conceptions of the state of nature within his writings, and explore the relationship which appears to obtain among these three conceptions. I next examine the manner by which each of Hobbes' three types of commonwealth, namely commonwealth by institution, commonwealth by preservation and commonwealth by acquisition, can be understood to arise from each of Hobbes' three conceptions of the state of nature. In this section, I focus my analysis upon the transitions which occur when the unencumbered and isolated individuals who inhabit the state of nature (in its various forms) enter into the social contract by "transferring" their respective rights of nature to the sovereign of their incipient commonwealth. Moreover, I examine Hobbes' explanation of why each subject incurs an obligation to obey his sovereign's decrees and I address the apparent difficulty of maintaining the subjects' allegiance to their sovereign in light of Hobbes' portrayal of human beings as passionate and predominantly self-serving creatures. I conclude by arguing that given Hobbes' characterization of humans as passionate and predominantly self-serving creatures, one can probably not expect commonwealths to arise in the manner that Hobbes describes, and one can certainly not expect such commonwealths, if established, to endure for any substantial period of time.

Indexing (details)

Political science
0422: Philosophy
0615: Political science
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Hobbes, Thomas
The state of nature and the genesis of commonwealths in Hobbes's political philosophy
Fryc, Thomas John
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 58/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780591597516, 0591597519
Robison, John G.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.