The Elements of Law/Part I/Chapter 14

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The Elements of Law
by Thomas Hobbes
Part I, Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Of the Estate and Right of Nature[edit]

In the precedent chapters hath been set forth the whole nature of man, consisting in the powers natural of his body and mind, and may all be comprehended in these four: strength of body, experience, reason, and passion.

2. In this chapter it will be expedient to consider in what estate of security this our nature hath placed us, and what probability it hath left us of continuing and preserving ourselves against the violence of one another. And first, if we consider how little odds there is of strength or knowledge between men of mature age, and with how great facility he that is the weaker in strength or in wit, or in both, may utterly destroy the power of the stronger; since there needeth but little force to the taking away of a man's life; we may conclude that men considered in mere nature, ought to admit amongst themselves equality; and that he that claimeth no more, may be esteemed moderate.

3. On the other side, considering the great difference there is in men, from the diversity of their passions, how some are vainly glorious, and hope for precedency and superiority above their fellows, not only when they are equal in power, but also when they are inferior; we must needs acknowledge that it must necessarily follow, that those men who are moderate, and look for no more but equality of nature, shall be obnoxious to the force of others, that will attempt to subdue them. And from hence shall proceed a general diffidence in mankind, and mutual fear one of another.

4. Farther, since men by natural passion are divers ways offensive one to another, every man thinking well of himself, and hating to see the same in others, they must needs provoke one another by words, and other signs of contempt and hatred, which are incident to all comparison: till at last they must determine the pre-eminence by strength and force of body.

5. Moreover, considering that many men 's appetites carry them to one and the same end; which end sometimes can neither be enjoyed in common, nor divided, it followeth that the stronger must enjoy it alone, and that it be decided by battle who is the stronger. And thus the greatest part of men, upon no assurance of odds, do nevertheless, through vanity, or comparison, or appetite, provoke the rest, that otherwise would be contented with equality.

6. And forasmuch as necessity of nature maketh men to will and desire bonum sibi, that which is good for themselves, and to avoid that which is hurtful; but most of all that terrible enemy of nature, death, from whom we expect both the loss of all power, and also the greatest of bodily pains in the losing; it is not against reason that a man doth all he can to preserve his own body and limbs, both from death and pain. And that which is not against reason, men call RIGHT, or jus, or blameless liberty of using our own natural power and ability. It is therefore a right of nature: that every man may preserve his own life and limbs, with all the power he hath.

7. And because where a man hath right to the end, and the end cannot be attained without the means, that is, without such things as are necessary to the end, it is consequent that it is not against reason, and therefore right for a man, to use all means and do whatsoever action is necessary for the preservation of his body.

8. Also every, man by right of nature is judge himself of the necessity of the means, and of the greatness of the danger. For if it be against reason, that I be judge of mine own danger myself, then it is reason, that another man be judge thereof. But the same reason that maketh another man judge of those things that concern me, maketh me also judge of that that concerneth him. And therefore I have reason to judge of his sentence, whether it be for my benefit, or not.

9. As a man's judgment, in right of nature, is to be employed for his own benefit, so also the strength, knowledge, and art of every man is then rightly employed, when he useth it for himself; else must not a man have right to preserve himself.

10. Every man by nature hath right to all things, that is to say, to do whatsoever he listeth to whom he listeth, to possess, use, and enjoy all things he will and can. For seeing all things he willeth, must therefore be good unto him in his own judgment, because he willeth them; and may tend to his preservation some time or other; or he may judge so, and we have made him judge thereof, sect. 8: it followeth that all things may rightly also be done by him. And for this cause it is rightly said: Natura dedit omnia omnibus, that Nature hath given all things to all men; insomuch, that jus and utile, right and profit, is the same thing. But that right of all men to all things, is in effect no better than if no man had right to any thing. For there is little use and benefit of the right a man hath, when another as strong, or stronger than himself, hath right to the same.

11. Seeing then to the offensiveness of man's nature one to another, there is added a right of every man to every thing, whereby one man invadeth with right, and another with right resisteth; and men live thereby in perpetual diffidence, and study how to preoccupate each other; the estate of men in this natural liberty is the estate of war. For WAR is nothing else but that time wherein the will and intention of contending by force is either by words or actions sufficiently declared; and the time which is not war is PEACE.

12. The estate of hostility and war being such, as thereby nature itself is destroyed, and men kill one another (as we know also that it is, both by the experience of savage nations that live at this day, and by the histories of our ancestors, the old inhabitants of Germany and other now civil countries, where we find the people few and short lived, and without the ornaments and comforts of life, which by peace and society are usually invented and procured): he therefore that desireth to live in such an estate, as is the estate of liberty and right of all to all, contradicteth himself. For every man by natural necessity desireth his own good, to which this estate is contrary, wherein we suppose contention between men by nature equal, and able to destroy one another.

13. Seeing this right of protecting ourselves by our own discretion and force, proceedeth from danger, and that danger from the equality between men's forces: much more reason is there, that a man prevent such equality before the danger cometh, and before there be necessity of battle. A man therefore that hath another man in his power to rule or govern, to do good to, or harm, hath right, by the advantage of this his present power, to take caution at his pleasure, for his security against that other in the time to come. He therefore that hath already subdued his adversary, or gotten into his power any other that either by infancy, or weakness, is unable to resist him, by right of nature may take the best caution, that such infant, or such feeble and subdued person can give him, of being ruled and governed by him for the time to come. For seeing we intend always our own safety and preservation, we manifestly contradict that our intention, if we willingly dismiss such a one, and suffer him at once to gather strength and be our enemy. Out of which may also be collected, that irresistible might in the state of nature is right.

14. But since it is supposed from the equality of strength and other natural faculties of men, that no man is of might sufficient, to assure himself for any long time, of preserving himself thereby, whilst he remaineth in the state of hostility and war; reason therefore dictateth to every man for his own good, to seek after peace, as far forth as there is hope to attain the same; and to strengthen himself with all the help he can procure, for his own defence against those, from whom such peace cannot be obtained; and to do all those things which necessarily conduce thereunto.