Thomas Hobbes - Leviathan

Political philosophy is tough business. One of its aims, for instance, is to understand how to balance the interests and rights of individual citizens with those of the state of which they are a part. Another has to do with figuring out the basis for the legitimacy of the state, as well as its limits. Even if we just stopped there, I'm sure you can see how difficult such endeavors must be.

Interestingly, much of our modern way of looking at questions of rights, obligations, authority and the legitimacy of the state can be traced back to Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan, undoubtedly one of the greatest works on political philosophy ever written.

Part of the reason this is interesting is that Hobbes starts from a basic set of facts about human equality and competition for limited resources with which almost no one would disagree, and then draws inferences that inform a political system that, however totalitarian and outrageous you might find it to be, somehow manages to solve a great number of conceptual problems that have eluded most other ethical and political theories. And even when you think something is wrong with his point of view, it's almost impossible not to find it interesting anyway :)

Here's a quick introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan from Nigel Warburton's book Philosophy: The Classics:



And here's a Philosophy Bites episode in which Nigel Warburton discusses the importance and influence of Hobbes' philosophy with Quentin Skinner:



For a deeper analysis of Hobbes' Social Contract theory, listen to this fascinating discussion (iTunes only, sorry) with Quentin Skinner.

And this is the original cover of the Leviathan, representing "that mortal God, to which we owe... our peace and defence":



There is a youtube video of an introduction to Hobbes, from Yale University, which I have not had a chance to check out yet. If it's worth its salt, I'll be posting it soon.
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