November 24, 2015
Précis: Hobbes on Equality – Way of the Roundabout
Thomas Hobbes, a philosophical intellect who lived in the late 16th century to the early 17th century, wrote the following section on Equality excerpted from the book Leviathan published in 1651.
Starting on equality, Hobbes writes how nature has made all men equal with the exception of people (specifically men) in society who claim themselves as being more capable than the other, however it all comes down to who has the best pretending skills. Then he notes, “For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest,” meaning even if they are physically less strong than their opponent, they can still take over the enemy by plotting in secret with others who are also weak in order to protect themselves. In the second paragraph, Hobbes sets an argument between the existence of “art grounded upon words” (such as literature, poetry, rhetoric, drama) and of science, a value which very few people are apparently born with. Evidently it is seen up to here that Hobbes is obsessed with distinction and has a strong attitude towards delineation. The section written is specifically about equality, yet he solely mentions the existence of men and ‘the man’ and assumes the only relevant people born to this world are men. Continuing, Hobbes writes “I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength.”; this line is hypocritical and half-repeats what he wrote at the starting of the section on Equality because ‘strength’ and ‘men’ both are part of a whole (together, not separate) and consequently, nobody are equals in Hobbes’ own words since even the weak can kill the strong. Next Hobbes writes how all men experience prudence at one point and in time, all of them will be equally bestowed this value; here, he makes an association to the possible dangers that could be set on all men. Hobbes argues with himself again, stating that all men have a vain misconception of their own wisdom, saying “which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves”. In man’s nature, they only see the good quality in themselves, on how much wit they possess and how much more superior they are than “the vulgar”, but this all comes down to the fact that they see themselves first-hand and see others’ wise qualities second hand from a distance. Hobbes adds “But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal.” meaning essentially all he argues in the first few paragraphs are no longer valid because ending the section with a ‘everyone-is-equal-anyhow’ outlook covers up the long stretch he makes on the subject. In the concluding sentence he writes “From this equality of ability arise the quality of hope in the attaining of our ends.” which in false peacefulness ends the section Hobbes wrote on Equality, proving more facts about ‘man’ that are unequal than are actually equal.
In summary and analysis of this piece, Hobbes essentially assumes that everyone is the same and so we learn the truth of how none of the differences that are discussed actually makes a difference (because he’s just going in circles with the equality theories). At the start Hobbes theorizes how in nature men are born equal, then quickly switches perspectives to how the weak man can kill the strong man; thus according to Hobbes’ judgment, what point does he exactly want to make? The focused subject is equality, yet he unfairly judges many basic issues with the example of who’s stronger or weaker, ignoring the existence of women and not knowing if science is actually better than art (claiming that one subject is not born into all men). Equality in Hobbes’ terms is simply a cycle of rationalizing which man is better than the other in strength, prudence, wisdom and wit —therefore no matter how equal he thinks society of that time was, it clearly proves the opposite.