Thomas Hobbes and the Significance of Social Contract Theory

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Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher and is often considered one of the founding members of modern philosophical thought, especially in terms of political ideologies. His book ‘Leviathan’ is a work that concerns the structure of society and legitimate government. It is also congratulated for being one of the earliest and most impactful demonstrations of social contract theory, which has been influential for philosophical speakers and writers to come. Partly, the inspiration for Hobbes’ famed book came from the English Civil Wars, which divided Parliament against the King. In his writing, Hobbes argues that unity amongst society is achieved through social contract.

Throughout the book, Hobbes skillfully uses metaphors to represent parts of society, hence the title of the book. This is significant and clever of Hobbes for the simple fact that Shakespeare was popular at the time, the book was completed twenty to thirty years after the playwright’s death, and often Shakespeare would use metaphor and allegory from mythology to portray and describe characters and situations. Hobbes did this as well, making the controversial philosophical ideas of the time seem more approachable and relatable to the readers. Hobbes did not do this to downplay the severity of his philosophical teachings; he did it for readability and comprehension reasons. In the text, the author states, ‘In summer, our dreams are the reverse of our waking imaginations; the motion when we are awake begins at one end, and when we dream, it ends at another" (Hobbes, Chapter 2). My interpretation of Hobbes’ statement is that he is expressing that dreams dwell on thoughts and feelings that we are not conscious of feeling during our waking lives, which is a very advanced way of thinking for the seventeenth century. For, psychological and philosophical dream exploration was done much later by Carl Jung and

Sigmund Freud. This relates to Hobbes’ idea of society's structure and government because the public often feels like they know what they want. In this time, much of the public believed that they wanted a monarch to call all the shots for their countries, but perhaps in their dreams they wish to live in a democratic republic. By developing a social contract, the needs of the people and what has to be met by Parliament and the King would be expressed, representing a move towards a functional commonwealth. Essentially, many people’s opinions and political stances come from the influence of others; raw emotions and needs are commonly expressed through dreams because dreams deal with raw emotion.

In chapter six, Hobbes discusses the difference between surface feelings and real emotions, which relate to the structure of society because the public often does not truly know what they want and that a social contract helps society see a clearer picture of what type of nation they would like to belong to. Often, during wars, there is much confusion concerning what each side is fighting for. Since the English Civil Wars were civil and fought over only national issues, the clarity of what each side was fighting for could have easily been unclear or misinterpreted. Hobbes describes the confusion people often have by saying ‘that which men desire, they are also said to love; and to hate those things for which they have aversion." So that desire and love are the same thing (Hobbes, Chapter 6). People often claim that they love and hate things casually and use the words interchangeably with synonyms that have lesser meanings. The common misunderstanding of words can philosophically translate to the misunderstanding of political action and thought. Basically, Hobbes is saying that if people can get tiny things like the use of words wrong, they can get information about the king and parliament wrong as well.

Hobbes explains that the world has always had two parties with differing opinions. Political parties' roots are deep and will continue to stay relevant in society as long as human beings are apart of it. ‘The opinions of the world, both in ancient and later ages, concerning the cause of madness have been two" (Hobbes, Chapter 8). The feud between Parliament and the King is age-old, and the only thing that changes are the people involved. Often, when political action becomes severe, the public likes to act like it’s worse than it's ever been, but in reality, people have been fighting the same way they always have. Understanding that point makes it easy for the public and those who govern the nation to reach an agreement that promotes social unity. Social unity is key to having a successful nation, for if a country is divided, its foundation crumbles, making it easier to conquer.

The philosophical teachings of Thomas Hobbes are pivotal in modern thought, political policies, and current philosophy for the simple fact that they created the foundation of having a social contract as the key to a successful nation. The thirteen colonies took the advice of Hobbes and drafted the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, which helped blossom the independent colonies into the flourishing United States we know them as today. All successful commonwealths have citizens who have civil rights and respect for those in authority. Each side has to give up a little of their freedom. Democracy is a significant practice with this thought process because in a monarchy, citizens have very limited freedom, while the monarch basically has all of it. Unity secures a stable foundation for society to build on.

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Thomas Hobbes and the Significance of Social Contract Theory. (2023, Mar 10). Retrieved June 21, 2024 , from

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