Hobbes’ Leviathan


Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was one of England’s greatest political thinkers. Leviathan, published in 1651, was Hobbes’ most important work, a book that explains in detail the steps to move from the nightmarish situation of the state of nature to a secure society in which life is bearable. Leviathan was the gigantic sea monster described in the Bible. For Hobbes, it was a reference to the great power of the state.

Hobbes’ Idea

Hobbes’ Leviathan opens with a picture of a giant towering over a hillside, holding a sword and sceptre. The giant is made up of lots of smaller people, who are recognizable still as individuals. The giant represents the powerful state sovereign as its head. Without a sovereign, Hobbes believed, everything would fall apart and society would decompose into separate people ready to tear each other into pieces in order to survive.

Excessive Power

Critics of Hobbes say he went too far in allowing the sovereign, whether it was a king or queen or parliament, to have such power over the individual in society. The state he describes is actually an authoritarian one — one in which the sovereign has almost unlimited power over citizens. Peace may be desirable, and fear of violent death a strong incentive to submit to a sovereign, but putting so much power in the hands of an individual or group can be dangerous.

A Little History of Philosophy

Nigel Warburton

Creation & Chaos In The Ancient Near East

Chaos in the Beginning

For cultures of the Near East, the process of creation began with chaos, the Greek word used to signify the undifferentiated material out of which the universe was made. Chaos was imagined as water in darkness, much like a stormy sea at night, that filled everything. There was no concept of nothingness or empty outer space — there was not even the number zero.

Creation Out of Nothing

The concept of creatio ex nihilo, “creation out of nothing,” didn’t yet exist. That idea was a much later invention, not gaining full expression until the Christian period. It was a concept that developed after and because of monotheism, in controversies about what was eternal: Was God alone at the beginning, or was the “stuff” out of which the world was made there also? Was there one eternal principle or two, God and chaos?

The River of God
Gregory Riley

What Was The Challenge Of The Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment was the prelude to modern times, and boldly challenged religious establishments. Beginning in the 17th century, the Enlightenment philosophers abandoned piety and proclaimed the supremacy of Reason.

Descartes and Spinoza, Hobbes and Leibniz changed the rules of intellectual discourse. The dialogue was now secular. Appeals to the Bible and to Church doctrine gave way to Truth, which stood on the pillars of intuition and evidence.

Staying Sane in a Crazy World
Sherwin Wine

What Was The Pax Romana?

Stability of Roman Rule

The political stability of Roman rule – called the Pax Romana (“Roman peace”) – meant that people from all over the empire could move about with relative ease. Larger cities, like Rome itself, became cosmopolitan mixes with many immigrants jostling together. Such cities were not much different from London, New York, or Hong Kong today.

Interplay of Cultures

Wherever people went, they carried aspects of their native culture with them – language, traditions, and religion. Hence, the vibrant social mix of Roman cities invited the interplay of these different cultures, even though Rome encouraged its subject peoples to become more “Roman” in thought and values.

Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite
Michael L. White

Beethoven & The Bhagavad Gita

Beethoven’s Inner Conflicts

Ludwig van Beethoven ( 1770-1827 ) was a musical genius. He was also an emotionally wounded, profoundly neurotic person. He was tortured by inner conflicts throughout his life. He suffered from inner divisions, split between his massive idealism about human nature and the misanthropic, angry, spiteful man he could be. He was tortured by his own behavior. He was suicidal off and on for significant periods of time throughout his life. And, even in his most stable periods, he could appear to be just on the brink of madness.

Bhagavad Gita Influence

In search for psychological and spiritual survival, Beethoven combed the world’s great literature. In the process, he discovered the Bhagavad Gita. He read it intensely. He made notes from it — and from other Hindu scriptures — and kept the sacred passages in plain view under glass on his desk.

Beethoven scribbled the following quote from the Bhagavad Gita into his personal diary:

Blessed is the man  who, having subdued all his passions, performs with his active faculties all the functions of life, unconcerned about the event... Be not one whose motive for action is the hope of reward. Perform your duty, abandon all thought of consequence, and make the event equal, whether it terminates in good or evil; for such an equality is called yoga.  

In his quest to make meaning of his suffering, Beethoven enacted in his life virtually all the key teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.

The Great Work of Your Life
Stephen Cope