Natural Liberty and the Science of Endeavour

  • W. von Leyden


One of the premises of Hobbes’s political argument which he develops in Leviathan, Chapter 13, is his pessimistic view of the state of nature as a state of war which must be renounced at all cost. This line of approach is commonly thought to start with a false assumption. However, I regard Hobbes’s view as significant if it is meant to imply that obligations exist in the natural state which arise from the free and voluntary renunciation of man’s rights in that state. In fact, as Hobbes points out, to renounce such basic rights would mean avoidance of the original state of war; for men would then keep their promises, obey certain rules, and help to secure peace and public order by contributing to the formation of civil society. It would also follow from Hobbes’s argument that the binding force of a person’s obligation arises not so much from the dictates of a natural or conventional law as by virtue of his own free will.


Animal Motion Natural Power Sovereign Power Mutual Hostility External Obstacle 
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  1. 6.
    My italics. The phrase in italics is probably part of the technical terminology employed by St Thomas, Suarez, and Seiden in distinguishing between a permissive and an obligatory ius or natural law (John Selden, Mare Clausum, in Opera Omnia, ed. D. Wilkins, London, 1726, vol. II, pp. 1192 and 1198–9).Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    See A. N. Prior, Logic and the Basis of Ethics, Oxford, 1949, p. 26.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    A Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality, London, 1731, Bk. I, ch. ii. sect. 4 Google Scholar
  4. (Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, Oxford, 1897, vol. II, sect. 817). In D. D. Raphael’s re-issue of British Moralists, Oxford, 1969, vol. I, pp. 109–10.Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    The Elements of Law (ed. F. Tönnies), Cambridge, 1928, pt. I, ch. 14, sect. 6, p. 55. Cf. De Corpore Politico, or the Elements of Law, pt. I, ch. i, sect. 6, (E. W., vol. IV, p. 83).Google Scholar
  6. 39.
    This phrase, which is F. C. Hood’s in The Divine Politics of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford, 1964, p. 93, I accept without necessarily subscribing to all that is said there in the context.Google Scholar
  7. 65.
    A. G. Wernham (ed.) B. de Spinoza: The Political Works, Oxford, 1958, p. 13. However to say, as Wernham does (p. 14), that in Hobbes’s view an agent has no natural right to act unless he is able to act would seem to be acceptable only if qualified as meaning ‘able if he so willed’. On my minimum interpretation, indeed, Hobbes’s concept of a natural right implies no more than that a man may attempt any action he wills as a means towards his preservation, even though in actual fact he is unable to perform it.Google Scholar
  8. 66.
    A similar point was made in W. G. Maclagan’s contribution to the symposium on ‘Freedom of the Will’, Arist. Soc. supp. XXV, 1951, 190–3.Google Scholar
  9. 76.
    The word does not appear in the Index of either H. Warrender’s (The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, Oxford, 1957) Google Scholar
  10. Or Macpherson’s book. Though it makes no appearance in that of Hood’s book either, the many references to the term in the text of this book (pp. 6, 8, 47, 86, 89, 90, 92, 93, 95, 123–5, 140, 190, 210) indicate that it occupies a key position in Hobbes’s theory. R. Peters, in his Hobbes, London, 1956, Google Scholar
  11. Discusses the concept adequately, as does J. W. N. Watkins (Hobbes’s System of Ideas, London, 1965, ch.VII). Google Scholar
  12. F. S. McNeilly (The Anatomy of Leviathan, London and New York, 1968, pp. 104–6) in mentioning the doctrine of endeavour, advises his reader to dissociate it from Hobbes’s physiology and mechanistic materialism, both of which he considers irrelevant to it. This advice, it seems to me, flies in the face of Hobbes’s explicit attempts to combine his views on endeavour not only with his mechanism and his philosophy of right but also, as I hope to show subsequently, with his determinism and his theories of action, deliberation, and obligation. Google Scholar
  13. 77.
    I am using the words ‘try’, ‘strive’, and ‘attempt’ as synonymous with ‘endeavour’. See also Maclagan’s points that (a) ‘we can, though we may not, always try’, and (b) freedom is ‘strictly speaking freedom …not to do, in an ordinary sense of doing, but only to try’, loc. cit., p. 188. The fact that ‘try’ is used in a great variety of ways (see F. Waismann, The Principles of Linguistic Philosophy, London and New York, 1965, pp. 183–5) is compatible with my argument here. For any one of the different meanings of this word may be designated in the contexts where Hobbes employs the term ‘endeavour’. ‘Try’ and ‘attempt’, on the other hand, are not altogether synonymous, the former having a greater variety of meanings than the latter, including those of testing, experimenting, and investigating, which are absent from the latter. Here I am using the word ‘try’ in the sense in which it does not diverge from that of ‘attempt’.Google Scholar
  14. 81.
    See John Plamenatz, Symposium on ‘Rights’, Arist. Soc. supp. XXIV, 1950, 75.Google Scholar
  15. 82.
    See H.L.A. Hart’s Inaugural Lecture, Definition and Theory in Jurispru dence, Oxford, 1953, pp. 16–17. Google Scholar
  16. Also D.D. Raphael, ‘Law and Morals’, The Philosophical Quarterly, 4, 1954, 348.Google Scholar
  17. 100.
    The example is D. D. Raphael’s in ‘Equality and Equity’, Philosophy, XXI, 1946, 119. But see by way of contrast with my exegesis the discussion on ‘Obligations and Rights in Hobbes’ between Raphael and Warrender in Philosophy, XXXVII, 1962.Google Scholar
  18. 112.
    Ibid., ch. 22, sects. 19–20. Some of Hobbes’s scientific reflections on endeavour are discussed by G. C. Robertson, Hobbes, Edinburgh and London, 1910, pp. 109–13.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© W. von Leyden 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. von Leyden
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GovernmentThe London School of Economics and Political ScienceUK

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