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Thomas Hobbes’ Views on Natural Laws Research Paper


The laws of nature provide the fundamental rights based on the concept of reason. They are different from the common law, which is written and cognized legally. Natural laws are universal; hence, they affect each member of the human society. This paper provides an analysis of Hobbes’ view on natural laws, the concept of reason, and significance of coercive power.

Hobbes and the Law of Nature

The law of nature refers to the general analysis of flora and fauna through reason. This law supports human protection while prohibiting acts that are harmful to life. The common law refers to the stipulated legal values that are recognized through judicial processes. Contrarily, a natural law depicts values that are universally acceptable by the virtue of human reason.

According to Hobbes (1994), the laws of nature are derived from reason (p. 60). In addition, the laws support activities that care for humans while denouncing those that derail human life. Hobbes further moves to highlight the existing laws of nature by providing underpinning evidences. However, the basis of Hobbes view on the laws lies in the philosophy of reason. The concept of reason is perceived as universal and essential for every natural man (Venezia, 2014).

Why following Reason in the State of Nature Lead to War

Through reasoning, individuals sense things consciously, establish and verify facts, and apply logic. Besides, they justify practices and institutions based on new and existing information. This state of affairs is linked to intellect, thinking, and cognition. Sachs (2013) posits that reasoning enables human beings to think about particular phenomena as right or wrong. Through reasoning, individuals seek to establish freedom and self-determination. Therefore, they can change beliefs, traditions, attitudes, and institutions among others (Cooper, 2013).

In the state of nature, there are underlying values that are recognized by virtue of reason. These values form the universal laws of nature. Adherence to these laws of nature provides a safe and harmonious existence of human beings. Since reasoning seeks freedom, justification of practices, and self-determination, it is evident that these laws are subject to violations. Individuals differ in certain areas when justice is denied. Through reason, individual seek to change beliefs and values to satisfy their interests (Cooper, 2013).

The First, Second, and Third Laws of Nature and their Relationship

The first three laws of nature provide an autonomous and harmonious co-existing platform for man. They form a framework for the other laws of nature. According to Hobbes (1994), the rule of reason states “every man, ought to endeavor peace, as far as he can hope obtaining it and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps and advantages of war” (p. 60). This law is the ruling fundamental commandment of nature that mandates human beings to seek and pursue peace (Hobbes, 1994, p. 60).

The first law of nature holds that “by all means we can, to defend ourselves” (Hobbes, 1994, p. 60). This law authorizes human beings to defend themselves by seeking peace. It is a natural right for them to seek protection. However, they have to forgo some rights to maintain peace. For instance, everyone has a right to life and a crucial role in preserving the life of fellow persons. Natural war is likely to occur when one takes another person’s life. However, people can be required to defend themselves at times when others are willing to violate their rights (Venezia, 2014).

The second law results from the tenets of the first one. It holds that “when a man thinks that peace and self-defense require it, he should be willing (when others are too) to lay down his right to everything…against himself” (p. 60). The third law is based on the concept of natural justice. It holds states “that it is not enough simply to make contracts, but we are required to keep the contracts we make” (Hobbes, 1994, p. 61).

There is always a tendency to violate contracts due to some human influences such as the desire for power. This law is closely linked to the first and second laws. For instance, defiance to prevailing contracts leads to natural wars. It also interferes with the peaceful co-existence of the parties involved in the contract (as stipulated in the first law). Therefore, people should seek peace and follow it by obeying contractual agreements (Venezia, 2014).

Role of Coercive Power in allowing us to obey the Laws of Nature

According to Hobbes (1994), the laws of nature provide a self-governing triad ideal for human living (p. 63). Despite their existence as separate concepts, coercion power and law are inseparable. On the other hand, coercion power is applicable to natural laws in two ways. Firstly, it emphasizes on the ability to enforce involuntary sanctions of the law.

Secondly, it entails the ability to enforce the sanctions coercively. Hobbes (1994) posits that coercive power lays a moral burden on humans (p. 64). It subjects other laws to moral judgments, which are brought about by coerciveness. They also dictate conformity of the legal system to particular justificatory reasons. Therefore, considering the law as inherently coercive brings about moral justification of the legal system (Yankah, 2008).


From the above analysis of the first three laws of nature, it is evident that Hobbes is inclined to affirm them based on his strong philosophy of reason. However, since the laws are subject to defiance, natural wars arise. In addition, coercion can impose legal sanctions on laws. Finally yet importantly, legal systems are subject to judgments through the influence of coercion

Reference List

Cooper, K. (2013). Reason and Desire after the Fall of Man: A Rereading of Hobbes’s Two Postulates of Human Nature. Hobbes Studies, 26(2), 107.

Hobbes, T. (1994). Leviathan: With selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing.

Sachs, B. (2013). Review Article Reasons Consequentialism. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 10(5), 671-82.

Venezia, L. (2014). Hobbes’ two accounts of law and the structure of reasons for political obedience. European Journal of Political Theory, 13(3), 282.

Yankah, E. (2008). The Force of Law: The Role of Coercion in Legal Norms. University of Richmond Law Review, 42(1), 1195.

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