Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Chapter XV

Of Other Laws of Nature

FROM that law of Nature by which we are obliged to transfer to another such rights as, being retained, hinder the peace of mankind, there followeth a third, which is this, ‘that men perform their covenants made’; without which covenants are in vain, and but empty words: and the right of all men to all things remaining, we are still in the condition of war.

And in this law of Nature consisteth the fountain and original of ‘justice.’ For, where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything; and consequently, no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, then to break it is ‘unjust’; and the definition of ‘injustice’ is no other than ‘the not performance of covenant.’ And whatsoever is not unjust is ‘just.’

But because covenants of mutual trust, where there is a fear of not performance on either part, as hath been said in the former chapter, are invalid, though the original of justice be the making of covenants, yet injustice actually there can be none, till the cause of such fear be taken away, which, while men are in the natural condition of war, cannot be done. Therefore, before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant; and to make good that propriety which by mutual contract men acquire in recompense of the universal right they abandon; and such power there is none before the erection of a commonwealth. And this is also to be gathered out of the ordinary definition of justice in the schools; for they say that ‘justice is the constant will of giving to every man his own.’ And therefore where there is no ‘own’ there is no propriety, there is no injustice; and where there is no coercive power erected, that is, where there is no commonwealth, there is no propriety, all men having right to all things: therefore, where there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust. So that the nature of justice consisteth in keeping of valid covenants; but the validity of covenants begins not but with the constitution of a civil power sufficient to compel men to keep them; and then it is also that propriety begins.

The fool hath said in his heart there is no such thing as justice, and sometimes also with his tongue, seriously alleging that every man’s conservation and contentment, being committed to his own care, there could be no reason why every man might not to do what he thought conduced thereunto; and therefore also to make or not make, keep or not keep, covenants was not against reason when it conduced to one’s benefit. He does not therein deny that there be covenants, and that they are sometimes broken, sometimes kept, and that such breach of them may be called injustice, and the observance of them justice; but he questioneth whether injustice, taking away the fear of God, for the same fool hath said in his heart there is no God, may not sometimes stand with that reason which dictateth to every man his own good; and particularly then when it conduceth to such a benefit as shall put a man in a condition to neglect not only the dispraise and revilings, but also the power, of other men. The kingdom of God is gotten by violence; but what if it could be gotten by unjust violence? Were it against reason so to get it, when it is impossible to receive hurt by it? And, if it be not against reason, it is not against justice, or else justice is not to be approved for good. From such reasoning as this, successful wickedness hath obtained the name of virtue, and some that in all other things have disallowed the violation of faith, yet have allowed it when it is for the getting of a kingdom. And the heathen that believed that Saturn was deposed by his son Jupiter believed nevertheless the same Jupiter to be the avenger of injustice, somewhat like to a piece of law in Coke’s Commentaries on Littleton, where he says, if the right heir of the crown be attained of treason, yet the crown shall descend to him, and eo instante the attainder be void; from which instances a man will be very prone to infer that, when the heir apparent of a kingdom shall kill him that is in possession, though his father, you may call it injustice or by what other name you will, yet it can never be against reason, seeing all the voluntary actions of men tend to the benefit of themselves; and those actions are most reasonable that conduce most to their ends. This specious reasoning is nevertheless false.

For the question is not of promises mutual, where there is no security of performance on either side, as when there is no civil power erected over the parties promising, for such promises are no covenants, but either where one of the parties had performed already, or where there is a power to make him perform, there is the question whether it be against reason, that is against the benefit of the other to perform or not. And I say it is not against reason. For the manifestation whereof we are to consider, first, that when a man doth a thing which notwithstanding anything can be forseen and reckoned on tendeth to his own destruction, howsoever some accident which he could not expect, arriving may turn it to his benefit, yet such events do not make it reasonably or wisely done. Secondly, that, in a condition of war, wherein every man to every man, for want of a common power to keep them all in awe, is an enemy, there is no man who can hope by his own strength or wit to defend himself from destruction without the help of confederates; where every one expects the same defence by the confederation that any one else does; and therefore he which declares he thinks it reason to deceive those that help him can in reason expect no other means of safety than what can be had from his own single power. He therefore that breaketh his covenant, and consequently declareth that he thinks he may with reason do so, cannot be received into any society that unite themselves for peace and defence but by the error of them that receive him; nor when he is received, be retained in it without seeing the danger of their error; which errors a man cannot reasonably reckon upon as the means of his security; and therefore, if he be left or cast out of society, he perisheth; and if he live in society, it is by the errors of other men which he could not foresee nor reckon upon, and consequently against the reason of his preservation; and so, as all men that contribute not to his destruction, forbear him only out of ignorance of what is good for themselves.

As for the instance of gaining the secure and perpetual felicity of heaven by any way, it is frivolous; there being but one way imaginable; and that is not breaking, but keeping of covenant.

And, for the other instance of attaining sovereignty by rebellion, it is manifest that, though the event follow, yet, because it cannot reasonably be expected, but rather the contrary, and because by gaining it so, others are taught to gain the same in like manner, the attempt thereof is against reason. Justice therefore, that is to say keeping of covenant, is a rule of reason by which we are forbidden to do anything destructive to our life; and consequently a law of Nature.

There be some that proceed further, and will not have the law of Nature to be those rules which conduce to the preservation of man’s life on earth, but to the attaining of an eternal felicity after death; to which they think the breach of covenant may conduce; and consequently be just and reasonable; such are they that think it a work of merit to kill or depose or rebel against the sovereign power constituted over them by their own consent. But, because there is no natural knowledge of man’s estate after death, much less of the reward that is then to be given to breach of faith, but only a belief grounded upon other men’s saying that they know it supernaturally, or that they know those that knew them, that knew others, that knew it supernaturally; breach of faith cannot be called a precept of reason or nature.

Others that allow for a law of Nature the keeping of faith do nevertheless make exception of certain persons as heretics and such as use not to perform their covenant to others; and this also is against reason. For if any fault of a man be sufficient to discharge our covenant made, the same ought in reason to have been sufficient to have hindered the making of it.

The names of just, and unjust, when they are attributed to men, signify one thing; and when they are attributed to actions, another. When they are attributed to men, they signify conformity or inconformity of manners to reason. But, when they are attributed to actions, they signify the conformity or inconformity to reason, not of manners or manner of life but of particular actions. A just man, therefore, is he that taketh all the care he can that his actions may be all just, and an unjust man is he that neglecteth it. And such men are more often in our language styled by the names of righteous and unrighteous than just and unjust, though the meaning be the same. Therefore a righteous man does not lose that title by one or a few unjust actions that proceed from sudden passion or mistake of things or persons; nor does an unrighteous man lose his character for such actions as he does, or forbears to do, for fear, because his will is not framed by the justice but by the apparent benefit of what he is to do. That which gives to human actions the relish of justice is a certain nobleness of gallantness of courage, rarely found, by which a man scorns to be beholden for the contentment of his life to fraud or breach of promise. This justice of the manners is that which is meant where justice is called a virtue, and injustice a vice.

But the justice of actions denominates men not just, ‘guiltless’; and the injustice of the same, which is also called injury, gives them but the name of ‘guilty.’

Again, the injustice of manners is the disposition or aptitude to do injury, and is injustice before it proceeds to act, and without supposing any individual person injured. But the injustice of an action, that is to say injury, supposeth an individual person injured, namely him to whom the covenant was made; and therefore many times the injury is received by one man when the damage redoundeth to another. As when the master commandeth his servant to give money to a stranger: if it be not done, the injury is done to the master, whom he had before covenanted to obey; but the damage redoundeth to the stranger, to whom he had no obligation, and therefore could not injure him. And so also in commonwealths. Private men may remit to one another their debts, but not robberies or other violences whereby they are endamaged, because the detaining of debt is an injury to themselves, but robbery and violence are injuries to the person of the commonwealth.

Whatsoever is done to a man conformable to his own will signified to the doer is no injury to him. For, if he that doeth it hath not passed away his original right to do what he please by some antecedent covenant, there is no breach of covenant, and therefore no injury done him. And if he have, then his will to have it done being signified is a release of the covenant, and so again there is no injury done him.

Justice of action is by writers divided into ‘commutative’ and ‘distributive’; and the former they say consisteth in proportion arithmetical, the latter in proportion geometrical. Commutative, therefore, they place in the equality of value of the things contracted for; and distributive, in the distribution of equal benefit to men of equal merit. As if it were injustice to sell dearer than we buy, or to give more to a man than he merits. The value of all things contracted for is measured by the appetite of the contractors; and therefore the just value is that which they be contented to give. And merit, besides that which is by covenant, where the performance on one part meriteth the performance of the other part, and falls under justice commutative not distributive, is not due by justice, but is rewarded of grace only. And therefore this distinction, in the sense wherein it useth to be expounded, is not right. To speak properly, commutative justice is the justice of a contractor; that is, a performance of covenant in buying and selling, hiring and letting to hire, lending and borrowing, exchanging, bartering, and other acts of contract.

And distributive justice, the justice of an arbitrator; that is to say, the act of defining what is just. Wherein, being trusted by them that make him arbitrator, if he perform his trust he is said to distribute to every man his own; and this is indeed just distribution, and may be called, though improperly, distributive justice, but more properly equity, which also is a law of Nature, as shall be shown in due place.

As justice dependeth on antecedent covenant, so does ‘gratitude’ depend on antecedent grace, that is to say, antecedent free gift; and is the fourth law of Nature; which may be conceived in this form, ‘that a man, which receiveth benefit from another of mere grace, endeavour that he which giveth it have no reasonable cause to repent him of his good will.’ For no man giveth but with intention of good to himself; because gift is voluntary; and of all voluntary acts the object is to every man his own good, of which, if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence, or trust, nor consequently of mutual help, nor of reconciliation of one man to another; and therefore they are to remain still in the condition of ‘war,’ which is contrary to the first and fundamental law of Nature, which commandeth men to ‘seek peace.’ The breach of this law is called ‘ingratitude,’ and hath the same relation to grace that injustice hath to obligation by covenant.

A fifth law of Nature, is ‘complaisance,’ that is to say, ‘that every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest.’ For the understanding whereof, we may consider that there is in men’s aptness to society, a diversity of nature, rising from their diversity of affections, not unlike to that we see in stones brought together for building of an edifice. For as that stone which by the asperity and irregularity of figure takes more room from others than itself fills, and for the hardness cannot be easily made plain, and thereby hindereth the building, is by the builders cast away as unprofitable and troublesome, so also a man that by asperity of nature will strive to retain those things which to himself are superfluous and to others necessary, and for the stubborness of his passions cannot be corrected, is to be left or cast out of society as cumbersome thereunto. For seeing every man, not only by right but also by necessity of nature, is supposed to endeavour all he can to obtain that which is necessary for his conversation, he that shall oppose himself against it for things superfluous is guilty of the war that thereupon is to follow; and therefore doth that which is contrary to the fundamental law of Nature, which commandeth ‘to seek peace’. The observers of this law may be called ‘sociable’—the Latins call them commodi; the contrary, ‘stubborn,’ ‘insociable,’ ‘froward,’ ‘intractable.’

A sixth law of Nature is this, ‘that, upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the offences past of them that, repenting, desire it.’ For ‘pardon’ is nothing but granting of peace, which, though granted to them that persevere in their hostility, be not peace but fear; yet not granted to them that give caution of the future time is sign of an aversion to peace, and therefore contrary to the law of Nature.

A seventh is, ‘that in revenges,’ that is, retribution of evil for evil, ‘men look not at the greatness of the evil past but the greatness of the good to follow.’ Whereby we are forbidden to inflict punishment with any other design than for correction of the offender or direction of others. For this law is consequent to the next before it, that commandeth pardon, upon security of the future time. Besides, revenge, without respect to the example and profit to come, is a triumph or glorying in the hurt of another tending to no end; for the end is always somewhat to come; and glorying to no end is vain-glory and contrary to reason, and to hurt without reason tendeth to the introduction of war, which is against the law of Nature, and is commonly styled by the name of ‘cruelty.’

And because all signs of hatred or contempt provoke to fight, insomuch as most men choose rather to hazard their life than not to be revenged, we may in the eighth place, for a law of Nature, set down this precept, ‘that no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or contempt of another.’ The breach of which law is commonly called ‘contumely.’

The question who is the better man has no place in the condition of mere nature; where, as been shown before, all men are equal. The inequality that now is has been introduced by the laws civil. I know that Aristotle, in the first book of his Politics, for a foundation of his doctrine, maketh men by nature some more worthy to command, meaning the wiser sort, such as he thought himself to be for his philosophy, others to serve, meaning those that had strong bodies but were not philosophers as he; as if master and servant were not introduced by consent of men but by difference of wit, which is not only against reason but also against experience. For there are very few so foolish that had not rather govern themselves than be governed by others; nor, when the wise in their own conceit contend by force with them who distrust their own wisdom, do they always, or often, or almost at any time, get the victory. If Nature therefore have made men equal, that equality is to be acknowledged; or; if Nature have made men unequal, yet because men that think themselves equal will not enter into conditions of peace but upon equal terms, such equality must be admitted. And therefore for the ninth law of Nature I put this, ‘that every man acknowledge another for his equal by nature.’ The breach of this precept is ‘pride’.

On this law dependeth another, ‘that at the entrance into conditions of peace no man require to reserve to himself any right which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest.’ As it is necessary for all men that seek peace to lay down certain rights of nature, that is to say, not to have liberty to do all they list, so is it necessary for man’s life to retain some, as right to govern their own bodies, enjoy air, water, motion, ways to go from place to place, and all things else without which a man cannot live or not live well. If in this case, at the making of peace, men require for themselves that which they would not have to be granted to others, they do contrary to the precedent law, that commandeth the acknowledgement of natural equality, and therefore also against the law of Nature. The observers of this law are those we call ‘modest,’ and the breakers ‘arrogant’ men. The Greeks call the violation of this law [Greek], that is, a desire of more than their share.

Also if ‘a man be trusted to judge between man and man,’ it is a precept of the law of Nature ‘that he deal equally between them.’ For without that the controversies of men cannot be determined but by war. He therefore that is partial in judgment doth what in him lies to deter men from the use of judges and arbitrators, and consequently against the fundamental law of Nature, is the cause of war.

The observance of this law, from the equal distribution to each man of that which in reason belongeth to him, is called ‘equity,’ and, as I have said before, distributive justice; the violation, ‘acception of persons,’ [Greek].

And from this followeth another law, that such things as cannot be divided be enjoyed in common, if it can be; and, if the quantity of the thing permit, without stint; otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have ‘right.’ For otherwise the distribution is unequal and contrary to equity.

But some things there be that can neither be divided nor enjoyed in common. Then the law of Nature, which prescribeth equity, requireth ‘that the entire right, or else making the use alternate, the first possession, be determined by lot.’ For equal distribution is of the law of Nature, and other means of equal distribution cannot be imagined.

Of ‘lots’ there be two sorts, ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘natural.’ Arbitrary is that which is agreed on by the competitors; natural is either ‘primogeniture,’ which the Greeks call [Greek], which signifies ‘given by lot’ or ‘first seizure.’

And therefore those things which cannot be enjoyed in common nor divided ought to be adjudged to the first possessor; and in some cases to the first born, as acquired by lot.

It is also a law of Nature ‘that all men that mediate peace, be allowed safe conduct.’ For the law that commandeth peace as the end, commandeth intercession as the ‘means’ and to intercession the means is safe conduct.

And because, though men be never so willing to observe these laws, there may nevertheless arise questions concerning a man’s action; first, whether it were done or not done; secondly, if done, whether against the law or not against the law; the former whereof is called a question ‘of fact,’ the latter a question ‘of right,’ therefore, unless the parties to the question covenant mutually to stand to the sentence of another, they are as far from peace as ever. This other to whose sentence they submit is called an ‘arbitrator.’ And therefore it is of the law of Nature ‘that they that are at controversy submit their right to the judgment of an arbitrator.’

And, seeing every man is presumed to do all things in order to his own benefit, no man is a fit arbitrator in his own cause, and if he were never so fit, yet, equity allowing to each party equal benefit, if one be admitted to be judge, the other is to be admitted also; and so the controversy, that is, the cause of war, remains against the law of Nature.

For the same reason no man in any cause ought to be received for arbitrator to whom greater profit, or honour, or pleasure, apparently ariseth out of the victory of one party than of the other; for he hath taken, though an unavoidable bribe, yet a bribe, and no man can be obliged to trust him. And thus also the controversy and the condition of war remaineth, contrary to the law of Nature.

And in a controversy of ‘fact,’ the judge, being to give no more credit to one than to the other if there be no other arguments, must give credit to a third, or to a third and fourth, or more; for else the question is undecided and left to force, contrary to the law of Nature.

These are the laws of Nature, dictating peace, for a means of the conservation of men in multitudes, and which only concern the doctrine of civil society. There be other things tending to the destruction of particular men, as drunkenness and all other parts of intemperance; which may therefore also be reckoned amongst those things which the law of Nature hath forbidden, but are not necessary to be mentioned, nor are pertinent enough to this place.

And though this may seem too subtle a deduction of the laws of Nature to be taken notice of by all men, whereof the most part are too busy in getting food and the rest too negligent to understand, yet, to leave all men inexcusable, they have been contracted into one easy sum, intelligible even to the meanest capacity; and that is, ‘Do not that to another which thou wouldst not have done to thyself’; which showeth him that he has no more to do in learning the laws of Nature but when weighing the actions of other men with his own, they seem too heavy, to put them into the other part of the balance and his own into their place, that his own passions and self-love may add nothing to the weight; and then there is none of these laws of Nature that will not appear unto him very reasonable.

The laws of Nature oblige in foro interno, that is to say, they bind to a desire they should take place; but in foro externo, that is, to the putting them in act, not always. For he that should be modest and tractable and perform all he promises, in such time and place where no man else should do so, should but make himself a prey to others and procure his own certain ruin, contrary to the ground of all laws of Nature, which tend to Nature’s preservation. And, again, he that, having sufficient security that others shall observe the same laws towards him, observes them not himself, seeketh not peace but war, and consequently the destruction of his nature by violence.

And whatsoever laws bind in foro interno may be broken, not only by a fact contrary to the law but also by a fact according to it, in case a man think it contrary. For, though his action in this case be according to the law, yet his purpose was against the law; which, where the obligation is in foro interno, is a breach.

The laws of Nature are immutable and eternal; for injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity, acception of persons, and the rest, can never be made lawful. For it can never be that war shall preserve life, and peace destroy it.

The same laws, because they oblige only to a desire and endeavour—I mean an unfeigned and constant endeavour—are easy to be observed. For, in that they require nothing but endeavour, he that endeavoureth their performance fulfilleth them, and he that fulfilleth the law is just.

And the science of them is the true and only moral philosophy. For moral philosophy is nothing else but the science of what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the conversation and society of mankind. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are names that signify our appetites and aversions, which, in different tempers, customs, and doctrines of men, are different; and divers men differ not only in their judgment on the senses of what is pleasant and unpleasant to the taste, smell, hearing, touch, and sight, but also of what is conformable or disagreeable to reason in the actions of common life. Nay, the same man in divers times differs from himself, and one time praiseth, that is calleth good, what another time he dispraiseth and calleth evil; from whence arise disputes, controversies, and at last war. And therefore, so long as a man is in the condition of mere nature, which is a condition of war, as private appetite is the measure of good and evil, and consequently all men agree on this, that peace is good, and therefore also the way or means of peace, which, as I have showed before, are ‘justice,’ ‘gratitude,’ ‘modesty,’ ‘equity,’ ‘mercy,’ and the rest of the laws of Nature, are good; that is to say, ‘moral virtues’; and their contrary ‘vices,’ evil. Now the science of virtue and vice is moral philosophy, and therefore the true doctrine of the laws of Nature is the true moral philosophy. But the writers of moral philosophy, though they acknowledge the same virtues and vices, yet, not seeing wherein consisted their goodness, nor that they come to be praised as the means of peaceable, sociable, and comfortable living, place them in a mediocrity of passions; as if not the cause, but the degree of daring made fortitude; or not the cause, but the quantity, of a gift, made liberality.

These dictates of reason men used to call by the name of laws, but improperly; for they are but conclusions or theorems concerning what conduceth to the conservation and defence of themselves; whereas law, properly, is the word of him that by right hath command over others. But yet if we consider the same theorems, as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things, then are they properly called laws.