Hobbes 4th Law

Hobbes believed that it was our inherent natural right to act in any way available to us for the preservation of our lives. Since this tends towards violence and stagnation of commerce in Hobbes’ State of War, and thus towards death and the diminishment of life, he concludes that reason requires that we “seek peace” (First Law).

But in order for me to be secure in restraining my natural right to act for my preservation, to act peacefully, then I need to know others will also restrain themselves. From this Hobbes reasons it is required that men, “be willing, when others are so too, out of the desire for Peace and necessity for self-defense, to lay down the right to all things, and be content with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself” (Second Law). You likely already noted the echo of the Biblical Golden Rule and Hobbes himself cites the Bible directly in his formulation of this law. This is generalized as his Law of “Covenants” or contract.

One specific item of importance is that amongst Hobbes’ discussion of the Second Law he gives his definition of “FreeGift” or “Grace” which we will see again when he discusses the Fourth Law below:

“When the transferring of Right, is not mutuall; but one of the parties transferreth, in hope to gain thereby friendship, or service from another, or from his friends; or in hope to gain the reputation of Charity, or Magnanimity; or to deliver his mind from the pain of compassion; or in hope of reward in heaven; This is not Contract, but GIFT, FREEGIFT, GRACE: which words signifie one and the same thing.”

Next, Hobbes solidifies his Law of Covenants by arguing that rationally, peace does not only require that covenants be made but as importantly, covenants be kept. This is his Law of Justice (Third Law), that once a covenant is made, the parties must be trustworthy in their fulfillment of those agreements. That peace cannot abide in a society or system which tolerates deceit, fraud or oath-breaking.

After which follows Hobbes’ Fourth Law:
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.

First important line, “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.” Here Hobbes is defining Gratitude. He says that when a man receives a gift of “mere grace” (one for which he gave nothing and was not owed by covenant, see above), reason requires that he “endeavor”, NOT to repay (that is impossible with gifts of grace by definition) but simply to act such that the giver does not become sorry he gave in the first place. This is because Hobbes’ appears to believe that gifts of grace, unearned and possibly unearnable, are the footholds of peace in society.

“For no man giveth but with intention of good to himself, because gift is voluntary;” Gifts are one-way exchanges and thus must be voluntary (vs covenants where mutual exchange, the agreements, may be enforced by coercion) and acts commited voluntarily will never have the “intention” of bringing harm on the giver. Thus “if men see they shall be frustrated”, i.e. if they see their gifts and grants met with ingratitude (maybe entitlement fits here), “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”.

So in summary… to achieve peace (and health and prosperity and happiness according to earlier parts of Leviathan) we must make mutual binding covenants with each other (e.g. I’ll restrain myself from stealing from you, if you agree to refrain from stealing from me). However, that process can’t start unless SOMEBODY takes the first step. That step is an act of grace, an undeserved gift for which there is no expectation of repayment. But for that act to lead towards peace the law of reason REQUIRES that the gift NOT be met with entitlement or without thanks, but instead with gratitude and effort such that the gifting does not become a frustration to the giver.

This conclusion that gratitude is not a social nicety or simply an “important thing”, but instead an absolute prerequisite for civil society struck me as a powerfully important insight. And as a Christian, I can’t imagine reading this without hearing God’s unarguable logic in Hobbes’ writing. That for us to have life and peace Jesus had to die for us, an undeserved gift. Our response thus must be to endeavor to show gratitude for what God has given even without any possibility of repayment.

On the flip side I can also see our country’s loss of gratitude over the last 100 years as the state has replaced the church, other voluntary organizations and God himself in peoples’ lives; and consequently how ingratitude and entitlement have risen up and are eating at the foundations of modern American culture and citizen character.

I don’t know if it surprises you, but I AM still regularly surprised, whether reading the Bible or political philosophy from 1651, how much consistency in human nature there can be throughout history. In conversations and discussions I hear regularly that we shouldn’t be bound by a constitution written 100’s of years ago or Scripture written 1000’s of years ago. I have to wonder who taught these people (if at all) about these writings, because anyone who actually reads the texts finds quickly that they could have been written yesterday.

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