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The Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth
Ecclesiastical and Civil

By Thomas Hobbes, Published April 1651

Big picture at the front



Chapter one Of Sense
Chapter two Of Imagination

Chapter three Of the Consequence or Train of Imaginations

Chapter four Of Speech

Chapter five Of Reason and Science

Chapter six Of the Interior Beginnings of Voluntary Motions, Commonly Called the Passions; And the Speeches by Which They are Expressed

Chapter seven Of the Ends or Resolutions of Discourse

Chapter eight

Chapter nine Of the Several Subjects of Knowledge

Chapter ten Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour and Worthiness

Chapter eleven
Chapter twelve

Chapter thirteen Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery

Chapter fourteen Of the first and second natural laws, and of contracts
Right of Nature what
Liberty what
A Law of Nature what
Covenants extorted by fear are valid


Chapter seventeen Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth

Chapter eighteen Of the Rights of Sovereigns by Institution

Chapter twentyone Of the Liberty of Subjects

Margin notes:
Liberty what
What it is to be free
Fear and Liberty consistent
Liberty and necessity consistent
Artificial bonds, or Covenants
Liberty of the Subject consistent with the unlimited power of the Sovereign
The Liberty which writers praise, is the Libery of Sovereigns; not of Private men
Liberty of subjects: how to be measured
Subjects have liberty to defend their own bodies even against them that lawfully invade them
Are not bound to hurt themselves
Nor to warfare, unless they voluntarily undertake it
The Greatest Liberty of Subjects, depends on the silence of the Law
In what Cases Subjects are absolved of their obedience to their Sovereign
In case of Captivity
In case the Sovereign cast off the government from himself and his Heirs
In case of banishment
In case the Sovereign render himself Subject to another

(¶) Paragraph numbers added to assist referencing

NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of Nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people's safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.

To describe the nature of this artificial man, I will consider

  • First, the matter thereof, and the artificer; both which is man.

  • Secondly, how, and by what covenants it is made; what are the rights and just power or authority of a sovereign; and what it is that preserveth and dissolveth it.

  • Thirdly, what is a Christian Commonwealth.

  • Lastly, what is the Kingdom of Darkness.

Concerning the first, there is a saying much usurped of late, that wisdom is acquired, not by reading of books, but of men. Consequently whereunto, those persons, that for the most part can give no other proof of being wise, take great delight to show what they think they have read in men, by uncharitable censures of one another behind their backs. But there is another saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; and that is, Nosce teipsum, Read thyself: which was not meant, as it is now used, to countenance either the barbarous state of men in power towards their inferiors, or to encourage men of low degree to a saucy behaviour towards their betters; but to teach us that for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions. I say the similitude of passions, which are the same in all men,- desire, fear, hope, etc.; not the similitude of the objects of the passions, which are the things desired, feared, hoped, etc.: for these the constitution individual, and particular education, do so vary, and they are so easy to be kept from our knowledge, that the characters of man's heart, blotted and confounded as they are with dissembling, lying, counterfeiting, and erroneous doctrines, are legible only to him that searcheth hearts. And though by men's actions we do discover their design sometimes; yet to do it without comparing them with our own, and distinguishing all circumstances by which the case may come to be altered, is to decipher without a key, and be for the most part deceived, by too much trust or by too much diffidence, as he that reads is himself a good or evil man.

But let one man read another by his actions never so perfectly, it serves him only with his acquaintance, which are but few. He that is to govern a whole nation must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but mankind: which though it be hard to do, harder than to learn any language or science; yet, when I shall have set down my own reading orderly and perspicuously, the pains left another will be only to consider if he also find not the same in himself. For this kind of doctrine admitteth no other demonstration.

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Abuses of Speech


Artificial Bonds


Causes of absurdity

Common names

Conjecture of the time past


Consequence of Imaginations

Covenants extorted by fear




Ends of Discourse

Error and Absurdity




Inconstant names

Insignificant words


jus naturale

Law of Nature

lex naturalis




Necessity of Definitions

Negative name



Picture at the front

Positive names

Proper names


Prudence & Sapience

Reason and science

Reason defined

Reason what it is


Resolutions of Discourse

Right of nature

Right reason



Sentence final


Science again

Signs of Science


Subject to Names

Time past

Train of Imaginations

Train of Thoughts regulated

Train of Thoughts unguided



Understanding (again)

Use of Reason

Use of speech


Voluntary motions