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Published:October 13th, 2011 12:43 EST
Plato & Hobbes: Two Ideas, One Goal

Plato & Hobbes: Two Ideas, One Goal

By Vincent Gonzalez

The theories of The Republic by Plato and Leviathan by Hobbes are both two standing arguments for political thought; each one representing a different idea spun by a common thread. Though their ideologies might differ on more than one occasion, they each perceive and interpret the character of human nature and their position within a society.


One of the basic functions that these men propose is that in any society, the need for some type of government is essential. Plato fashions his government where only the best individuals, the ones that question everything and who exercise common sense, instead of personal gain are those whom the society follows, knowing and believing them to be arbiters of good taste.

These `philosopher kings`, as Plato calls them are best suited to lead. Hobbes, on the other hand, designs a system where the state is governed by the sovereign; his own version of a philosopher king where not one man is better than the other, where every man at his most basic level is equal. Though these two thinkers envisioned different methods of maintaining a state, each attempted to fill the void of anarchy by bridging a common need for guidance, a need to form some fundamental sovereign body that can lead.

Both these pieces of literature, although different, share at least one common theme, the need for some type of governance. Without establishing some form of hierarchy, both authors recognize that society would collapse as citizens would exercise fulfilling their own ambitions, falling ill to their own desires. People would fall victim to their own thoughts, escorted by the demons that lurk behind every shadow, ready to lead those who fall it astray.

Chaos would ensue if not for some type of governing body to rule society. When reading these works, it seems that they fundamentally disagree on practically everything that has to deal with human nature. The authors have different perspectives on the functions of the human nature. Creating more friction if anything on the topic of the individual and its function in society. Plato intends to remedy this by establishing and forming a system of government where citizens are left to embrace the teachings of those who exercise moral authority, those who according to Plato are, "always in love with any learning which helps to reveal that reality which always is." (1: Pg. 187)

These two thinkers, through the combination of their joint enthusiasm, attempted to establish and create different ways for maintaining a state and its functions. Each thinker recognizes that without any guidance by some overarching sovereign body, society would not function and therefore collapse.

Each author imagines an ideal society where the political theories of the state are influenced by first knowing and understanding the threats that life throws at us all. According to Plato`s Republic, the society he imagines is a society in which there is a natural order that represents mankind. He creates a system where his `philosopher kings` are those who lead, everyone else below them take guidance from their wisdom and live a life not hindered by the inadequacies that come from being human.

Hobbs, on the other hand, understands the need for political guidance but argues that the government is not any entity that can dictate truth. It doesn`t have the authority to pass down religious or moral understandings. Its sole purpose is to protect the basic rights of every citizen and maintain the peace.

Hobbes argues that no man is intrinsically better than another. This is one of the main differences that separate Hobbes from Plato. Hobbes would have you believe that man is never satisfied with what he has, whereas Plato would have you believe that people only do what is best, abiding by some higher notion that man ultimately seeks good.

Hobbes imagined society is one that strikes its principles on law enforcement rather than moral authority. He`s steadfast in his belief that not one person can know the ultimate truth, that there is no separation from the weakest to the strongest, we are all equal under Hobbes political system. As best said by Hobbes himself, "For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned, yet they hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves." (2: Pg. 75)

In the end, it`s not the differences or similarities that are more significant, but the way these men approach the same topic by producing two different answers to the same question. By each perceiving their own ideas of human nature each thinker establishes a system of government that serve very different functions. Yet, each author are linked by a common goal of attempting to form a type of government and determining its role in society. If anything, these thinkers established a bases for political thought.


1.) 1.) Plato, the Republic.

2.) 2.) Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. 1651.