3 August 2013

Thomas Hobbes on Solitude

Thomas Hobbes declares in his book Leviathan that life in a state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The question is why did he list “solitary” first? A short life, some would argue is a greater calamity and others might wish to insist that “nasty” or “brutish” conditions are worse evils.  Clearly Hobbes’ reason in beginning the phrase with “solitary” must have been other than simple ease or harmony of expression.
The word solitude had made at least two earlier appearances in Hobbes’ writings, in De Cive he wrote: “that to man in nature…. that is, as soon as he is born, solitude is an enemy.”  In De Corpore he maintained that “all such calamities as may be avoided by human industry, arise from war, but chiefly from civil war: for from this proceed slaughter, solitude and the want of all things.” These references to “solitude” and the priority of “solitary” in Leviathan, are hardly contradictory of reports that Hobbes personally could not abide being alone, and we therefore surmise that he regarded the “solitary” condition not just as a foremost evil in the state of nature and in wartime but also as a particularly unhappy circumstance in his own life.  However in spite of his feelings of loneliness, Hobbes never married or apparently ever thought of marrying.