Macquarie University
01whole.pdf (1.24 MB)

A "Levelling fancy": civic equality in the thought of Thomas Hobbes

Download (1.24 MB)
posted on 2022-07-28, 06:03 authored by Thomas Alexander Corbin

This thesis explores the place of civic equality in the writings of Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1669). The place of natural equality, that is equality between individuals in the state of nature, is well known and often discussed in Hobbes scholarship, however, the place of civic equality is not. A likely reason for this is that although Hobbes makes frequent and often forceful claims regarding civic equality between subjects, it is very difficult to say with certainty why he does so or what impact these claims actually have on the commonwealth he proposes. This thesis attempts to answer both of these questions. To answer the first, we will look to Hobbes’ account of mental equality and to answer the second, we will look to his laws of nature.  

Hobbes’ account of natural equality is most often discussed in terms of physical equality. Mental equality, however, is the form of equality most directly relevant to his discussions of the social contract and is most relied upon in his writings regarding the laws of nature. Overlooking this fact has given an undue significance to certain laws of nature over others.  

Out of a total of nineteen in Leviathan (1651), there are 6 laws of nature which relate to the “acknowledgement” of equality within civil society and of these we will focus upon two. To introduce Hobbes’ claims, we will initially focus on the 9th law of nature, that against ‘pride’. Primarily we will focus on the 11th law of nature, that of equity. 

Equity in Hobbes’ writings initially appears to be a call simply for judicial fairness or impartiality. However, by tracing the evolution of Hobbes’ writings on equity, this thesis demonstrates that this impartiality is no mere call for judicial “even handedness”. Instead, equity defines a specific type of impartiality by demanding that natural equality act as the benchmark for legal process and decision making. By itself this is not enough to fully answer the question of the impact of civic equality on the commonwealth, however by exploring the institutional (rather than agential) nature of equity we create a foundation to do so.  

Equity is a procedural demand on judges which allows for the commands of the sovereign to be expressed and applied through the civil law. Hobbes is clear on this in Leviathan, in a way that is hinted at but not included in his earlier writings. By making the recognition of natural equality an institutional requirement rather than a moral or social demand on subjects, Hobbes builds the acknowledgement of civic equality into his commonwealth in a real and predicable way which is absent in other equality-based laws of nature such as those against “pride” or “arrogance”. Equity, and ultimately civic equality, is no longer an optional governance tool for social stability but is a necessary structural requirement for the civil law to function as Hobbes’ defines it. By focusing our attention on this aspect of equity, and in particular viewing it through the lens of mental equality, this thesis will demonstrate that civic equality is intentionally built into both the logic and the institutions of Hobbes’ commonwealth. 


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The proud citizens of Hobbes’ commonwealth -- Chapter 2. The evolution of equity -- Chapter 3. On equity and the philosopher in Hobbes’ Dialogue -- Chapter 4. The puzzle of equity -- Chapter 5. Thomas Hobbes on gender, natural equality, & equity -- Thesis conclusion -- References


A thesis presented for the award of Doctor of Philosophy Includes bibliographical references (pages 245-256)

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, 2021

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jean-Philippe Deranty


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Thomas Alexander Corbin 2021.




1 online resource (256 pages)

Usage metrics

    Macquarie University Theses


    Ref. manager