Human Nature in Hobbes and Thucydides

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Wensveen, Jonathan




As a close reader, translator, and self-professed admirer of Thucydides, Thomas Hobbes was heavily influenced by the former’s account of human nature, provided in his History of the Peloponnesian War. In fact, many scholars (in both political theory and international relations) have been keen to point out just this. Passages, they argue, such as the Plague at Athens and the Civil War at Corcyra, both of which reveal human nature at its darkest, undoubtedly shaped Hobbes’s own understanding and conception of man, the most comprehensive account of which appears in the first part of his most famous and mature work, Leviathan. What many of these scholars fail to acknowledge, however, is thatfor all of their similarities Thucydides’ account of human nature is also somewhat different from that of Hobbes. Indeed, although Thucydides often describes man at his worst, his History also provides moving examples of man at his best. In contrast to passages such as the Plague at Athens and the Civil War at Corcyra, passages such as the Mytilenean Debate and Pericles’ Funeral Oration highlight the human concern and capacity for virtue and justice, and indicate a recognition on the part of Thucydides (as opposed to Hobbes) that, despite what the primordial imposes on human beings they nevertheless and at the same time yearn for something higher.
The purpose of this thesis, then, is to account for this fundamental, yet often overlooked difference. In it, I essentially argue that the difference between Thucydides and Hobbes on the question of human nature can be explained best by looking to Aristotle and Hobbes’s attack on him. More specifically, I argue that Hobbes’s rejection of Aristotle’s political science, moral and political psychology, and account of human nature underlying it, is also and at the same time what necessarily handcuffs him from acknowledging as natural certain aspects of the human condition that Thucydides, like Aristotle, does. Finally, I argue that for this reason, Hobbes’s attack on Aristotle also qualifies, in some ways, as an attack on that thinker he admired most: Thucydides.


SOCIAL SCIENCES Political Science - General




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Master of Arts: 

Thesis Degree Level: 


Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Political Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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