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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 11, 1998

Modern Philosophy

Juhani Pietarinen
Pages 143-147

Hobbes, Conatus and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

I want to show the importance of the notion of conatus (endeavor) for Hobbes' political philosophy. According to Hobbes, all motion of bodies consists of elementary motions he called 'endeavors.' They are motions 'made in less space and time than can be given,' and they obey the law of persistence or inertia. A body strives to preserve its state and resist the causal power of other bodies. I call this the conatus-principle. Hobbes' argument for social contract and sovereign is based essentially on this model. He proves that the natural conatus makes people (i) strive to preserve their lives and therefore to get out of the destructive state of nature; (ii) commit to mutual contracts; (iii) keep the contracts unless some external cause otherwise determines; and (iv) establish a permanent sovereign power that Hobbes calls 'an artificial eternity of life.' All this is determined by the fundamental laws of nature, essentially, by the conatus-principle. I also show that the Prisoner's Dilemma interpretation of the Hobbesian state of nature does not represent all of the essential features of Hobbes' argument.