Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Chapter XXV

Of Counsel

HOW fallacious it is to judge of the nature of things by the ordinary and inconstant use of words appeareth in nothing more than in the confusion of counsels and commands, arising from the imperative manner of speaking in them both, and in many other occasions besides. For the words do this are the words not only of him that commandeth; but also of him that giveth counsel; and of him that exhorteth; and yet there are but few that see not that these are very different things; or that cannot distinguish between when they when they perceive who it is that speaketh, and to whom the speech is directed, and upon what occasion. But finding those phrases in men's writings, and being not able or not willing to enter into a consideration of the circumstances, they mistake sometimes the precepts of counsellors for the precepts of them that command; and sometimes the contrary; according as it best agreeth with the conclusions they would infer, or the actions they approve. To avoid which mistakes and render to those terms of commanding, counselling, and exhorting, their proper and distinct significations, I define them thus.

Command is where a man saith, "Do this," or "Do not this," without expecting other reason than the will of him that says it. From this it followeth manifestly that he that commandeth pretendeth thereby his own benefit: for the reason of his command is his own will only, and the proper object of every man's will is some good to himself.

Counsel is where a man saith, "Do," or "Do not this," and deduceth his reasons from the benefit that arriveth by it to him to whom he saith it. And from this it is evident that he that giveth counsel pretendeth only (whatsoever he intendeth) the good of him to whom he giveth it.

Therefore between counsel and command, one great difference is that command is directed to a man's own benefit, and counsel to the benefit of another man. And from this ariseth another difference, that a man may be obliged to do what he is commanded; as when he hath covenanted to obey: but he cannot be obliged to do as he is counselled, because the hurt of not following it is his own; or if he should covenant to follow it, then is the counsel turned into the nature of a command. A third difference between them is that no man can pretend a right to be of another man's counsel; because he is not to pretend benefit by it to himself: but to demand right to counsel another argues a will to know his designs, or to gain some other good to himself; which, as I said before, is of every man's will the proper object.

This also is incident to the nature of counsel; that whatsoever it be, he that asketh it cannot in equity accuse or punish it: for to ask counsel of another is to permit him to give such counsel as he shall think best; and consequently, he that giveth counsel to his sovereign (whether a monarch or an assembly) when he asketh it, cannot in equity be punished for it, whether the same be conformable to the opinion of the most, or not, so it be to the proposition in debate. For if the sense of the assembly can be taken notice of, before the debate be ended, they should neither ask nor take any further counsel; for sense of the assembly is the resolution of the debate and end of all deliberation. And generally he that demandeth counsel is author of it, and therefore cannot punish it; and what the sovereign cannot, no man else can. But if one subject giveth counsel to another to do anything contrary to the laws, whether that counsel proceed from evil intention or from ignorance only, it is punishable by the Commonwealth; because ignorance of the law is no good excuse, where every man is bound to take notice of the laws to which he is subject.

Exhortation, and dehortation is counsel, accompanied with signs in him that giveth it of vehement desire to have it followed; or, to say it more briefly, counsel vehemently pressed. For he that exhorteth doth not deduce the consequences of what he adviseth to be done, and tie himself therein to the rigor of true reasoning, but encourages him he counselleth to action: as he that dehorteth deterreth him from it. And therefore they have in their speeches a regard to the common passions and opinions of men, in deducing their reasons; and make use of similitudes, metaphors, examples, and other tools of oratory, to persuade their hearers of the utility, honour, or justice of following their advice.

From whence may be inferred, first, that exhortation and dehortation is directed to the good of him that giveth the counsel, not of him that asketh it, which is contrary to the duty of a counsellor; who, by the definition of counsel, ought to regard, not his own benefit, but his whom he adviseth. And that he directeth his counsel to his own benefit is manifest enough by the long and vehement urging, or by the artificial giving thereof; which being not required of him, and consequently proceeding from his own occasions, is directed principally to his own benefit, and but accidentally to the good of him that is counselled, or not at all.

Secondly, that the use of exhortation and dehortation lieth only where a man is to speak to a multitude, because when the speech is addressed to one, he may interrupt him and examine his reasons more rigorously than can be done in a multitude; which are too many to enter into dispute and dialogue with him that speaketh indifferently to them all at once.

Thirdly, that they that exhort and dehort, where they are required to give counsel, are corrupt counsellors and, as it were, bribed by their own interest. For though the counsel they give be never so good, yet he that gives it is no more a good counsellor than he that giveth a just sentence for a reward is a just judge. But where a man may lawfully command, as a father in his family, or a leader in an army, his exhortations and dehortations are not only lawful, but also necessary and laudable: but when they are no more counsels, but commands; which when they are for execution of sour labour, sometimes necessity, and always humanity, requireth to be sweetened in the delivery by encouragement, and in the tune and phrase of counsel rather than in harsher language of command.

Examples of the difference between command and counsel we may take from the forms of speech that express them in Holy Scripture. "Have no other Gods but me"; "Make to thyself no graven image"; "Take not God's name in vain"; "Sanctify the Sabbath"; "Honour thy parents"; "Kill not"; "Steal not," etc. are commands, because the reason for which we are to obey them is drawn from the will of God our King, whom we are obliged to obey. But these words, "Sell all thou hast; give it to the poor; and follow me," are counsel, because the reason for which we are to do so is drawn from our own benefit, which is this; that we shall have "treasure in Heaven." These words, "Go into the village over against you, and you shall find an ass tied, and her colt; loose her, and bring her to me," are a command; for the reason of their fact is drawn from the will of their master: but these words, "Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus," are counsel; because the reason why we should so do tendeth not to any benefit of God Almighty, who shall still be King in what manner soever we rebel, but of ourselves, who have no other means of avoiding the punishment hanging over us for our sins.

As the difference of counsel from command hath been now deduced from the nature of counsel, consisting in a deducing of the benefit or hurt that may arise to him that is to be to be counselled, by the necessary or probable consequences of the action he propoundeth; so may also the differences between apt and inept counsellors be derived from the same. For experience, being but memory of the consequences of like actions formerly observed, and counsel but the speech whereby that experience is made known to another, the virtues and defects of counsel are the same with the virtues and defects intellectual: and to the person of a Commonwealth, his counsellors serve him in the place of memory and mental discourse. But with this resemblance of the Commonwealth to a natural man, there is one dissimilitude joined, of great importance; which is that a natural man receiveth his experience from the natural objects of sense, which work upon him without passion or interest of their own; whereas they that give counsel to the representative person of a Commonwealth may have, and have often, their particular ends and passions that render their counsels always suspected, and many times unfaithful. And therefore we may set down for the first condition of a good counsellor: that his ends and interest be not inconsistent with the ends and interest of him he counselleth.

Secondly, because the office of a counsellor, when an action comes into deliberation, is to make manifest the consequences of it in such manner as he that is counselled may be truly and evidently informed, he ought to propound his advice in such form of speech as may make the truth most evidently appear; that is to say, with as firm ratiocination, as significant and proper language, and as briefly, as the evidence will permit. And therefore rash and unevident inferences, such as are fetched only from examples, or authority of books, and are not arguments of what is good or evil, but witnesses of fact or of opinion; obscure, confused, and ambiguous expressions; also all metaphorical speeches tending to the stirring up of passion (because such reasoning and such expressions are useful only to deceive or to lead him we counsel towards other ends than his own), are repugnant to the office of a counsellor.

Thirdly, because the ability of counselling proceedeth from experience and long study, and no man is presumed to have experience in all those things that to the administration of a great Commonwealth are necessary to be known, no man is presumed to be a good counsellor but in such business as he hath not only been much versed in, but hath also much meditated on and considered. For seeing the business of a Commonwealth is this; to preserve the people in peace at home, and defend them against foreign invasion; we shall find it requires great knowledge of the disposition of mankind, of the rights of government, and of the nature of equity, law, justice, and honour, not to be attained without study; and of the strength, commodities, places, both of their own country and their neighbours'; as also of the inclinations and designs of all nations that may any way annoy them. And this is not attained to without much experience. Of which things, not only the whole sum, but every one of the particulars requires the age and observation of a man in years, and of more than ordinary study. The wit required for counsel, as I have said before (Chapter VIII), is judgement. And the differences of men in that point come from different education; of some, to one kind of study or business, and of others, to another. When for the doing of anything there be infallible rules (as in engines and edifices, the rules of geometry), all the experience of the world cannot equal his counsel that has learned or found out the rule. And when there is no such rule, he that hath most experience in that particular kind of business has therein the best judgement, and is the best counsellor.

Fourthly, to be able to give counsel to a Commonwealth, in a business that hath reference to another Commonwealth, it is necessary to be acquainted with the intelligences and letters that come from thence, and with all the records of treaties and other transactions of state between them; which none can do but such as the representative shall think fit. By which we may see that they who are not called to counsel can have no good counsel in such cases to obtrude.

Fifthly, supposing the number of counsellors equal, a man is better counselled by hearing them apart than in an assembly; and that for many causes. First, in hearing them apart, you have the advice of every man; but in an assembly many of them deliver their advice with aye or no, or with their hands or feet, not moved by their own sense, but by the eloquence of another, or for fear of displeasing some that have spoken, or the whole by contradiction, or for fear of appearing duller in apprehension than those that have applauded the contrary opinion. Secondly, in an assembly of many there cannot choose but be some interests are contrary to that of the public; and these their interests make passionate, and passion eloquent, and eloquence draws others into the same advice. For the passions of men, which asunder are moderate, as the heat of one brand; in assembly are like many brands that inflame one another (especially when they blow one another with orations) to the setting of the Commonwealth on fire, under pretence of counselling it. Thirdly, in hearing every man apart, one may examine, when there is need, the truth or probability of his reasons, and of the grounds of the advice he gives, by frequent interruptions and objections; which cannot be done in an assembly, where in every difficult question a man is rather astonied and dazzled with the variety of discourse upon it, than informed of the course he ought to take. Besides, there cannot be an assembly of many, called together for advice, wherein there be not some that have the ambition the ambition to be thought eloquent, and also learned in the politics; and give not their advice with care of the business propounded, but of the applause of their motley orations, made of the diverse colored threads or shreds of thread or shreds of authors; which is an impertinence, at least, that takes away the time of serious consultation, and in the secret way of counselling apart is easily avoided. Fourthly, in deliberations that ought to be kept secret, whereof there be many occasions in public business, the counsels of many, and especially in assemblies, are dangerous; and therefore great assemblies are necessitated to commit such affairs to lesser numbers, and of such persons as are most versed, and in whose fidelity they have most confidence.

To conclude, who is there that so far approves far approves the taking of counsel from a great assembly of counsellors, that wisheth for, or would accept of their pains, when there is a question of marrying his children, disposing of his lands, governing his household, or managing his private estate, especially if there be amongst them such as wish not his prosperity? A man that doth his business by the help of many prudent counsellors, with every one consulting apart in his proper element, does it best; as he that useth able seconds at tennis play, placed in their proper stations. He does next best that useth his own judgement only; as he that has no second at all. But he that is carried up and down to his business in a framed counsel, which cannot move but by the plurality of consenting opinions, the execution whereof is commonly, out of envy or interest, retarded by the part dissenting, does it worst of all, and like one that is carried to the ball, though by good players, yet in a wheelbarrow, or other frame, heavy of itself, and retarded by the also by the inconcurrent judgements and endeavours of them that drive it; and so much the more, as they be more that set their hands to it; and most of all, when there is one or more amongst them that desire to have him lose. And though it be true that many eyes see more than one, yet it is not to be understood of many counsellors, but then only when the final resolution is in one in one man. Otherwise, because many eyes see the same thing in diverse lines, and are apt to look asquint towards their private benefit; they that desire not to miss their mark, though they look about with two eyes, yet they never aim but with one: and therefore no great popular Commonwealth was ever kept up, but either by a foreign enemy that united them; or by the reputation of some one eminent man amongst them; or by the secret counsel of a few; or by the mutual fear of equal factions; and not by the open consultations of the assembly. And as for very little Commonwealths, be they popular or monarchical, there is no human wisdom can uphold them longer than the jealousy lasteth of their potent neighbours.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hobbes/thomas/h68l/chapter25.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38