Thomas Hobbes: Magnanimity, Felicity, and Justice

In: Hobbes Studies

Thomas Hobbes’s concept of magnanimity, a descendant of Aristotle’s “greatness of soul,” plays a key role in Hobbes’s theory with respect to felicity and the virtue of justice. In his Critique du ‘De Mundo’, Hobbes implies that only genuinely magnanimous people can achieve the greatest felicity in their lives. A life of felicity is a life of pleasure, where the only pleasure that counts is the well grounded glory experienced by those who are magnanimous. Hobbes suggests that felicity involves the successful pursuit of desires, a pursuit at which the magnanimous are particularly adept. Additionally, Hobbes implies that those who possess the virtue of justice must also possess magnanimity; it is the just person’s “Nobleness or Gallantnesse of courage, (rarely found).” Leo Strauss and Dorothea Krook suggest that this cannot be Hobbes’s “final word” on justice, because, they say, Hobbes considers magnanimity a type of pride, which he derogates and cannot consistently associate with virtue. I argue that magnanimity, associated with well-grounded glory, is not a type of pride; only vain glory is.

  • 1

    M. M. Goldsmith, Hobbes’s Science of Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 79-83.

  • 4

    Krook, Three Traditions, 130. Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 51 and 25.

  • 5

    Krook, Three Traditions, 130-131. Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 55 and 25.

  • 18

     For example: Robin S. Dillon, “Introduction,” in Dignity, Character, and Self-Respect, ed. Robin S. Dillon (New York: Routledge, 1995).

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  • 19

    Martin E.P. Seligman, “Positive Psychology,” in The Science of Optimism and Hope: Research Essays in Honor of Martin E.P. Seligman, ed. Jane E. Gillham (Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000), particularly p. 422.

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  • 57

    Thomas Hobbes, “On Man,” in Man and Citizen (De Homine and De Cive), trans. Charles T. Wood, T. S. K. Scott-Craig, and Bernard Gert (Indianpolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 11.15, 53. In Latin: “Summum bonum, sive ut vocatur, felicitas et finis ultimus, in praesente vita reperiri non potest” (Thomas Hobbes, “De Homine,” in Opera Philosophica Quae Latine Scripsit Omnia… Vol. II., ed. Gulielmi Molesworth (London: Apud Joannem Bohn, 1839), 11.15, 103.)

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  • 64

    Phillip Mitsis, Epicurus’ Ethical Theory: The Pleasures of Invulnerability. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), 51-52.

  • 66

    Hobbes, “On Man,” 11.15, 53-54; Hobbes, “De Homine,” 11.15, 103.

  • 81

    Hobbes, The Elements of Law, 37.

  • 83

    Goldsmith, Hobbes’s Science, 82.

  • 84

    Goldsmith, Hobbes’s Science, 69. Hobbes, The Elements of Law, I.8.4, 26. Hobbes, Leviathan, I.8, 35.

  • 88

    Krook, Three Traditions, 129-130. Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 54, 24-25. When I argue that magnanimity is the origin of justice, I do not mean to imply that, by understanding magnanimity, we will understand what it is to be just. For that, we would need to appeal to Hobbes’s discussions of the laws of nature, etc. Rather, magnanimity is the origin of justice in a motivational sense.

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  • 89

    Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 25.

  • 94

    Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 53. Hobbes, The Elements of Law, I.19.2, 78.

  • 103

    Hobbes, Behemoth, 39.

  • 106

    Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 55.

  • 107

    Krook, Three Traditions, 130.

  • 110

    Strauss, The Political Philosophy, 24-25, 50-51. Krook, Three Traditions, 128-130.

  • 112

    Thomas Hobbes, “The Citizen,” in Man and Citizen (De Homine and De Cive), ed. Bernard Gert (Indianpolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 3.5, 139 and 4.21, 162. In Latin: “iusta facit propter poenam legi adiunctam” (Thomas Hobbes, De Cive: The Latin Version, ed. H. Warrender (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 3.5, 110).

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  • 113

    Hobbes, “The Citizen,” 14.2 footnote, 273. Hobbes, De Cive, 14.2, 207. Hobbes draws a contrast between performing “propter promissionem” and performing “metu poenae.”

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