The Body Politic “is a fictitious body”

Hobbes on Imagination and Fiction

in Hobbes Studies
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Thomas Hobbes once wrote that the body politic “is a fictitious body”, thereby contrasting it with a natural body. In this essay I argue that a central purpose of Hobbes’s political philosophy was to cast the fiction of the body politic upon the imaginations of his readers. I elucidate the role of the imagination in Hobbes’s account of human nature, before examining two ways in which his political philosophy sought to transform the imaginations of his audience. The first involved effacing the false ideas that led to sedition by enlightening men from the kingdom of spiritual darkness. I thus advance an interpretation of Hobbes’s eschatology focused upon his attempt to dislodge certain theological conceptions from the minds of men. The second involved replacing this religious imagery with the fiction of the body politic and the image of the mortal God, which, I argue, Hobbes developed in order to transform the way that men conceive of their relationship with the commonwealth. I conclude by adumbrating the implications of my reading for Hobbes’s social contract theory and showing why the covenant that generates the commonwealth is best understood as imaginary.

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References

13

Hobbes, Leviathan, 42–44.

16

Hobbes, Leviathan, 38.

23

Hobbes, Leviathan, 78.

27

Butler, Imagination and Politics, 142.

30

Hobbes, Leviathan, 34; see also Concerning Body, IV.25.9. Similarly, Hobbes later recounted stories of how the “dreams and prognostications” of false prophets excited sedition during the Long Parliament, Behemoth, 187–188.

31

Hobbes, Leviathan, 956.

32

S. Handley, Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007), especially 16–17, 26–28. See also P. Marshall, Mother Leakey and the Bishop: A Ghost Story (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 217–220.

33

Hobbes, Leviathan, 510.

35

Hobbes, Leviathan, 610–630.

37

Hobbes, Leviathan, 640.

39

Hobbes, Leviathan, 716; a point he reiterated forcefully in the Appendix to the Latin Leviathan, 1160.

41

Hobbes, Leviathan, 972–976.

42

Ibid., 1016. Hobbes used the language of fiction to make the same point elsewhere: “The other sorts of devils are called in the Scripture dæmonia, which are the feigned Gods of the heathen, and are neither bodies nor spiritual substances, but mere fancies, and fictions of terrified hearts, feigned by the Greeks and other heathen people.” Liberty, Necessity, and Chance, 211.

43

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1012.

45

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1106.

47

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1118–1122.

49

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1226.

50

Hobbes, Behemoth, 57.

52

Hobbes, Leviathan, 732–734. As early as 1641 Hobbes had written that the dispute between the spiritual and civil powers has been the main “cause of ciuill warres, in all places of Christendome”. See “Hobbes to William Cavendish, 23 July 1641,” in Correspondence, 120.

53

Hobbes, Leviathan, 938.

55

Hobbes, Leviathan, 176–178, 570–572.

57

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1030.

59

Q. Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person of the State,” The Journal of Political Philosophy, 7 (1999), 1–29.

60

D. Runciman, “What Kind of Person is Hobbes’s State? A Reply to Skinner,” The Journal of Political Philosophy, 8 (2000), 268–278.

61

Hobbes, Leviathan, 244.

63

Runciman, “What Kind of Person?” 269–270. The idea that representation by fiction applies to only artificial and not to natural persons also appears to be accepted by Monica Brito Vieira when she equates representation by fiction with representation of a non-person; see her The Elements of Representation in Hobbes: Aesthetics, Theatre, Law, and Theology in the Construction of Hobbes’s Theory of the State (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), 153–158.

67

Hobbes, Leviathan, 320.

69

Butler, Imagination and Politics, 164–165. According to Hobbes, punishment is an example that frames and necessitates the will towards virtue, Liberty, Necessity, and Chance, 177.

71

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1032.

73

Hobbes, Leviathan, 180, 636–638.

74

Ibid., 1112.

76

Hobbes, Leviathan, 204.

81

 See also G. Newey, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hobbes and Leviathan (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), 121–123, 146–147. This interpretation of the covenant as imaginary is different to hypothetical accounts of the social contract where the contract is treated merely as a thought experiment, a point worth noting given that Hobbes is often read as a hypothetical contract theorist.

82

 See also Stanton, “Hobbes and Schmitt,” 165–166.

83

Hobbes, Behemoth, 16; see also Elements, XII.6; On the Citizen, VI.11; Leviathan, 380.

86

Hobbes, Leviathan, 574.

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