Hobbes on ‘Conatus’: A Study in the Foundations of Hobbesian Philosophy

In: Hobbes Studies

This paper will deal with the notion of conatus (endeavor) and the role it plays in Hobbes’s program for natural philosophy. As defined by Hobbes, the conatus of a body is essentially its instantaneous motion, and he sees this as the means to account for a variety of phenomena in both natural philosophy and mathematics. Although I foucs principally on Hobbesian physics, I will also consider the extent to which Hobbes’s account of conatus does important explanatory work in his theory of human perception, psychology, and political philosophy. I argue that, in the end, there are important limitations in Hobbes’s account of conatus, but that Leibniz adapted the concept in important ways in developing his science of dynamics.

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    MalcolmAspects of Hobbes p. 150.

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    Tom SorellHobbes (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul1986) p. 22.

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     See Douglas JessephSquaring the Circle: The War between Hobbes and Wallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1999) chapters 1–3 for more on Hobbes’s geometry.

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  • 14

     See Daniel GarberDescartes’ Metaphysical Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1992) Chapter 8 for a detailed examination of the Cartesian laws of impact.

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  • 18

     See Lupoli [Agostino Lupoli‘Power (conatus-endeavour) in the “kinetic actualism” and in the “inertial” psychology of Thomas Hobbes’Hobbes Studies14 (2001): pp 83–103] for an account of conatus and the role it plays in Hobbes’s “inertial” psychology. Barnouw [Jeffrey Barnouw ‘Le vocabulaire du conatus’ in Yves-Charles Zarka ed. Hobbes et son vocabulaire: Études de lexicographie philosophique ( Paris: Vrin 1992)] also emphasizes the link between the role of conatus in Hobbes’s natural philosophy and psychology.

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