The aim of this article is to explore some of what Hobbes says in Leviathan about what the Leviathan is. I propose that Hobbes is not finally clear on this score. Nonetheless, such indeterminacy might be revealing, insofar as it points us in different directions regarding how the state can be conceptualized, and what it is thought able to do. The paper is thus deliberately open ended: it does not aim to definitively settle interpretative issues, but rather to use Hobbes as a way of thinking about the differing potentials of state theory.
There are four books that have been advertised in sales catalogues as possessing the inscription ‘Tho. Hobbes’ and having once been owned by Thomas Hobbes. But how confident can we be that they belonged to the famous philosopher? This research note gathers evidence for assessing whether or not this quartet of books were once in the possession of Hobbes of Malmesbury, with particular attention given to a previously undiscussed edition of Josuah Sylvester’s Devine Weekes and Workes (1611) sold to the University of Illinois in 1951 as Hobbes’s copy. The evidence is insufficient to connect any of the four books to Hobbes securely, and in at least one case an Oxford undergraduate of the same name emerges as a stronger candidate. This conclusion confirms that the catalogues at Chatsworth are our principal source for knowing which books Hobbes might have read.
Using the example of ghosts and religion, this paper argues for the importance of social context and background operative in Hobbes’s account of social life and, in particular, the role of environment, education, and language in explaining much of what we think we know, and much of what we believe. The paper looks to aspects of Hobbes’s epistemology and his account of belief, to make the case that he recognizes how a kind of social conditioning is required to sustain certain beliefs. The paper briefly concludes with a focus on the commonwealth itself and how the example of religion and religious belief extends to the commonwealth and the kinds of beliefs required for the commonwealth to sustain itself.
There is ongoing scholarly debate over the role that Hobbes’s laws of nature play in grounding the moral requirement that subjects obey the government under which they live. This essay demonstrates how the laws of nature, when understood as natural duties, may directly ground a moral duty to obey one’s sovereign without positing that subjects have undertaken any covenant of subjection. Such a grounding avoids the problems that attend accounts that depend on tacit covenant and coerced covenant. The essay describes the advantages of a natural duty account of the laws of nature over accounts that regard those laws as contractual obligations entered through voluntary acts, or as legal obligations to treat the natural laws as literal laws legislated by a sovereign God.
Diversified Communication in Thomas Hobbes’s Political Philosophy
Eva Helene Odzuck
While there are old questions in research on Hobbes regarding which audience he addressed in each of his different works – e.g. there are speculations that De Cive is addressed to scientists and Leviathan to the English people – another question has rarely been discussed and only recently reconsidered: Might Hobbes have addressed different audiences also within one and the same text, and if so, might he have intended to communicate different messages to different readers? As ‘Straussian’ as this question might sound, it does not require us to impose external principles of hermeneutics on Hobbes’s texts. As this paper will argue, there is strong plausibility for the claim that Hobbes himself believes in the possibility and the necessity of ‘diversified communication’ or, to state it differently, to communicate different things to different people within one and the same text. By analysing Hobbes’s passion-grounded hermeneutics that is expressed both in Hobbes’s political writings and in his writings on science and on poetry, I show that it is very likely that Hobbes wrote ‘not all to all’ but instead designed different arguments for different people. Employing the heterogeneity principle in interpreting Hobbes’s texts might thus shed new light on some persistent puzzles of Hobbes’s political philosophy.
Douglas C. Wadle
In Leviathan, Hobbes embraces three seemingly inconsistent claims: (1) the unity of a multitude is secured only by the unity of its representer, (2) assemblies can represent other multitudes, and (3) assemblies are, or are constituted by, multitudes. Together these claims require that a representative assembly, itself, be represented. If that representer is another assembly, it too will need a unifying representer, and so on. To stop a regress, we will need an already unified representer (i.e., one that is not an assembly). But a multitude can only speak or act through its representer, and an assembly is a multitude, so any representing done by the assembly is actually done by this already unified, regress-stopping representer. That is, if (1) and (3) are true, (2) cannot be. I will argue that this inconsistency is only apparent and that we can resolve it without rejecting any of these three claims (and so without imputing error to Hobbes). We do this by appealing to a representer-as-decision-procedure meeting certain criteria. Such a procedural representer breaks the transitivity of representation such that the assembly it represents (and unifies) can properly represent (and unify) some further multitude. I proceed in my defense of the procedural representer view by addressing a series of problems it faces, the solutions to which give us a progressively clearer picture of the criteria this representer must meet.
A Precursor to Leviathan’s Figurative Invocation
Scholarship on Leviathan has not fully explored the distinctive pattern of language that Hobbes used to invoke the central conceit of the treatise—“that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth.” This note highlights an earlier instance of that rare linguistic construction, one that presented a similar image of political monstrosity several years before Hobbes’s metaphor was published. Verses in Honour of the Reverend and Learned Judge of the Law, Judge Jenkin (1648) celebrated the jurist David Jenkins as a royalist martyr in the fight against “That Giant monster call’d a multitude.” It is possible that the pamphlet might have circulated among the network of English exiles in France, offering Hobbes a linguistic model with which to reconceptualize the early modern understanding of political community.