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.
The Animadversiones in Elementorum Philosophiae by a little known Flemish scholar G. Moranus, published in Brussels in 1655 was an early European response to Hobbes’s De Corpore. Although it is has been referred to by various Hobbes scholars, such as Noel Malcolm, Doug Jesseph, and Alexander Bird it has been little studied. Previous scholarship has tended to focus on the mathematical criticisms of André Tacquet which Moranus included in the form of a letter in his volume. Moranus’s philosophical objections to Hobbes’s natural philosophy offer a fascinating picture of the critical reception of Hobbes’s work by a religious writer trained in the late Scholastic tradition. Moranus’s opening criticism clearly shows that he is unhappy with Hobbes’s exclusion of the divine and the immaterial from natural philosophy. He asks what authority Hobbes has for breaking with the common understanding of philosophy, as defined by Cicero ‘the knowledge of things human and divine’. He also offers natural philosophical and theological criticisms of Hobbes for overlooking the generation of things involved in the Creation. He also attacks the natural philosophical underpinning of Hobbes’s civil philosophy. In this paper I look at a number of philosophical topics which Moranus criticised in Hobbes’s work, including his mechanical psychology, his theory of imaginary space, his use of the concept of accidents, his blurring of the distinction between the human being and the animal, and his theories of motion. Moranus’s criticisms, which are a mixture of philosophical and theological objections, gives us some clear indications of what made Hobbes’ natural philosophy controversial amongst his contemporaries, and sheds new light on the early continental reception of Hobbes’s work.
The Central Task of De Corpore, Part iii
Hobbes intended and expected De Corpore to secure his place among the foremost mathematicians of his era. This is evident from the content of Part iii of the work, which contains putative solutions to the most eagerly sought mathematical results of the seventeenth century. It is well known that Hobbes failed abysmally in his attempts to solve problems of this sort, but it is not generally understood that the mathematics of De Corpore is closely connected with the work of some of seventeenth-century Europe’s most important mathematicians. This paper investigates the connection between the main mathematical chapters of De Corpore and the work of Galileo Galilei, Bonaventura Cavalieri, and Gilles Personne de Roberval. I show that Hobbes’s approach in Chapter 16 borrows heavily from Galileo’s Two New Sciences, while his treatment of “deficient figures’ in Chapter 17 is nearly identical in method to Cavalieri’s Exercitationes Geometricae Sex. Further, I argue that Hobbes’s attempt to determine the arc length of the parabola in Chapter 18 is intended to use Roberval’s methods to generate a more general result than one that Roberval himself had achieved in the 1640s (when he and Hobbes were both active in the circle of mathematicians around Marin Mersenne). I claim Hobbes was convinced that his first principles had led him to discover a “method of motion” that he mistakenly thought could solve any geometric problem with elementary constructions.