Laurens van Apeldoorn and Robin Douglass
Despite advocating for the necessity of absolutism, Hobbes is adamant that authority can only properly be derived from an act of human artifice and consent. But if the institution of sovereignty is subject to genuine choice, how can it be necessarily absolutist? I argue that one way of resolving this apparent dilemma is to focus on how Hobbes constructs and defends his own claim to authority in the Introduction to Leviathan. By encouraging his readers to read themselves and others, rather than rely on books, Hobbes ironically calls into question his own authority at the outset of his own book. But rather than subverting his claim to authority, it only strengthens it. After examining how this seemingly paradoxical tactic works, I demonstrate how an analogous claim applies to Hobbes’s account of politics.
Past, Present, Future
Bernard Baumrin, Michael Byron and Rosamond Rhodes
The Rational Potential in Hobbes’s Theory
The connection that Hobbes makes between reason, method, and science renders reason a faculty that is not only natural but also acquired and even somewhat exclusive. This idea might pose a serious problem to Hobbes’s political theory, as it relies heavily on the successful use of reason. This problem is demonstrated in Hobbes’s account of the laws of nature, for which some equality in human reason is clearly needed, but Hobbes is not explicit about the relationship between that and the more advanced form of reason that eventually leads to science. This article suggests that Hobbes’s account of reason is developmental. The seed of natural reason is common to everyone, and is sufficient for the establishment of the commonwealth. Thereafter, peace and leisure provide the necessary conditions for developing the rational skill, that is, fulfilling the human potential for rationality. Consequently, under the right circumstances, knowledge and science are expected to progress dramatically for the benefit of society, an open-ended vision which Hobbes nevertheless leaves implicit. Following Hobbes’s account of reason and philosophy closely can therefore show that he might have had great hopes for humankind, and that in this sense he was a key member of an English Enlightenment.
The Servant in Hobbes’s Natural Common-Wealth
Caleb R. Miller
Though Hobbes consistently differentiates between the ‘subject’ and ‘servant’ across Elements of Law, On the Citizen, and Leviathan, we currently lack an exhaustive account of the Hobbesian servant. In this paper, I argue that the distinction would have profound consequences for one’s disposition toward both the commonwealth and the community at large. Because the servant joins under the immediate threat of violence and covenants directly with the sovereign, we would expect her initial experience to contribute to a fundamentally more pessimistic attitude toward the commonwealth and atomistic understanding of her place in the body politic. On one level, this distinction could be used to distinguish privileged populations from otherwise marginalized groups. On another level, however, in revealing both the brute reality of sovereign power and the ways in which she is alienated from it, the servant gives us a more accurate understanding of the commonwealth than the subject’s own.