'The Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-wealth': Thomas Hobbes and Late Renaissance Commentary on Aristotle's Politics

in Hobbes Studies
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Hobbes's relation to the later Aristotelian tradition, in both its scholastic and its humanists variants, has been increasingly explored by scholars. However, on two fundamental points (the naturalness of the city and the use of the matter/form distinction in the political works), there is more to be said in this connection. A close examination of a range of late Renaissance commentaries on Aristotle's Politics shows that they elucidate a picture of pre-civic human nature that had (contrary to Hobbes's implication) much in common with that of Hobbes. Moreover, they deployed the matter-form distinction in their analysis of the city or civitas in ways that are in important respects similar to Hobbes's procedure in De cive and Leviathan. The paper concludes that Hobbes drew on this tradition in multiple ways while at the same time undermining some of its principal conclusions; Hobbes was in no sense an 'Aristotelian' even if his philosophy has substantial debts to Aristotelianism.

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