Reconsidering Hobbes’s Account of Practical Deliberation

In: Hobbes Studies
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  • 1 Leiden University College, Leiden University, Netherlands

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Thomas Hobbes has been frequently criticised for his account of deliberation that purportedly consists merely of, in his own words, an ‘alternate succession of appetite and fear’ and therefore lacks the judgement and reflection commentators think is essential if he is to provide an adequate treatment of practical rationality. In this paper Hobbes’s account of deliberation is analysed in detail and it is argued that it is not vulnerable to this critique. Hobbes takes so-called ‘mental discourse’ to be partly constitutive of the process of practical deliberation, and this provides the cognitive judgement and reflection that critics have claimed it lacks.

  • 6

    P. Riley, Will and Political Legitimacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 34. In the footnote following this passage Riley refers to T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1906), 102-4, where Green argues that motives cannot be merely natural (causes) because they are motives to a self-consciousness and self-consciousness is not a natural event. This reference seems to imply that Riley is driven by a different concern than he actually makes explicit in this passage. What Riley says in this passage is that Hobbes does not distinguish adequately between cognitive and emotive elements when describing deliberation. Green is concerned with the necessary role of self-consciousness when characterising motives and/or reasons. That is an issue beyond the scope of the present paper.

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  • 10

     E.g. T. Irwin, The Development of Ethics: From Suarez to Rousseau, 114. For a reply to this kind of view, a reply I take to be consistent with the views expressed in this paper, see S. Darwall, ‘Normativity and projection in Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan”.

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  • 12

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 37.

  • 13

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 38.

  • 14

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 38.

  • 16

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 38.

  • 17

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 44.

  • 18

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 41.

  • 22

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 21.

  • 23

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 42.

  • 24

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 42.

  • 26

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 21.

  • 27

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 53.

  • 28

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 21.

  • 29

    I Hobbes, Leviathan, 21.

  • 30

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 22. Hobbes is here redefining foresight, prudence, providence and wisdom as meaning the same thing, although Hobbes tends to reserve the term wisdom for particularly astute or far ranging foresight and associates it with reasoning and science.

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  • 31

     E.g. Hobbes, Leviathan, 23, 37, 52, 87.

  • 32

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 46. It should be noted that I have up to now not spoken about Hobbes’s understanding of ‘reason’, and the reference to reason, which I believe is significant in this context, will be explained below.

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  • 33

    Hobbes, Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 326.

  • 35

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 38.

  • 37

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 210. In Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 350, he makes the same point even more explicitly: the criminal ‘had time enough to deliberate whether the action were lawful or not’.

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  • 38

    Hobbes, Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 79.

  • 40

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 36.

  • 41

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 22.

  • 42

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 52.

  • 43

     See A. Vanden Houten, ‘Prudence in Hobbes’s Political Philosophy’, History of Political Thought, 23:2(2002), for an argument that Hobbes is inconsistent when he claims that people are generally equally prudent, while he recognises great differences in judgement and fancy between individuals. Prudence, according to Vanden Houten is to a great extent determined by one’s judgement.

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  • 45

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 21.

  • 46

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 23.

  • 47

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 34.

  • 48

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 76.

  • 50

    I. Hacking, Why does Language matter to Philosophy? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 16. See F. Bacon, ‘The Advancement of Learning’, in Brian Vickers (ed.), Francis Bacon: A Critical Edition of the Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, ed. Errol E. Harris (London: Georghe Allen & Unwin, 1957). See also H. Dawson, ‘Hobbes, Language and Philip Pettit’, Hobbes Studies, 22:2(2009), 220.

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  • 51

    This has lead Tom Sorell, Hobbes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), 85, to argue that Hobbes misconstrues what it is to think. Hobbes seems to believe that thinking is a procession of phantasms, produced by sense and imagination. But in this way, Sorell maintains, Hobbes makes ‘the medium of thinking and the organization of thinking too simple a by-product of sense.’

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  • 52

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 25.

  • 53

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 25.

  • 54

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 30.

  • 56

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 25.

  • 57

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 24.

  • 58

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 25.

  • 60

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 32.

  • 61

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 53.

  • 62

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 35.

  • 64

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 35.

  • 65

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 458. Note that we see here again the two forms of regulated mental discourse distinguished above: ‘when imagining any thing whatsoever, we seek all the possible effects’ and when ‘of an effect imagined, we seek the causes’

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  • 66

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 36.

  • 67

    J. Deigh, ‘Reason and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan’, Journal of History of Philosophy, 34:1(1996), 39.

  • 70

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 23.

  • 74

    Hobbes, The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 186.

  • 77

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 483.

  • 78

    Hobbes, Leviathan, 124.

  • 79

    Hobbes, The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 105. See also, Ibid., 292, 317, 318, 323.

  • 80

    Hobbes, The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 234.

  • 81

    Hobbes, The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 234.

  • 84

    Bramhall, quoted in Hobbes, The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, And Chance, 83.

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