Egoism, Reason, and the Social Contract

In: Hobbes Studies

Bernard Gert’s distinctive interpretation of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes in his recent book may be questioned in at least three areas: (1) Even if Hobbes is not a psychological egoist, he seems to be a desire egoist, which has the consequence, as he understands it, that a person acts at least for his own good in every action. (2) Although there are several senses of reason, it seems that Hobbes uses the idea that reason is calculation of means to ends; while such calculation sets intermediate goals, reason itself does not set ultimate ends. (3) Hobbes’s political theory is best understood as a form of social contract theory because subjects covenant among themselves to authorize the sovereign to protect them; authorization has the consequence that subjects give some of the their rights to the sovereign; but this gifting of rights is not the essence of the origin of the civil state.

  • 1

    Bernard Gert, Hobbes (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), vii. Hereafter, page references will be embedded in the text.

  • 3

    A. P. Martinich, “Interpretation and Hobbes’s Political Philosophy,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2001), 309-331; “The Interpretation of Covenants in Leviathan,” in Leviathan after 350 Years, ed. Tom Sorell and Luke Foisneau (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), 217-40; and “Hobbes’s Erastianism and Interpretation,” Journal of the History of Ideas 70 (2009), 143-63.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5

    Thomas Hobbes, De Cive 3.32. In Thomas Hobbes, Man and Citizen, ed. B. Gert, tr. C. T. Wood (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1972).

  • 6

    Hobbes, De Cive 1.10.

  • 7

    Hobbes, De Cive 1.10.

  • 9

    Hobbes, Leviathan 6.7. In Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, ed. with Introduction and Notes by Edwin Curley (Hackett: Indianapolis / Cambridge, 1994).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10

    Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic, 7.3, ed. by F. Tönnies (Oxford: James Thornton, 1888.

  • 11

    Hobbes, De Homine 11.4. In Hobbes, Man and Citizen, 47.

  • 13

    Hobbes, Leviathan 14.8; see also Leviathan 15.16, and 25.4 and Elements of Law Part II. 5.4. Gert thinks that the fact that Hobbes defined such terms as ‘benevolence’, ‘good will’, and ‘charity’ is proof that Hobbes believed benevolent and charitable actions exist. That is like arguing that since an atheist defines the word ‘God’, he must believe that God exists. Hobbes doubtless recognizes that people call some actions benevolent and charitable. What he would deny, I think, is that these are purely altruistic actions. As the example of Hobbes giving money to a beggar shows, one can act ‘charitably’, but the proper analysis of the action has an egoistic element.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 16

    Hobbes, Leviathan 18.20.

  • 17

    Hobbes, Leviathan 5.2 see also 5.1; Gert 49.

  • 18

    Hobbes, De Cive 1.1. Hobbes has a more relaxed statement of the faculties of men in the Elements of Law (1.1): “Man’s nature is the sum of his natural faculties and powers, as the faculties of nutrition, motion, generation, sense, reason, &c. For these powers we do unanimously call natural”.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 19

     See also Bernard Gert, “Hobbes on Reason,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2001), 243-257.

  • 20

    Hobbes, Leviathan 6.2.

  • 21

    Hobbes, Leviathan 14.3.

  • 22

    Hobbes, Leviathan 14.1.

  • 23

    Hobbes, De Cive 1.1.

  • 25

    Hobbes, De Cive 3.29.

  • 27

    Hobbes, De Cive 1.7; cf. Gert 2001: 251.

  • 28

    D. Braybrooke, Natural Law Modernized (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 90-124.

  • 29

    Hobbes, De Cive 8.1; cf. 113 and 158.

  • 30

     See Hobbes, De Cive 5.12.

  • 32

    Hobbes, Leviathan 14.7.

  • 34

    Hobbes, Leviathan 14.11.

  • 35

    Hobbes, Leviathan 19.23.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 124 120 10
Full Text Views 197 185 6
PDF Downloads 40 40 1