‘I Professed to Write Not All to All’

Diversified Communication in Thomas Hobbes’s Political Philosophy

In: Hobbes Studies
View More View Less
  • 1 Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Institute of Political Science, Kochstraße 4/21, D-91054 Erlangen Eva.Odzuck@fau.de

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.


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.


When an interpreter reads and interprets a text, his actions are usually guided by principles of some kind. Like glasses with different strength or colour, hermeneutical principles – i.e. hypotheses about the literary genre, the intention of the author, the content of the text and the audience – influence what the interpreter is looking for and may be able to find in a text. These principles might be appropriate or inappropriate; therefore, it is crucial to explicate them and to discuss their aptness for a particular text. In the following, I will explicate and discuss a hypothesis about the audience of Hobbes’s political philosophy. I will argue for the thesis that Hobbes designed his writings with respect to the heterogeneity of his audience; therefore, a hermeneutical principle, which I will call the ‘heterogeneity principle’, is a necessary principle for interpreting Hobbes’s political philosophy.

In the first Section (1), I will argue that most Hobbes scholarship holds one version or the other of the ‘homogeneity principle’ – the implicit or explicit premise that Hobbes was either writing for a homogeneous readership or intended to create one via a sort of enlightenment. I will also point briefly to recent exceptions to that general trend and show how these studies created, in different respects, awareness for the heterogeneity of the Hobbesian audience. In the second Section (2), I will argue for the claim that Hobbes wrote for different audiences. I will first show (2.1) that Hobbes was a very reflective writer in the sense that he developed deep thoughts about preconditions for and obstacles to understanding. After that (2.2), I will show that, according to Hobbes, one of the preconditions of understanding is the psychological disposition of the audience. I will argue that Hobbes’s own views on interpreting words and actions are based on the premise of passionate and epistemic differences between readers and thus on the premise of a heterogeneous readership. Besides, Hobbes’s own expressions concerning diversified communication provide further reasons to assume that Hobbes himself designed his writings1 according to that principle: I show that Hobbes expressed his admiration for books which contain multiple layers, that he expected his works to be read differently by different people, and that he confesses ‘to write not all to all’ (2.3).

In the third Section (3), I will briefly summarize my argument, discuss the scope of the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle and its relation to and compatibility with existing approaches, and develop an outlook on how the acknowledgement of that principle might be helpful in addressing puzzles of Hobbes’s political philosophy.

1 The Dominance of the Homogeneity Principle in Hobbes Interpretation

Most interpretations of Hobbes’s political philosophy still work with the implicit or explicit hypothesis that Hobbes was writing his political philosophy with a homogeneous readership in mind. The common supposition is that Hobbes was creating a civil science for human beings who are substantially similar. When representatives of the homogeneity premise acknowledge Hobbes’s claim that people differ with regard to their passions and their wits, they usually develop two arguments to defend their homogeneity premise: On the one hand, readers claim that, for Hobbes, the fear of death plays the role of a strong equalizer. While people might be different at the outset, as soon as they are threatened with death or begin to think about the likelihood of a cruel death, differences vanish and people tend to agree that safety and peace are the most important things.2 On the other hand, interpreters hold that Hobbes’s big achievement as a political scientist consists in developing a method and laying out principles, which are ‘intelligible even to the meanest capacity’. According to this line of reasoning, intellectual differences are unimportant, because the core of Hobbes’s laws of nature teaching is accessible for everyone. Once his principles were consistently taught, they would contribute to and enable a general enlightenment.3 The shared supposition is that Hobbes’s political philosophy consists of a civil science addressed to a rather homogeneous group of citizens, to enlighten them and to give them rational reasons for obedient behaviour.4

One might object that religious heterogeneity of the Hobbesian audience has indeed been a topic of Hobbes research: with a view to Parts iii and iv juxtaposed with Parts i and ii of Leviathan, scholars acknowledge that Hobbes may have had the different audiences of religious and non-religious people in mind.5 They claim that while the secular civil science might convince enlightened sovereigns, religious people need to be convinced by an argumentation based on (or at least framed in the language of) the Holy Scripture.6 But even with respect to the religious dividing line, there is a tendency in the literature to regard the appeal to religion or the employment of religious arguments as preparatory, and to think that once people are fully enlightened, the rational arguments of Hobbes’s civil science can convince everyone.7

In the end, then, despite the acknowledgment of different readerships in the realm of religion, scholars hold that once people are fully enlightened, they can ignore the religious parts of Leviathan and read the remaining scientific portion as a homogeneous group of readers. The differences between readerships are thus understood as being only temporary differences that can be rooted out by the right education and a general enlightenment. In sum, then, scholars often maintain one or another version of the homogeneity principle: Either they claim (or implicitly presuppose) that Hobbes wrote for a homogenous readership, or they claim that he tried to enlighten people and by that enlightenment to create a homogeneous audience.

There are some notable and important exceptions to that general tendency: In 1992, Lloyd developed the ‘confluence of reasons’-approach,8 which surpasses the religious-nonreligious-distinction and holds that Hobbes accounts for the heterogeneity of human interests and thus provides different reasons for obedient behaviour. Lloyd, however, holds that interests might be changed by education9 and maintains that people are homogeneous at least in the sense that they share one common passion – the desire to justify themselves.10 In 2006, Hoekstra provided a rich hermeneutical study about Hobbes’s practical notion of philosophy and how it should affect our interpretation. Therein, he developed the hypothesis that Hobbes’s works contain different arguments addressed to different people as a fruitful way to explain inconsistencies and textual problems.11 Although Hoekstra later offered a detailed study about how, according to Hobbes, people differ by nature, we still lack a thorough analysis of how different arguments might be related to constant differences in human nature. In 2014, Evrigenis provided a detailed study of the evolution and the complexity of Hobbes’s state of nature story, arguing that Hobbes employed ‘a variety of images […] to appeal to as broad an audience as possible’.12 But similar to Lloyd, Evrigenis also focuses on alterable interests 13 and not on the natural structure and diversity of human passions.

Although there is, as these examples indicate, a growing scepticism in Hobbes research regarding the appropriateness of the homogeneity principle and important newer approaches which consider different aspects of ‘heterogeneity’ of the Hobbesian audience, the heterogeneity principle is far from being thoroughly analysed and is still rarely employed. By providing elements of such an analysis, which focuses on the heterogeneity of passions, my paper aims to further develop this promising tendency in Hobbes research and to pave the way for the future employment of the heterogeneity principle in the interpretation of Hobbes’s political philosophy.

2 The Heterogeneity Principle in Hobbes Interpretation

In order to consider the comparative plausibility of the premises that Hobbes wrote either for a homogeneous or for a heterogeneous readership, we shall work with the assumption that Hobbes had a certain readership in mind, i.e. that he was a reflective writer who thought carefully about the possible ends, means and preconditions of communication and of written texts especially. Therefore, it might be useful to examine what Hobbes himself says about the actions of reading and understanding (2.1), to check whether he generally expects differences in readership, and if so, of what kind (2.2), and to ask how he characterizes his own writings and readership (2.3).

2.1 Hobbes’s Thoughts About ‘Understanding’ and the Problem of Intentionalistic Hermeneutics

The first important point about Hobbes’s notions of reading and understanding is that he adheres to an intentionalistic hermeneutics. Hobbes claims that the intention of an author is crucial for understanding a text (as well as shorter passages or particular claims within a textual whole):

For it is not the bare Words, but the Scope of the writer that giveth the true light, by which any writing is to bee interpreted; and they that insist upon single Texts, without considering the main Designe, can derive nothing from them cleerly; […].14

Hobbes makes it clear in this passage that a knowledge of the author’s intention is necessary to understand single words, utterances or passages within a text; consequently, it would be necessary for any reader to ask for the intention of the writer – and, in our case, to ask for Hobbes’s intention. But as easy as this principle might sound, to follow this principle is indeed a very difficult task because of the inaccessibility of an author’s intention. Although Hobbes clearly accepts the intentionalistic principle as a general principle of hermeneutics (any writing is to be interpreted in light of the scope of the writer), he is aware of the peculiar difficulties accompanying that hermeneutical principle in the attempt to understand a text:

[…] it must be extreme hard to find out the opinions and meanings of those men that are gone from us long ago, and have left us no other signification thereof but their books […].15

The quotation indicates that Hobbes is quite reflective concerning the problem of understanding. As we shall see, Hobbes’s works contain often neglected, but rich hermeneutical material. When Hobbes addresses the problem of understanding, he enumerates four different reasons that could complicate the task of finding out the intention of the author. First, the author might not have communicated his intention. But even if we can find an expressed intention in a text, Hobbes claims that there are three more reasons that could complicate our task of getting to know the correct understanding of the real or the relevant intention of the passage at stake: Throughout his works, Hobbes discusses the problems of equivocation, of simulating one’s intentions, and of communicating different, possibly contradictory, intentions.
Let us look first at Hobbes’s discussion of the problem of hidden intention. If one can understand a text only in light of the author’s intention, the lack of an expressed intention poses a serious problem for that approach. In Leviathan, Hobbes even admits that he himself sometimes remains silent about his real intention. In the midst of Chapter 30 (where Hobbes acts in the role of a counsellor, offering several recommendations for the sovereign), Hobbes admits to being silent about his intention:

But are not (may some man say) the Universities of England learned enough already to do that? Or is it you will undertake to teach the Universities? Hard questions. […] But to the later question, it is not fit, nor needfull for me to say either I, or No: for any man that sees what I am doing, may easily perceive what I think.16

As we can see in the passage, Hobbes also provides a solution for the problem of the unspoken intention: The reader should observe his actions instead.17 How can we understand that? I think it makes sense to understand Hobbes’s recommendation to observe his actions as a recommendation to concentrate on what he’s doing as an author in the text and thus to reconstruct his intention: In fact, Hobbes makes it clear at several places in Leviathan that he indeed thinks that universities need a reform. By observing his deeds of formulating a critique18 and proposing to change the curriculum of the universities,19 the reader can know the intention without Hobbes communicating it expressis verbis.20 We will later see that this potential solution of observing the actions of an author is, according to Hobbes, neither an easy nor an infallible way of finding out the author’s intention.

Second, even if the author communicates his intention, words are not clear and self-evident but in need of interpretation, and the context of an utterance often changes the meaning of a phrase completely. On multiple occasions, Hobbes maintains that the English language in particular is full of words with multiple meanings21 and expresses his concern with the problem of equivocation. Hobbes himself defined ‘equivocal’ names as names ‘which mean sometimes one thing and sometimes another’.22 Since Hobbes states that nearly every word can have multiple meanings given the context in which it appears, in principle, given that almost every word can become a polysemic word due to its changing contexts, this problem of equivocation is a severe problem of hermeneutics. Hobbes admits the relevance of that problem for intentionalistic hermeneutics by defining understanding as ‘a great ability in a man […] to deliver himself from equivocation, and to find out the true meaning of what is said’.23

While Hobbes sometimes claims to be able to avoid equivocations by definitions24 and thus draws the image of language as a formal, mathematical language,25 he accepts at other places the idea that language has developed historically and that custom and common use are reasons for the multiple meanings of words, which – in contrast to geometry – simply cannot be avoided in ordinary discourse. Therefore, even if one defines some words, as Hobbes does occasionally, it is simply not possible to avoid equivocations if one does not define all words, but uses definitions within the greater framework of a language, which is based on custom and common use. Hobbes even admits sometimes that his own discourse might not be free from equivocations.26

Thus, even when an intention or parts of it are expressed in a text, the proposition might be open to different interpretations because the same words can mean very different things within different pragmatic contexts. An expressed intention is in need of interpretation, too, and especially in written texts,27 it can be a hard task to reconstruct the pragmatic context, which allows one to understand the intention.

Third, intentions might be simulated and thus one can never be sure whether a communicated intention is in fact the real intention of an author (or an actor). Throughout his works, Hobbes maintains that people can and will simulate their intentions:28

And first, generally all Passions may be expressed Indicatively; as I love, I feare, I joy, I deliberate, I will, I command […]. These forms of Speech, I say, are expressions, or voluntary significations of our Passions: but certain signes they be not; because they may be used arbitrarily, whether they that use them, have such Passions or not. The best signes of Passions present, are in the countenance, motions of the body, actions, and ends, or aimes, which we otherwise know the man to have.29

At this place again, Hobbes mentions the reconstruction of the pragmatic context as a possible solution for the problem of simulated or dissimulated intentions: To observe the man who is speaking and his actions, and thus to reconstruct the pragmatic context of an utterance means to concentrate on ‘ends, or aimes, which we otherwise know the man to have’. Uncovering a simulated intention is possible only if one manages to evaluate a proposition within the pragmatic context of a speech – Hobbes’s solution to the problem of finding out the real intention seems to be the same in all the different cases.
The last problem for deciphering the author’s intention consists in the possibility that the author might communicate different intentions, and one can, therefore, not be sure which is the true intention or – given the possibility that an author might pursue different ends in his writings – which is the relevant intention for interpreting a certain passage or claim:

When it happeneth that a man signifieth unto us two contradictory opinions whereof the one is clearly and directly signified, and the other either drawn from that by consequence, or not known to be contradictory to it; then (when he is not present to explicate himself better) we are to take the former of his opinions; for that is clearly signified to be his, and directly, whereas the other might proceed from error in the deduction, or ignorance of the repugnancy. The like is also held in two contradictory expressions of a man’s intention and will, for the same reason.30

As we have shown, Hobbes accepts the premise of an intentionalistic hermeneutics and reflects deeply on obstacles to that hermeneutical approach, which generally consist in the difficulty of getting to know the intention of the author: First, the author could be silent about his intention. Second, even if the author utters a claim concerning his intention, there is the danger of equivocation and thus the danger of misunderstanding his intention. Third, the author could simulate his intention, i.e. declare something to be his intention, which is not. Fourth, the author could communicate different, also possibly contradictory, intentions (so that it would be hard to decide for the reader which intention is the real, or at least the relevant, one in a given case). For our claim that Hobbes wrote for a heterogeneous readership, it is essential that Hobbes does not only enumerate these different problems of understanding, but also mentions – as was indicated before – a way to resolve these problems: the reconstruction of the pragmatic context. We shall show in what follows that this solution presupposes certain qualities and abilities in the readership, which, according to Hobbes, are not shared by all people and thus argue that Hobbes holds the premise of a heterogeneous readership.

2.2 Solving the Problem of Intentionalistic Hermeneutics? Preconditions of Understanding in the Audience

In the above quoted passage of Leviathan 30, in which Hobbes admits to being silent about his intention, he recommends that the reader pay attention to his actions instead. Hobbes seems to suggest, then, that the observance of actions or – to state it differently – the reconstruction of the pragmatic context of each utterance – would be the way to reconstruct the intention of an author.31 But as easy as that way might sound, and as easy as that way seemed to be in the mentioned case (to pay attention to his actions of criticizing the universities and proposing to change the curriculum), Hobbes claims in the 25th chapter that the reconstruction of the pragmatic context of an utterance in a written text is something quite complicated. He claims that while in a spoken situation most people would be able to differentiate between counsel and command, in a written text these very same people would lack either the ability or the willingness to ‘enter into a consideration of the circumstances’ and to observe ‘who it is that speaketh, and to whom the Speech is directed, and upon what occasion’:

For the words Doe this, are the words not onely of him that Commandeth; but also of him that giveth Counsell; and of him that Exhorteth; and yet there are but few, that see not, that these are very different things; or that cannot distinguish between them, when they perceive who it is that speaketh, and to whom the Speech is directed, and upon what occasion. But finding those phrases in mens writings, and being not able, or not willing to enter into a consideration of the circumstances, they mistake sometimes the Precepts of Counsellors, for the Precepts of them that Command; and sometimes the contrary; according as it best agreeth with the conclusions they would inferre, or the actions they approve.32

Hobbes thus clearly states that he expects a heterogeneous readership and points to some preconditions for understanding in the audience, which are not shared by all people. But it is not clear at this point what kind of differences Hobbes has in mind. What kind of heterogeneity does Hobbes expect in the audience?
The Introduction of Leviathan is crucial for answering that question, because Hobbes begins there to develop his passion-grounded hermeneutics. In the Introduction of Leviathan, Hobbes discusses the meaning of the sayings ‘Wisedome is acquired not by reading of Books, but of Men’ and the Socratic dictum ‘Nosce teipsum’, thereby enfolding a parallel between reading in books and reading in men. In the discussion of the ‘Nosce teipsum’ saying, Hobbes in fact discusses the topic of how it is possible to read in other persons, i.e. to understand other people’s thoughts and actions. He seems at first to accept the premise that for understanding other people and other people’s actions, a reading of one’s own intentions and thoughts would be a promising or successful way:

Concerning the first, there is a saying much usurped of late, That Wisedome is acquired, not by reading of Books, but of Men. […] But there is another saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; and that is, Nosce teipsum, Read thy self: which was […]meant […]to teach us, that for the similitude of the thoughts, and Passions of one man, to the thoughts, and Passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason, hope, feare, &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and Passions of all other men, upon like occasions.33

But Hobbes hurries to correct himself. Even if the thoughts and actions of men might look similar on the surface, men are indeed very different with respect to their passions and thus the reading of one’s own thoughts and passions is no promising way to understand other men. The difference of passions and desires is responsible for the fact that a reading of one’s own thoughts would be a very error-prone way of understanding other people:

I say the similitude of Passions, which are the same in all men, desire, feare, hope, &c; not the similitude of the objects of the Passions, which are the things desired, feared, hoped, &c: for these the constitution individuall, and particular education do so vary, and they are so easy to be kept from our knowledge, that the characters of mans heart, blotted and confounded as they are, with dissembling, lying, counterfeiting, and erroneous doctrines, are legible onely to him that searcheth hearts.34

While all people want something, fear something or hope for something, the objects of their desires are quite different. Hobbes claims that the existing passions and intentions of the reader, who reads in himself, form a natural limit for his ability to understand the actions of another person, because a comparison would only be helpful if the actions and intentions of the compared person are similar to his own:

And though by mens actions wee do discover their designe sometimes; yet to do it without comparing them with our own, and distinguishing all circumstances, by which the case may come to be altered, is to decipher without a key, and be for the most part deceived, by too much trust, or by too much diffidence; as he that reads, is himself a good or evil man. But let one man read another by his actions never so perfectly, it serves him onely with his acquaintance, which are but few.35

In this passage, Hobbes seems to give two reasons for the difficulty of reconstructing the intention of an actor: First, the lack of comparing the actions with one’s own actions and intentions and second, the lack of ‘distinguishing all circumstances’. But on a closer look, it makes more sense to understand the ‘and distinguishing’ not as a second, different reason, but as a qualification of the first reason: Even if people read in themselves and use the result of their reading – their intentions – as a key to decipher the actions of other people, this method would be highly error-prone, because people differ with respect to their passions and intentions. Hobbes’s metaphor of ‘deciphering without a key’ expresses the idea that in most cases, when one tries to get to know the intentions of another person by reading in oneself, this method would fail. So, the real problem seems to be that by reading in themselves, people would not be able to distinguish all circumstances because their ability to think about very different possible intentions would be restricted by their own passions and intentions.36 The Introduction of Leviathan thus can serve as a first answer to the question of what kind of heterogeneity Hobbes expects in the audience: The passions and intentions of the readers are the reason why most people would not be able to ‘distinguish all circumstances, by which the case may be altered’. The natural endowment of passions forms a limit for the understanding of other people or other people’s actions.

Hobbes’s proposed way to find out the intention of an author – the observance of the actions and the reconstruction of the greater pragmatic context – is thus no method which can be employed by all people. Since people differ with respect to their passions and intentions, they would come to different conclusions regarding the intention of an author, even if they pay attention to his actions and the pragmatic context of an utterance.37 People’s different passions are the reason for different ‘readings’ of other men (including the actions of an author writing a book), because successful reading would presuppose a similarity of passions and intentions, and most people simply are not similar in this respect.38

But the similarity of passions is only one psychological precondition of understanding other people’s actions and intentions. In addition, Hobbes maintains that the existence and strength of particular passions is also a necessary psychological precondition of understanding and that only some people possess these particular passions. In the 8th chapter of Leviathan, Hobbes discusses differences between people regarding their passions and draws epistemological and hermeneutical conclusions: Due to these differences in the passions, people would think differently, i.e. pay attention to different things and would not be equally able to think quickly and effectively. Hobbes starts his chapter on intellectual virtues with the claim that virtue consists in comparison and thus presupposes inequality.39 He begins with explaining a difference between people in the speed and focus of their thinking:

This naturall wit, consisteth principally in two things; Celerity of Imagining, (that is, swift succession of one thought to another;) and steddy direction to some approved end. On the Contrary a slow Imagination, maketh that Defect, or fault of the mind, which is commonly called Dulnesse, Stupidity, and sometimes by other means that signifie slownesse of motion, or difficulty to be moved.40

Hobbes continues to explain that difference by addressing its source (a difference in the passions) and the epistemic or hermeneutic consequences of these differences:

And this difference of quicknesse, is caused by the difference of mens passions; that love and dislike, some one thing, some another: and therefore some mens thoughts run one way, some another; and are held to, and observe differently the things that passe through their imagination.41

In this passage, Hobbes claims not only that people pay attention to different things according to what they like or dislike (a claim that seems not very contestable), but also that there is a difference of quickness. According to Hobbes, only people with certain passions can obtain a certain quickness and steadiness of their thoughts. Which passions does Hobbes have in mind? In addition to the similarity of intentions and passions as a precondition for understanding other people, Hobbes mentions the desire of power as a necessary precondition to think quickly and effectively:

The causes of this difference of Witts, are in the Passions: and the difference of Passions, proceedeth partly from the different Constitution of the body, and partly from different Education. […] The Passions that most of all cause the differences of Wit, are principally, the more or lesse Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour. All which may be reduced to the first, that is Desire of Power. For Riches, Knowledge and Honour are but severall sorts of Power. And therefore, a man who has no great Passion for any of these things; but is as men terme it indifferent; though he may be so farre a good man, as to be free from giving offence; yet he cannot possibly have either a great Fancy, or much Judgment. For the Thoughts, are to the Desires, as Scouts, and Spies, to range abroad, and find the way to the things Desired: All Stedinesse of the minds motion, and all quicknesse of the same, proceeding from thence. For as to have no Desire, is to be Dead: so to have weak passions, is Dulnesse; and to have passions indifferently for every thing, giddinesse, and Distraction; and to have stronger, and more vehement Passions for any thing, than is ordinarily seen in others, is that which men call madnesse. 42

Thus, according to Hobbes, only people with certain passions can possess certain intellectual virtues.43 In his description of the two intellectual virtues judgment and fancy, Hobbes draws special attention to the role of judgment in conversation and describes it as an ability to ‘discern times, places and persons’:

But they that observe their differences, and dissimiltudes; which is called Distinguishing, and Discerning, and Judging between thing and thing; in case, such discerning not be easie, are said to have a good Judgment: and particularly in matter of conversation and businesse; wherein, times, places, and persons are to be discerned, this Vertue is called discretion.44

This definition of judgement is thus very close to Hobbes’s advice to reconstruct the pragmatic context of an utterance as a key to deciphering the intention of an actor. According to Hobbes, to think effectively and to distinguish between different possible contexts of a speech (who says what? to whom? when? where? upon what occasion? in what role?) depends on intellectual virtues, which, due to their difference in passions, not all people share. Hobbes dramatically describes the passion-based differences between people in the Elements of Law in the chapter Of the difference between men in their discerning faculty and the cause. There, he divides mankind into two different parts according to their passions: On the one hand, there are people ‘whose ends are some sensual or bodily delight’ – these people are not curious or not curious enough and therefore observe and consider less than people, who, on the other hand, pursue the ways of knowledge or power:

The difference therefore of wits hath its original from the different passions, and from the ends to which their appetite leadeth them. And first, those men whose ends are some sensual delight; and generally are addicted to ease, food, onerations and exonerations of the body, must of necessity thereby be the less delighted with those imaginations that conduce not to those ends, such as are imaginations of honour and glory, which, as I have said before, have respect to the future: for sensuality consisteth in the pleasure of the senses, which please only for the present, and taketh away the inclination to observe such things as conduce to honour; and consequently maketh men less curious, and less ambitious, whereby they less consider the way either to knowledge or to power; in which two consisteth all the excellency of power cognitive. And this is it which men call dulness; and proceedeth from the appetite of sensual or bodily delight.45

Unlike dull people, curious people are able to find both ‘unexpected similitude in things’ and ‘discern suddenly dissimilitude in things that otherwise appear the same’.46 Judgment – the ability to discern times, places and persons, which is crucial for the hermeneutical task of reconstructing the pragmatic context (to know ‘who speaks, to whom and on what occasion’) – is a virtue which, according to Hobbes, dull people either don’t or hardly possess.47

At another place, Hobbes describes the ability to think in terms of means and intentions – and especially the ability to articulate, review and question one’s own hypotheses about the author’s intention – as prudence. Again, he claims that these ‘observations are not easy’ and claims that people differ also in respect to that virtue.48

Thus the psychological structure of the audience is, according to Hobbes, at least in two different ways, a precondition for understanding: On the one hand, Hobbes describes a similarity of passions and intentions as a precondition for understanding other people. On the other hand, the existence of certain passions is described as a precondition for intellectual virtues, which help one to think quickly and purposively and to observe the pragmatic context of a situation and thus are important virtues for the task of understanding. Both – the similarity of passions and intentions and the existence of strong passions for knowledge, power or honour – are, according to Hobbes, psychological preconditions for understanding, which are not very common. People thus form a heterogeneous readership because of the heterogeneity of their passions.

In sum, we have cited passages of Hobbes’s works in the last two sections to argue for the following claims: (a) Hobbes is very aware of the problem of understanding actions and texts. (b) Hobbes adheres to an intentionalistic hermeneutics. (c) Hobbes discusses the specific problems of intentionalistic hermeneutics, including silence about one’s intention, equivocation, betrayal and the existence of different, possibly contradictory intentions. (d) Hobbes proposes a solution for these problems: the reconstruction of the pragmatic context. (e) Hobbes claims that there are preconditions for understanding that are rooted in the psychological equipment of the audience. He maintains that the reconstruction of the pragmatic context is no ‘method’ that all people can use successfully. Because men differ in passions and intellectual virtues, some people lack either the ability or the willingness to enter into the necessary consideration of the circumstances.

Given Hobbes’s theory of human nature, in which he holds that people are unequal in strength, experience, reason and passion,49 it was unlikely from the very beginning that Hobbes should have had a homogeneous readership in mind. As our analysis showed, Hobbes explicitly draws hermeneutical conclusions out of his anthropological premise: People’s different passions and intellectual virtues are responsible for their ability and willingness to ask for the intention of the author, to reconstruct the pragmatic context and ‘to distinguish […] all circumstances, by which the case may come to be altered’. If people read texts differently according to their dominating passion, it becomes easy to address multiple audiences with one and the same text, because (a) people would pay attention according to their dominating passions and (b) only people with strong passions for knowledge or power could be expected to be so quick and steady in their thoughts as to be able to lay open the intention of the author. Writing for multiple audiences is thus a technique, which is possible and even necessary, because of psychological and intellectual differences in the readership.

2.3 Writing for Multiple Audiences: Hobbes’s Admirations, Expectations and Confessions Concerning Esoteric Literature

It is highly plausible that Hobbes not only adhered to the heterogeneity principle in theory, but also followed that principle in practice, that is, composed his own writings according to that principle. He expresses his admiration of works that contain different messages on multiple occasions; he supposes that his own book will be read differently by different people; and he confesses to actually having written different things for different people:

As Hoekstra50 has pointed out, Hobbes praises Thucydides for being ‘obscure by purpose’ and having written in a manner ‘that the Common people might not understand him’. Hobbes recommends that ‘a wise man should so write, (though in words understood by all men), that wise men only should be able to commend him’.51 Hoekstra, who considers Hobbes a ‘proponent of esoteric instruction’, has shown that Hobbes’s thoughts about the possibilities of dissimulation and secret communication are no exception in Hobbes’s time but ‘widespread in the Tacitist literature of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century’.52 But how can one use words understood by all men and nevertheless make sure that only some people would be able to find the ‘esoteric instruction’? With the web of a spider, Hobbes finds an image that transports both the idea that by using the same words, one can talk differently to different people, and the idea that to free oneself from the web of words and to adequately reconstruct the context is a hard task which requires psychological preconditions in the readership, i.e. strong wits:

For speech has something in it like to a spider’s web, (as it was said of old of Solon’s laws) for by contexture of words tender and delicate wits are ensnared and stopped; but strong wits break easily through them.53

But even if Hoekstra’s and Evrigenis’s well-founded claims about Hobbes’s esotericism seem to point in the direction of hidden messages, it is important to note that the question of esotericism and the question of different audiences can be answered separately. Readers who are not convinced by the claim that Hobbes planned to hide secret messages in his writings can nevertheless accept the claim that Hobbes wrote for different audiences.54 Especially for this later claim, we can find a wealth of textual evidence.55 Hobbes expresses the expectation that his texts will in fact be read differently. When Hobbes speaks about his own writing in Leviathan, he expects that some people would simply extract information from his book, while others would not be satisfied and would start a dialogue with the text in the sense that they would, for themselves, start to look for objections and contradictions:

And therefore am perswuaded, that he shall read it with a purpose onely to be informed, shall be informed by it. But for those that by Writing, or Publique Discourse, or by their eminent actions, have already engaged themselves to the maintaining of contrary opinions, they will not bee so easily satisfied. For in such cases, it is naturall for men, at one and the same time, both to proceed in reading, and to lose their attention, in the search of objections to that they had read before […].56

While the formulation ‘lose attention’ seems to hold a negative connotation, the formulation ‘in the search of objections’ indicates that it is no lack of concentration, but a very active engagement of a reader who pursues a different end than simply ‘being informed’ and actively concentrates on the logical coherence of different claims. How ‘active’ or ‘passive’ this reader who is sensitive for objections might be, it is at least clear from that passage that Hobbes expects that his works will be read differently, and that it might be more easy to convince people with ‘the purpose only to be informed.’ Hobbes makes a similar claim in his Preface to the Readers of De Cive, where he both expresses the expectation that his works will be read differently and admits that he might have gone below or beyond what logic requires due to his ‘passion for peace’.57
It is in the context of a related claim – the claim that some readers would be disappointed, detect logical flaws and would not accept his teaching – that Hobbes explicitly admits that he addresses different audiences within one and the same work and confesses ‘to write not all to all’:

But if there appear to your Lordship anything less fully demonstrated than to satisfy every reader, the cause was this, that I professed to write not all to all, but some things to geometricians only.58

The possibility that the philosopher Hobbes might have allowed flaws or incompleteness in his demonstrations to pay credit to the passionate and epistemic differences of his audience might seem implausible at first. But, as Hoekstra has pointed out, Hobbes himself refers to Aristotle and his practice of willingly uttering a false philosophy for political reasons.59 Even more important than the appeal to Aristotle, Hobbes explicitly admits that for moral philosophy, to which he counts also his Leviathan,60 a mixture of truths and errors, and of opinions either true or false might be the adequate mixture:

But these [solid Reasoning and powerfull Eloquence, E.O.] are contrary Faculties; the former being grounded upon principles of Truth; the other upon Opinions already received, true or false; and upon the Passions and Interests of men, which are different, and mutable. […] So also Reason, and Eloquence, (though not perhaps in the Naturall Sciences, yet in the Morall) may stand very well together. For wheresoever there is place for adorning and preferring of Errour, there is much more place for adorning and preferring of Truth, if they have it to adorn.61

In this passage, Hobbes states clearly that in moral philosophy, eloquence can be accepted, which means that opinions, which might be wrong, could be included, which means, in consequence, that the standard of truth can be lowered. Since the context of that passage is a statement about different passions of men (a claim which is repeated in that passage, too), one can assume that the need to accept logical flaws or to work with untrue or contradictory opinions is a consequence of that difference in passions. If the passions and interests of men are different and if your goal is to have a powerful eloquence, which is based on these passions and opinions, you might have to accept inconsistencies or logical flaws (which count in a strictly philosophical perspective as untruths). Hobbes’s confession then, that in moral philosophy, opinions, which might be wrong or contradictory, could be accepted, can be understood as a concession to the practical goal of his political philosophy (convincing people to behave peacefully)62 and be explained as a result of the passionate and epistemic differences of his readership. One method to convince different people would be to include different (possibly even contradictory or wrong) opinions, thereby paying heed to the different passion structure of the audience.63

Hobbes’s expectation that his works will be read differently by different kinds of readers is repeated throughout his works. Hobbes distinguishes the ‘few and better sort of readers’, by the ability of ‘drawing out lessons to himself’64 and by being ‘delighted with truth and strength of reason in all things.’65 While one could assume – based on our previous analysis – that the better sort of readers is identical with the power-seekers,66 it is worth noting for the correct understanding of the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle that Hobbes adds another dividing line between people. In contrast to his previous dividing line between power-seekers and the dull people, Hobbes suggests at another place that the really important dividing line exists between philosophers and non-philosophers, because the curiosity of power-seekers is also finite and excludes them from deep meditation.67 So, in our view, Hobbes’s testimonies about the natural differences between men’s passions and his hermeneutical conclusions, his admiration for a style of writing which is addressed to multiple audiences, his expectations that he will be read differently and his profession ‘to write not all to all’, all provide plausibility for our claim that Hobbes wrote for a heterogeneous readership. According to his theory of the passions, it seems reasonable to expect that Hobbes has written for an audience which is (at least) tripartite:68 People who are driven by their bodily passions and are dull, the more intelligent power-seekers who chase riches, honour or authority and (potential) philosophers, who, according to Hobbes, possess the highest degree of curiosity.

3 Summary and Outlook

Our study has argued for the plausibility of the heterogeneity principle as a hermeneutic premise held by Thomas Hobbes throughout his political philosophy. In contrast to a still widespread tendency in current Hobbes scholarship to work with the premise of a homogeneous readership as the addressee of his civil science, we have argued for the recently reconsidered claim that Hobbes wrote his political philosophy for different audiences even within one and the same text. We showed that Hobbes develops deep reflections on the preconditions and obstacles of understanding and that one precondition is rooted in the psychological structure of the audience. As people differ with respect to their passions and intellectual capacities and as these differences are stable and determine the capacity of understanding, the possibility and necessity of communicating different things to different people within one text is rooted in human nature and the structure of human passions. But the claim that Hobbes wrote different things for different people is not suggested only by Hobbes’s passion-grounded hermeneutics. It can also be defended by Hobbes’s expressed admiration for diversified communication and his expectations of how he would be read. We thus argued that the heterogeneity principle is a necessary principle of reading and understanding Hobbes’s texts. We will close our paper with some short considerations of (a) the scope of the passion grounded heterogeneity principle and its compatibility with existing approaches, and (b) some indications of how the employment of that principle might be helpful to address problems of interpretation in Hobbes’s political philosophy.69

Concerning the scope of the heterogeneity principle, we have indicated some awareness that the three main distinctions (philosophers, power-seekers, and dull-minded people following their bodily pleasures) might not constitute an exhaustive list and that it would be necessary to think about the place of, for example, religious and generous people with regard to that tripartition. On the other hand, the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle suggests that the diversity of the audience might be more comprehensive and stable than previous approaches supposed. Despite arguing for some kind of heterogeneity in their approaches, both Lloyd and Evrigenis nevertheless maintain that people share one important passion. In Lloyd’s moral reading of Hobbes’s political philosophy, people share the ‘desire to justify oneself’,70 which, according to Lloyd, allows Hobbes to create one argument that fits for all. In Evrigenis’s rhetorical reading, people share intellectual vanity, which allows Hobbes to appeal to that common passion in the framework of his state of nature story.71 Given Hobbes’s insistence on the diversity of the passions and his claim that reading in other men would be unsuccessful in almost all cases due to the heterogeneity of passions, approaches that assume there is – nevertheless – one passion shared by all, will have to explain this homogeneity premise more thoroughly.

In our view, Hobbes’s claims that the dull people don’t possess judgment and that judgment presupposes certain passions which are not shared equally by all people72 raise some problems for Lloyd’s moral reading of Hobbes’s political philosophy, which focuses on the ‘human faculty of judgment.’73 Equally, Hobbes’s claims that most people don’t use reason in a distinguished way and resemble children, who are called reasonable creatures only due to a future possibility74 do not seem to correspond with Lloyd’s claim that the human faculty of reason (which, according to her, separates man from other creatures) is a widespread foundation of Hobbes’s moral argument.75 According to our analysis, Lloyd’s moral approach – despite all its merits – faces the problem that a moral argument based on the faculty of reasoning, judgment and the desire to justify one’s actions could probably convince only a small part of the Hobbesian audience.

Also, the fact that Hobbes seems to regard the passions both as relatively stable and as important preconditions (or obstacles) for education, provides a reason to reconsider some of the recent highly optimistic reconstructions of Hobbes’s project of enlightenment.76 Hobbes insists throughout his works that people differ with respect to their curiosity and draws a connection between a lack of curiosity or the inquiry into natural causes and the seed of religion.77 He shows no optimism about instilling curiosity in people who are driven by their bodily passions.78 Also, Hobbes does not expect that he can change the fearless power-seekers.79 The will to battle, which, according to Hobbes, not all people share,80 is such a strong passion that it, especially, cannot be driven out by education.81 According to Hobbes’s psychology, education might nevertheless be successful for fearful men in replacing one fear (fear of invisible powers) with another fear (fear of violent death) because in those people bodily passions are the strongest.82 As these examples show, there is some textual evidence for the assumption that Hobbes holds the difference of passions to be comparatively stable. Although some objects of the passions might be changed (replacing the object of one fear through another),83 the existence, strength and hierarchy of different passions within one man seem to be both more fundamental and stable than the objects of the passions, since distinct passions are a precondition for successful learning and a distinguished rationality. Given that supposed stability of the passion-grounded heterogeneity, and the role of the passions as preconditions for education, it might be reasonable to be very cautious with too optimistic claims about the possibility of enlightenment and educational reform.84

In this sense, our passion-grounded heterogeneity principle might complement existing approaches, since it changes the focus from malleable interests to the nature of the passions and since it questions claims about one passion shared by all men, about the possibility of a general enlightenment and the future possibility of a rather homogeneous audience.

But while our analysis suggests that the heterogeneity of the Hobbesian audience might be more comprehensive and more stable than hitherto supposed, because it is, according to Hobbes, rooted in human nature, we do not want to claim that our passion-grounded heterogeneity principle covers all possible meanings of heterogeneity of Hobbesian readership.

There are important studies, which consider different historical audiences of Hobbes’s different works, and studies, which separate different audiences with respect to their role in the theoretical framework of the Hobbesian commonwealth.85 The passion-grounded heterogeneity principle is compatible with these approaches, even if these approaches employ, in the beginning, a slightly different notion of ‘heterogeneity’. It might enrich and complement these approaches in the sense that one could pose the question of Hobbes’s view of the dominating passion of a certain supposed historical (group of) reader(s) and for the dominating passions of the different groups and officeholders in the theoretical framework of the Hobbesian commonwealth.86

What does that mean concretely, i.e. how might an observation of the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle complement these existing approaches and provide alternative answers to persistent puzzles of Hobbes’s political philosophy? We can only indicate briefly at this place what it might look like to employ the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle.

One of the pressing problems of interpretation in Hobbes scholarship is the question of how to explain differences between the different works of Hobbes’s political philosophy. In an influential study, Strauss proposed a developmental thesis for explaining the differences between the Elements of Law and Leviathan concerning Hobbes’s view of honour.87 Similarly, Skinner proposed a developmental thesis for explaining some differences with respect to Hobbes’s view of the place of rhetoric in science.88 It may be that Hobbes indeed changed his mind in the two cases. But the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle suggests another possibility. If we accept Skinner’s well-founded hypothesis that the paramount targeted historical audience was, in the case of the Elements, the nobility, and in the case of Leviathan, the English people,89 and if we add further that, according to Hobbes, people striving for glory are rarer and more intelligent than people following their bodily passions, the differences might be explained by recourse to the psychological disposition of the targeted audience. If appeals to honour are useless for the overall part of the people who follow their bodily passions and find pleasure in the ‘onerations and exonerations of the body’, it might be an effective strategy of a writer to reduce arguments that rely on an ethos of the nobility in a text which aims, through the medium of preachers and teachers, to convince the common citizens to be obedient. Also, if glory seekers are more intelligent than the common people, the increase of rhetorical elements does not necessarily have to be explained by a supposed change of mind of the author concerning the relation of science and rhetoric, but might also be explained as a concession to the supposed psychological structure of the targeted historical audience. If the targeted historical audience is the dull people following their worldly lusts who are neither interested nor experienced in science,90 the increased deployment of rhetorical tools could be explained by Hobbes’s thought that rhetorical tools would be more effective than a complicated scientific analysis to convince a crowd.91 The change between the works could thus be explained not by an authorial change of mind, but by an altered target audience and by reflections upon what kind of argument would be most successful in convincing that kind of audience.92

Further, the heterogeneity principle might help to expand the question of different historical audiences between different works to the question of different historical audiences within one work. Both the fact that Hobbes thinks about different roles and offices within his theoretical framework of a stable commonwealth and the fact that Hobbes holds that there are stable passionate and epistemic differences between people should provide reasons to assume that Hobbes might have wanted to address different audiences within one published work – audiences which could be separated by their role in a future commonwealth and by their psychological disposition. Given these considerations, specific problems of Hobbes interpretation could be addressed, though here I will only briefly raise two: the problem of why central features of Hobbes’s contractualistic argument do not correspond with his definition of demonstration and search for truth, and the problem of why Hobbes states different views regarding the ethos of the nobility, not only between different works, but even within one work.

Let us first spell out the problem of the ‘unscientific’ elements of Hobbes’s contractualistic argument: Interestingly enough, central features of Hobbes’s argument do not correspond with his definition of a scientific language. While Hobbes is clear that metaphors should have no place in demonstration, in counsel and in all rigorous search of truth,93 he clearly employs metaphors in his contractualistic argument: The state is presented as a big man,94 the laws are presented as chains running from the ears of the subject to the mouth of the sovereign.95 How is this best explained? Is Hobbes’s Leviathan no ‘rigorous search for truth’ or does Hobbes not intend to deliver ‘demonstrations’? An answer can be found in Hobbes’s definition of ‘exhortation’ and his consideration related to which group of people exhortations might be useful. While the use of metaphors is excluded in demonstration, counsel, and rigorous search of truth, Hobbes explicitly recommends the use of metaphors in exhortations and recommends the use of exhortations when addressing a crowd:

For he that Exhorteth, doth not deduce the consequences of what he adviseth to be done, and tye himselfe therein to the rigour of true reasoning; but encourages him he Counselleth, to Action: As he that Dehorteth, deterreth him from it. And therefore they have in their speeches, a regard to the common Passions, and opinions of men, in deducing their reasons; and make use of Similtudes, Metaphors, Examples and other tooles of Oratory, to perswade their Hearers of the Utility, Honour, or Justice of following their advise.96

Secondly, that the use of Exhortation and Dehortation lyeth onely, where a man is to speak to a Multitude; […] which are too many to enter into Dispute, and Dialogue with him that speaketh indifferently to them all at once.97

By a closer analysis of the criteria of exhortations, it becomes clear that central features of Hobbes’s contractualistic argument do not fulfil his criteria for scientific speech, but do fulfil his criteria for exhortations:98 Hobbes appeals to the passion of the fear of death; he uses metaphors; and he aims to drive people to obedient behavior, which would be conducive to peace.

The problem that central features of Hobbes’s contractualistic argument do not correspond with his criteria for scientific speech but do correspond with his criteria for exhortation (i.e. appeals to the passions which do not have to be true but must be successful in driving people to action) could thus be explained by employing the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle.99 If Hobbes thinks of the poor-minded dull part of the people as not interested and experienced in science, and if he wanted to convince that part of the people, it would be reasonable to expect that he developed an argument (or provided his argument with a certain embedding), which corresponds to that psychological disposition. It is plausible that Hobbes developed an exhortation, which does not necessarily obey ‘the rigour of true reasoning’, but employs rhetorical tools instead and would therefore be expected to be more effective in driving a crowd of dull people to obedient actions.100 The problem then, that main parts of Hobbes’s argument don’t correspond to Hobbes’s own criteria for a scientific language, but to his criteria for exhortation, can be explained by the fact that his civil science is addressed to different audiences, which might be separated by their dominant passions, intellectual virtues and epistemic abilities and by their different roles within the theoretical framework of the Hobbesian commonwealth.

Correspondingly, the problem that Hobbes is not consistent in his evaluation of death, courage and honour can be explained by the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle and its meaning for different roles in the framework of the Hobbesian commonwealth. It is worth noting that Hobbes holds different positions with regard to honourable actions and attitudes not only between different works (the Elements of Law and Leviathan), but also within one and the same work. While Hobbes plainly expresses the claim that death is the greatest ill101 and rejects the ethos of the nobility when describing duels as ‘the effects of rash speaking’ and as resting on another kind of fear – the ‘fear of dishonour’,102 he on the other hand disparages the fear of death as a womanlike quality (‘feminine courage’)103 and describes courage and the promptness to fight as honourable104 and even as ‘the greatest virtue’ and thus clearly adheres to and appeals to an ethos of the nobility.105 While these different claims concerning honourable attitudes and actions could be regarded as contradictions, if one assumes the development of a consistent theory of honour to be the goal of Hobbes at this place, this problem of contradiction vanishes when one explains the different claims with the help of the passion-grounded heterogeneity principle: If Hobbes holds that appeals to the fear of death would be effective to drive ordinary subjects to obedient actions and holds that appeals to honour and courage would be effective to recruit soldiers and to drive them to courageous actions in the defence of the commonwealth, the different claims can be easily explained as a concession to the different passions of people who fulfil different roles within the framework of the Hobbesian commonwealth.106

In sum, then, we think that a consideration of Hobbes’s passion-grounded heterogeneity principle can complement existing approaches and add some subtle and important differentiation to the still widespread hypothesis that Hobbes’s intention was to develop a civil science for a homogeneous readership: According to our analysis, Hobbes regarded his audience as composed of people with different psychological conditions and different tasks in the commonwealth and therefore did ‘not write all to all’, but developed a diversified rhetorical embedding of his ‘civil science’ as a concession to the heterogeneity of his audience. As our brief outlook aimed to show, acknowledging this differentiation in addressees provides the opportunity to explain some problems of consistency both between different works and within one and the same work. If we accept the heterogeneity principle as a necessary principle for guiding our interpretations, we might be able to dissect and disentangle currently confusing arguments of Hobbes’s political philosophy. According to Hobbes, it is possible that authors may pursue different intentions within one and the same work, and in order to understand these different intentions, it is necessary in each case ‘to perceive who it is that speaketh, and to whom the Speech is directed, and upon what occasion’.107

This work was supported by a postdoc fellowship of the German Academic Exchange Service (daad). Without the ongoing discussion with Kinch Hoekstra over several months and his invaluable comments, this article wouldn’t be the same. The author is likewise indebted to Clemens Kauffmann for supervising the doctoral thesis, in which she started to develop her thoughts about Hobbes’s hermeneutics. The members of the Spring 2016 Berkeley Hobbes Working Group provided helpful thoughts and comments, especially and repeatedly Johan Olsthoorn. The author wants to thank all the participants of the first biannual conference of the European Hobbes Society in Leuven 2016 for reading and discussing the paper with her, especially Sharon Lloyd who provided her with helpful and detailed written comments. Special thanks go to Rosie Wagner and Sam Zeitlin for their friendship and for reading and commenting on the whole manuscript in a very short time. Finally, the author would like to thank the editors at Hobbes Studies for their assistance and her anonymous reviewers for their insightful and helpful feedback.


Abbreviations and editions used: DC: On the Citizen, ed. and tr. R. Tuck and M. Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). DCor: Elements of Philosophy. The First Section, Concerning Body, in: EW I. EL: The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, ed. F. Tönnies (London: Frank Cass, second edition, 1969). EW: The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, ed. W. Molesworth (London: John Bohn, 1839–45). Gon: Answer to Sir William Davenant’s Preface before ‘Gondibert’, in: EW IV. L: Leviathan, 3 vols, ed. N. Malcolm (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2012). LL: Latin Leviathan, in: Leviathan, 3 vols, ed. N. Malcolm (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2012). Thuc: The History of the Grecian War. Written by Thucydides. Translated by Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, in: EW VIII.


Compare Strauss’s thesis about the enlightening function of the fear of death in L. Strauss, Hobbes’ Politische Wissenschaft (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1965), 29f., 34f., 129.


Compare Skinner’s claim about indocability as a superable barrier and his summary of Hobbes’s ‘highly optimistic conclusion’ according to which the true principles of science could be taught to the generality of the people, in Q. Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 300f. S.A. Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Cases in the Laws of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 332 also claims that Hobbes was an optimist concerning education: ‘Hobbes offers an entirely different solution […]: educate people in the truth.’


Compare J. Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 1; Q. Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 1.


Compare J.R. Collins, The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 32f.


Collins, The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, 33.


D. Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 183, 213; J. Waldron, ‘Hobbes and the Principle of Publicity,’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2001), 454, 461. Compare, for a similar claim, also N. Malcolm, Reason of State, Propaganda and the Thirty Years War. An Unknown Translation by Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 123.


S.A. Lloyd, Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan. The Power of Mind over Matter. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 227: ‘Hobbes is aiming at a confluence of reasons for electing always to obey the government under which one lives; this is the form his project of providing everyone with a sufficient reason for rendering political obedience takes’.


S.A. Lloyd, Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan, 51 and 220f.


Compare Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, 90–94.


Compare K. Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy – The Case of Hobbes’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, 106 (2006), 57: ‘But the different arguments may instead be best explained as offered by their author to benefit different audiences […].’


I.D. Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy. The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 21 and 16, n.65, where Evrigenis points to Strauss and Lloyd as previous scholars who considered the heterogeneity of the Hobbesian audience.


I.D. Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, 16.


L 43, 954, 27–30.


EL i.13.8, 68.


L 30, 532, 27–534, 12.


Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 45, highlighted the importance of Hobbes’s avowal of being silent about his intention and the importance of Hobbes’s solution: the observance of actions.


Compare L 1, 24, 26–30 (frequency of insignificant speech in universities), L 46, 1074, 1–8 (the place of philosophy in current universities: handmaid of religion), L Review and Conclusion, 1140, 20–30 (the importance of supervision of the curriculum).


L 31, 574, 12–22: Hobbes here proposes changing the curriculum to promote mathematical sciences and promote the public teaching of Leviathan.


Indeed, Hobbes’s silence about his intention can be easily explained. The context of the passage is that Hobbes is acting as a counsellor and formulating recommendations for the sovereign of how to best maintain power and stabilize sovereignty. According to Hobbes, the selection of doctrines and the ideological control of the universities belong to the sovereign. Therefore, the public profession of the wish to reform the universities and thus explicitly playing the role of a university reformer would be a disobedient and presumptuous act for a subject, even if that subject is a counsellor. This interpretation is thus close to Hoekstra’s notion of a ‘doctrine of doctrines’ (Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 47), according to which subjects may not utter or publish propositions contrary to those laid down by the sovereign. Nevertheless, one might rather describe this view as a self-imposed restriction in the sense that it is not the sovereign, but Hobbes himself who is the author of that restriction: It is Hobbes who provides counsel for sovereigns about which doctrines might be useful to teach publicly (the determination of the curriculum belongs to the sovereign) and it is the very same Hobbes who remains silent when his opinions (that he would do a better job than the sovereign in determining the curriculum) contradict these doctrines.


Gon. 453.


DCor, i.2.12, 22.


EL i.5.7–5.8, 20f.


EL i.4.1, 13.


Compare L 4, 56, 5–8: ‘And therefore in Geometry, (which is the onely Science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind,) men begin at settling the significations of their words; which settling of significations, they call Definitions; and place them in the beginning of their reckoning.’


‘This equivocation of names maketh it difficult to recover those conceptions for which the name was ordained; and that not only in the language of other men, wherein we are to consider the drift, and occasion, and contexture of the speech, as well as the words themselves; but also in our own discourse, which being derived from the custom and common use of speech, representeth not unto us our own conceptions’ (EL i.5.8, 21). Note that Hobbes draws the attention of the reader to the pragmatic context of a speech also at this place – he recommends that one ‘consider the drift, and occasion, and contexture of the speech’.


Compare L 25, 398, 6–16, which will be discussed below.


Compare also L 4, 50, 30–31, in the context of his discussion of ‘abuses of speech’: ‘Thirdly, when by words they declare as their will, which is not’.


L 6, 94, 3–4 and 19–21.


EL i.13.9, 69. While Hobbes hitherto recommended the reconstruction of the pragmatic context as the best way to find out the real intention of an author, he seems to distance himself from that principle in this passage. In the case of two contradictory intentions, where one has been ‘directly signified’ and the other was ‘drawn from that by consequence’ the reader should take the former for bare words. But while this passage might at first glance look like Hobbes wants to introduce a new principle of hermeneutics (focus on the expressed intention instead of reconstructing the pragmatic context), Hobbes luckily explains the passage on two occasions and there clearly states that in the case of two contradictory intentions, the intention derived from the reconstruction of the pragmatic context should be preferred over the expressed intention. Thus, the ‘directly signified intention’ is, according to Hobbes, the intention derived by reconstruction of the pragmatic context, and not the bare words of an expressed intention. Compare EL ii.8.7,173: ‘I say this grant of the people to the senate is of no effect.’ Compare also EL ii.2.13,126: ‘[…] the person or persons exempted or privileged are not thereby released.’


Compare again L 30, 533, 27–534, 12.


L 25, 398, 6–16.


L Introduction, 18, 7–21.


L Introduction, 18, 21–28.


L Introduction, 18, 28–20, 7.


While Hobbes does not explicitly use the word ‘passion’ in this passage but instead speaks of trust and character, the immediate context of the passage (the difference of the objects of men’s passions) and the facts that the passions are a decisive part of a person’s character for Hobbes (compare the previous citation), and that even trust is defined by Hobbes as a passion (compare EL i.9.9, 40), allow the generalization that the problem of understanding and reading other people can be traced back to the diversity of passions.


This restriction of understanding the actions of other people is repeated by Hobbes at the end of the above cited passage of Chapter 25 (L 25, 398, 6–18), where he claims that the reconstruction of a pragmatic context is difficult in written texts and that people would draw conclusions based on ‘actions they approve’.


Hobbes seems to provide a solution to the problem that people differ with respect to their passions (and thus their ability to read in other people is very restricted) at the end of the Introduction. He tells potential sovereigns that he, Hobbes, is in possession of a general kind of knowledge and that the sovereign simply has to consider ‘if he also find not the same in himself’ (L Introduction, 20, 6–13). But one should not take the end of the Introduction as a simple solution for the problem of understanding: First, Hobbes does not really present his own reading as a solution to the problem of understanding, but only as a precondition for successful governing. That could mean that even if the sovereign reads the results of Hobbes’s reading of Mankind, he might not be able to understand every single action of all of his subjects, but he might nevertheless be able to govern a crowd successfully since he knows about widespread passions. Second, the ‘if’ in Hobbes’s sentence is crucial because it allows the possibility that the sovereign does not find the very same passions and intentions in himself, which is – given Hobbes’s previous claims about the difference of passions – very likely. Hobbes’s alleged solution thus seems, instead, to multiply the puzzles.


L 8, 104, 4–6.


L 8, 104, 15–20.


L 8, 104, 21–24.


L 8, 110, 14–35.


Hobbes describes this not as a necessary connection between strong passions and intellectual virtues but holds that the existence of a strong desire for power is a precondition to developing some intellectual virtues: He writes that a man ‘who has no great Passion for any of these things’ (Desire of Riches, Knowledge and Honour) ‘cannot possibly have either a great Fancy, or much Judgment’ (L 8, 110, 26–29). Hobbes here seems to equate people who are driven by their desires for riches, knowledge, and honour and to subsume them under the category of the power-seeker. Later on, we’ll see that, according to Hobbes, there are indeed important differences between people striving for knowledge and people striving for other sorts of power.


L 8, 104, 27–34.


EL i.10.2–10.3, 49f.


EL i.10.4, 50.


‘[…] and both fancy and judgment are commonly comprehended under the name of wit, which seemeth a tenuity and agility of the spirits, contrary to the restiveness of the spirits supposed in those that are dull’ (EL i.10.4, 50).


‘When the thoughts of a man, that has a designe in hand, running over a multitude of things, observes how they conduce to that designe; or what designe they may conduce unto; if his observations be such as are not easie, or usuall, This wit of his is called Prudence […]’ (L 108, 27–33).


Compare K. Hoekstra, ‘Hobbesian Equality,’ in: S.A. Lloyd (ed.): Hobbes today. Insights for the 21 st Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 78.


Compare Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 41. Compare also I.D. Evrigenis, ‘Hobbes’s Thucydides,’ Journal of Military Ethics, 5 (2006), 303–316, esp. 311.


Thuc., xxix.


Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 48f. Compare C. Kauffmann, Strauss und Rawls. Das philosophische Dilemma der Politik, (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2000), 116–138, for an historical overview of the development and usage of this literary technique and for a claim about Strauss’s role in its rediscovery and its political function.


DCor i.3.8, 36.


Compare Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, 16, who develops a beautiful image for this idea of diversified communication: ‘If a single argument cannot convince everyone on its own merits, then the author must give the impression of a tailor-made approach in the midst of mass production […].’


Consider Hoekstra’s thought that the lack of textual evidence for ‘esoteric instruction’ cannot easily be taken as a proof against ‘esotericism’, since techniques like that depend on ‘tactical silence’ (Hoekstra ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 48).


L Review, 1139, 6–12.


DC Preface, 15: ‘But for the sake of those who have been perplexed by the principles […] as they have not followed their passions but their own real understanding in making their comments, I’ve added notes in some places, which I thought might satisfy my critics. […] For these reasons, I beg and beseech you, Readers, to be good enough to have patience if you find some things either less or more sharply expressed than was necessary, since they are […] the words of […] one who has a passion of peace […].’


DCor Epistle Dedicatory, xif.


Compare Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 45.


Compare L 31, 574, 1–22.


L Review, 1132, 13–16 and 1133, 5–9.


Compare Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 56.


In this point, my reading of the passage in the Review and Conclusion is thus close to Evrigenis’s view that due to conflicting interests, ‘one may be called on to try to reconcile irreconcilable demands’ (Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, 16).


Thuc., viii and x.


DCor i.1.1, 2.


This seemed to be the crucial dividing line between people according to L 8, 110, 14–35 and EL i.10.2–10.3, 49.


‘They, whom necessity, or covetousnesse keepeth attent on their trades, and labour; and they, on the other side, whom superfluity, or sloth carrieth after their sensuall pleasures, (which two sorts of men take up the greatest part of Man-kind,) being diverted from the deep meditation, which the learning of truth, not onely in the matter of Naturall Justice, but also of all other Sciences necessarily requireth, receive the Notions of their duty […] from such […] as having the Faculty of discoursing readily, and plausibly, seem wiser and better learned in Cases of Law, and Conscience, than themselves’ (L 30, 532, 13–22). See also EL i.9.18, 46: ‘And from the degrees of curiosity proceed also the degrees of knowledge among men; for to a man in the chase of riches or authority, (which in respect of knowledge are but sensuality) it is a diversion of little pleasure to consider, whether it be the motion of the sun or the earth that maketh the day, or to enter into other contemplation of any strange accident, than whether it conduce or not to the end he pursueth.’


By claiming that Hobbes’s audience was, in terms of the passions, ‘at least’ tripartite, I want to indicate that this list might not be exhaustive. Open questions at the moment are for example whether Hobbes’s thoughts about the distribution of these passions would be valid also for the realm of religion. If so, Hobbes might have assumed that most religious people could be enlightened at least in the sense that they would be ‘guided by clear thoughts of their wordly lust’ (L 8, 122, 9–10) and thus subsumed under the category of people following their bodily pleasures. If the tripartition would also be valid in the religious realm, one would expect to find there also the category of power seekers (one could think of some powerful officeholders in churches who use the fear of people to govern them), and also the category of philosophers – one could think of persons interested in the nature of god. Another question would be how the generous man fits into this tripartition (compare L 14, 216: ‘This later is a Generosity too rarely found to be presumed on, especially in the pursuers of Wealth, Command, or sensuall Pleasure; which are the greatest part of Mankind’). Also, while I focused on the heterogeneity of passions and intellectual abilities in my analysis, there are other important aspects of ‘heterogeneity’, which will be discussed in the next chapter.


There is a growing sensitivity for the problem of interpretation in Hobbes research. Signs of this sensitivity can be found in the different papers of Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy’; D. Baumgold ‘The Difficulties of Hobbes Interpretation’, Political Theory, 36 (2008), 827–855; P. Springborg ‘The Paradoxical Hobbes – A Critical Response to the Hobbes Symposium’, Political Theory, 37 (2009), 676–688 and A.P. Martinich, ‘Epicureanism and Calvinism in Hobbes’s Philosophy: Consequences of Interpretation,’ Philosophical Readings 4 (2012), 3–15.


Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, 89: ‘Hobbes held that humans care deeply about justifying themselves to others.’ Compare ibid., 92: ‘The singular importance of the human desire for self-justification may appear fanciful, until we recognize how it is connected to our faculty of reason, and consider what is the significance of our status as reasoning creatures.’


Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, 233: ‘Perhaps most importantly for the project of alleged enlightenment, reason is not equally available to all, even though vanity is.’ See also 235: ‘Hobbes’s insight that each reader thinks of himself as best equipped to judge his own circumstances and determine what he needs is central to his novel approach to civil philosophy.’


Compare once again L 8, 110, 26–29, where Hobbes wrote that a man ‘who has no great Passion for any of these things’ (Desire of Riches, Knowledge and Honour) ‘cannot possibly have either a great Fancy, or much Judgment.’


Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, 93.


L 5, 74, 1–15. Compare also Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, 250.


Compare Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, 92f., esp. 92: ‘Many lesser animals share with us the capacity to fit means to desired ends, and so perform instrumental reasoning in that sense. But without the faculty of judgment, we would be no more capable than they of deciding whether it is appropriate to act on the various ends we happen to have.’


Compare Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, 231.


Compare L 12, 164, 7–9; DCor i.1.1, 1.


Compare L 8, 118, 15–18; EL i.10.2–10.3, 49.


See L 30, 524, 2–12.


Compare L 13, 190, 16–21.


See L 10, 142, n. 40.


Compare L 2, 34, 26–30.


Compare Lloyd, Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan, 221: ‘The key is to see that the passions have proper objects, and this is accomplished through education.’ See also ibid. 251: ‘What do we know about people from Hobbes’s remarks? We know that people are profoundly malleable through education and socialization. Even their passions are formed by culture and education, not to mention the objects of their passions […].’


While Hobbes thus seems to be skeptical concerning the possibility of a general enlightenment, the intellectual heterogeneity does not necessarily presuppose the political institution of a philosophical elite. To maintain and guarantee stability, Hobbes does not opt for a philosopher king. Rather, a potentially uneducated sovereign who follows Hobbes’s advice ‘to prevent the public teaching’ of Leviathan, a text that combines different arguments addressed to different passions, is a promising tool to guarantee stability.


Compare Hoekstra’s research about Hobbes’s role as a counsellor of the sovereign, especially in Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 41f., 57f.


The sovereign, the obedient subject, the preacher in the church and universities, the minister, the magistrate, the judge, the counsellor and the soldier all play different roles and fulfil different tasks in the commonwealth, and there might be passions which are more or less conducive to the fulfilment of the different tasks.


Compare Strauss, Hobbes’ Politische Wissenschaft, 114.


Compare Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, 426.




Compare L 5, 74, 9–10: ‘For as for Science, or certain rules of their actions, they [the most part of men, E.O.] are so farre from it, that they know not what it is.’


Compare Hobbes’s definition of ‘exhortation’ in L 25, 400, 29–38, which will be discussed below.


Skinner rejects the possibility that the targeted audience might explain the difference between the works by arguing that the Latin Leviathan ‘is obviously a further treatise intended for the learned’ but ‘arguably the most rhetorical of all works’ (Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, 427). But that rejection rests on the premise that the people could not be the targeted audience of Hobbes’s Latin Leviathan because they could not read Latin. If, however, we take into account Hobbes’s own description of how the content of his Leviathan might come to the mind of the people (L 30) – by doctors, teachers and preachers who certainly could read Latin (compare also T.M. Bejan, ‘Teaching the Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Education,’ Oxford Review of Education, 36 (2010), 618) – we can reject that argument as being founded on a false premise.


L 8, 108, 1–6.


L Introduction, 16, 11–12.


L 21, 328, 1–6.


L 25, 400, 31–38.


L 25, 402, 10–14.


Hoekstra already claimed that Hobbes’s state of nature description has ‘at least as much in common with an exhortation as with a true premise’ (Hoekstra, ‘The End of Philosophy,’ 60). Our interpretation follows that claim and provides a reason for why exhortations would be successful – because of the psychological disposition of Hobbes’s targeted audience.


Our explanation differs from alternative efforts to solve this problem. Compare for example T. Sorell, ‘Hobbes’s Persuasive Civil Science,’ The Philosophical Quarterly, 160 (1990), 351, who describes Leviathan as counsel ‘put to the ruler in a book largely composed of passionless, syllogistic speeches’ and does not consider the possibility that Leviathan contains exhortation, which he regards as a ‘perverted kind of counsel’.


One could object that it would be contradictory to publish one’s view about the low epistemic capacities of the people and one’s intention to use exhortations for the common people. But on a closer look, it could indeed be possible to publish these things without frustrating one’s goals: If (a) only a small part of the people possessed either the skills, money or time to buy and read Hobbes’s Leviathan by themselves and, even if they did, (b) people would pay attention to different things according to their passions, and as a result people following their bodily passions could be expected to pay little attention to reflections concerning the different tools of language, then it would not be contradictory to publish these things.


L 13, 192, 28–29 (‘[…]and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death’).


L 10, 142, 26–28.


L 21, 338, 22–24.


L 10, 142, 23–25: ‘For Duels also are many times effects of Courage; and the ground of Courage is always Strength or Skill, which are Power.’ L 10, 140, 1–2: ‘Honourable is whatsoever possession, action, or quality, is an argument and signe of Power.’


In the Latin Leviathan, L 10, 142, n.40, Hobbes spells out clearly his admiration for the promptness to fight and for courage as a natural virtue: ‘For promptness to fight is always a sign of courage – which, in the natural state of mankind, is the greatest virtue, if not the only one. To refuse to fight, however, becomes a virtue not by nature but by laws, and nature is stronger than laws.’


Hobbes is obviously aware of the fact that the different perspectives of the sovereign concerning honour can be contradictory: In the Latin Leviathan (L 10, 142, n.40), Hobbes admits that there is a problem when the sovereign ordains honour for those that refuse duels, i.e. rejects the ethos of the nobility: ‘How this may be done, I do not see. For promptness to fight is always a sign of courage […].’ Also, in the English Leviathan (L 27, 474, 18–476, 10), Hobbes warns the sovereign that he has to proceed with utmost care in his public evaluation of duelling to avoid that his will appears contradictory.


L 25, 398, 10–11.