The connection that Hobbes makes between reason, method, and science renders reason a faculty that is not only natural but also acquired and even somewhat exclusive. This idea might pose a serious problem to Hobbes’s political theory, as it relies heavily on the successful use of reason. This problem is demonstrated in Hobbes’s account of the laws of nature, for which some equality in human reason is clearly needed, but Hobbes is not explicit about the relationship between that and the more advanced form of reason that eventually leads to science. This article suggests that Hobbes’s account of reason is developmental. The seed of natural reason is common to everyone, and is sufficient for the establishment of the commonwealth. Thereafter, peace and leisure provide the necessary conditions for developing the rational skill, that is, fulfilling the human potential for rationality. Consequently, under the right circumstances, knowledge and science are expected to progress dramatically for the benefit of society, an open-ended vision which Hobbes nevertheless leaves implicit. Following Hobbes’s account of reason and philosophy closely can therefore show that he might have had great hopes for humankind, and that in this sense he was a key member of an English Enlightenment.
whatsoever shall be the method you will like, I would very fain commend philosophy to you, that is to say, the study of wisdom, for want of which we have all suffered much damage lately … though for nothing else, yet because the mind of man is no less impatient of empty time than nature is of empty place, to the end you be not forced for want of what to do, to be troublesome to men that have business, or take hurt by falling into idle company, but have somewhat of your own wherewith to fill up your time, I recommend unto you to study philosophy.1
It is well-known that Hobbes’s story of the state of nature was a particularly powerful, provocative, and arguably quite successful strategy in conveying his message of the urgent need to establish the commonwealth.2 This state “where every man is Enemy to every man”,3 horrific as it is, is nevertheless not without hope: “man” has “a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the Passions, partly in his Reason”.4 Motivated by their passions, and primarily by their fear of death, men are inclined to peace. It is reason that shows them the way and “suggesteth convenient Articles of Peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement”, namely the laws of nature.5 It is evident that the use of reason is crucial for peace, for survival, and thus for Hobbes’s political theory to succeed.6
And the most part of men, though they have the use of Reasoning a little way, as in numbring to some degree; yet it serves them to little use in common life; in which they govern themselves, some better, some worse, according to their differences of experience, quicknesse of memory, and inclinations to severall ends; but specially according to good or evill fortune, and the errors of one another. For as for Science, or certain rules of their actions, they are so farre from it, that they know not what it is.10
Scientific reason is a somewhat exclusive skill shared by some, whereas it is found in a limited or even defective form in all the others. If this is the case, it is not entirely clear how Hobbes could be confident in men’s ability to derive the laws of nature rationally so as to achieve peace.
One plausible answer is Hobbes’s statement that the laws of nature “have been contracted into one easie sum, intelligible, even to the meanest capacity; and that is, Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done to thy selfe”.11 This rule—a formulation by way of negation of the biblical Golden Rule—should be clear enough to all and thus sufficient at least for the initial step towards peace. But this can be at best a partial solution to our problem. It might save Hobbes from the charge of inconsistency, but it still appears that he left some things unsaid. What is the relationship between the deduction of this version of the Golden Rule and that of the complete set of laws of nature?
Some have suggested that the way to explain Hobbes’s various commitments is to distinguish between subtypes of reason. However, this could be one step too far in terms of reconstructing Hobbes’s account, since he simply did not draw any such distinction.12 In fact, he treated reason throughout his writings consistently as the same faculty that always operates in the same way, namely, adding and subtracting, computation, or logic.13 Others have taken the opposite approach and attempted to reconcile Hobbes’s notions of reason—that is, his scientific account in Chapter 5 of Leviathan and the one required for the laws of nature—but that has arguably imposed an overly formal interpretation of the laws of nature.14 We are still left, then, with a puzzle. If, for Hobbes, all men are rational but some at least possess “the meanest capacity”, what can we say about the general degree of rationality of humankind? If there is a basic element of natural reason common to all men, how are we to characterise it and its relation to scientific reason? Was Hobbes simply ambivalent—perhaps pessimistic at times, and optimistic at others—about men’s ability to be rational? Or did he think that different people were capable of reaching different levels of reason?
In this article, I will argue that the key to the understanding of Hobbes’s concept of reason and its role in Hobbes’s political theory must consist of at least two steps, and respectively, two contexts in which reason functions: reason as needed for the establishment of the commonwealth and reason as cultivated in the commonwealth. Such an account must therefore acknowledge both the natural and acquired characteristics of human reason. Thus, we can identify different modes, or operations, of what essentially is always the same faculty. My account will focus on the multilayered character of reason, arguing that we should read Hobbes’s account of reason as developmental. When read carefully, we can find that Hobbes had an implicit optimistic vision for men and society. It was a vision that started and ended with reason.15
2 Natural Reason
And as to the faculties of the mind, (setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that skill of proceeding upon generall, and infallible rules, called Science; which very few have, and but in few things; as being not a native faculty, born with us; nor attained, (as Prudence,) while we look after somewhat els,) I find yet a greater equality amongst men, than that of strength … That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceipt of ones owne wisdome, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the Vulgar … But this proveth rather that men are in that point equall, than unequall. For there is not ordinarily a greater signe of the equall distribution of any thing, than that every man is contented with his share.16
As this passage from Chapter 13 of Leviathan suggests, human beings are equal by nature, and so they share an equal basic intellectual ability. Hobbes supports this argument with the fact that all men are equally satisfied with their own intellect, and, ironically, share a feeling of intellectual superiority. This in itself is a questionable inference. As Kinch Hoekstra puts it figuratively, “That many people consider themselves ‘unusually attractive’ does not entail that they are happy with their looks, much less that they are all equally good looking”.17 Furthermore, this equality in intellect is severely limited by the fact that Hobbes excludes from it precisely what I have called scientific reason. Yet, in this section, I will argue that for Hobbes human beings do share an equal rational skill, even if on a very basic level. Moreover, it is precisely this equality that distinguishes this natural skill from the scientific one, which is, by definition, not equal among humans. As I will suggest in the next section, once entering the commonwealth, this equal ability of reasoning might develop into a continuum of different levels of reasoning among different people.
What, then, do we know about this equal ability to reason? First, it is human and universal. Indeed, Hobbes’s consistent position was that all men are rational, at least to some extent. In The Elements of Law, he explained that “Reason is no less of the nature of man than passion, and is the same in all men, because all men agree in the will to be directed and governed in the way to that which they desire to attain, namely their own good, which is the work of reason”.18 In On the Citizen, he argued that “The faculties of human nature may be reduced to four kinds: Physical force, Experience, Reason, Passion”.19 In Leviathan, Hobbes named man as “that Rationall and most excellent worke of Nature”,20 and he mentioned that “the names Man and Rationall, are of equall extent, comprehending mutually one another”.21 Rationality is therefore intrinsic to human nature. The only ones who “have no use of Reason” are children, fools, and madmen: the fact that Hobbes pointed to their irrationality further underlies the rationality of all the others.22
we are not to renounce our Senses, and Experience; nor (that which is the undoubted Word of God) our naturall Reason. For they are the talents which he hath put into our hands to negotiate, till the coming again of our blessed Saviour; and therefore not to be folded up in the Napkin of an Implicite Faith, but employed in the purchase of Justice, Peace, and true Religion.24
Until the Second Coming, we are to be instructed by the talents that we have been given, and primarily by our natural reason, namely, the Word of God. It is our natural reason that should lead us towards justice and peace—that is, the covenant and the commonwealth—and towards true religion, as opposed to implicit faith. Thus, true religion, too, is natural and rational. Here Hobbes’s message is primarily anticlerical and arguably proto-deistic: natural reason, which is equal to all men, is the only tool required for them to know their duties to one another and to God.25
Martinich has rightly noted that natural reason is so called “to contrast it with faith or some kind of supernatural source”.26 Indeed, we can trust our natural reason, but not necessarily those who claim to have had supernatural revelation: “For if a man pretend to me, that God hath spoken to him supernaturally, and immediately, and I make doubt of it, I cannot easily perceive what argument he can produce, to oblige me to beleeve it”, in which case I cannot be expected “to think any otherwise then my reason perswades me”.27 Similarly, one is always required to use one’s natural reason to examine the truth or falsehood of any prophecy rather than to follow it blindly (except, of course, for the prophecies “of the Soveraign Prophet”).28
Hobbes’s argument about natural reason is an epistemological position about the way to reach the truth and the obstacles that stand in our way.29 The primary obstacle was that Kingdom of Darkness where “Ecclesiastiques take from young men, the use of Reason, by Charms compounded of Metaphysiques, and Miracles, and Traditions, and Abused Scripture, whereby they are good for nothing else, but to execute what they command them”, just as the fairies “take young Children out of their Cradles” and “change them into Naturall Fools, which Common people do therefore call Elves, and are apt to mischief”.30 Against the “unpleasing priests”,31 who attempt to extinguish the light of reason in the laity, Hobbes tells us most famously: “it is unreasonable in them, who teach there is such danger in every little Errour, to require of a man endued with Reason of his own, to follow the Reason of any other man, or of the most voices of many other men”.32
Hobbes’s argument is therefore not only that we are all naturally rational at least to the extent required to outsmart those dangerous fairies, but that even if we are not all equally rational, we should be—or at least acknowledge that we are—in order to put an end to this darkness.33 Precisely in the same manner, it is crucial for Hobbes to establish the idea of equal, universal, natural reason to show us how we can agree on making peace and keeping covenants. Therefore, it is critical that we understand that—at least until the Second Coming—we live in God’s natural kingdom, “wherein he governeth as many of Mankind as acknowledge his Providence, by the naturall Dictates of Right Reason”.34
This is precisely what Hobbes’s well-known fool, who refuses to acknowledge God, fails to understand. The fool, or the irrational deceiver, is destined to stay outside of society and outside of God’s natural kingdom.35 This is the lesson that we must learn: whereas the fool is placed literally nowhere, Hobbes’s God places us in the right starting point towards the peaceful and just society, having given us natural reason which we must employ. Whereas the fool acts in complete contrast to natural reason, Hobbes based his political theory precisely on this element. Natural reason is the key element in Hobbes’s political theory: without it there is simply no understanding of the laws of nature, and consequently no covenant, no commonwealth, no Leviathan, no survival.
So the Geometrician, from the Construction of Figures, findeth out many Properties thereof; and from the Properties, new Ways of their Construction, by Reasoning; to the end to be able to measure Land, and Water; and for infinite other uses. So the Astronomer, from the Rising, Setting, and Moving of the Sun, and Starres, in divers parts of the Heavens, findeth out the Causes of Day, and Night, and of the different Seasons of the Year; whereby he keepeth an account of Time: And the like of other Sciences.38
The end of science is the demonstration of the causes and generations of things; which if they be not in the definitions, they cannot be found in the conclusion of the first syllogism, that is made from those definitions; and if they be not in the first conclusion, they will not be found in any further conclusion deduced from that; and, therefore, by proceeding in this manner, we shall never come to science.42
The logical action of moving from causes to effects and vice versa is essentially the same as proceeding from names to syllogisms, which we have seen that for Hobbes is the primary work of scientific reasoning.43 Surely, this is a sophisticated process. Those who master it gain vast, certain knowledge, namely, the science of causes: “we are then said to know any effect, when we know that there be causes of the same, and in what subject those causes are, and in what subject they produce that effect, and in what manner they work the same”.44
We know, therefore, that the development of scientific reason requires complex methods and hence diligence and time. It is therefore rather exclusive and quite obviously a matter of specialisation. But what is the precise relationship between natural reason and scientific reason, or between natural reason and philosophy? What are the necessary conditions for us to be able to upgrade our use of reason? Is this upgrade merely quantitative or also qualitative? These questions are not fully addressed by Hobbes but he did make a few suggestions in this regard. It is important to try to answer these questions, not only as a theoretical puzzle, but as a crucial key to the understanding of the power of reason in Hobbes’s political theory, and his vision as to the ideal, rational commonwealth.
The faculty of Reasoning being consequent to the use of Speech, it was not possible, but that there should have been some generall Truthes found out by Reasoning, as ancient almost as Language it selfe. The savages of America, are not without some good Morall Sentences; also they have a little Arithmetick, to adde, and divide in Numbers not too great: but they are not therefore Philosophers. For as there were Plants of Corn and Wine in small quantity dispersed in the Fields and Woods, before men knew their vertue, or made use of them for their nourishment, or planted them apart in Fields, and Vineyards; in which time they fed on Akorns, and drank Water: so also there have been divers true, generall, and profitable Speculations from the beginning; as being the naturall plants of humane Reason: But they were at first but few in number; men lived upon grosse Experience; there was no Method; that is to say, no Sowing, nor Planting of Knowledge by it self, apart from the Weeds, and common Plants of Errour and conjecture: And the cause of it being the want of leasure from procuring the necessities of life, and defending themselves against their neighbors, it was impossible, till the erecting of great Common-wealths, it should be otherwise. Leasure is the mother of Philosophy; and Common-wealth, the mother of peace, and Leasure.45
The savages of America are mentioned in Chapter 13 of Leviathan as an analogy to men in the state of nature.46 They have “a little arithmetic” and “some good moral sentences”, precisely like men who are capable of “numbering to some degree” and understanding the Golden Rule. Their reasoning is capable of reaching only a few “general truths” that are “profitable”, guiding them in “procuring the necessities of life”. In this sense, their level of reason is basic and practical.
At this point, one might wonder whether these savages are simply prudential. Indeed, it appears that they are mostly so. Yet, notice that Hobbes ascribed to the savages the “plants of human reason”, thus referring to natural reason, which is implanted in men by God. We have seen that Hobbes drew a sharp distinction between prudence and reason, and given his known emphasis on accuracy in giving names and definitions, we need to take him at his word when he describes the savages as somewhat rational and not merely prudential. At the same time, as Hobbes stressed, that does not make them philosophers. In other words, the savages seem to be rational but their rationality is clearly inferior to that of philosophers, just like their “little arithmetic” is inferior to geometry which Hobbes notably did not ascribe to them.47
Yet, we can learn from this paragraph that natural reason is nothing short of a potential: under the right conditions, namely under conditions of peace, there is a ground for it to come to fruition, namely, philosophy. Hobbes drew an unambiguous image of potentiality. The natural plants of human reason are compared to plants of corn and wine before they are properly planted in fields and vineyards and before they are fully cultivated. We can nevertheless be certain that under the right process they will bear the desired fruits. Natural reason is first a raw material, an untapped potential, and as such it is limited only to partial knowledge, mixed with less advanced faculties such as experience, hence contaminated often by errors. Nonetheless, the perfecting of the technique should lead to the valuable outcome: the pure “knowledge by itself”, i.e. science. Since the savages do not have methods, philosophy is inaccessible to them. However, it is clearly conditional. Once they have the adequate leisure, they should be able to develop the methods and start moving from the few general truths they hold towards real philosophy. Therefore, science, or philosophy, can be developed in times of quiet and peace, hence, in a well-functioning commonwealth.
The change between levels of rationality is therefore not qualitative but only quantitative. In other words, reason works similarly in all levels, whereas the level is determined mainly by contextual conditions. Wherever people constantly fear for their lives, they are not likely to reach philosophy. However, where they are free from such paralysing fears, they should be able to do so. Not only does this mean that we are all rational, but also that eventually we all might be even rational enough to profess a certain branch of philosophy, once we are secure.
Before proceeding, it is worth considering the question of the veracity of the state of nature. It has been long disputed whether Hobbes thought of the state of nature as a hypothetical exercise or as a real historical account. While there seems to be no clear-cut answer to that, it does seem that Hobbes thought of a few situations as actual instances of the natural condition.48 Indeed, Hobbes argued explicitly that the savage people in America “live at this day in that brutish manner”.49 This point is important for the argument on the human rational potential because it makes it clear that Hobbes had in mind real, ordinary people, who simply lived in poor circumstances—that is, with “no government at all”50—but the fact that this state was really circumstantial also means that it was really alterable. To put it another way, humans are and have always been rational everywhere, but only in civil society can they fully enjoy the fruits of their rationality. When understood as such, the state of nature reveals an optimistic—and realistic as well—vision that Hobbes held. I will come back to this point later.
PHILOSOPHY seems to me to be amongst men now, in the same manner as corn and wine are said to have been in the world in ancient time. For from the beginning there were vines and ears of corn growing here and there in the fields; but no care was taken for the planting and sowing of them. Men lived therefore upon acorns; or if any were so bold as to venture upon the eating of those unknown and doubtful fruits, they did it with danger of their health. In like manner, every man brought Philosophy, that is, Natural Reason, into the world with him; for all men can reason to some degree, and concerning some things: but where there is need of a long series of reasons, there most men wander out of the way, and fall into error for want of method, as it were for want of sowing and planting, that is, of improving their reason.51
THINK not, Courteous Reader, that the philosophy, the elements whereof I am going to set in order, is that which makes philosophers’ stones, nor that which is found in the metaphysic codes; but that it is the natural reason of man, busily flying up and down among the creatures, and bringing back a true report of their order, causes and effects. Philosophy, therefore, the child of the world and your own mind, is within yourself; perhaps not fashioned yet, but like the world its father, as it was in the beginning, a thing confused.52
Unlike Leviathan, Concerning Body deals much more straightforwardly with philosophy as such and the basic elements thereof. Hobbes might have thought that his readers would be abler to begin with, or perhaps he sought to present a system of philosophy that should be clear enough to all. In any case, here we find most explicitly his notion of philosophy as being within all of his readers, even if only “a thing confused”. Thus, the passage continues: “Do, therefore, as the statuaries do, who, by hewing off that which is superfluous, do not make but find the image”.53 Our job is therefore to invest in the pure “natural plants of human reason” and separate them from the “common plants of error and conjecture”. This is how we will “find the image”, namely, reach and develop our natural, rational potential. As we already know, this is to be achieved only through the right method: “if you will be a philosopher in good earnest, let your reason move upon the deep of your own cogitations and experience; those things that lie in confusion must be set asunder, distinguished, and every one stamped with its own name set in order”.54 Getting this right is nothing less than a godly act, since the “method must resemble that of the creation”, and so Hobbes called his readers to “imitate the creation”: just like the creation started with the light and the distinction of day and night, true philosophy starts with reason and definitions.55 This is how Hobbes structured the first parts of Concerning Body—“Logic” and “The First Grounds of Philosophy”—and this is what he instructed his readers to do on their own. In this sense, Hobbes promoted what may be called an individualisation, or rather democratisation, of philosophy.56
This is not to say that everyone has an equal prospect of becoming philosophers. If we imagine a transition between natural reason and philosophy taking place once the commonwealth is instituted, we can assume that within the civil society there will be a variety of rational levels. Whereas in the state of nature everyone used to be rational only in basic terms, once entering the commonwealth, the application of rationality among individuals might turn into some kind of a continuum. Thus, each individual would be positioned upon this continuum according to her personal skills and capacities. It is therefore in this context that inequality is expected to arise and deepen. Hobbes did not address this question directly and so such an interpretation will remain a matter for speculation. Nevertheless, as I shall argue next, there is enough evidence to suggest that Hobbes had high hopes for society as a whole to benefit greatly from the improvement of reasoning and the consequent production of knowledge; not least, of course, because of his own contribution to philosophy.
4 Hobbes’s Rational Commonwealth
Now, the greatest commodities of mankind are the arts; namely, of measuring matter and motion; of moving ponderous bodies; of architecture; of navigation; of making instruments for all uses; of calculating the celestial motions, the aspects of the stars, and the parts of time; of geography, &c. By which sciences, how great benefits men receive is more easily understood than expressed. These benefits are enjoyed by almost all the people of Europe, by most of those of Asia, and by some of Africa: but the Americans, and they that live near the Poles, do totally want them. But why? Have they sharper wits than these? Have not all men one kind of soul, and the same faculties of mind? What, then, makes this difference, except philosophy? Philosophy, therefore, is the cause of all these benefits. But the utility of moral and civil philosophy is to be estimated, not so much by the commodities we have by knowing these sciences, as by the calamities we receive from not knowing them. Now, all such calamities as may be avoided by human industry, arise from war, but chiefly from civil war; for from this proceed slaughter, solitude, and the want of all things.58
Let us imagine what would have happened if this paragraph, and not Chapter 13 of Leviathan, had become the most famous text ever written by Hobbes. His reputation would have been, perhaps, that of a great advocate of arts, sciences, and above all philosophy; of a faithful believer in the equal capabilities and wits of mankind; and mainly, of a philosopher for whom the main goal was to prevent future civil wars and to improve human industry. Alas, Hobbes is better known for his dreadful state of nature—where life is “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”59—and consequently for his pessimistic view of human nature, as if this were his ultimate vision.60 But if we look at these two texts side by side, we can see that the exact same idea is expressed in both. As Hobbes stated, he merely compared those who were able to enjoy these various commodities of life with those who were not. The description of the state of nature is simply the other side of this coin.
As is well-known, in the state of nature “there is no place for Industry … no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society”.61 This list is almost identical to the one put rather positively in the paragraph cited from Concerning Body.62 But it is crucial to remember that Hobbes produced this list to remind us of the many advantages of peace, and that for him, it is natural reason that shows, through the laws of nature, the way to peace. Only then, can the rational potential of mankind be wholly fulfilled, and philosophy can be developed and further promote the lives of the individuals within society and the commodities they can enjoy. The story of reason and philosophy is the true story of the Hobbesian commonwealth. Not only will a Hobbesian society assure the self-preservation of its members, but it will also enable them to reach new levels of knowledge and thus to assure better lives for themselves.
How exactly was this plan for a rational commonwealth to work? Education clearly had a central role in this programme.63 But how would it look like? We have seen that Hobbes treated reason in two contexts, namely, the pre-civil and the civil. It is arguable that his educational programme, too, consisted of two respective stages. At the first stage, the situation had to be stabilised, and for that to happen Hobbes believed that his Leviathan had to be taught in universities and replace the commonly taught “vain philosophy” which was nothing but false and dangerous “Aristotelity”.64 At that point, Hobbes thought that he alone established a science that previous schools had not reached, as for previous philosophers, such as Aristotle, moral philosophy was “but a description of their own Passions”, the “Rules of Good, and Bad” were determined “by their own Liking, and Disliking”, and logic was “nothing else but Captions of Words, and Inventions how to puzzle such as should goe about to pose them”.65 It is for this reason that Hobbes believed that his project was so unprecedently successful: “Natural Philosophy is therefore but young; but Civil Philosophy yet much younger, as being no older … than my own book De Cive”.66
In this case, Hobbes did the job—starting with definition, proceeding to derive theorems, and putting them as general rules—and formulated the laws of nature himself, thus providing the true science of virtue and vice. His readers and future students—many of whom might not be capable of and/or available for such a scientific way of reasoning—were only expected to understand a very simple version of this civil science: the laws of nature are summarised into the Golden Rule, and what the subjects need to be taught is parallel to the Ten Commandments.67 In this context, it seems that Hobbes expected the vast majority of the people to only make a basic use of their equal, natural reason: “For I ground the Civill Right of Soveraigns, and both the Duty and Liberty of Subjects, upon the known naturall Inclinations of Mankind, and upon the Articles of the Law of Nature; of which no man, that pretends but reason enough to govern his private family, ought to be ignorant”.68
In the second context, namely, the civil context, the educational programme might change. In times of peace, the habit of reasoning should become entirely unhindered.69 With a shared language and a general agreement on the meaning of fundamental concepts, scientific reasoning will grow and method will be developed. Individuals will use well-defined words, and words, Hobbes tells us, “are wise mens counters”.70 Philosophy will become a matter of technique, and so non-philosophers might even outperform philosophical geniuses. Consequently, science and philosophy will be advanced continuously, not only by Hobbes and his likes, but by everyone who is interested and capable. Indeed, it is certainly plausible that Hobbes believed in the ability of the general public to develop their reasoning so as to study various disciplines and achieve proper outcomes. In this case, universities will not have to be limited to the study of Leviathan but might be closer to a model which consists of “independent people pursuing their inquiries”, as Richard Tuck has suggested.71
This interpretation supports the idea that Hobbes’s thought could lead to ideas of Enlightenment.72 Accordingly, the development of rational skills was not meant to be a by-product of his theory, but it was at the very heart of it. Reason was the key to an Enlightenment that could once and for all eradicate superstition and ignorance, and free men from superfluous fears implanted in them by interested parties. Subsequently, uncompromising intellectual inquisitiveness—arguably the true spirit of an enlightened society—was to be encouraged.73
Hobbes did not tell us precisely how this process would materialise. It is worth considering—although I cannot do it here—a set of Hobbesian methods and areas of knowledge that would enable the readers to carry out this Enlightenment themselves. A curriculum of such an Enlightenment would probably include the study of mathematics, physics, and especially the new scientific discoveries; the textual and philological study of the Scripture; and perhaps also the historical and comparative study of religion. Additionally, it would introduce the individuals to new ways of thinking about the world—logical, critical, and also materialistic—through which true knowledge is to be gained. Conceptualising this curriculum may prove an interesting subject for a separate article.
Although Hobbes did provide some hints, he never fully elaborated how a rational and prosperous commonwealth might look like. Only when compared to the chapters on philosophy both in Leviathan and Concerning Body can we thus understand how important is the role of natural reason and philosophy in this theory, and how much hope actually lies behind the horror of the state of nature. Especially when writing Leviathan, Hobbes was mostly concerned with issues of life and death, but this is not to deny the crucial place that he granted human reason and the development of sciences. In fact, these were all closely related for him.
Judging by Hobbes’s identification of reason with science on the one hand, and his view of the exclusivity of science on the other, his own assumption that human beings are universally rational is jeopardised, and so is his political theory: if scientific reason requires time, method, and diligence, is it really plausible to expect the average individual to be rational enough to discover the laws of nature, namely the science of virtue and vice? And if not, how would the state of nature ever come to an end? As I have suggested, we need therefore to distinguish between different applications of human rationality. One is the basic, universal, natural ability to make simple calculations or derivations. It precedes the covenant and allows the transition into the commonwealth. The second, as the developed version of the former, or the fulfilment of the potential, is attained only in conditions of peace and leisure. While the latter is required in order to reach scientific knowledge, the former is required simply to live. While the former is sufficient to reach the negative Golden Rule, which should lead men towards peace initially, the latter allows philosophers (such as Hobbes) to formulate the science of the laws of nature in full. Reason is always a faculty of calculation, whereas its various operations vary according to the different contexts and hence produce various outcomes. Finally, an important point that arises from this analysis is the twofold relationship between reason and language. On the one hand, we have seen that Hobbes stated that reasoning was consequent to the use of speech and thus it is clear that some basic speech, which we gain naturally when growing up, even in the state of nature, is sufficient for the basic ability to reason, that which even the savages have. On the other hand, it is also clear that only an established commonwealth can guarantee that there is a linguistic and methodical order and hence a much safer and sophisticated use of language, which is absolutely necessary for constructing syllogisms and reaching scientific conclusions. A possible implication of that would be that, according to Hobbes, not only the faculty of reasoning is developmental, but that the faculty of speech is also developmental in a manner that corresponds closely to the two contexts thesis that has been presented in this article.
Hobbes’s account of reason is puzzling or rather multilayered, but even if reason operates on various levels, it is always essentially the same faculty, shared by all human beings. The differences derive only from different degrees of “sowing” and “planting”, that is, the development of the method. This, in turn, depends on outer circumstances, and mostly on whether the state is that of war or peace. Thus, when reading Hobbes carefully, and especially his writings on philosophy, we can see that he truly believed in the ability of everyone, given the right conditions, to fulfil their rational potential. I have also suggested that Hobbes’s vision for society or even for mankind was optimistic precisely because of his belief in the power of human reason and philosophy. This is also the message of Chapter 13 of Leviathan. Whereas this chapter can be read rather pessimistically, we can identify in it elements of hope for a society in which knowledge is advanced in various areas and life is consequently ever-improving. In such a society—as a paraphrase on the awful state of nature—there will be a place for industry, culture of the earth, navigation, use of commodities, commodious building, knowledge of the face of the earth, account of time, arts, and letters. In this sense, Hobbes might have been inspired by his previous employer, Francis Bacon, and his ambition for a new system of science and production of new knowledge—at least by a subset of society—that would lead to a dramatic improvement, if not complete transformation, of human existence.74
Hobbes based his theory on the importance and the power of reason, even if he chose, as he admitted, to focus on “the calamities we receive from not knowing” sciences rather than on “the commodities we have by knowing these”. Moreover, reason for Hobbes was the tool to improve the political creation, and to overcome the disorder caused by the clergy and its unchecked claim for supernatural knowledge. It is against this background that we should read his assertion that reason, as the undoubted Word of God, is the tool that we have been given to negotiate (until the Second Coming), and which, as such, needs to be employed for the purchase of justice, peace, and true religion; his insistence that no one can require a man, endowed with his own reason, to neglect it and follow another’s; and finally, his call for his readers to see that philosophy is within them and to pursue it further.
Reason is natural and God-given, and equally important, as a faculty of calculation, it is human in the sense that it could be potentially acquired by all, unlike questionable inspirations of certain people. Hobbes’s political theory is thus based on these three elements: natural reason, natural law, and the author of nature, God. It is precisely these elements that served Hobbes to establish a political theory that would be “pure, both from the Venime of Heathen Politicians, and from the Incantation of Deceiving Spirits”.75 Alongside his radical anticlericalism, Hobbes’s sophisticated concept of natural reason is a good start for the case to include him as a key member of an English Enlightenment.
The author would like to thank Jon Parkin, Mark Philp, Robin Douglass, and David Leopold whose valuable advice helped him develop the argument that he presents here. He also thanks the participants of the Jerusalem Seminar in Political Thought and Intellectual History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (December 2015), for a fruitful discussion on an earlier draft of this paper. Finally, he is grateful to Hobbes Studies and the anonymous reviewers for their encouraging feedback and helpful suggestions.
T. Hobbes, Elements of Philosophy. The First Section, Concerning Body, in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, ed. W. Molesworth, 11 volumes (London: 1839–45), vol. 1, "Author’s Epistle to the Reader".
See for example I.D. Evrigenis, “The State of Nature”, in A.P. Martinich and K. Hoekstra (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy: The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
T. Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. N. Malcolm (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2012), Ch. 13, p. 192.
Ibid., p. 196.
Ibid. As Adrian Blau has suggested recently, reason might be best described as the “counselor of the passions”. Blau, “Reason, Deliberation, and the Passions” in The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes.
As is well-known, the law of nature is the law that guides men to assure their self-preservation, namely, “a Precept, or generall Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved”. Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 14, p. 198.
Ibid., Ch. 5, p. 72.
Ibid., Ch. 15, p. 242.
Ibid., Ch. 5, p. 74.
Ibid., Ch. 15, p. 240.
For example, Bernard Gert distinguishes between natural reason, instrumental reason, and verbal reason. Al Martinich suggests that natural reason might be different from the artificial one, since it “is roughly equal in all people and hence not the kind of reason that allows one to construct a science of politics”. Gert, “Hobbes on Reason”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 82, no. 3–4 (2001), pp. 243–57 and especially p. 248; Martinich, “Egoism, Reason and the Social Contract”, Hobbes Studies, 25, no. 2 (2012), pp. 209–22, on p. 216.
See for example Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 5, p. 64; Hobbes, Concerning Body i.1.2, p. 3; Hobbes, The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic, ed. with a preface by F. Tönnies (London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co, 1889), I.5.11, p. 22. See also Hobbes, A Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student, of the Common Laws of England, ed. A. Cromartie and Q. Skinner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pp. 8–9: “In whatsoever Study, I examine whether my Inference be rational…”
J. Deigh, “Reason and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 34, no. 1 (1996), pp. 33–60; Deigh, “Reply to Mark Murphy”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 41, no. 1 (2003), pp. 97–109. Deigh has suggested the “definitivist” interpretation, according to which the laws of nature ought to be taken as theorems of a branch of science and must be found through proper reasoning. Since reason starts with definitions, a certain principle would qualify as a law of nature only when derived correctly from the definition of a law of nature. In other words, a certain rule is regarded as a law of nature not because it assures one’s self-preservation but because it is compatible with Hobbes’s definition of a law of nature. As Deigh himself acknowledges, it follows that we do not derive the law itself, but a proposition about the law being a law. This approach has thus been criticised repeatedly. As Kinch Hoekstra notes, “the laws of nature are supposed to move people to act in certain ways, not merely to help them recognize the extension of the term ‘law of nature’”. Hoekstra, “Hobbes on Law, Nature, and Reason”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 41, no. 1 (2003), pp. 111–120, on p. 115. See also M.C. Murphy, “Desire and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan: A Response to Professor Deigh”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 38, no. 2 (2000), pp. 259–68; J. Barnouw, “Reason as Reckoning: Hobbes’s Natural Law as Right Reason”, Hobbes Studies, 21, no. 1 (2008), pp. 38–62 and especially pp. 54–6.
In my analysis, I am indebted to D. Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986). Johnston rightly argues that Hobbes attempted to initiate a cultural transformation in his readers, one that would replace a set of popular beliefs, dangerous to the political order, with another set of ideas, more rational and enlightened. As Johnston suggests, Hobbes believed that once he directed his readers to think in the right way—free of superstition and ignorance—they could be expected to institute the commonwealth that Hobbes had in mind. However, I depart from Johnston in a crucial point. I will argue that the order of things had to be different: philosophy or science cannot be the conditions for the commonwealth, because the commonwealth is the condition for the improved levels of philosophy or science. The main problem with Johnston’s account is that it does not identify that the process of the cultivation of reason has to happen gradually and even dialectically: the commonwealth must be built upon rational elements, and at the same time, rationality cannot be fully attained prior to the commonwealth, as peace is a prerequisite for philosophy.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 13, p. 188.
K. Hoekstra, “Hobbesian Equality”, in S.A. Lloyd (ed.), Hobbes Today: Insights for the 21st Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 84.
Hobbes, Elements of Law I.15.1, p. 75.
Hobbes, On the Citizen, ed. and trans. R. Tuck and M. Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), I.1, p. 21.
Hobbes, Leviathan, “Introduction”, p. 16.
Ibid., Ch. 4, p. 52.
Ibid., Ch. 16, p. 248.
Ibid., Ch. 31, p. 560. Hoekstra suggests that this kind of reason is natural not only because it is the Word of God but also because it has the desired goal of self-preservation—being a natural necessity—as its proper end. Furthermore, it is arguable that these characteristics give natural reason, in the context of the natural law, not only a motivational but also obligatory force, at least in foro interno. As Jeffrey Barnouw argues: “Natural necessitation, rooted in the nature and needs of man, is the source of the obligatory force of reason in the laws of nature. God’s natural punishments reflect a concatenation of causes, the consequences of actions which men can learn from and use to modify their actions”. Hoekstra, “Hobbes on Law, Nature, and Reason”, p. 119; Barnouw, “Reason as Reckoning”, p. 58. See also Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 15, p. 240.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 32, p. 576.
E. Carmel, “Hobbes and Early English Deism”, in R. Douglass and L. van Apeldoorn (eds.), Hobbes on Politics and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Martinich, “Egoism”, pp. 216–17, n. 26.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 32, p. 578.
Ibid., Ch. 36, pp. 676–80.
On Hobbes’s strategy of “epistemological blocking” aimed at “any transmission of divine revelation from one human being to another”, see N. Malcolm, “Hobbes, Ezra, and the Bible: The History of a Subversive Idea” in his Aspects of Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), especially pp. 427–31.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 47, p. 1120.
Ibid., Ch. 12, p. 186.
Ibid., Ch. 47, p. 1116.
Hoekstra makes this argument more broadly on Hobbes’s emphasis on the requirement to acknowledge or attribute equality, rather than on equality itself as an existing state of affairs. Hoekstra, “Hobbesian Equality”.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 31, p. 556.
Ibid., Ch. 15, pp. 222–4.
Ibid., Ch. 46, p. 1052.
K. Hoekstra, “The End of Philosophy (The Case of Hobbes)”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 106, no. 1 (2006), pp. 25–62.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 46, p. 1052.
Hobbes, Concerning Body I.1.2, p. 3.
Ibid. I.6.1, p. 66.
Ibid.; Ibid. I.6.6, pp. 70–2.
Ibid. I.6.13, pp. 82–3.
As Douglas Jesseph explains: “Despite appearances, there is no real tension between these two characterizations of philosophy, because the investigation of causes and the construction of syllogisms are two essentially similar activities … The point here is that, when combined, causal factors necessitate their effects, just as the premisses of a syllogism, when drawn together in a ‘sum’, necessitate their conclusions”. Jesseph, “Hobbesian Mechanics”, in D. Garber and S. Nadler (eds.), Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, Vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), pp. 121–2.
Hobbes, Concerning Body I.6.1, p. 66.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 46, p. 1054.
Ibid., Ch. 13, p. 194.
On Hobbes’s view regarding the priority of geometry over arithmetic, see D. Jesseph, Squaring the Circle: The War between Hobbes and Wallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 37–40. Jesseph shows that Hobbes shared Isaac Barrow’s view on this question in contrast to John Wallis’s, and that he went so far as to argue that “it is manifest that arithmetic is contained in geometry”. Ibid., p. 84, n. 11.
See K. Hoekstra, “Hobbes on the Natural Condition of Mankind”, in P. Springborg (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), especially pp. 117–120.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 13, p. 194.
Hobbes, Concerning Body I.1.1, pp. 1–2.
Ibid., “Author’s Epistle to the Reader”.
See also P. Machamer, “Introduction”, in Machamer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Galileo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 15.
Hobbes, Concerning Body I.1.7, p. 7.
Ibid., pp. 7–8.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 13, p. 192.
For some references to Hobbes’s alleged pessimism, see B. Gert, “Hobbes and Psychological Egoism”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 28, no. 4 (1967), pp. 503–520, on p. 505, p. 508, and p. 514; Q. Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 320 and p. 347; F.G. Whelan, “Language and its Abuses in Hobbes’ Political Philosophy”, The American Political Science Review, 75, no. 1 (1981), pp. 59–75, on p. 67; J. Lemetti, Historical Dictionary of Hobbes’s Philosophy (Toronto: Scarecrow Press, 2012), p. 177; J. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 602; R. Colie, “Spinoza and the Early English Deists”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 20, no. 1 (1959), pp. 23–46, on pp. 30–31, n. 31. As Jon Parkin has shown, this reputation—insomuch as it is still common—is to a great extent the result of Hobbes’s reception from his own days: “If Hobbes is now infamous as a dour pessimist with a taste for totalitarian authority, this reading has its origins in seventeenth-century critiques”. Parkin, Taming the Leviathan: The Reception of the Political and Religious Ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England, 1640–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 1.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 13, p. 192.
For similar variations of this list, see Hobbes, Elements of Law I.13.3, p. 65; Hobbes, The Answer of Mr. Hobbes to Sir William Davenant’s Preface before Gondibert, in The English Works, vol. 4, pp. 449–50. For a discussion of these variations, and of the thesis and antithesis of Hobbes’s state of nature, see Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy, for example p. 67 and pp. 152–3.
See T.M. Bejan, “Teaching the Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Education”, Oxford Review of Education, 36, no. 5 (2010), pp. 607–26; G.M. Vaughan, Behemoth Teaches Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Political Education (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002); R. Tuck, “Hobbes on Education”, in A. Oksenberg Rorty (ed.), Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 1998).
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 31, p. 574; Ch. 46, p. 1074; “Review, and Conclusion”, p. 1140.
Ibid., Ch. 46, pp. 1058–60.
Hobbes, Concerning Body, “Epistle Dedicatory”, p. ix.
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 30, pp. 524–30; Bejan, “Teaching the Leviathan”, p. 617.
Hobbes, Leviathan, “Review, and Conclusion”, pp. 1138–9.
See for example A. Ryan, “Hobbes, Toleration and the Inner Life”, in D. Miller and L. Siedentop (eds.), The Nature of Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); Ryan, “A More Tolerant Hobbes?”, in S. Mendus (ed.), Justifying Toleration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 4, p. 58.
Tuck, “Hobbes on Education”, p. 154.
For a few prominent interpretations along these lines, see Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan; Malcolm, “Hobbes and the European Republic of Letters”, in Aspects of Hobbes, especially pp. 535–45; E. Curley, “Hobbes and the Cause of Religious Toleration”, in The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan.
See J. Waldron, “Hobbes and the Principle of Publicity”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 82, no. 3–4 (2001), pp. 447–74; Waldron, “Hobbes: Truth, Publicity and Civil Doctrine”, in Philosophers on Education.
See R. Tuck, “The Utopianism of Leviathan”, in T. Sorell and L. Foisneau (eds.), Leviathan after 350 Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), especially pp. 126–7. For an assessment of Bacon’s impact on Hobbes, see Malcolm, “A Summary Biography of Hobbes”, in Aspects of Hobbes, p. 6.
Hobbes, Leviathan, “Review, and Conclusion”, p. 1140.