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Hobbes’s Reply to the Fool and the Prudence of Self-Binding

In: Hobbes Studies
Author: Frank Lovett1
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  • 1 Professor of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1063, Saint Louis, MO 63130, 314-753-5565 flovett@wustl.edu
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Few passages in Hobbes’s writings have generated as much critical interest as the notorious reply to the fool – one who believes it is reasonable to renege on our promises whenever it is advantageous for us to do so. In his reply, Hobbes appears to argue that it is never reasonable to renege on our promises because doing so is never in our prudential interest. The problem is not only that this reply seems wrong, but further that it seems inconsistent with Hobbes’s own philosophical commitments. This research note argues that the reply makes sense if we are willing to read it as an incompletely worked-out claim about the prudence of sometimes preventing oneself from being fully prudent in the future.

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