How Far Can a “Radical” Philosopher Go? Thomas Hobbes’s Paradox of Gender Relations, and One Possible Solution

In: Hobbes Studies
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  • 1 Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale Amedeo Avogadro, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Italy

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This article challenges the idea that Hobbes presents a negative anthropology and shows, to the contrary, that there is a thick web of social relations in his state of nature and laws of nature. It considers the contradiction between human natural equality claimed by Hobbes, and female subjection that de facto characterizes most of his passages on gender relations. The key to this puzzle is found in comparison of the notions of conquest and consent, and of acquisition and institution, comparisons that establish a similarity between paternal authority and despotic dominion. A step towards the solution is provided by the hypothesis that the divide between “vainglorious” and “moderate” is gendered, with women more disposed to moderation than men. This can be explained by the idea that, “for society’s sake,” women in the state of nature appreciate more the advantages of long-term cooperation, even at the price of some subordination.