The Sleeping Subject: On the Use and Abuse of Imagination in Hobbes’s Leviathan

In: Hobbes Studies
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  • 1 Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

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This paper offers a novel interpretation of the political implications of Hobbes’s theory of imagination and his solution to the threat posed by the imagination to political stability. While recent work has correctly identified the problem the imagination poses for Hobbes, it has underestimated the severity of the problem and, accordingly, has underestimated the length to which the Hobbesian sovereign will have to go in order to solve it. By reconstructing Hobbes’s account of sleep and the operation of the imagination during sleep, this paper argues that the Hobbesian sovereign who seeks to solve the problem of the imagination must maintain his subjects in a ‘state of sleep,’ by preventing any kind of new inputs from disturbing their imagination. This solution suggests that the citizens of the Leviathan state are not sleeping sovereigns, but rather sleeping subjects.

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