Online Colloquium (2): Korab-Karpowicz on Hobbesian Internationalism

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We began with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner. We now have a response from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, which will be followed by responses from Chiayu Chou and Oliver Eberl, and finally a reply by Silviya Lechner. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.

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It is often observed that in the environment of globalization, nation-states are increasingly affected by decisions over which they have little control. This is a result of the growing involvement in global politics of so many non-state actors, especially multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations.[1] If we understand freedom not merely in the Hobbesian sense as the ‘absence of restraint’, but rather in the Lockean terms as our ‘power to act or forbear acting’, [2] according to one’s choice, then it is right to say that once states are exposed to global forces, the crucial form of their freedom is being threatened, because those forces ‘affect the choices, life styles, and opportunities of those living inside their borders’ (169).[3] Can we then agree with Silviya Lechner, that Hobbes should be interpreted as ‘a theorist of freedom and rights’ (181), and particularly as a defender of the sovereign state against the supranational forces of globalization?

Let me examine some aspects of Hobbes’ political philosophy by following Lechner’s insights. As she claims, its fundamental categories are anarchy (state of nature) and authority (the state). The state of nature does not merely mean for Hobbes a primitive condition of life. Rather, it is the situation of anarchy, understood etymologically as absence of government. This may refer to either pre-political times, in which the state has not yet been established, or to a situation when, due to civil war or other domestic turmoil, a government loses its effective control over its citizens.[4] Further, the state of nature, in which human beings live when a public authority is absent, is seen by him as a state of war—and ‘such a war as is of every man against every man’.[5] He derives his notion of the state of war from his views of both human nature (egoistic) and the condition in which individuals exist (anarchy). The core of his argument is that the egoistic passions by which human beings are driven and an environment of anarchy in which they are placed both diminish the possibility of their cooperation and hence lead to their endless conflict.

This Hobbesian view of human beings has both domestic and international implications. In the view of classical political philosophy, which has its origin in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, human beings are naturally social. They can be egoistic, but they can also develop virtues and thus control their egoism by reason and hence can work for the benefit of others, even at the expense of their own benefit. The ability to rationally deliberate about what is beneficial and what is harmful, about what is just and what is unjust, is what distinguishes humans from other animals. Therefore, for classical political thinkers, human beings are both rational and moral agents, naturally capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and of making moral choices. With great skill and considerable force Hobbes attacks this classical view.[6] He denies that human beings have a natural desire for society. He claims that when they associate, it is solely for the sake of some mutual advantage. He also denies that there is any morality in the state of nature. The notions of justice or injustice have no application here.[7] His human beings, extremely individualistic rather than moral or social, are subject to ‘a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death’.[8] They struggle for power.

There are several implications that can be derived from these assumptions. First, since human beings are egoistic and antisocial, and cannot be improved by cultivating virtues and thus live peacefully with each other, they can be brought to peace only by coercion. For both Plato and Aristotle, politics is not about power or domination; it is rather about human flourishing or self-realization, which is expressed in the Aristotelian notion of a good life. But for Hobbes and his modern followers, politics is reduced to keeping, demonstrating or increasing power, and to applying different socio-techniques to be able to rule human egoists efficiently. The state that emerges as a result of his social contract, is, as Lechner rightly observes, ‘a system of coercive rules, laws’ (29), by which moral rules are also dictated. It is not the classical ideal of a political community aiming at a good life, an arena where the good of every person is discerned, developed and instantiated by the art of prudent ruling. The Hobbesian state, pictured as the awesome figure of the monstrous Leviathan, is all powerful. Absolute and unified sovereignty is for him the only practical alternative to dangerous anarchy.

As a result of such a conception of the state, citizens’ traditional class distinctions, and their ancient dignities, liberties, and privileges are removed. They all become equalized and their liberty lies only in those things that the sovereign has not forbidden. What Hobbes considered indispensable to sovereign power can be summed up as complete control over militia, money, and mind. It is, in particular, the control over mind—i.e., education—that is crucial for him. ‘Common people’s minds … are like clean paper, fit to receive whatsoever by public authority shall be imprinted in them’.[9] They can therefore easily be subjected to the Hobbesian program of indoctrination. Since the teaching of sound political doctrine is essential for the preservation of peace, the sovereign decides what should be taught at schools and universities. The classics and all forms of traditional theology must be abandoned as potential sources of intellectual ferment and sedition.[10] The key is to ensure that people are instructed in ‘their duty to the sovereign power’.[11] Moreover, the sovereign has the right of censorship and it is his task to examine all books before publication. He also presides over the church and resolves all controversies in religion, controlling thus not only the words and deeds of his subjects, but also their consciences.[12]

While Hobbes is primarily concerned with the relations between individuals and the state, he has nonetheless made a substantial impact on the study of international relations. International politics, like all politics, is for him rooted in his concept of egoistic and power-seeking human nature. Once states are established, individual drive for power becomes the basis for the states’ behaviour, which manifests itself in their efforts to dominate other states and peoples. States, ‘for their own security’, writes Hobbes, ‘enlarge their dominions upon all pretences of danger and fear of invasion or assistance that may be given to invaders, [and] endeavour as much as they can, to subdue and weaken their neighbours’.[13] Accordingly, as it would be later for the realist Hans Morgenthau, who was deeply influenced by Hobbes and adopted a similar view of human nature, the quest and struggle for power lie at the core of the Hobbesian vision of relations among states. Further, as it would be later for the neo-realist Kenneth Waltz, international anarchy (the very fact that sovereign states are not subject to any common sovereign) is for Hobbes the defining element of international relations. In such an anarchic environment, in which other states might use force at any time, each state is responsible for its own survival and must be prepared to defend itself. 

By subjecting themselves to a sovereign, individuals escape the war of all against all which Hobbes associates with the state of nature; however, this war continues to dominate relations among states. This does not mean that states are always fighting, but rather that they have a disposition to fight.[14] The achievement of domestic security through creating a state is then paralleled by a condition of inter-state insecurity. One can argue that if Hobbes were fully consistent, he would agree with the notion that, to escape this condition, states should also enter into a contract and submit themselves to a world sovereign. Although the idea of a world state would find support among some realists, this was not a position taken by Hobbes himself. He does not propose that a social contract between nations be implemented to bring international anarchy to an end. This is because, as Hedley Bull later observed, the condition of insecurity in which states are placed does not necessarily lead to insecurity for individuals. As long as an armed conflict or other type of hostility between states does not actually break out, those living inside their borders, can feel relatively secure. In other words, although states may regard each other with suspicion and be ready for war, the lives of the people who live in them are not necessarily ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.[15]

The denial of the existence of universal moral principles in the relations among states brings Hobbes close to the Machiavellians and the followers of the doctrine of raison d’état. Since for him law is the command of the government,[16] states—all of which are sovereign and have no super-sovereign above them—are not subject to supranational legal or moral rules, except those to which they give consent and regard as their own. Further, they all have a basic natural right to do whatever they believe is necessary to preserve themselves. The right to self-preservation is possessed by sovereign states in just the same way as by individuals in the state of nature. Indeed, ‘every sovereign hath the same right, in procuring the safety of his people, that any particular man can have, in procuring the safety of his own body’.[17] In Hobbes one can thus find a powerful argument in the defence of the sovereign state against the supranational forces of globalization. However, what separates Hobbes from Machiavellian realpolitik and associates him more with classical realism is his insistence on the defensive character of foreign policy. We do not find in the Leviathan any glorification of war. As he repeatedly reminds us, his overriding concern is that both domestic and international peace be secured. Moreover, his political theory does not put forward the invitation to do whatever may be advantageous for the state. His normative approach to international relations is prudential and pacific and this, as Silviya Lechner rightly notes, may link him to the international ideas of Immanuel Kant. Sovereign states, like individuals, should be disposed towards peace, which is commended by reason.

Professor W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz (Opole University)


[1]  W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, ‘The United Citizens Organization: Public-Private Partnerships in Global Governance’, Research in Globalization 2 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resglo.2020.100012.

[2]  John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in focus, ed. Gary Fuller, Robert Stecker and John P. Wright (London: Routledge, 2000), 2.23.

[3]  In-text references to Silviya Lechner, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019).

[4]  Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), XIII.11.

[5]  Leviathan, XII.8.

[6]  See W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, ‘Hobbes: The Beginning of Modernity’, in his On the History of Political Philosophy: Great Political Thinkers from Thucydides to Locke (New York: Routledge, 2016), 158–83.

[7]  Leviathan, XIII.13.

[8]  Leviathan, XI.2.

[9]  Leviathan, XXX.6.

[10]  Leviathan, XXIX.14.

[11]  Leviathan, XXIII.6.

[12]  Leviathan, XLII.80.

[13]  Leviathan, XIX.4.

[14]  Leviathan, XIII.8.

[15]  Leviathan, XIII.9.

[16]  Leviathan, XV.41

[17]  Leviathan, XXX.30.

Online Colloquium (1): Introduction to Hobbesian Internationalism

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We begin with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner herself, which will be followed by weekly responses from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, Chiayu Chou, and Oliver Eberl, and finally a reply by Silviya Lechner. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.

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The Core Thesis

Hobbesian Internationalism is an invitation to rethink three aspects of Hobbes’s philosophy. The first concerns the grounds of his political philosophy. My main thesis is that ‘anarchy’ (state of nature) and authority constitute its basic categories. Because the grounds of politics involve questions of morality and law, the analysis deals primarily with Hobbes’s moral and legal philosophy, entailing further considerations of reason, language and mind. With respect to law, Hobbes holds that certain authoritative determinations of value require a legal form, that they demand the creation of a civil state as a juridical construct, and therefore an ‘exit’ from the state of nature as a condition devoid of such authoritative determinations.

It is notable that there are moral relations within Hobbes’s state of nature—contracts and laws of nature (precepts of reason). Both of these have a propositional (statement-like) form and require linguistic reason. A further peculiarity of Hobbes’s moral and political theory is that it does not begin with obligations; it begins with rights naturalistically construed (‘rights of nature’). Hobbes views human beings as agents capable of transforming the world of nature and bending it to their own purposes. The book suggests that the main reason why Hobbes’s state of nature is an unpalatable condition is that the presence of other agents necessarily places constraints on the pursuit of self-chosen purposes by each individual agent—this is a relational standpoint of the moral universe.

Let us assume with Hobbes that human beings have weighty reasons to abandon the condition of ‘mere nature’ and create a civil state. Does the same logic apply to states in the international sphere? My second major task is thus to reassess Hobbes’s views of international relations. Hobbes is often enlisted as an emblematic figure in the tradition of political realism. As used by political realists, the term ‘anarchy’—or state of nature—has grim connotations: it refers to a domain of ruthless state competition for power and security not governed by normative limits. Against this, the book outlines a normative theory of international relations termed ‘Hobbesian internationalism’. Its main argument is that, internationally, the best analogue of Hobbes’s domestic theory of the state is Kant’s theory of international right, which puts forward a peaceful confederation of free states. In light of its commitment to freedom, this confederation cannot be organised as a super state but exists under conditions of a normatively modulated state of nature. Hobbesian internationalism is a theory of an international authority within international anarchy. 

The State of Nature

The third major aspect of Hobbes’s philosophy tackled in the book is the concept of a state of nature. Like Robert Nozick, I believe that this concept is more interesting philosophically than the state, and that we must problematise it rather than take it for granted. The term ‘anarchy’, once again, is not linked to political realism. Rather, it stands for any domain of interaction bereft of common, authoritatively established standards. From this perspective, a primitive market or the internet represent states of nature or anarchical environments (the two concepts are used interchangeably). Part II of Hobbesian Internationalism is devoted to Hobbes’s arguments for anarchy presented in his major works on morality, law, and politics: The Elements (1640/1650), De Cive (1642/1647), and Leviathan (1651).[1]

In general, an anarchical condition constitutes a social world whose building blocks are agent relations. The problem that each decision maker faces inside this world is not ‘What should I do, given the limitations of the environment (e.g. scarcity)?’, but ‘What should I do in relation to you?’. This relational view is manifest in two-party relations such as promises and contracts which not accidentally have prominence in Hobbes’s analysis.

Commentators like Michael Oakeshott and Murray Forsyth have noted that the elementary relation in Hobbes’s state of nature is physical proximity (Forsyth 1988, 136; Oakeshott 1975, 3638, 64). Hobbesian individuals co-exist within a common finite space, and the premise that they have desires about external objects, or goals, as well as means to pursue these goals, entails that interaction with others is unavoidable. But if others cannot be avoided, can interaction be regulated so that, at a minimum, human life is preserved? Notice that self-preservation is not the point of Hobbes’s moral system but only its negative limit. Now, we may wonder to what extent is the plight of Hobbes’s state of nature associated with fears about one’s survival? In De Cive the state of nature is such a sphere of existential uncertainty, a ‘state of war’, linked to anticipatory violence and fear of violent death. In Leviathan uncertainty is explicated differently: it is of a more fundamental, epistemological sort and comprises uncertainty about future events. In The Elements, the state of nature is portrayed still differently: as a domain of ceaseless competition among prideful individuals. The point is that Hobbes does not adhere to a single, unchanging conception of a state of nature across his works.

Freedom and the State

Contractatianism supposes a sequence of three elements: a state of nature, social contract, and a civil state. Hobbes’s civil state is not an institution that imposes standards of fairness on individuals engaged in a cooperative enterprise, pace philosophers like John Rawls. A central thesis of Hobbesian Internationalism is that Hobbes regards the state as a public realm whose raison d’être is to enable the conditions of human freedom. The paradox is that in order to fulfil this task, the Hobbesian state must itself be a coercive or freedom-limiting mechanism. The difference between a thug who exercises coercive threats against a non-complying other and the Hobbesian state is that the state applies a rule of coercion that is general and omnilateral; its role is to enable the freedom of all by constraining the unbridled freedom of each. Hobbes is often misread as an absolutist who compares the state to an all-powerful God: but there is little of this, at least in Leviathan. In The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Kant adopts Hobbes’s premises of the state, both its coerciveness as a condition for subjective freedom, and its publicness and omnilateralism with respect to its subjects. But Kant is equally concerned with the constitutional structure of the state and thus with safeguards against the possibility that it might lapse into partiality or favouritism in the course of its institutional reproduction. Accordingly, Kant elevates the general will (an idea borrowed from Rousseau) into a regulative limit on the decisions of the sovereign ruler of a ‘republic’ (a properly constituted, rule-of-law state). On Kant’s premises, the rules of the game must be impartial between subjects and sovereign. Hobbes imposes no such constraint on his sovereign because he is occupied with the problem of how the state is to be set in motion and not with how it ought to be reproduced.

Can we find evidence in Hobbes’s writings for the hypothesis that the state is a freedom enabling device? My strategy has been to point out that both the input of Hobbes’s contractarianism (his premises about the state of nature) and its output (his doctrine of the civil state) are freedom based. Hobbes begins his account by positing a single original freedom, the right of nature. This is a freedom to act as one pleases, and freedom in Leviathan is defined as the ‘absence of Opposition… or externall Impediments of motion’ (L XXI, 261 [107]). Given proximity, the exercise of the right of nature by any single individual necessarily constrains its exercise by any another. The remedy, Hobbes suggests, is to devise common rules that would enable a multitude of agents to pursue their divergent goals without being severely harmed or obstructed. The candidate rules are the laws of nature. Formally, each law of nature is a hypothetical (if… then…) prescriptive statement advising each individual what to do if this individual wishes to survive amongst others. Substantively, Hobbes lists prescriptions against reneging on one’s word, arrogance, revengefulness and so on. But while the object of the laws of nature is the intersubjective world, their normative force is subjective because it is up to the subject alone to decide whether to make a certain (say, non-arrogant) manner of acting a matter of future policy, as required by a law of nature. The defect of subjective judgement can be overcome by creating a different kind of rules: civil laws. The latter possess generality (govern classes of subjects), apply to all subjects within the relevant class (not merely to some), and are binding on all. Most importantly, they possess certainty in lieu of the fact that their status as laws is authoritatively determined by a single and commonly known authority, the sovereign.

The idea that the civil laws of the state are binding can mean that they are backed up by coercion. Initially Hobbes thought that coercion suffices to ground obligation and law, appealing to God’s overwhelming power that compels human beings to obey His commands. This command theory of law is outlined in De Cive. But it exhibits two errors, as HLA Hart pointed out in The Concept of Law (1961), even though his target was John Austin’s version of the theory and not Hobbes’s. The first error is that it conflates obligation (the idea of putting oneself under an obligation) with force (the idea of being compelled to comply by another by physical means).The second is that a rule must already exist before it is enforced, so whence does the rule come? Hobbes’s answer is contained in the twin concepts of authority and authorisation that are unique to Leviathan. As Hobbes writes at the end of Chapter XV, the sovereign rules by authority (‘by right’) and not because of superior power.

Authority

Authority is conventionally defined as a political concept or a right to rule. Hobbes however wants to know what grounds political authority. Political authority is grounded in (simple) authority, which Hobbes defines as ‘the right of doing any action’ (L XVI, 218 [81]). ‘Authority’, then, designates a capacity for agency which can be delegated to another agent, and which forms the basis of Hobbes’s theory of authorising the sovereign introduced in Chap. XVI of Leviathan. The new concept of authorisation—the act of granting authority to another—entails corresponding changes in Hobbes’s conception of civil law, the relationship between ruler and ruled, and elucidates the naturalistic roots of Hobbes’s moral philosophy. In De Cive law is defined as ‘the command of that person (whether man or court) whose precept contains in it the reason of obedience’ (DC 14.1). Laws are the ‘precepts’ of God in relation to human agents, of magistrates in respect of their subjects, and ‘universally of all the powerful in respect of them who cannot resist’ (DC 14.1). In contrast, in Leviathan law is a command ‘only of him, whose Command is addressed to one formerly obliged to obey him’ (L XXVI, 312 [137]). The result is a transformed, bottom-up account of political authority and political obligation. But in a deeper sense, Hobbes’s concept of authority, as power of agency, reflects a naturalist worldview inside which human beings represent bundles of natural physical and mental capacities, and where the right of nature is a capacity to act intentionally by overcoming obstacles in a physical sense.  

Methodology

In terms of interpretive methodology, Hobbesian Internationalism adopts a procedure of analytical hermeneutics. ‘Analytical’ since its aim is to test the coherence of arguments and not to engage in exegesis. But also ‘analytical’ in the sense that Hobbes’s philosophy is viewed as a stock of ideas that are recognisable as a system, bracketing considerations of historical or political context. This constitutes a departure from Quentin Skinner’s methodological quest for disclosing the ‘ideologies’ that may have motivated Hobbes to write what he did (Skinner 1996). At the same time, the adopted methodology is ‘hermeneutical’ in that it attempts to understand Hobbes’s philosophy as a whole before any attempt is made to understand its ‘parts’, betraying my indebtedness to the idealist tradition and to Oakeshott’s reading of Hobbes. As Oakeshott wrote, ‘reality has no parts … and everything asserted of reality is asserted of it as a whole’ (1975, 130). To settle interpretive uncertainties, analytical hermeneutics locates particular arguments that Hobbes advanced within the context of his philosophical system, seen as a totality. To be sure, an interpreter, in seeking to understand a whole, is only able to generate a partial representation of that whole. But not all interpretations are equally good or equally bad (see also Boucher 2018). An interpretation must pass an internal test of coherence operating on the principle of self-correction (e.g., it should be possible to show that certain premises lead to a given conclusion), which is public: the reader can ascertain whether the provided interpretation bears scrutiny.

My interpretive strategy rejects the approach of indiscriminately borrowing textual evidence from Hobbes’s corpus. In Part II of Hobbesian Internationalism it is argued that Hobbes presents different accounts of the state of nature in The Elements, De Cive, and Leviathan. The philosophically significant break occurs in Leviathan, opening up an avenue for a Hobbesian theory of international relations, but this does not relegate the pre-1651 works to mere drafts of Hobbes’s masterpiece. Each constitutes a system of ideas that can stand on its own, and each produces a different (though not logically disconnected) moral, legal and political theory.

Models

The book identifies various analytical maps or models that Hobbes uses to spell out his arguments. With respect to the state of nature, the basic model in The Elements is competition (‘race’) fuelled by a desire for glory. De Cive lacks a clear model, but an appropriate reconstruction identifies a special uncertainty model where two groups of agents, moderates and glory seekers, are engaged in anticipatory violence (state of war). Leviathan contains three distinct models of the state of nature: (1) a generalised uncertainty model (epistemological and linguistic uncertainty); (2) a special uncertainty model (state of war); and (3) a mutual frustration (‘infelicity’) model where agents are obstructing each other, similar to drivers on a congested road.

Chapter 5 of Hobbesian Internationalism presents a structuralist reading of the infelicity model. It asks, what happens when free and equal individuals are confined to an unregulated, finite space of interaction? The proposed reading counts as structuralist because it factors out the differentiating properties of the Hobbesian agents (their motives) and employs only isomorphic properties (freedom and equality) plus environmental constraints. In Leviathan the equality of agents is understood as equal vulnerability to death, and freedom is absence of external impediments to one’s intended action. In terms of environmental constraints, the interaction space is assumed to be finite and bounded and the agents are similarly taken to be finite, physically bounded units. This model has freedom of action as its main concern as opposed to security: the problem is not how to avoid grave bodily harm or violent death but how to prevent collision among agents pursuing freely chosen and potentially conflictual goals. In this case, the role of the sovereign is not to provide security by virtue of wielding overwhelming power over the subjects but to generate a system of rules binding on them all. And even though these rules must be coercively enforceable—or must be civil laws—they are nonetheless freedom enabling devices. In Chapter XXX of Leviathan Hobbes compares them to ‘hedges’ that allow a multitude of travellers to reach their destination without obstructing one another. In Part III of Hobbesian Internationalism, this structuralist insight is used to illuminate the normative structure of the current international realm.

International Authority within International Anarchy: Kant meets Hobbes

Chapter 7 of the bookadvances the thesis that free and equal agents, states, would form an international authority that persists in an international state of nature. Two qualifications apply. The first is that the state of nature is normatively modulated. The second is that the envisaged international authority must be organised as a loose confederation of states, which each state is free to join or leave at will. Both premises are endorsed by Kant in his late writings: Perpetual Peace (1795) and The Metaphysics of Morals (1797). The proposed model of an international authority within international anarchy is a half-house between the ‘bare’ international anarchy model endorsed by political realism, and the utopian model of a super state.

Kant’s doctrine of an international authority composed of free states is based on a principle of international right, where right (Recht) is translated into English as ‘law’ or ‘justice’. My contention is that this principle has its pedigree in Hobbes’s domestic theory of the state, a point that remains poorly understood even among specialists given the tendency to focus on questions of morality. Kant and Hobbes might adhere to different conceptions of morality (depending on how they are read), but they share a theory of law and state. According to this theory, law and order require the creation of a state (public realm), whereas outside of the state, in the domain of the state of nature, lawlessness and disorder reign—in this respect political realists are correct in appropriating Hobbes. However, realism ignores the differentia of states as artificial persons who are (arguably) better placed than natural persons to ratify common rules of the game and to grant each other equal freedom. That is, the international state of nature is less harsh for states than the domestic state of nature is for human beings. This is because, as Hedley Bull has noted, it is relatively easy to kill a human being but very difficult to kill a state. Kant has another argument—that a ‘republic’ protects the rights of its subjects, and Hobbes will add, their security and well-being. This means that well-ordered states will not be pressed to build a super state—a state made of states—with the view of securing rights or well-being, for these things already exist inside their borders. But this is at most an instrumental justification of international authority. To provide a non-instrumental justification for it requires that we see the state as a legal person who has a moral personality (rights and duties of its own): a sort of moral sovereignty. This, on my interpretation, which links Hobbes to Kant and Kant back to Hobbes, motivates states to preserve a free, unencumbered interaction space among themselves based on shared rules of the game: a ‘thin’ international morality. If this space is to remain free, it should be anarchical: an insistence on a super state or comparable institutional structures, as in current projects of cosmopolitanism, is not only impractical: it militates against the idea of freedom which Hobbes understood so well.

Dr Silviya Lechner (King’s College, London)

References

Boucher, David (2018) Appropriating Hobbes. Legacies in Political, Legal and International Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forsyth, Murray (1988). Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan. In M. Forsyth and M. Keens-Soper, eds., A Guide to the Political Classics: Plato to Rousseau, 120–146. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hart, HLA (1961) The Concept of Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hobbes, Thomas.  (1949 [1651]) De Cive or the Citizen, ed. Sterling P. Lamprecht. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

Hobbes, Thomas. (1968 [1651]) Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson. London: Penguin.

Hobbes, Thomas. (1969. [1650]) The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, 2nd ed., ed. Ferdinand Tönnies. London: Frank Cass.

Kant, Immanuel (1991 [1795]) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, in Kant’s Political Writings ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, Immanuel (1996 [1797]) The Metaphysics of Morals, ed. Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oakeshott, Michael (1933) Experience and Its Modes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oakeshott, Michael (1975) Introduction to Leviathan. In Hobbes on Civil Association, 179. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Skinner, Quentin (1996) Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[1] Leviathan is cited by chapter and page number of the 1968 MacPherson edition, the original pagination of the 1651 ‘Head’ edition is shown in square brackets. De Cive is cited by chapter and section number.

Symposium on Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light, by Devin Stauffer

A Symposium on Devin Stauffer’s Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy, The Review of Politics 82, no. 1 (2020): 123-144.

Paul T. Wilford, ‘Introduction’

Geoffrey M. Vaughan, ‘Hobbes, Aristotle, and the Politics of Metaphysics’

Paul Franco, ‘Hobbes’s Secularism: Pragmatic, Civil-Theologian or Utopian Atheist?’

Ioannis D. Evrigenis, ‘Hobbes: Prophet of the Enlightenment or Justice of the Peace?’

Bryan Garsten, ‘Hobbes and the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns’

Devin Stauffer, ‘Response’

Latest Issue of Hobbes Studies (October 2019)

Hobbes Studies vol. 32, no. 2 (2019)

Contents:

Gianni Paganini, ‘Hobbes, the “Natural Seeds” of Religion and French Libertine Discourse’

Stewart Duncan, ‘Hobbes on the Signification of Evaluative Language’

J. Matthew Hope, ‘Natural Justice, Law, and Virtue in Hobbes’s Leviathan

Eleanor Curran, ‘Hobbesian Sovereignty and the Rights of Subjects’

Frank Lovett, ‘Hobbes’s Reply to the Fool and the Prudence of Self-Binding’

Reviews:

R.J.W. Mills, ‘Hobbes on Politics and Religion, edited by Laurens van Apeldoorn and Robin Douglass

Paul Sagar, ‘Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics, written by Arash Abizadeh’

EHS Mini-Workshop, Amsterdam, 20 Nov 2019

A mini-workshop on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes will be held at the University of Amsterdam (Roeterseilandcampus B1.02) on Wednesday 20 November 2019:

Programme:

13:00-14:15   Johan Olsthoorn (Amsterdam) – ‘Hobbes on the Rights of War’

14:20-15:35   Alexandra Chadwick (Groningen) – ‘Hobbes on the Nature of Man and the Nature of Politics’

15:40-16:55 Alan Nelson (UNC, Chapel Hill) – ‘Leviathan as Science and Why That Matters’

Organized by: Challenges to Democratic Representation (UvA); Amsterdam Centre for Political Thought; European Hobbes Society.

For more information, please contact Eric Schliesser (E.S.Schliesser@uva.nl)

Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Raylor

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor, followed by responses from Ted H. Miller, Patricia Springborg, and Alan Cromartie. We conclude this week with a reply by Timothy Raylor. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

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An author can hope for no greater honour than a careful, critical engagement with his work. I am most grateful to the three distinguished scholars who have generously offered their thoughtful and candid responses to Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. It is a matter of great satisfaction that all three respondents agree with the central claims of the book: that Hobbes’s understanding of rhetoric is Aristotelian rather than Ciceronian, and that this allows us to account for his various theoretical pronouncements about rhetoric and its relationship to philosophy without having to posit a series of phases, in which rhetoric is first embraced, then rejected, and finally embraced again. Each of them has questions about my approach to the subject, or objections to particular aspects of my argument, and it is on these, rather than on points of agreement, that I shall focus my response.

Professor Miller finds me too narrowly focused on ‘school logic’, suggesting that while ‘Hobbes attacked pedagogues for the political and social consequences he attached to their teaching, Raylor’s tendency is to turn these pedagogical conflicts into ends in themselves’—as if, as he puts it, while Hobbes is criticizing the direction in which his contemporaries were travelling, I have chosen to treat him as cavilling about the inadequacies of their driving manual. Hobbes was certainly concerned with incorrect teaching and illicit logical processes; but his focus was their political and social consequences. Such consequences were not simply ‘attached to’ school and university teaching; they were, rather, the direct result of the pollution of logic by rhetoric (chapter 5). I do not think it fair to suggest that I shrink this problem to quibbling over a driving manual. I devote the better part of a chapter to Hobbes’s analysis of the consequences of this compromised logic in the world. Chapter 6 examines Hobbes’s exposure of the weak logical foundations of political and indeed most other areas of western philosophy, built as they are on mere opinion and prejudice; it goes on to trace Hobbes’s increasingly sophisticated and wide-ranging analysis of the church’s use of rhetorical argumentation in order to establish and extend its temporal power.

A focus on logic and rhetoric is the prerequisite for an historically informed grasp of what Hobbes is doing. We need to understand, for example, that when he talks approvingly about ‘logic’ we cannot assume that he is referring to the discipline as it was then understood. Such a focus is needed also because Hobbes saw university education as one of the most important means by which the forces of darkness have consolidated and transmitted their power. In analysing the corruption of logic, Hobbes was not just criticizing a driving manual’s skewed and tendentious interpretations of road signage, he was also exposing the identities and motivations of its authors, and those of the instructors who followed it: those who have, without proper authority, taken upon themselves responsibility for road regulation and have, to serve their own interests, led drivers into confusion and peril.

My emphasis on the development of Hobbes’s thinking about the relationship between logic and rhetoric is, for Miller, symptomatic of a ‘monopolism’ of perspective, which allegedly impedes my ability to see other possible contexts. I do not believe that my approach is contextually monopolistic. One of my chapters explores the historiographical background to Hobbes’s translation of Thucydides; another examines the natural historical context of Hobbes’ poem on the Derbyshire Peak. The problem is that the contexts with which Miller wants me to engage do not strike me as useful for the tasks at hand. Thus, for example, Miller thinks I ought to have discussed Hobbes’s rhetorical practice in a work like Behemoth. But Behemoth—important though it is—is a work of history, not a work of philosophy; an analysis of Hobbes’s rhetorical practice therein would be largely irrelevant to an investigation of his understanding of the appropriate relationship between rhetoric and philosophy.

But it is not the absence of Behemoth that most bothers Miller. Readers familiar with his work will not be surprised to find that the most important context Miller thinks I ignore is that of mathematics: specifically ‘the mathematical culture in which [Hobbes] was immersed from the time of his earliest works’—a culture both humanist and courtly, in which the mathematician’s skills were not only admired and patronized but were also practised at the highest levels of society.[1] Miller accuses me of setting up an unnecessary barrier to the search for ‘connections between’ Hobbes and this culture by insisting that ‘we should not credit the notion of a mathematical humanism or its relevance to Hobbes if we cannot first establish that mathematics was at the core of university humanist pedagogy’. This does not reflect my position.

Miller is right that I do not regard mathematics as the core of grammar school or university education; but then neither does Miller—or, at least, he did not when he wrote Mortal Gods (‘Mathematics was not a key part of the education at any given school’).[2] Where he now claims broadly that Quintilian and Vives ‘recommended’ mathematics, in his book he noted more precisely that they recommended it mostly for mental training.[3] Vives saw in it some practical utility (everyone needs to know how to count, it’s helpful to know how to measure things, and so on), but he was concerned, as were others, that a young gentleman who spends too much time on maths would be unfit for public life.[4] In sum, Miller and I agree that within the grammar school and university, mathematics, though a fundamental aspect of a liberal education, was not viewed as a discipline worth pursuing for its own sake.

And yet it does not follow from this that I regard curricular centrality as the necessary prerequisite for taking seriously the notion of ‘mathematical humanism’. The problem, as I explained in the book, is that I am not persuaded by the evidence Miller has mustered to support his account of a high culture of mathematics in which courtiers and monarchs were enthusiastically and knowledgeably engaged. In expressing such doubts, I did not intend (as Miller claims) to ‘stop us from looking towards the court, and to the households of noblemen for such connections’; a large part of my book is concerned with Hobbes’s place in just such a household. Nor do I ‘brush aside evidence of Hobbes’s connection with Britain’s mathematical culture’; on the contrary, my discussion of Hobbes’s surveying work with William Senior furnishes evidence unnoticed by Miller for Hobbes’s connection with the world of practical mathematics. Hobbes clearly had links to this world, as he did to that of scholarly mathematics—in his friendship with Gilles Personne de Roberval, for instance. But I am not persuaded by Miller’s claim that such connections amounted to immersion in any kind of ‘culture of mathematics’. Would anyone thus immersed have committed so many glaring faux pas in his mathematical works as Hobbes? Those who were immersed in that culture (e.g. Barrow, Wallis, Huygens, de Sluse) did not see him as one of their number, but, rather, as a dilettante working beyond the pale. And while personal animus and political opposition can account to some degree for such responses, these cannot be uniformly attributed to enmity: witness the efforts of Hobbes’s friend Sorbière to encourage him to acknowledge and correct the paralogisms that ‘nearly all the mathematicians’ found in his duplication of the cube.[5]

Even allowing for these disagreements, it is unclear to me that a discussion of Hobbes’s mathematics forms a necessary aspect of an argument about Hobbes’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric. Miller feels it necessary because he thinks that many scholars regard Hobbes’s ‘embrace of mathematics’ as signalling his ‘break with humanism’ and that those who wish to argue that there was no such break must confront this ‘head-on’. But I show that Hobbes was always a humanist by looking at the disciplines and genres in which he worked. And while I agree with Miller that there was a turn in Hobbes’s thinking at the end of the 1630s, the view that this amounted to an ‘embrace of mathematics’ is founded on a cursory reading of Hobbes’s approving comments, in texts like the epistle dedicatory to The Elements of Law, about the firmness and certainty of the knowledge attained by mathematical learning, in contrast to the endless controversies generated by dogmatical learning—a topos I discuss in chapter 6 (see especially 272–4). Hobbes does not here embrace mathematics; rather, he embraces the idea of disciplinary protocols that can generate certainty. Mathematics provided a model of accomplishment, but different fields required different approaches. The method by which certainty could be generated in the field of philosophy was, Hobbes argued, his austere apodiectic logic, purged of the approximations and probabilities of rhetoric. Hobbes’s radical redefinition of logic, and his separation from it of the traces of rhetoric, was thus not just pedagogical quibbling; it was central to what he thought he was doing as a philosopher.

Professor Springborg suggests that my book ‘does not really discuss’ Hobbes’s ‘science’, his optics, or ‘the atomism of the Cavendish circle’, in addition to ignoring his mathematics. She finds this surprising because I edited a collection of essays on the Cavendish circle and am working on an edition of De corpore. But one may surely work on different aspects of a writer without talking about them all at the same time. Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes is concerned with Hobbes’s understanding of philosophy in general—its character and status, its relation to other forms of knowledge and practice. Thus, I discuss Hobbes’s conception of scientia, and his theorizing of a distinction between those species of philosophy in which scientia is achievable and those (e.g. natural philosophy) in which it is not. But Hobbes’s endeavours within particular sub-branches of philosophy—e.g. natural philosophy (Springborg’s ‘science’), optics, mathematics—are not among the concerns of this book.

Although Springborg thinks my argument is probably right, she feels that in order to prove it ‘we need to know more about the distribution of knowledge in early modern England, which cannot simply be read off from the heavily Ciceronian educational curriculum’. But my account of the context of Hobbes’s thinking is not ‘simply read off from’ the standard grammar-school curriculum. In regard to rhetoric, for instance, I show that he was working in a tradition of neo-Aristotelianism that had nothing to do with grammar school Ciceronianism, and which I trace back via Goulston and Vossius to the editions of mid-sixteenth century Venice. In exploring Hobbes’s thought I have focused on texts to which he had access and on contexts that are demonstrably relevant to our understanding of him. Professor Springborg thinks I would need to range far more widely to secure my case.

Her review essay for Global Intellectual History furnishes a full account of what she has in mind: a survey of the transmission of Greek scientific writings via the translators of Abassid Baghdad and the Clunaic monks of Toledo to the Latin west, together with an account of the renewed search for Arabic, Syriac, Coptic, and Hebrew manuscripts in the seventeenth century.[6] It is a learned, stimulating, and provocative investigation, striking for its geographic and historical reach. But I do not see how it might help me persuade anyone of the merits of my argument about Hobbes. It does not, I think, yield a single new source that might pertain to my argument, and its conclusion that Hobbes saw himself as the inheritor of a discrete tradition of ‘science, philosophy and rhetoric’ derived from Aristotle via the Arabs, and opposed to Latin scholasticism, seems to me doubtful. It is, at least, at odds with Hobbes’s typical self-presentation as either sui generis, or, as in the epistle dedicatory to De corpore, the latest in a short line of modern philosophers (Copernicus, Galileo, Harvey) who have thrown off the dead weight of tradition and established new sciences.

Rather than focusing on topics my book does not attempt to address, Professor Cromartie faces squarely up to the central questions that it does raise, flagging up the difficulties involved in working out ‘the precise relationship of rhetoric with logic’ in Hobbes’s thinking and, in doing so, directing our attention to the importance of attending to the Latin Digest and English Briefe of Aristotle’s Rhetoric—a desideratum also recently registered by Quentin Skinner.[7] Cromartie asks two questions. First, he wonders how much, in his mature political writings, Hobbes’s view of rhetoric has changed from the ‘capacious view’ he registered in his Digest of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, according to which it encompassed not just ēthos and pathos, but also logos. Cromartie observes that human interaction depends upon things that do not meet the strictest requirements of formal logic: we cannot function without beliefs and opinions, for instance, or act without the prompting of the passions. In my view, Cromartie is right on these points, and I think that Hobbes would have agreed with him. But Hobbes’s political philosophy was not designed to regulate such quotidian interactions; it was to lay the foundations for an incontrovertible understanding (scientia) of the principles of authority, on which grounds a solid political structure might be raised. Nor was his earlier view of rhetoric quite as capacious as Cromartie implies. Rhetoric did not, either in Aristotle’s view or in Hobbes’s rendition of it, depend (as Cromartie suggests) upon formal logic. Within rhetoric, logos denotes something offered as a reason, an argument, a proof, rather than ‘logic’ in the strict sense. Thus, while I agree with Cromartie that there is little change in Hobbes’s understanding of the character of rhetoric—the works of his maturity still register an Aristotelian conception of the three kinds of proof (even if, as in the passage from De cive, XII.12, that both Cromartie and I discuss, he sometimes downplays the importance of logos)—the official position of his maturity is, as he puts in Anti-White, I.3, that since philosophy is the product exclusively of formal logical procedures it can have nothing to do with rhetoric.[8]

The second question raised by Professor Cromartie concerns logic’s limitations. Here he suggests that in practice Hobbes often exceeds the boundaries of strictly logical argumentation and that in order to pursue the kinds of quarry he seeks he is obliged to do so. Since matters of faith fall outside the scope of scientia, this may explain Hobbes’s use of rhetorical techniques to attack the church in part four of Leviathan, and since Leviathan as a whole has ‘some elements of advocacy’ its use of rhetorical argumentation is not really surprising. I agree. Techniques of ridicule designed to undermine ēthos are famously deployed in the ‘Comparison of the Papacy with the Kingdome of Fayries’.[9] And Leviathan is clearly engaged in advocating primarily the utility of Hobbes’s political philosophy, as in the suggestion at the end of part two that this should be publicly taught: a claim that follows from, and exceeds, the logical demonstration of its validity of the two preceding sections.[10]

Thus far, I think, Cromartie and I are in agreement. Where we begin to depart is over the question of whether Hobbes’s practice in Leviathan is the consequence of a changed theory of philosophy that now allows room for rhetorical persuasion. In his final paragraph, Cromartie turns to Hobbes’s much-discussed dismissal, in the ‘Review, and Conclusion’ of the argument, drawn from ‘the contrareity of some of the Naturall Faculties of the Mind’, that

‘in all Deliberations, and in all Pleadings, the faculty of solid Reasoning, is necessary: for without it, the Resolutions of men are rash, and their Sentences unjust: and yet if there be not powerfull Eloquence, which procureth attention and Consent, the effect of Reason will be little.’[11]

Cromartie suggests that Hobbes here rejects just the conclusion that strength of reasoning and force of eloquence cannot co-exist in the same person, rather than the premise that ‘eloquence is necessary “in all Deliberations”’. He certainly rejects that conclusion, suggesting that while the two faculties cannot be deployed at the same time, they may indeed co-exist in the same person: ‘Judgement, and Fancy may have place in the same man; but by turnes; as the end which he aimeth at requireth’.[12] But this does not imply endorsement of the premise that eloquence is necessary to deliberation. While eloquence may contribute to the ‘adorning and preferring of Truth’ once discovered, it must be excluded from reasoning, and as such it is, as Hobbes’s discussion of counselling in chapter 25 of Leviathan argued, a threat to proper deliberation.[13]

Despite these disagreements, I think Cromartie is right that Hobbes’s literary practice frequently violates his austere theory of valid logical process, and right that it must inevitably do so. This is certainly the case in Leviathan, which taken as a whole, I have argued, does not constitute a work of philosophy or ‘science’ according to Hobbes’s criteria. But it is not, I think, uniquely true of Leviathan. Hobbes’s logical procedures are so narrow and so rigid that it seems unlikely that they could ever generate in practice all the conclusions to which his philosophy tends; recourse to the improvisations and approximations of informal, rhetorical reasoning seems inevitable. A well-known example of this kind of slippage is Hobbes’s ambiguous use of the concept of conatus at one moment to denote just the beginning of a motion, at another to suggest its cause.

Although his early critics made, as I have noted, much of the contradiction of austere logical theory by high-handed rhetorical practice, only very occasionally does Hobbes acknowledge that his philosophical conclusions exceed his logical protocols.[14] We see this, for instance, in his treatment of natural philosophy (which I discuss in chapter 5), where he acknowledges that hypothetical knowledge only is attainable. We see it also in his backing away, in the preface to the 1647 edition of De cive, from the implication that everything said therein was philosophically demonstrated, and allowing that his argument for the superiority of monarchy was offered only ‘probably’.[15] But any reader keen to find a more substantive acknowledgement or wide-ranging reflection on the problem would, I think, be disappointed. The stakes were too high and the intellectual environment too hostile for Hobbes to open up for scrutiny the foundations of his philosophical practice.

But such practice may well repay further investigation. A full study of the logical and rhetorical moves involved in each of the three parts of the Elements of Philosophy—Body, Man, Citizen—would establish precisely the points at which Hobbes slides from strict philosophical demonstration into rhetorical proof and thus help us grasp more precisely than hitherto the relationship between Hobbes’s theory of philosophical reasoning, with its clear separation of logic from rhetoric, and his practice of it. Such a study might shed light also on the reasons underlying Hobbes’s painfully slow progress on a work that was, allegedly, fully conceived by 1642, but which was not finally available in print until 1658. Research of this kind will be facilitated by the provision of critical editions of the texts that make up the trilogy—editions that register not just the latest printed versions but also the evolution of the texts in question. New editions of all three texts are in preparation for The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes. It is on an edition of the first part of the trilogy, De corpore (Of Body), that I, together with Stephen Clucas, am currently engaged.

Professor Timothy Raylor (Carleton College)


[1]  Ted H. Miller, Mortal Gods: Science, Politics, and the Humanist Ambitions of Thomas Hobbes (University Park, PA., 2011).

[2]  Mortal Gods, 93.

[3]  Mortal Gods, 17–23.

[4]  Juan Luis Vives, On Education, ed. and tr. Foster Watson (Cambridge, 1913), 200–3.

[5]  The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Noel Malcolm, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1994), ii, 565.

[6]  ‘Raylor’s revisionist humanist Hobbes. Patricia Springborg review essay of Timothy Raylor, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes’, Global Intellectual History, online first: https://doi.org/10.1080/23801883.2019.1606692.

[7]  http://www.europeanhobbessociety.org/general/new-directions-for-hobbes-research/ I am at currently work on a comparative study of the two texts.

[8]  Hobbes, Critique du ‘De mundo de Thomas White, ed. Jean Jacquot and Harold Whitmore Jones (Paris, 1973), 107; Hobbes, Thomas White’s ‘De mundo’ Examined, ed. and tr. Harold Whitmore Jones (Bradford, 1976), 26; cit. Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 215.

[9]  Leviathan, 385; see Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 268–70.

[10]  Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 270.

[11]  Leviathan, 389.

[12]  Leviathan, 389.

[13]  Leviathan, 390; Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 249, 252.

[14]  Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 1–2.

[15]  Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 177.

Online Colloquium (4): Cromartie on Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor, followed by responses from Ted H. Miller and Patricia Springborg. We now have a response from Alan Cromartie, before finishing with a reply by Timothy Raylor next week. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

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It is a pleasure to welcome Timothy Raylor’s Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. Both specialists in rhetoric and generalist Hobbes scholars will surely find much to admire in its careful presentation. As someone doing work that crosses much of the same ground, I was grateful for the thoroughness of the picture it presents and the deftness and acuteness with which it summarises existing scholarship. Irreversible local advances range from the discovery of natural-philosophical concerns in De mirabilibus pecci to the removal of doubts about the Hobbesian authorship of A briefe of the art of rhetorique. The most striking claims, however, are that Hobbes’s ‘attitude to rhetoric underwent no radical changes during the course of his long life’ (11) and that it remained essentially Aristotelian in basis. To my mind, these claims are convincing; the difficulties lie in working out the implications for the precise relationship of rhetoric with logic. Given the opportunity, I’d like to ask two questions, both raised by presupposing that Hobbes’s rhetoric is broadly Aristotelian in nature. The first is concerned with what lies within the scope of ‘rhetoric’; the second with what lies outside the scope of Hobbesian ‘logic’. The starting point of both is some remarks about A briefe.

There is a case for saying that Hobbes’s concern with ‘belief’ involves a subtle distortion of Aristotle’s views, re-orienting study of the possible means of persuasion towards an unqualified focus on the endpoint of the process. But A briefe is unquestionably loyal to its Aristotelian source in treating the ‘belief’ produced by the art of rhetoric as coming ‘partly from the behaviour of the speaker; partly from the passions of the hearer: but especially from the proofes of what we alledge’ (Briefe, 5) – in other words, from êthos, pathos, but especially logos. The Digest and A briefe are both surprisingly insistent on the dominant role of logic in the art of rhetoric. Moreover, the logic that interests Hobbes is formally valid logic; he shows surprisingly little concern with fallacies (less, certainly, than Sturmius and Goulston). He mentions the use of examples—characterised as ‘short inductions’—but he is much more interested in ‘short syllogisms’ (that is, in enthymemes), which are for the most part presented as conventional syllogisms whose fault is that they are based upon endoxa. The Latin Digest’s summary of Book One, Chapter Six goes so far as to provide cross-references explaining the logical links that obtain between the colours of good. Significantly, Hobbes departs from Aristotle’s text in interpreting refutative enthymemes as arguments ‘wherein from that which the Adversary maintaineth, wee conclude that which is manifestly impossible’ (Briefe, 131). The Greek does not specifically refer to this kind of manoeuvre. In other words, Hobbes was using his rhetoric classes to teach the earl of Devonshire a kind of argument that was to be essential to his ‘scientific’ thinking.

My first question, then, is concerned with the survival of this capacious view of the art of rhetoric in the political writings of his maturity. Aristotle’s appeals to êthos, pathos, and logos all have a fairly obvious potential to go wrong: the hearer’s faith may be misplaced, his passions may distract him, and the commonly held opinions on which his ‘proofs’ are based may be in various respects misleading. But they can also go right; indeed, they must go right if any political order is to be sustainable. Belief is not only the basis of Christianity, but the default condition of human interaction. The Elements tells us that ‘there be many things which we receive from the reports of others, of which it is impossible to imagine any cause of doubt’; such things compose ‘a great part of our histories’ (EL, I.vii.9). Moreover, when specific people do specific things, they do so at the prompting of the passions. Reason is even powerless to make hearers pay attention (217). The point is not just that fear is at the heart of political life, nor even (if Oakeshott and others are right) that good behaviour can be driven by a generous pride, but that the causal chain that sets a human being in motion invariably passes through a passion. From his translation of Thucydides onwards, Hobbes is hostile to deliberate inflammation of the passions (of the type that will inevitably occur in large assemblies), but any presentation of future goods and evils will of its nature stimulate a passion-driven response. Lastly, there is some suggestion that ‘logic’ is still a component of what Hobbes calls ‘eloquence’, at least in the passage at Civ, xii.12 where the ‘art’ of one type of ‘eloquence’ is said to be logic, while the ‘art’ of the other—involving the use of metaphors and endoxa—is ‘rhetoric’ (a weaker claim, I think, than saying that these manoeuvres simply are rhetoric). I agree that this kind of contrast between ‘rhetoric’ and ‘logic’ is in a pejorative sense of the term a rhetorical manoeuvre (182), improperly implying that the art of rhetoric should be identified with some of its aspects. But has anything else really changed?

My second question is concerned with logic’s limitations. Here I differ from the view that natural philosophy is something less than science (14). This raises some deep problems that it would be impossible to settle by quotation. I take it, though, that Hobbes’s official position is that ‘science’ is conditional knowledge; the ‘truth’ that is involved in scientific propositions takes the form ‘if x, then y’. Civil science and geometry do have the special advantage that human beings can bring x about, but science by its very nature rests on suppositions and cannot lead to any non-hypothetical conclusions. Leviathan, Chapter Seven could hardly be clearer that ‘no Discourse whatsoever, can End in absolute Knowledge of Fact, past or to come’ (Lev 1651, 30); not only is there no path from fact to ‘science’, there is equally no path from science to fact. There may of course be passages in which Hobbes lapses from this very radical position, implying that a factual correspondence can be ‘true’ (at 179, the principia vera of Civ, x.11 are a possible example), but if we take it seriously, then science relates tp words, not things. This was the view, at all events, that Hobbes himself expressed in his ‘Objections’ to Descartes (190). Science can police our language—discouraging, for instance, loose talk of ‘liberty’—but cannot map the words we use onto specific actions. If so, it is not much to the discredit of rhetoric that it pursues an object that is not strictly ‘truth’. One such object worth pursuing is destroying pernicious religion. Prophetic religion is based on a historic revelation: the faith of a believer is faith in testimony (in general of testimony that miracles occurred). In other words, its basis falls outside the scope of science. But because it is faith in a person, it is open to attack by anything that attacks that person’s êthos. This surely explains the highly rhetorical texture of Leviathan, Part IV: ‘Of the Kingdome of Darknesse’ that is acknowledged on all sides to constitute a problem.

More tentatively, it can be suggested that the tone of the rest of the volume is appropriate to a project that has some elements of advocacy (deliberative rhetoric encouraging specific people to do specific things: encouraging, for instance, royalists to acquiesce in a republic that they found repulsive). All Hobbes’s major works display much literary art, but Leviathan does seem to aim at different, more varied effects. Pace Schuhmann, these effects do seem consistent with the view that

‘in all Deliberations, and in all Pleadings, the Faculty of solid Reasoning is necessary: for without it, the Resolutions of men are rash, and their Sentences unjust: and yet if there be not powerfull Eloquence, which procureth attention and Consent, the effects of Reason will be little’ (Lev, 389).

It is true that this passage forms part of an argument Hobbes rejects, but the claim that he objects to is not the premise that eloquence is necessary ‘in all deliberations’, but the conclusion that the faculty of eloquence cannot co-exist in one person with solid reasoning. If Leviathan just is deliberative rhetoric, should we be surprised that it uses rhetorical techniques?

Professor Alan Cromartie (University of Reading)

New Directions for Hobbes Research

We asked some leading scholars to identify areas of Hobbes studies that they think have been relatively under-studied to date and deserve greater attention. Here’s what they suggested. (We welcome further suggestions from Hobbes scholars and will happily add them to this post.)

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Gianni Paganini

The “continental” Hobbes – Hobbes’s metaphysical, scientific and theological thought in his relations with correspondents in France and on the continent (in particular P. Gassendi and the circle of erudite libertines, including P. Sorbière and La Mothe Le Vayer).

We usually consider Hobbes to be a great English thinker, and to place him in that context, but we do not often take sufficient store of the fact that he wrote some of his most important works (e.g. Leviathan, De cive and most of De corpore) during the decade of his exile in France (1641–1651), notably in Paris, that is on the continent. In this perspective, it would be helpful to study the printed and manuscript sources related to his “continental” stay.

This aspect has been studied significantly with regard to the debate with Descartes regarding his Meditations, to which Hobbes wrote a series of Objections; however, much less study has been focused on the relationships and ties between Hobbes and the thinkers that were closer to him from a metaphysical, epistemological and also political standpoint, such as the so-called French “libertines” and Pierre Gassendi. Gassendi, in turn, represented the Epicurean renewal, which interested Hobbes both due to its materialist bent as for the importance accorded to instituting a conventional contract as a source of law and politics. This genuine network of Epicurean friendships, in which an interest in science and a passion for philosophy went hand in hand, has yet to be explored in depth. In particular, the manuscripts connected to Sorbière (close friend of both Hobbes and Gassendi) and his correspondence (manuscripts held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris) could provide us with new clues into Hobbes’s associations in Paris and the intellectual ties that he was able to establish with the French neo-Epicurean and libertine tradition. We also need to study systematically the manuscripts (conserved in Tours) that demonstrate the various steps of Gassendi’s writing of Syntagma philosophicum. These manuscripts are very interesting, as they enable us to compare the parallel evolution of both systems during Hobbes’s decade in Paris.

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Quentin Skinner

I think there are still many important questions to be asked about the young Hobbes. How significant was his sojourn in Italy and France in 1614/15? What more might be learned about his relationship with Francis Bacon? What are we to think of his work as a translator? When and why did he translate Thucydides’s History, and how political was his translation? How important was his Latin version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric for his understanding of the theory of eloquence? How far may that in turn have been important in relation to his project for a science of politics? Some of the finest historical work on Hobbes of recent times has of course addressed these and related issues – most obviously the work of Kinch Hoekstra, Noel Malcolm, Timothy Raylor and the late Karl Schuhmann. But it seems to me there’s still considerable scope for more research on Hobbes’s intellectual formation and development.

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Patricia Springborg

My immediate thoughts concern possibilities for empirical research. Quentin Skinner in his recent book, From Humanism to Hobbes—tracing the immediate context for Hobbes’s breakthrough in Leviathan of treating the person of the state as artificial, the seat of power—has made brilliant use of the Thomason Collection of documents held in the British Library, comprising some 22,000 items including civil war pamphlets, and especially those which parroted some of the most exaggerated arguments for popular sovereignty of the radical French Huguenot’s whom Hobbes was desperately concerned to refute. This material must somehow have made its way to Paris, where Hobbes was writing, and there must still be traces of it in the Bibliothèque Nationale or the innumerable private libraries which have survived. Far too little work has been done on Hobbes’s period in Paris, and especially empirical work.

Elsewhere I have suggested that Hobbes is also a perfect candidate for prosopography, which allows us to create from the careers of individuals nested in important networks a profile for the group, to try to throw light on ideas and actions for which in individual cases, like that of Hobbes, we lack material evidence. The parallels between the factions that ran the parliament of 1621, for which we have excellent records, and those which ran the Virginia Company, of which we also have excellent minutes, are striking. Hobbes’s patron, Cavendish, in making Hobbes a member of the Virginia and Somers Island Companies, of which he turned out to be one of the most diligent members, was surely stacking the court. But to what end? Such a study would teach us more about the Virginia Company as a school for politicians, and its possible impact on the formation of Hobbes’s ideas on government and public administration in the critical chapters 22, 24, and 29 of Leviathan!

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Susanne Sreedhar

In his major works of political philosophy, Hobbes makes striking pronouncements about sexual behaviour. For example, in De Cive he asserts that no sexual behaviour is forbidden in nature, that there can be no such thing as marriage in the absence of a civil state, that what counts as adultery is determined entirely by the positive law, and that marriages can be dissolved or not, depending on those laws. In Leviathan he adds that men can take as many wives as the law of their country permits.

Some of these claims are accorded a few sentences of explanation or defence, but most are simply asserted. Even when Hobbes does try to provide some justification for these pronouncements, it tends to be unsatisfactory. His various remarks about sex appear prominently in harsh criticisms by Hobbes’s contemporaries. Bishop Bramhall castigates Hobbes for his remarks on adultery and divorce while the Earl of Clarendon expresses horror at his allowance of polygamy. Present-day readers may not share the horror of Hobbes’s contemporaries. They nevertheless are entitled to an explanation for why Hobbes holds these views, which arguments he enlists to defend them, and how those views fit into his overall moral and political theory.

What are we, today, to make of Hobbes’s provocative claims about sex? How should we understand his view on sex, given that he offers scant or unsatisfying explanations for what he says about it?

Mainstream Hobbes scholarship sheds little light on these questions. With a few notable exceptions, Hobbes scholars of the past, say, fifty years have not had much, if anything, to say about sex. Although there is a growing industry of feminist political theorists, literary critics, and even some philosophers who take up Hobbes on the question of gender, few consider questions about sex and sexuality apart from gender.

Hobbes does not give a systematic view of human sexuality or sexual morality. The pieces of texts where he mentions the subjects are scattered throughout his different works and they are brief. Can we reconstruct Hobbes’s position from these scattered remarks and the logic behind them? If so, how does this effect understanding Hobbes’s overall philosophical political project and what implications does it have for the debates over how to understand Hobbes’s views on gender?

Online Colloquium (3): Springborg on Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor, followed by a response from Ted H. Miller. We now have a response from Patricia Springborg, which will be followed by a response from Alan Cromartie, and then a reply by Timothy Raylor. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

***

In his immensely learned and meticulously detailed book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, Timothy Raylor rightly points to anomalies in what has become the received wisdom about Thomas Hobbes’s understanding of the relation between philosophy and rhetoric.[1] Quentin Skinner, whose Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (1996) is now canonical, in his recent and excellent From Hobbes to Humanism (2018), restates his basic assumption, that ‘by “humanism” and “the humanities”, I am simply referring to a specific academic curriculum widely followed in the grammar schools and universities of early modern England … a course of instruction comprising five elements: grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history and moral philosophy’.[2] Skinner and Raylor assume that Thomas Hobbes was educated in terms of just such a curriculum. But Skinner has detected in Hobbes a growing scepticism about the value of rhetoric, given the political misuse of powers of persuasion, at the same time that his interest in science and evidence-based proofs increased in the 1630s, re-embracing the powers of rhetoric only in Leviathan, and particularly its polemic against ‘the Kingdom of Darkness’. While Raylor has come to doubt whether Hobbes ever embraced the civic humanists’ veneration for rhetoric.

Despite the curriculum, or just because of it, Raylor asserts, ‘Hobbes’s understanding of rhetoric [w]as, from the first, Aristotelian rather than Ciceronian. It was Aristotle, whose Rhetoric Hobbes rather surprisingly chose over the more predictable, Ad Herennium of Cicero, or Quintilian’s Institutes, as the text on rhetoric for his Cavendish charge’; and it was Aristotle who insisted that ‘Rhetoric is a tool, both powerful and dangerous; it needs to be kept apart from philosophy, which is—or ought to be—concerned with truth, not with persuasion’ (129–30). For Hobbes, the sciences must be communicated in language that is perspicuous, and ‘perspicuity excludes, by definition, most of the verbal and intellectual devices, the figures of thought and diction, of rhetorical elocutio’ (253).

Hobbes claimed that ‘philosophy has nothing to do with rhetoric’ as early as Anti-White, I.3’ (171–72), consistently distinguishing logic as concerned with truth from rhetoric as concerned with victory; and this realization ‘allows us to recognize a consistency in the concerns over rhetoric Hobbes registered at various points in his career without having to posit a dizzying series of voltes faces to explain them’ (191–93). I do not doubt that Raylor is right. The elegant simplicity of his revision allows us to see how for Hobbes philosophy (concerned with demonstrable truths) and rhetoric (concerned with the means of persuasion) were, like science (proceeding from demonstrable truths) and the passions (the subject of persuasion), two sides of the same coin, and that Hobbes’s ‘civil science’ was a neo-Aristotelian alternative to Ciceronian eloquence-based civic humanism. This is quite a momentous revision. It does not take away from the excellent work of Skinner and others on Ciceronian rhetoric in early modern England, but it does relocate it.

Raylor dismisses as an exaggerated anecdote Aubrey’s account of Hobbes’s Euclidean epiphany of 1630, where he claims to have encountered geometry for the first time (127), while stressing throughout the book that mathematics was not included in the typical English early modern humanist educational curriculum that prepared nobles and gentlemen for court; and was not part of Hobbes’s own early education either:

Theorists of noble education regarded geometry as a discipline with which the young gentleman should have some acquaintance, to help his understanding of the science of fortification and appreciation of architecture. But few if any regarded it as desirable that a young man should make a serious study of mathematical subjects (128).

In fact, Raylor’s initial judgment that Aubrey’s account of Hobbes’s Euclidean epiphany is an exaggerated incident, is probably the right one. Richard Talaska’s comparison between the Hardwick Hall library catalogue in Hobbes’s hand (Hardwick, MS Hobbes E.1.A), and the statutory requirements of the Oxford University curricula in Hobbes’s day, shows that geometry was in fact stipulated in the undergraduate programme, the required texts being those of Euclid of Alexandria (fl. 300 BC), Apollonius of Perga (3rd to 2nd c. BC), and Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287–c. 212 BC).[3]

Given the fervour with which mathematical and scientific MSS in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew and Coptic, were hunted in the seventeenth century, especially by English and Dutch trading companies, the news that geometry came to Hobbes so late is hardly credible. Possibly as a student he might not have given it much attention, but since mathematics plays such a crucial role in determining what for him is science and what is philosophical truth, we should find textual evidence for this epiphany. And we have it already in the exultant Epistle Dedicatory of the Elements of Law of 1640 to his patron, Newcastle, at whose command Hobbes is writing. There he already claims his epiphany (so to speak) to be the distinction between science and dogma, where mathematics, and especially geometry (presumably), that ‘consisteth in comparing figures and motions only’, is the discriminating case:

‘From the two principal parts of our nature, Reason and Passion, have proceeded two kinds of learning, mathematical and dogmatical. The former is free from controversies and dispute, because it consisteth in comparing figures and motion only; in which things truth and the interest of men, oppose not each other. But in the later there is nothing not disputable…’ [4]

In this brief dedication Hobbes defends his method, if he excuses his style, precisely in terms of the philosophy-rhetoric antithesis: ‘For the style, it is therefore the worse, because whilst I was writing I consulted more with logic, than with rhetoric.’ Here Hobbes most clearly demonstrates that he is already post-humanist, belonging to the movement of early modern scientists, within whose company he placed himself, far from the civic humanists of the Renaissance (already revered in Cambridge, but not in Oxford), although this did not prevent him from continuing to observe the marks of a humanist, as the writer of Latin poetry and translator of Thucydides and Homer.

Raylor’s book confines itself to an exhaustive study of Hobbes’s relevant texts, especially those of his so-called humanistic phase: the Briefe of Aristotle’s Rhetoric; Hobbes’s country house poem, De Mirabilibus Pecci Carmen; and his translation of Thucydides. Later chapters address Hobbes’s redeployment of rhetoric as an artful weapon to disclose the chicanery of the Church, culminating in the Kingdom of Darkness of Leviathan Book 4 and Hobbes’s burlesque the Historia Ecclesiastica. The thread of Hobbes’s philosophical seriousness, his indebtedness to his mentor Francis Bacon (1561–1626), and the quasi-scientific interests served even by his exploration of the Peak District in his early Country House or Journey poem, De mirabilibus pecci carmen (1636), are the subject of exemplary scholarly exposition. And it is here that Raylor’s revisionist view of Hobbes on philosophy and rhetoric can tell us such a lot, in noting for instance, the Paduan education of Hobbes’s medical companions to the Peak district, his interest in the ebbing and flowing of a well as a demonstration of Galilean tidal theory, etc. Galileo Galilei (1564–642), whom Hobbes visited in 1636 on the Grand Tour with the young Cavendish, lived and worked in Padua. The University of Padua, which schooled the students of wealthy Venice close by, was not only the centre of Neo-Aristotelian education, but its medical school emphasized Arabic science, and particularly texts of Galen of Pergamum (c. 129–210 AD) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126–1198).[5]

One of the surprising omissions of the book is that Raylor does not really discuss Hobbes’s science, his optics, the atomism of the Cavendish circle, or Hobbes’s own mathematical endeavours. This is especially puzzling, given that Raylor was the editor of the special issue of The Seventeenth Century on the Cavendish circle, which includes Stephen Clucas’s excellent article on the atomism of the Cavendish circle;[6] and that Clucas and Raylor are jointly editing the forthcoming Clarendon edition of De Corpore, the work which first raised Hobbes’s mathematical claims to the attention of John Wallis (1626–1703), thereafter his bitter adversary. For Raylor to secure his revisionist case and persuade us that he is right, we need to know more about the distribution of knowledge in early modern England, which cannot simply be read off from the heavily Ciceronian educational curriculum. Indeed, the Ciceronian-humanist curriculum of Hobbes’s day, far from representing the current state of knowledge in the country, was a throw-back to an earlier classical revival, ‘the twelfth century renaissance’, in which the Western provinces of the Roman Empire, largely through the efforts of the monastic orders, succeeded in recovering both the legal and rhetorical texts of the Roman Republic, which became the basis of canon law and new literacy in an age in which even kings (including Charlemagne) were typically illiterate; but where, given the Church’s insistence on the literacy of the clergy, monasteries were small islands of learning in a sea of ignorance. [7]

This period also saw the reception of scientific translations from Arabic into Latin. For geo-strategic reasons, England was to play a major role in the transmission and development of this knowledge, and Oxford became its hub. To the polyglot collection of scholars who made the pilgrimage to Sicily and Cordoba we owe the circulation of Greek mathematical texts preserved in Arabic translation, as well as the Arabic commentaries, which further developed late medieval science based on Aristotelian logic and Arabic systems of mathematical calculation. [8] The Abbasid translation movement centred in Baghdad from the eighth to the tenth centuries, and subsequent Arabic commentaries from roughly the tenth to the twelfth centuries,[9] resulted in an Aristotle recognizably distinct from the Aristotle of scholasticism. Among works which were translated over and over, as Arabic science grew and more precise translations were required, were Aristotle’s Organon, his texts on logic, as well as the Rhetoric; but also the works of Galen, Euclid, and Ptolemy of Alexandria (AD 100–170). When the Caliphate moved to Cordoba (AD 912–961), Latin translations of some of these Arabic texts were undertaken, initially for the benefit of the Cluniac monks of the Toledo Cathedral who were Latin speaking, and it was these that were recirculated back to Europe.

Scholars from Norman Britain could be proud of their contribution to science based on the translations from Greek into Arabic and Arabic into Latin, in search of which they travelled to Sicily, Spain, and the Levant, bringing back books and manuscripts. In the seventeenth century an active manuscript hunt was already under way in England, supported by William Laud (1573–1645), Chancellor of Oxford University and later Archbishop of Canterbury, and James Ussher (1581–1656), Archbishop of Armagh, while the foundation of the chairs of Arabic at Oxford and Cambridge opened a new era in oriental studies in England. Laud personally endowed the Laudian Chair in Arabic in 1636, whose first incumbent was Edward Pococke (1604–1691), privately sponsoring travellers to collect material from Constantinople and Aleppo, and even persuading Charles I to enlist the Levant Company in the hunt. The Bodleian Library became the repository for these manuscript collections, a major resource for members of the Royal Society, a remarkable number of whom worked on Arabic MSS. [10] It was this tradition of science, philosophy and rhetoric, from the beginning Aristotelian rather than Ciceronian, I maintain, to which Hobbes saw himself belonging. The vicissitudes of Thomas Hobbes’s long controversy with John Wallis, Savilian Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, are proof of nothing if not the urgency Hobbes felt to prove himself in mathematics, the new science of optics and atomist metaphysics.

Professor Patricia Springborg (Humboldt University, Berlin)


[1]  An extended version of this contribution has recently been published as a review essay in Global Intellectual History, online first (2019) at: https://doi.org/10.1080/23801883.2019.1606692.

[2]  Quentin Skinner, From Humanism to Hobbes, Studies in Rhetoric and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 1–2.

[3]  Richard A. Talaska, ed. The Hardwick Hall Library and Hobbes’s Early Intellectual Development (Philosophy Documentation Center, 2013) 9, and 32, note 26, citing ‘Bodleian Shelf Mark: Wood, 423 (16)’. Talaska is not listed in Raylor’s index.

[4]  Hobbes, Elements of Law, ‘Epistle Dedicatory’ (Constitution Society online edition, 1640, at https://www.constitution.org/th/elements.htm).

[5]  Regina Andrés Rebollo, ‘The Paduan School of Medicine: medicine and philosophy in the modern era’, História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro, 17:2 (2010), online at: http://www.scielo.br.

[6]  Stephen Clucas, ‘The Atomism of the Cavendish Circle: A Reappraisal’, The Seventeenth Century, 9:2 (1994): 247–73.

[7]  Charles Homer Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Harvard University Press, 1927).

[8]  On the Abassid translation movement, Greek into Arabic, see Richard Walzer, Greek into Arabic: Essays on Islamic Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1962); and Dmitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ‘Abbasaid Society (Routledge, 1998).

[9]  For a more detailed account, see Patricia Springborg, ‘Constitutionalism and Antiquity Transformation’, Global Intellectual History, online first (2018) at: https://doi.org/10.1080/23801883.2018.1527516.

[10]  See M. B. Hall, ‘Arabic Learning in the Correspondence of the Royal Society’, in Gül A. Russell, ed., The “Arabick” Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth Century England (Brill, 1993): 147ff.

Online Colloquium (2): Miller on Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor. We now have a response from Ted H. Miller, which will be followed by responses from Patricia Springborg (Humboldt, Berlin) and Alan Cromartie (Reading), and finally a reply by Timothy Raylor. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

***

Thomas Hobbes never abandoned humanism. From beginning to end, he condemned the rhetorical practices he associated with demagoguery, but these were never the totality of rhetoric. Hobbes used its other parts to further his philosophical program. His transition from Cavendish family tutor to self-declared pioneer of civil science did not mark, as Quentin Skinner maintained, a turn away from humanism. Leviathan, therefore, did notmark a return to rhetoric. Reading Timothy Raylor’s new book,I was pleased to see an author who agrees with me on these basic assertions.[1] I was less pleased that he chose to highlight our disagreements rather than explore our commonalities (9–10, 28–31). Most importantly, there is now another dissenting voice against the standing view regarding Hobbes, rhetoric, and so-called phases of his intellectual career. Professor Raylor and I do differ on some matters, and I look forward to a productive debate over matters of substance. This entry can only be a start.

The book’sstrengths, and some of its weaknesses, stem from an intense focus upon dialectic, or renaissance era school logic. Particular concern is devoted to the interplay of distinct parts of rhetorical and dialectical practice as they developed prior to Hobbes’s arrival on the scene. For Raylor, however, there can be no discussions of Hobbes and rhetoric which do not first reverently correct Quentin Skinner’s error in assigning the early Hobbes a Ciceronian humanism. Having come from a position that did not assent to the Ciceronian-Hobbes in the first instance, I think his best contribution lies elsewhere.

Why was Hobbes dissatisfied with school logic? Our first impulse might be to speak of the quest for causes, but Hobbes also belonged to an intellectual milieu that still bore the impact of Ramism. Walter Ong described it as having robbed rhetoric to pay logic; it was a curricular maneuver. Ramism appropriated inventio, the rhetorician’s task of searching for proofs, for logic. This turned philosophy into an echo of the rhetorical practice of collecting and deploying commonplaces; the quest through authorities for sententiae had migrated.[2] Having acquired a reserve of received truths, the philosopher might, as demanded by the occasion, assemble arguments. Finding proof became a matter of invention, of drawing upon accepted truths from the reserve.

Some have found Ramist habits within Hobbes’s work (the table in Leviathan Chapter 9 echoed Ramist affinities for visual pedagogy), or in his treatment of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Raylor pulls in the opposite direction (173–75). Importantly, this also includes inventio’s migration. Its ill affect upon school logic, Raylor emphasizes, were a key target of Hobbes’s aggressive campaign (219–32, 246–53). It could only reinforce, rather than challenge, convention.Raylor’s Hobbes continues to operate within the collection of compartmentalized reasoning and communicative tasks that Quentin Skinner insisted upon, but with an important twist. Skinner saw Hobbes’s assault upon the task of inventio as an attempt to dethrone prudence and history. These sources of received but uncertain knowledge were no longer sufficient for the “human sciences.”[3] The old humanist store houses were no longer good enough, and that was a rejection of eloquence as well. Raylor, by contrast, sees in Hobbes’s assault on inventio a decontamination campaign within logic’s, not rhetoric’s, house. Whether this amounts to a rejection of “the greater part of the Western philosophical tradition” (223) may be questioned, but it does offer an alternative.

Supplying us with contemporaries that may have praised, or denounced, Hobbes on these same terms would have contributed further. Another question for Raylor might be how far Hobbes’s rebellion truly departed from its home terrain. When does a self-declared revolution begin to look more like mere reform?

I wish he had pursued some other questions. Outside the confines of discussions of Cicero or Quintilian (and Quentin Skinner’s) vir civilis, Raylor doesn’t speak directly to what many frame as the grand conflict between philosophy and rhetoric. Some of the scholarship Raylor puts behind him reveled in showing that Hobbes, the philosopher’s philosopher, could be made to eat his anti-rhetorical words. Quentin Skinner tried to demonstrate how and why Hobbes changed his mind—even if the hero of Ciceronian imaginary, vir civilis, was not likewise rehabilitated upon Hobbes’s return to rhetoric. Raylor offers material for what might have been a reframing. No one was more convinced than Thomas Hobbes that rhetoric (or at least its inventio) had become integral to philosophy. He wasn’t defending a timeless Platonic wall, but attempting to reverse part of an already successful invasion. For Raylor’s Hobbes, the question was which parts to keep and control, and which to deport from his reinvented discipline (246).

What did he keep? Loathed inventio was not elocutio. Aside from invention, rhetoric’s tasks included eloquence (style)—dispositio (organization), memoria (memory), and pronutiatio (voice and delivery) don’t figure here. Hobbes, argues Raylor, kept eloquence, if in a subordinate place (246). If we mistake eloquence for the whole of rhetoric, we miss something. Likewise, if we fail to see his counter-attack on inventio in its transplanted home. Eloquence may make itself most felt in Leviathan, but Raylor joins others who find it at work in earlier works including De Cive and The Elements of Law. Don’t mistake Hobbes’s ongoing truce with eloquence for either hypocrisy or a reversal. Raylor does not analyze Hobbes’s use of rhetoric’s subdivided repertoire in other important works including Behemoth, or his heated debates with mathematicians and other rivals for scholarly laurels.

Raylor’s recontextualization is testimony to a now obvious conclusion. Simple claims to read Hobbes “in context” mask something. Interpreters must argue which contexts are most relevant. Raylor’s context is useful, but this larger task is not as well met. This is because he is tempted to assign his context monopolistic privileges. It impedes his capacity to see other possibilities. If I find your driving objectionable, I might choose to criticize the way you maneuver the vehicle, your choice of destination, or your conduct towards other drivers. Hobbes did not like where many were driving in the political realm. Within the confines of Raylor’s perspective, his primary concern was to criticize the driving manual he presupposed they used. Where all political differences are, necessarily, doctrinal/philosophical differences this will have purchase. Hobbes’s contexts were not so very flat. He sought solutions in university reforms, but he thought many of those problems had spread beyond the universities. Had his foremost purpose been the defeat of Ciceronians we would have expected a more direct assault on Tully himself. Too much of what Raylor finds is inferred. My own view is that Hobbes wished to defend sovereigns from a variety of threats. He often sought pedagogical weapons in this struggle, but he traced many initial causes of his challenge to human ambition. Ambition caused problems in and out of school.

Raylor’s context for Hobbes is deep and sometimes helpful, but it is also sometimes unhelpfully narrow. It becomes so narrow that it jeopardizes his larger claims. It fails to capture some of Hobbes’s better-known boasts about his interventions into logic and philosophy. It also lacks the breadth to render a convincing picture of a political philosopher. Hobbes attacked pedagogues for the political and social consequences he attached to their teaching. Raylor’s tendency is to turn these pedagogical conflicts into ends in themselves.

For many, Hobbes’s break with humanism is signaled by his embrace of mathematics. For anyone (like Raylor and I) who maintain the persistence of Hobbes’s humanism, this must to be taken head-on. He does not do so. Hobbes had, in fact, continued a debate between Jesuit defenders of mathematics in the schools, and then did them one better. Not only were mathematicians capable of reaching certitude about natural philosophy’s most fundamental subjects,[4] but in Hobbes mathematics inverts the old hierarchy. He would see mathematics ranked prior and superior to the natural science, which must learn within its own limits to imitate mathematical methods.[5]

Hobbes participated in a larger trend. Enthusiasm for mathematics, especially practical mathematics, was growing outside of the schools. It was shared and observed by lettered men of his own and neighboring generations. Ancient humanist guidepost, Quintilian,[6] recommended mathematics, as did other pedagogues with influence in Britain, including Vives.[7] The fruits of mathematical learning were on display: at court, in noble (notably, Cavendish) households, in the taste for paintings that demonstrated a high mastery of perspective, in architecture, map-making, and among those claiming mastery of military and naval techniques. Workshops courted social climbers with shiny mathematical instruments.[8]

Raylor has nothing to say about the mathematician’s gains among the logicians, and brushes aside evidence of Hobbes’s connection with Britain’s mathematical culture. He relies, in part, on the authority of Mordechai Feingold.[9] Like the scholars Hobbes condemns, he asks too much of his authority. Feingold concluded there was no comprehensive mandate for mathematics education in the universities before 1640, but this was a part of Feingold’s project to rescue Oxford and Cambridge from the notion that they had no interest in mathematics. Hobbes helped propagate such claims.

In Chapter Three Raylor go to some lengths to connect Hobbes’s account of the Devil’s Arse (in De Miribilibus Pecci) with Baconian natural philosophy. He would, however, have us believe that we should not credit the notion of a mathematical humanism or its relevance to Hobbes if we cannot first establish that mathematics was at the core of university humanist pedagogy. Given Hobbes’s own views on the universities, this is a strange standard of evidence. The false premise erects an unnecessary barrier to discovering the connections between Hobbes and the mathematical culture in which he was immersed from the time of his earliest works. A similarly unnecessary barrier would stop us from looking towards the court, and to the households of noblemen for such connections. Do we have to believe, for example, that Charles I’s court had to be a “a centre of mathematical and scientific research” before we can entertain the possibility that one of the court’s mathematics tutors, Thomas Hobbes, was mindful of its interests?

In sum, this book contributes to correcting the mistaken partitioning of Hobbes’s career. Raylor uses the dialectical contexts to show the continuity of Hobbes’s humanism, but also makes Hobbes an unnecessary captive of those contexts.

Professor Ted. H. Miller (University of Alabama)



[1]  Ted. H. Miller, Mortal Gods: Science, Politics, and the Humanist Ambitions of Thomas Hobbes (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), 7, 8–33, 55–70, 115–35, 161–99.

[2]  Walter Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 92–130, 237, and Chapter 6 passim.

[3]  Quentin Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 257–67.

[4]  Paulo Mancosu, ‘Aristotelian Logic and Euclidean Mathematics: Seventeenth-Century Developments of the Quaestio de Certitudine Mathematicarum’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 23 (1992): 241–65; idem., Philosophy of Mathematics and Mathematical Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[5]  Miller, Mortal Gods, 81–114.

[6]  Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, trans. H. E. Butler. 4 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1920), bks. I, 10, 35, 7.

[7]  Juan Luis Vives, De Tradendis Disiplinis, trans. Foster Watson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913), 201–2, 204.

[8]  The literature in the history of practical mathematics is reviewed in Miller, Mortal Gods.

[9]  Mordechai, The Mathematician’s Apprenticeship: Science, Universities and Society in England 1560-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).