This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship. We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Slomp

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship. We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Response to Alexandra Chadwick, Theodore Christov, and Nicholas Gooding.

Gabriella Slomp, University of St Andrews

I wish to express my gratitude to Gonzalo Bustamante and the European Hobbes Society for organizing a symposium on my book on Hobbes Against Friendship; I also wish to thank Alexandra Chadwick, Theodore Christov, and Nicholas Gooding for their very interesting comments and challenging questions.

To begin with, I will consider Chadwick’s typically insightful remarks and address two questions that she raises, one about natural sociability and the other about Hobbes’s model of friendship.

Regarding ‘natural sociability’, Chadwick draws attention to my claim that ‘Hobbes ruled out natural sociability; however, he maintained that men can and ought to become sociable.’ She enquires about the difference between Aristotle and Hobbes- if there is a ‘natural’ capacity for sociability (given man can be sociable), then where do we draw the line between this and ‘natural’ sociability?

First let me elucidate my claim: on the one hand, Hobbes tells us that by nature men are unsociable – a claim that is particularly clear in De Cive where we read that ‘By nature, then, we are not looking for friends but for honour or advantage from them’[1]; on the other hand, Hobbes maintains that men ‘ought’ to be sociable (sociability is ‘the sum’ of the laws of nature) and ‘can’ become so by training (‘ought’ for Hobbes depends on ‘can’). On my reading, Hobbes is very keen to highlight the difference  between ‘natural’ versus ‘acquired’ behaviour: men are naturally unsociable but canbecome sociable through education and discipline.

Having said this, I agree with Chadwick that on sociability ‘articulating the difference between the two [Aristotle and Hobbes] becomes trickier once we reject the caricature of a Hobbesian man as an isolated, exclusively self-interested individual.’

Chadwick also raises an important question about the triadic model of friendship that I attribute to Hobbes vis-a-vis the triadic model of friendship that I (and others) associate with ancient and medieval political thought. The difference between the two models is significant and here I want to make another attempt to clarify it. The ancient and medieval model of friendship was anchored to an entity – the good, the beautiful, God – that men did not invent but discovered. This entity regulated the relationship between friends and set limits to what they could ask and expect of each other. In contrast, according to my interpretation, the Hobbesian model of friendship is fastened to an entity created by man – the state – that will regulate partial societies and affiliations among citizens in a way that strengthens peace. Although for Hobbes the Leviathan is accountable to God and its decisions are not arbitrary but informed by the laws of nature, nevertheless the Leviathan’s criterion of selection is not a Christian principle, but a secular value: the safety and wellbeing of the commonwealth. Building on Chapter 22 of Leviathan, I argue that the state will foster those partial societies that can become the ‘muscles’ of the commonwealth and suppress those affiliations that are cancerous and can undermine its health. In this respect too Hobbes has been influential: although some contemporary theories of civic friendship (e.g. Schwarzenbach) claim to reject Hobbes and to put forward a revised and updated Aristotelian model of civic friendship, in fact they are adopting the Hobbesian secular triadic model of friendship.

 Next, I want to thank Christov for his engaging reflections on natural persons, international relations, and the modern self. Here I limit myself to clarify my position on two topics.

First, international relations. In the book I consider two separate narratives on how friendship works among political entities or states – the narrative that stretches from Plato’s Lysis to Carl Schmitt, according to which all friendship is a response to enmity (I call this ‘negative friendship’) and the narrative from Cicero to the Scottish Enlightenment according to which friendship is the engine of economics and of ‘commodious living’ (I call this ‘positive friendship’). I argue that Hobbes’s discussion of leagues, confederacies, alliances, and factions resonates with themes of the first narrative, while his discussion of financial corporations and colonies shares themes with the second. Ultimately I show that, according to Hobbes, leagues and alliances work in international relations, as do financial corporations and cultural networks; in contrast, neither negative nor positive friendship are effective in natural conditions. This difference undermines the famous correspondence between international relations and the state of nature.

Second, Christov eloquently reminds us of Hobbes’s new science of politics and of the concept of the modern self. I wholeheartedly agree with Christov that Hobbes’s contribution to modern political thought is immense, but at the same time I concur with the growing number of scholars who maintain that Hobbes looked backward in order to move forward. I agree with Christov that there are significant differences between ancient and modern theories and practices of friendship; it is interesting though that both Aristotle and Hobbes discussed friendship between equals and unequals and suggested that friendship can be an equalizer. Contemporary supporters of the revival of friendship point out that the friendship approach is ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’ and looks at people and states as they ‘stand together’ rather than how they ‘stand over each other’.

Last but not least I must thank Nicholas Gooding for his very thoughtful critique. I will organize my response into two parts: (i) clarifications and (ii) grounds for healthy debate.

To begin with, a few clarifications.

First, Gooding raises the topic of the ambivalence of friendship and asks whether this was in fact under-appreciated by the ancients, as my quotation from C.S. Lewis would seem to suggest. Rather, my argument in the book is (or tries to be) that a range of ancient authors considered the ambivalence of friendship and highlighted the connection between friendship, corruption, and other evils. However, I conclude – following Cicero – that the prevailing view in Greece and Rome was that a relationship that entailed immorality could not be regarded as amicitia. The idea that ‘only good men can be friends’ is attributed to the ancients by Hobbes in Anti-White.

Second, I agree with Gooding that Hobbes ‘has no use for’ the Aristotelian taxonomy, but from different reasons from those he states. Rather than the absence of objective distinguishing criteria that causes the taxonomy to be ‘of no use’, it is the existence of a separate criterion – namely, the effect of friendship on peace – that renders the Aristotelian taxonomy unfit for Hobbes’s purposes. From an Hobbesian perspective, although conspirators may be more generous with their friends than merchants are with theirs, nevertheless the selfless friendships of the former can damage the commonwealth more than the self-interested friendships of the latter.

Third, in my book, I intended not to selectively cite from Hobbes and instead include the range of his views on virtue. I agree with Gooding that one cited passage (where Hobbes discusses ‘the cause’ of virtue) does Hobbes little service; however, what I tried to convey in this part of the book was  that – on balance- Hobbes emphasizes  ‘the effect’ or ‘impact’ of actions on peace and the wellbeing of the commonwealth. Indeed, I have been a long-standing supporter of the view, expressed forcibly by S.A. Lloyd,[2] that Hobbes disconnected virtue from the pursuit of individual excellence and fastened it to peace.

Finally, Gooding makes a couple of statements that are grounds for healthy debate. For instance, Gooding suggests that some views by Hobbes on Aristotelian virtue contain ‘misreading’ or ‘carelessness’ or ‘philosophical shortcomings’. My view is different: Hobbes was very well-acquainted with Aristotle’s work and had an above-average capacity to understand Aristotle’s politics and ethics. However, when dealing with Aristotelian ideas Hobbes could not help being polemical in Carl Schmitt’s sense of the word. As Carl Schmitt maintained that the definition of political terms is part of a theorist’s political struggle, so Hobbes seemed to think that a new definition of virtue – and the vilification of the Aristotelian meaning – was part and parcel of his battle against the Aristotelians.

Next, Gooding maintains that Hobbes marginalized friendship because ‘he had no use of it’. I beg to differ because in a Review and Conclusion to Leviathan Hobbes draws the attention of the reader to the importance of ‘a constant Civill Amity’ within his commonwealth. Hobbes acknowledges the difficulty of developing civil amity, but rejects the idea that it cannot be attained; in his argument, education and discipline are the means of its development. On my reading, the engine of Hobbesian civic friendship is neither love nor custom; rather it is the citizens’ shared understanding of the function of authority and their commitment to obey the law.

I hope to have answered some of the questions raised by my three readers. 

[1] ‘The majority of previous writers on public affairs either assume or seek to prove or simply assert that Man is an animal born fit for Society …. This Axiom, though very widely accepted, is nevertheless false; the error proceeds from a superficial view of human nature. … For if man naturally loved his fellow man … there is no reason why everyone would not love everyone equally as equally men … (On the Citizen, Part I, 1.2, 21–22)

[2] ‘The Laws of Nature articulate moral virtues, and moral virtues are the dispositions that create and sustain civil society, that is the commonwealth-based form of life requisite for peaceful, sociable, and comfortable living. Rational excellences that contribute to the interests of the agent but not reliably to the interests of the collective … are neither moral virtues nor among “the” Laws of nature Hobbes enumerates.’ (Lloyd, S.A. 2009. Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Cases in the Law of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 141)

Online Colloquium (4): Comments on Gabriella Slomp, Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalization of an Ancient Political Concept

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.

We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Nicholas Gooding
University of California, Berkeley
Department of Philosophy

When I told a friend and fellow philosopher that I was reading a book about Hobbes on friendship, she responded with the suspicion that Hobbes scholars were scraping the bottom of the barrel. An understandable reaction, since Hobbes hardly mentions friendship. But what Professor Slomp’s argument suggests is that my friend’s reaction betrays precisely Hobbes’s success: Though Aristotle could list as a “common opinion” the idea that friendship was more important to the polis than justice, after Hobbes, it appears that the default assumption is that friendship is irrelevant to the political theorist.

In fact, Aristotle’s account of friendship plays an important role in the story that Professor Slomp tells. Here, I want to comment on, and raise some questions about, her discussion of Hobbes’s relationship to two particular elements in the Aristotelian theory.

The first is what Aristotle called “friendship for the sake of the useful.” Aristotle suggested that “political friendship” is an instance of such, and though he used the term “political friendship” only a handful of times, later thinkers would come to recognize it as having profound importance. Within this tradition, Professor Slomp discerns two different (though “intertwined”) strands, which she labels “negative friendship” (an alliance for protection against a common enemy; chapter 3) and “positive friendship” (a cooperative partnership enabling the friends to live “commodiously”; chapter 4). On Slomp’s telling, Hobbes’s criticism is relatively nuanced (see, e.g., p. 97). He does not deny the possibility of such friendships, and he incorporates elements of both negative and positive friendship into his own political theory. Where he diverges most sharply from the tradition concerns the question of whether anything plausibly thought of as “friendship” could provide the basis of peace and stability.

Slomp’s argument here is, I think, quite persuasive. I could, admittedly, imagine feeling that her conclusion, when stated in such general terms, is hardly something anyone would have thought to deny. But what makes her discussion illuminating is its capacity to bring out, by means of a bird’s-eye survey of the vicissitudes of “political friendship” before Hobbes, that Hobbes’ silence on the topic is surprising—surprising in ways that we (belonging as we do to an intellectual world partly shaped by Hobbes) might otherwise be blind to. On this basis, it seems to me that Professor Slomp is able to offer a plausible account of the Hobbesian views that can be inferred from what looks at first like an almost total neglect of the topic.

I find myself somewhat less persuaded by her discussion of another Aristotelian idea, that of “virtue friendship”—the only genuine form of friendship according to Aristotle, since, unlike friendships for the sake of utility or pleasure, it involves loving another in himself and wishing him well for his own sake. (Slomp labels this “normative friendship.”) Here, Slomp tells us, Hobbes is uncompromising: Whereas he “made some important concessions to the narratives on negative and positive friendship,” his “theory contains a forceful…rejection of the ancient model of normative friendship…” (p. 97).

Hobbes does not explicitly discuss Aristotle’s notion of virtue friendship. So why believe that he nonetheless rejects it? An initially tempting answer might be that Hobbes—with his notoriously reductive view of human motivation—simply thought it impossible for one person to love another in himself or to wish him well for his own sake. But Slomp is not persuaded by this familiar line of thought: “Hobbes’s description of human nature does not exclude the possibility of one man considering another to be ‘a second self,’…[nor] preclude men from acting generously towards a select few, even if he rules out universal love for mankind.” (p. 112)[1]

So, Hobbes’s rationale for rejecting normative friendship does not derive from his psychology. Instead, Professor Slomp suggests that it derives from his rejection of the Aristotelian conception of virtue as consisting in a “mean” that lies between a vice of deficiency and one of excess—a view Hobbes breezily demolishes thus: “as if not the cause, but the degree of daring, made fortitude; or not the cause, but the quantity of a gift, made liberality” (Lev. 15.40; cf. Slomp p. 113). If we read this a criticism of Aristotle, however, then it does not seem to be Hobbes at his best, since it would have to depend on a superficial misreading of Aristotle’s account of ethical virtue. Aristotle explicitly says that the reason or motive for an action (“the cause”) is part of what makes it virtuous;[2] and, whatever “the mean” is, it is very explicitly not the midpoint between two extremes.[3] Professor Slomp’s discussion of this topic can sometimes give the impression that she is simply following Hobbes in his misreading of Aristotle (see p. 113); I expect that this impression is misleading, but it does raise some questions: Is she assuming that Hobbes’s carelessness or philosophical shortcomings on this score do not matter for her argument? Or that Aristotle himself need not be the target of Hobbes’s critique—that Hobbes’s purposes will be served well enough by knocking down this strawman instead?

But, granting Hobbes’s rejection of the Aristotelian account of virtue, it is hard for me to see why this, on its own, should imply a rejection, rather than a reinterpretation, of the idea of virtue friendship. After all, Hobbes does not reject the notion of virtue altogether; instead, he presents us with a view according to which the moral virtues are those qualities that lead to peace (Lev. 15.40). Is there some reason to suppose (without falling back on that crude or reductive psychology that Slomp cautions us against) that the recognition of such qualities in another could not be the basis of love, as the Aristotelian virtues supposedly were?

Professor Slomp does offer us a further justification for Hobbes’s rejection of normative friendship: “Hobbes took and voiced a position on friendship that distinguishes the moderns from the ancients—he stressed the ambivalence of friendship” (p. 114), in the sense that he saw that it could be a potential danger (not only a benefactor) to the political community.

            Were “the ancients” unaware of the ambivalence of friendship? C.S. Lewis appears to have thought so—Professor Slomp quotes him approvingly (I take it) on p. 114: “Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. It is ambivalent. It makes good men better, and bad men worse.” The problem is that Lewis seems to be very straightforwardly mistaken here. In fact, his claim could almost be a paraphrase of the final paragraph of Aristotle’s discussion of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics:

Hence, the friendship of base people turns out to be vicious. For they are unstable and share base pursuits; and by becoming similar to each other, they grow vicious. But the friendship of decent people is decent, and increases the more often they meet. And they seem to become still better from their activities and their mutual correction. (NE 9.12, 1172a9-12; Irwin translation)

            Now, Professor Slomp might (perfectly correctly) point out that Aristotle is not talking about people being made worse by virtue friendship. Granted, but now there is some risk that Hobbes’s purported disagreement with the Aristotelians will devolve into a merely verbal dispute. Any friendship that is a potential “school of vice” and therefore a danger to the community will, for that very reason, not count as a “virtue friendship.” But that does not involve the Aristotelian in any substantive disagreement with the idea that the relationships normally referred to as “friendships” are politically ambivalent. 

Perhaps we can do better. The Aristotelian believes we have reason to conceptually mark off those relationships that are not ambivalent; Hobbes has no use for her taxonomy. Why? One idea that may suggest itself is that Hobbes thought that the distinction could not be drawn, because there are no independent, objective criteria of goodness or virtue; thus, if (those whom we are inclined to think of as) the vicious love each other because of qualities they themselves respect, their relationship has just as much claim on the label of virtue (or genuine) friendship as any other. But I don’t think that Slomp can avail herself of this kind of argument, since she grants that there are, for Hobbes, just such objective criteria (the laws of nature, the moral virtues).

            To echo something Alexandra says in her contribution, I do not mean to suggest that Hobbes was a closet proponent of the Aristotelian view of friendship, and I am sure that there are other reasons that we might come up with for supposing that Hobbes would be skeptical about it. Perhaps we might appeal to his rejection of natural teleology, which is certainly involved in Aristotle’s tripartite account of friendship. Or we might imagine that singling out some friendships as “virtue friendships” would involve, by Hobbes’s lights, arrogating rights to oneself that properly belong only to the sovereign. But, even if we can come up with such a story, I still find myself wondering: What does Hobbes’s silence on the matter show? That his rejection of the Aristotelian picture of friendship was so uncompromising that he could not even bring himself to speak of it, or that—in the words of one of Hobbes’s anti-Aristotelian contemporaries—he simply felt he did “not have the time to waste on subtleties of this kind”?[4]

One can imagine, after all, why Hobbes may have thought that virtue friendship was irrelevant to his concerns, and thus that he need not bother with the subtleties of refuting it. Professor Slomp points out that, rare though it was, virtue friendship was of profound political importance for Aristotle and many thinkers influenced by him. But this is because for those thinkers the moral education of citizens was a (perhaps the) central goal of the polis; virtue friendship was politically important insofar as it both contributed to and was made possible by the achievement of this goal. But once that view of the proper goal of the political community is rejected, virtue friendship immediately becomes peripheral. Hobbes has a conception of politics according to which, even if there is such a thing as virtue friendship and even if it is of paramount importance to people in their personal lives, it is anyway of no political importance. He declines to speak of it simply because he has no use for it.

That, anyway, is one alternative explanation—too baldly stated, no doubt—for Hobbes’s silence.  I would be curious to hear more about why Professor Slomp believes, instead, that it is best explained by supposing that he rejected the idea of normative friendship altogether.

Perhaps, however, there is an inevitable indeterminacy here. It is, after all, a much trickier business for an interpreter to draw inferences from a thinker’s silences than from his statements. And notwithstanding my worries and questions about the place of Aristotelian virtue friendship in Professor Slomp’s argument, it seems to me that she generally handles this tricky business with thoroughness and care. I learned a lot from her new book, and am grateful both to her and EHS for the opportunity to participate in this symposium. 

[1] I am sympathetic with this claim, but I would have liked to hear a bit more about how she understands passages that seem to be in some tension with it—for instance, the argument of chapter 1 of De Cive, which, at least at first pass, presents us with a view of men as seeking the company and friendship of others, not because we love them as such, but for the sake of our own advantage and glory. Hobbes concludes part of his argument, for instance, with a striking claim: “So it is clear from experience to anyone who gives serious attention to human behavior that every voluntary encounter is the product either of mutual need or the pursuit of glory.” (Silverthorne translation, slightly altered; emphasis added).

[2] See Aristotle’s repeated claims that, in order to be virtuous, an action must be undertaken “for the sake of the fine,” e.g., NE 4.1, 1120a24; 2.4, 1105a32; on courage specifically, see NE 3.7, esp. 1115b17-24; on generosity, see NE 4.1, esp. 1120a28-30.

[3] See NE 2.6, 1106a30-b8; 2.7, 1107a1-2.

[4] Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, AT 25.

Online Colloquium (3): European Hobbes Society online colloquium on Gabriella Slomp’s Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalisation of an Ancient Political Concept, Response by Alexandra Chadwick (University of Jyväskylä)

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.

We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Response by Alexandra Chadwick (University of Jyväskylä)

I’m grateful to Professor Slomp and the European Hobbes Society for the opportunity to read and comment on this book. As Slomp makes clear in her introduction to this colloquium, her study contributes to that important strand of Hobbes scholarship which seeks to ‘advance our understanding of his theory in relation to ancient and medieval political thought’. Despite Hobbes’s frequent references to the novelty of his theories, such studies (of his political ideas, and his wider philosophy) often find the break he makes with earlier traditions of thought to be less sharp than first appeared. It then becomes particularly interesting—and challenging—to clarify precisely where and why Hobbes’s position is distinctively ‘modern’, and where he might better be said to have transposed old tunes into a new key. 

            Slomp draws attention to the way that, despite his avoidance of the term, and contrary to enduring images of Hobbesian humans as self-interested (p. 4), ‘friendship’ is far from alien to Hobbesian man: ‘Hobbes did not deny or oppose the occurrence of practices of friendship between individuals, peoples, and states; rather, he rejected friendship as an explanatory and normative principle of peace and concord’ (p. 2). She makes a number of comparisons with earlier traditions which will no doubt be of use to scholars interested in ancient and medieval ideas, as well as early modernists.

             I would like to ask for a little more detail about two differences that Slomp identifies: first, Hobbes’s rejection of natural sociability, and second, the claim that for Hobbes ‘the Leviathan replaces the external entity—the good, God—that anchored ancient and medieval models of friendship’ (p. 127). I’ll finish with a small question about the role of ‘materialism’ in Hobbes’s understanding of friendship. 

Natural sociability

Although Hobbes’s alleged rejection of natural sociability is often stated, and perhaps has a relatively minor role in the book, Slomp’s position on the matter seems important. For one thing, the denial of natural sociability is often used to support the ‘self-interested’ interpretation of Hobbesian man that Slomp rejects. For another, natural sociability is often understood to be a distinctive feature of those ‘anthropological and ethical assumptions whose demolition Hobbes saw as his mission to accomplish’ (p. 144).

According to Slomp, while Aristotle and—building on his ideas—Cicero (p. 68) believed that humans are naturally sociable, ‘Hobbes ruled out natural sociability; however, he maintained that men can and ought to become sociable’ (p. 129). I would be interested to hear more about exactly what Hobbes is ruling out. For something to be ‘natural’ to man has meant several different things to different thinkers. The belief that men ‘can and ought’ to become sociable seems to me to draw on two prominent Aristotelian meanings: sociability is natural to man because it is something humans have a capacity for, and sociability is natural to man because it is something that humans ought to strive for. What marks the difference between Hobbes’s position and a properly ‘natural’ sociability? Or, to put it another way, what meaning(s) of natural sociability does Hobbes deny?

I am not trying to suggest that Hobbes’s position is the same as that of Aristotle, but rather reflecting on the fact that, for all Hobbes might have thought that Aristotle’s anthropology was misconceived (p. 84), articulating the difference between the two becomes much trickier once we reject the caricature of a Hobbesian human as an isolated, exclusively self-interested individual. 

The ‘man-made state’ in Hobbes’s ‘triadic’ model of friendship

My second question moves from thinking about the ‘natural’ to the ‘artificial’ within Hobbes’s theory. A key claim in the book, as summarised in the introduction to this colloquium, is that ‘Hobbes rejected the ancient…and medieval…model of friendship that was triadic and entailed an external entity—the Good or God—that philosophers did not invent but discovered and that set boundaries to what friends could ask of each other’. Hobbes’s theory retains ‘a triadic model of friendship’, but ‘the third entity is created by man: the state’. In the book this is expressed as follows: ‘the ancient and medieval model of friendship…was fastened to an eternal truth—the good, the beautiful, the gods, or God’, whereas Hobbes’s model ‘replaces the external anchor—the good and beautiful—that existed independently from man’s will with a human construction, the Leviathan’. It is the state, for Hobbes, which ‘regulate[s]’ and ‘supervises’ all forms of friendship (p. 127-8; see also p. 145).

            Yet, as Slomp goes on to note, ‘the third entity of Hobbes’s model of friendship—the man-made state—is ultimately accountable to an entity that is not created by man—God’, insofar as He has fixed the content of the laws of nature which the state should uphold (p. 128). There seems to be, then, an ‘external entity’, an ‘eternal truth’ independent of human will that sets the boundaries of friendship. That being so, what is the significance, for Hobbes’s understanding of friendship, of the state being a ‘human construction’? 


Finally, Hobbes’s position on friendship is said to capture ‘the spirit of modernity—its individualism, nominalism, pragmatic scepticism, and materialism’ (p.2; see also p. 124 and p. 144). I would be interested to hear more about the role that materialism plays here. Slomp writes that ‘materialism prevents [Hobbes] from understanding friendship as a mingling or blending of souls’ (p. 124). Is this simply because the Hobbesian form of materialism denies that there any such entity as a ‘soul’, or is something else meant by this? Given that Slomp rejects the link some commentators have made between materialism and ‘selfishness’ (see p. 35, n. 10), I am curious to hear more about how she understands Hobbesian materialism to form and constrain the relationship between self and other. 

Hobbes Against Friendship is a very stimulating read, and these three questions inevitably reflect particular thoughts that it set off in relation to my own interests. I’ll be very grateful to hear Slomp’s response to any of them which she considers to be of interest too. 

Online Colloquium (2): Gabriella Slomp’s Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalisation of an Ancient Political Concept, Response by Theodore Christov (George Washington University)

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.

We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship. We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Response by Theodore Christov (George Washington University)

I am grateful to Professor Slomp and Gonzalo Bustamante for the opportunity to provide a response to her book. References to the concept of friendship and how it operates within his larger corpus, the book shows, are not as frequent in the vast scholarship on Hobbes, as one might expect. After all, as Slomp reminds us, while Hobbes excelled in his humanist education, as his familiarity with the works of the ancients reveals, he did not make the concept of friendship a central (or even peripheral) pillar in his political philosophy. Instead his lack of general interest in friendship was motivated by political considerations given that his goal was the establishment of civil peace. Rather than seeing friendship as establishing the political, Slomp argues, “it is the political that creates the conditions for friendship.” Such a departure from the ancient view of friendship is nothing short of radical and Slomp’s book seeks to understand the significance of this transformation, not only in terms of Hobbes’s philosophy but also in helping us grasp the consequences for the modern self.    

While the book presents a wide array of topics from antiquity to the present, three broad themes stand out in the consideration of Hobbes’s relationship to friendship.  

Natural persons

Outside the security of political authority, Hobbesian agents, above all, seek security which will allow them to overcome fear of violent death. They stand in no relationship to one another except that of a master and a servant. The central question, as Hobbes states, is to determine under what conditions “one man may acquire right, that is to say, property or dominion, over the person of another.” The emergence of political relations and their firm establishment cannot proceed from any mutual affinities or personal friendships: the foundation of the civil state must first and foremost ground the conditions for solving security, without which there can be no security in friendly relations. Even though Hobbes recognizes the cultivation and pursuit of friendship as a mark of a decent life, he is largely uninterested in its practice outside the guarantees of the state. 

Slomp concludes that, because goodwill, trust, reciprocity—largely taken to characterize friendship—do exist in the natural condition of mankind, “there is no doubt that Hobbesian alliances, leagues, and confederacies are forms of Hobbesian friendship.” I do wonder, however, whether such multitudes, driven solely by the need for the basic need for survival, in fact qualify for any type of friendship—whether positive or negative—if their mode of belonging is based on protection. While practices we commonly associate with friendship clearly abound in the state of nature, the fundamental human-to-human relationship is that of the dominion of a master and a servant. The natural state is populated by such multitudes in submission to their masters. To the extent that such relationships of a servant’s obedience in exchange for a master’s protection may exhibit elements of common mutuality, one could plausibly identify features that we associate with friendship. But the ultimate goal of any leviathan, as Hobbes continually reminds us, is to de-personify the nature and practice of authority, and in that sense, friendship is not only inconsistent with, but in fact antithetical to politics.  

International relations

The interpersonal state of nature, exemplified by individuals seeking the protection of leagues and alliances, is just one example Hobbes uses to illustrate the main features we associate with the condition outside sovereignty. But he also makes use of the international domain to illustrate how agents interact in the absence of a single leviathan. Slomp briefly introduces the international sphere as an instantiation of, what she calls, a “negative” conception of friendship and highlights its “protective nature.” Alliances may indeed function as a form of protection against the enemy, especially in the case of small states in relation to great powers. But their inherent instability and shifting orientation make them last for a brief period only. 

The essential analogy between the state of nature and the international domain is key to understanding the role friendship plays in Hobbes’s larger political project. His natural persons are indeed states since they exhibit the central features we associate with instituted sovereigns. At the same time, there are limitations to such an analogy given that international peace (unattainable in the long run, Hobbes seems to think) does not necessitate the establishment of a global leviathan. Friendship at the level of natural persons may enhance one’s security to the extent that such a friendship is reciprocally beneficial to the other, but at the level of artificial persons, such as states, friendship potentially promotes the stability of international order itself. Prosperity, the goal of any leviathan, can be partially derived from external peace and it is in the interest of states to develop friendly relations with other states. The cultivation of a circle of friendly states can help a state transform itself from a self-enclosed political unit to a valuable partner and strategic ally. Central to how Hobbes understands friendship is the creation of leagues of peace among states in their quest for security and the creation of a wide network of cooperative efforts between states.    

Modern self

Slomp concludes that for Hobbes, “it is not friendship that creates the conditions of the political; rather, it is the political that creates the conditions… for lasting friendships.” She emphasizes his radical departure from the ancients, especially from Aristotle’s noble view of the role friendship can play in the polis. There is much admiration for ancient attachments to the idea and practice of friendship, especially in its purest form of “another self,” as Aristotle famously proclaimed. And to some extent, as Slomp herself acknowledges, thinking through the concept of friendship necessarily evokes a range of emotions that are basic to human life. What Hobbes does, however, is to erase altogether its potential for the creation of the political. He does not deny that many, if not the majority of us have a natural propensity to seek out the company of another and avoid solitude at all costs. 

The transformation of the idea of friendship from antiquity to the time of Hobbes also serves as a reminder of the kind of modern self we have inherited. Our modern self has left the noble aspirations of Aristotle’s centrality of friendship to the life of politics. The individual agent has emerged as the architectonic pillar of, what Hobbes called the new civic science. But that modern self has also facilitated possibilities for friendship among equals that would have been unfathomable to the ancients. While most male citizens would have affirmed Aristotle’s gesture toward a narrow slice of the social fabric, almost all females and children would have been excluded. It is precisely the task of this modern self with a distinct Hobbesian pedigree that calls for a transformation of politics that is inclusive and far-reaching.   

Hobbes Against Friendship is a short but engaging book that traverses through centuries of political philosophy and recovers a neglected aspect of Hobbes’s thinking about human relations based in friendship. It can also enrich our understanding of the meaning Hobbes attaches to a deeply human emotion rooted in the pursuit of sociability and association, and ultimately peace.  

Online Colloquium (1): Hobbes Against Friendship by Gabriella Slomp.

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.
We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp.
Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Introduction of: Gabriella Slomp FRSA – University of St Andrews

I wish to thank very much Gonzalo Bustamante for the opportunity of introducing my book on Hobbes Against Friendship to the European Hobbes Society. What can I say to a potential reader?

I will start by addressing the two questions I ask myself every time I open a new book on Hobbes: (i) How does the author deal with the challenges presented by J.L. Austin ’s Law of Diminishing Fleas, according to which the secondary literature produces comments upon comments ad infinitum, without ever engaging with the original texts? (ii) How does the writer cope with the problem posed by the Anonymous’ Law of Hungry Midgets, according to which early interpreters of influential philosophers’ feast on choice pieces of their theories, while later commentators, if they want to eat at all, must be content with feeding on particles that are so small and insignificant that have escaped the attention of the fattest midgets?

I suspect that a critical reader might level criticisms against my handling of both laws. On the one hand, the reader might claim that my eagerness to avoid Austin’s Law of Diminishing Fleas has led me to engage too little with Hobbesian scholarship; on the other hand, the reader might point out that my choice of topic is a corroboration of the implacable Law of Hungry Midgets because Hobbes’s writings make frequent references to enmity, and not to friendship, and this demonstrates that my topic is largely irrelevant.

Regarding the second criticism, namely that my topic is unimportant, my line of defence is suggested by the subtitle of the work, which promises an exploration of the origins and reasons of the modern marginalisation of an ancient political concept. The book aims to show that an investigation of Hobbes’s stance on political friendship can advance our understanding of his theory in relation to ancient and medieval political thought and offer a fresh perspective on his contribution to modernity and liberalism.

An analysis of Hobbes’s views on friendship is a timely focus because recent times have seen a revival of interest in the concept of friendship among political theorists, sociologists, philosophers, historians and theorists of international relations. On the one hand, there seems to be consensus among writers that Hobbes was instrumental to the modern marginalisation of friendship – a concept that loomed large in ancient and medieval moral and political theory; on the other hand, to my knowledge the literature has shown little interest in addressing questions such as: Why did Hobbes, unlike Bodin, fail to talk about civic friendship in his theory of state sovereignty? Why was Hobbes’s neglect of friendship 3

influential? What can Hobbes’s theory contribute to contemporary debates about the feasibility and desirability of re-introducing friendship to the foreground of political studies?

In an attempt to answer the above questions, the book revisits the so-called ‘friendship tradition’ that Hobbes inherited and explores three notions and narratives within it: ‘negative friendship’ or friendship for security and defence; ‘positive friendship’ or friendship for the satisfaction of material and emotional needs; and ‘normative friendship’ or friendship for moral growth and flourishing.

Regarding negative and positive friendship, Hobbes does not deny its occurrence in the world of experience. Indeed Hobbes’s ‘leagues’, ‘alliances’ and ‘confederacies’ can be said to be forms of negative friendship – they are empowering relationships entailing mutual trust and good will and are based on self-interest; similarly, Hobbes’s ‘systems’, ‘corporations’ and partial societies are forms of positive friendship, namely utility-based relationships created and maintained for the advancement of ‘commodious living’. However, while Hobbes did not contest or oppose practices of positive or negative friendship, he rejected the idea that such practices can provide an explanation for the attainment and maintenance of peace; for Hobbes it is not friendship that delivers man from the state of nature and sheds light on the attainment of peace; it is not friendship that keeps and strengthens concord among citizens. Rather, it is the establishment of authority that brings and keeps peace among people. In other words, Hobbes reverses the order of creation he found in the tradition before him: it is not friendship that creates the conditions for the political; rather it is the political that creates the conditions for all forms of friendship.

Regarding normative friendship, Hobbes’s stance is particularly interesting. 4

Hobbes does not regard any friendship as necessarily virtuous; he does not deny that selflessness or altruism may occur among friends, but he rejects the view that self-sacrifice and selflessness are per se good, regardless of consequences. Revolutionaries may be more generous with friends than bankers and merchants but they are nevertheless bad citizens.

On the one hand, Hobbes rejected the ancient (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) and medieval (Augustine, Aelrad, Aquinas) model of friendship that was triadic and entailed an external entity – the Good or God – that philosophers did not invent but discovered and that set boundaries to what friends could ask of each other; on the other hand, his theory opposes, indirectly but firmly, the modern model of friendship (Montaigne) that was dyadic and let the friends decide the terms and values of their relationship. Indeed, from a Hobbesian perspective, both models of friendship can undermine fidelity to law and endanger peace. In contrast, in Hobbes’s theory, we find a triadic model of friendship where the third entity is created by man: the state.

In my view, Hobbes’s stance on positive, negative and normative friendship was influential because it captured the spirit of modernity – its individualism, nominalism, materialism and its practical scepticism. I argue that Hobbes’s legacy has both a critical and a constructive component and lives on. Indeed, according to my account, contemporary liberal theories of civic friendship (such as Schwarzenbach 2010, Digeser 2016) do not escape the Hobbesian challenge but tacitly adopt Hobbes’s triadic model of friendship where the state is the third party that sets limits to what friends can ask of each other. In sum, Hobbes has much to tell us not just on issues of enmity and war but also on civic, international and global friendship.

Digeser, P. E. 2016. Friendship Reconsidered. What it Means and How it Matters to Politics.

New York: Columbia University Press. 5

Gooding, Nick and Hoekstra, Kinch. 2020. ‘Hobbes and Aristotle on the Foundations of Political Science’. In Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide, eds. Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 31–50. Schwarzenbach, Sibyl. 2009. On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State. New York:

Columbia University Press.

Slomp, Gabriella. 2019. ‘As Thick as Thieves: Exploring Thomas Hobbes’ Critique of Ancient Friendship and its Contemporary Relevance’. Political Studies 67(I): 191206.

Smith, Travis. 2008. ‘Hobbes on Getting by with Little Help from Friends’. In Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought, eds. John von Heyking and Richard Avramenko. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 221–47.

Stanlick, Nancy. 2002. ‘Hobbesian Friendship: Valuing Others for Oneself’. Journal of Social Philosophy 33(3): 345–59.


Among the exceptions, see Stanlick 2002, Smith 2008, Gooding and Hoekstra 2020. For my own contribution to this literature, see Slomp 2019.