Six chapters on Hobbes in: Paganini, Curiosity and the Passions of Knowledge

Gianni Paganini (ed.): Curiosity and the Passions of Knowledge from Montaigne to Hobbes, Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Bardi Edizioni, 2018.

  • Gianni Paganini, Hobbes Philosopher of Curiosity, p. 7-36
  • Patricia Springborg, Curiosity, Anxiety and Religion in Thomas Hobbes, p. 287-314
  • Franco Giudice, Conoscenza e curiosità nella teoria ottica di Thomas Hobbes, p. 315-334
  • Daniel Garber, Curiosity, Noveltu, and the Politics of Opinion in Hobbes, p. 335-352
  • S.A. Lloyd, The Moral Assessment of Human Curiosity in Hobbes’s Leviathan, p. 353-374
  • P.-F. Moreau, La curiosité chez Hobbes et Spinoza, p. 375-391

Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Abizadeh

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh, followed by responses from Sandra Field, Michael LeBuffe, and Daniel Eggers. We conclude this week with a reply by Arash Abizadeh. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.


What a pleasure to have one’s work scrutinized so seriously and intelligently. My sincere thanks to Sandra Field, Michael LeBuffe, and Daniel Eggers for their critiques, and to Robin Douglass for bringing us together.


Hobbes in his political works claimed that the first and “fundamental” law of nature prescribes seeking peace; the rest prescribe the means to peace. The question is what, according to Hobbes, makes natural laws normative: Why do individuals have a reason to (be disposed to) do as they prescribe? I claim that what grounds the normativity of natural law for Hobbes is a foundationally normative principle prescribing that one desire and pursue one’s own ongoing good or felicity. The laws of nature are normative because they prescribe what conduces to one’s ongoing good—even in the face of imprudent or self-destructive desires, whose realization would be noxious to one’s felicity. These laws are intrinsically prudential normative precepts.

LeBuffe has qualms about this prudentialist interpretation, because “whatever Hobbes takes to be a principle,” we should expect him to state it “explicitly.” I agree with LeBuffe: it would be “contrary to his [Hobbes’s] account of science” to rely on “a fundamental principle that he does not mention.” (‘Principle’ denotes the starting point for a chain of reasoning.) But I do not agree with LeBuffe’s claim that Hobbes failed to indicate this foundational normative principle. Hobbes did so rather clearly by incorporating it into the very definition of natural law, which in the English Leviathan he defined as “a Precept … by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life … and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved” (L 14.3). Natural laws by definition consist in precepts that proscribe what conduces to self-destruction and prescribe the means to self-preservation. They are normative because self-preservation is normative. This is typical Hobbes: stating a particular science’s “principle” or starting point—here, the prescription to (be disposed to) pursue one’s own preservation—by incorporating it into the definition of a fundamental concept of that science. Hobbes stated his foundational normative principle precisely where LeBuffe says he should have: at the beginning of chapter 14 of Leviathan in his definition of a law of nature.

One might of course object that what Hobbes incorporated into his definition was a precept to pursue, not one’s good in general, but self-preservation. Yet Hobbes explicitly and frequently indicated that he meant by self-preservation not just bare survival, but the preservation of a life worth living, i.e., the preservation of “a life, as not to be weary of it,” not just “a bare Preservation, but also all other Contentments of life” (L 14.8; 17.1). This is why in the Latin Leviathan Hobbes could reformulate natural law’s definition in terms of a proscription against what tends to harm one’s good (“quod ad damnum suum sibi tendere”). Hence it is a mistake to say, as LeBuffe does, that “Abizadeh claims that for Hobbes the first normative principle which grounds natural law is “desire and pursue your own good,” rather than the explicit definitions and fundamental precepts of Leviathan 14” (my emphasis). I take ‘desire and pursue your own good’ to be, not a rival, but a gloss on the foundational principle incorporated into Hobbes’s definition, viz. desire and pursue your own preservation.

True, the “fundamental” law of nature as Hobbes stated it in his political works prescribes seeking peace (rather than self-preservation itself). But Hobbes treated the laws of nature themselves not as “principles” or the foundational starting point of reasoning, but as precepts “found out by Reason” (L 14.3, my emphasis)—on the basis of the foundational principle incorporated into their definition. Indeed, for Hobbes, as for Aquinas, the foundational “principle” of a particular science may itself be grounded in and derivative of some other principle outside the scope of that science. (Philosophia prima, the science lying at the foundation of all other sciences, is an exception.) Seeking peace is the first precept of Hobbes’s “moral” laws of nature, by which he meant those precepts that prescribe the social means to self-preservation. But although in his political works Hobbes was only concerned with precepts regulating social interaction, he also acknowledged, as relevant to ethics more broadly construed, other natural laws (such as temperance) concerning the non-social means to self-preservation. Both the social precepts of reason Hobbes treated in his political works, and the non-social precepts he mentioned but left aside, are grounded in a common normative foundation: self-preservation in the broad, Hobbesian sense of one’s own ongoing good.

LeBuffe is also worried about my claim that, although Hobbes took the laws of nature he specified to be epistemically accessible to every rational creature, he thought some may nevertheless fail to know them, i.e., some may not be aware of those precepts or, if aware, may not take them to be normative (“precepts of reason”). LeBuffe suggests that, according to Hobbes, although we may “easily misinterpret” the laws of nature, we nevertheless “all do know” them as precepts of reason. Presumably this means, for example, that although all rational creatures know that they ought to perform their covenants—i.e., although everyone takes the third law of nature to be normative—some misinterpret what this means, perhaps because they misapply the law in failing to understand the particular circumstances in which an undertaking counts as a valid covenant.

Hobbes certainly did envision that some who in principle know the laws of nature misinterpret them in practice. For example, Hobbes asserted that one reason why some “are prone to violate the Lawes” is because they are misled by “false Teachers” who “mis-interpret the Law of Nature” (L 27.11). Yet Hobbes asserted that people might also violate the laws of nature not because they misinterpret the laws they know, but because they fail to know them in the first place. This can happen in two ways: either because they are simply ignorant of the law (without believing anything false), or because they have positively false beliefs about which precepts are normative. The former consists in “some defect of the Understanding,” which “is Ignorance”; the latter consists in “Erroneous Opinion” stemming from “some errour in Reasoning.” When Hobbes asserted here that “Ignorance of the Law of Nature Excuseth no man; because every man that hath attained to the use of Reason, is supposed to know,” he was speaking about people who violate the laws of nature because (contrary to LeBuffe’s suggestion) they are ignorant of it. The colonial subtext of the example he immediately used to illustrate inexcusable ignorance—of “a man come here from the Indies” who would “perswade men here to receive a new Religion or teach them any thing that tendeth to disobedience of the Lawes of this Country” (L 27.4)—makes his view crystal clear.

There are “three wayes,” according to Hobbes, in which one may come to have positively false beliefs about natural law. One way I already mentioned: some are simply taken in by false interpretations (as LeBuffe suggests). The other two, however, consist not in misinterpreting known laws, but in failing to know the laws, in virtue of false beliefs about which precepts are normative. First, one may draw “Erroneous Inferences from True Principles.” Second, one may begin one’s reasoning “by Presumption of false Principles,” for example by taking as one’s initial premise “That Justice is but a vain word” or “That whatsoever a man can get by his own Industry, and hazard, is his own” (L 27.10-12). Hobbes’s most famous example of a person who in virtue of “specious reasoning” fails to know the law of nature is, of course, the Foole who claims “there is no such thing as Justice.” The Foole does not deny that violating one’s covenant “may be called Injustice,” but “he questioneth, whether Injustice … may not sometimes stand with that Reason, which dictateth to every man his own good,” i.e., he denies that Hobbes’s third natural law is normative (L 15.4). (Note the premise Hobbes shared with the Foole, and which LeBuffe says Hobbes never stated explicitly: reason “dictateth to every man his own good.”)

LeBuffe cites one passage that might at first glance seem to run counter to Hobbes’s numerous discussions of people who are unaware of, or indeed have positively false views about, which precepts are normative: “all men agree on this, that Peace is Good, and therefore also the way, or means of Peace” or “the rest of the Laws of Nature” (L 15.40). We should already be sceptical of LeBuffe’s interpretation of this passage, however: it is gainsaid by the Foole and, more generally, the fact that people sometimes reason erroneously. The problem is that LeBuffe has severed his quotation from the scope restriction Hobbes had imposed on “all men” immediately before. The fuller passage reads: “so long as a man is in the condition of meer Nature, (which is a condition of War,) as private Appetite is the measure of Good, and Evill: And consequently all men agree on this, that Peace is Good…” (my emphasis). Hobbes was talking about people living in a state of war (“so long as…”). The Latin predecessor in De Cive contains the same restriction: “All men easily acknowledge this state [of war], as long as they are in it, to be evill, and consequently [per consequens] that Peace is good” (DCv 3.31). Once in society, however, many people lose sight of the evils of war and hence fail to recognize the normativity of peace and its means: for “by nature,” human beings are “destitute of those prospective glasses (namely Morall and Civill Science,) to see a farre off the miseries that hang over them” in the state of nature (L 18.20). It is the job of Hobbesian science to provide these prospective glasses so we can know the normativity of peace and its means via philosophical reasoning—whatever our empirical circumstances.

Let me go further: the point of the paragraph from which LeBuffe’s quotation is extracted is that even in the state of nature not everyone immediately recognizes that peace is good. People at some point (for example, after catastrophe) will become united in agreeing that peace and its means are overriding goods. Hobbes was saying in this paragraph that in the state of nature people initially call ‘good’ whatever happens to be the object of their variable appetites (so that even “the same man, in divers times, differs from himselfe; and one time praiseth, that is, calleth Good, what another time he dispraiseth”), but that, subsequently, they all come to agree that peace is good. True, Hobbes wrote “consequently,” not subsequently, but we should not be fooled by twenty-first century usage. If today ‘consequently’ is used exclusively as a quasi-conjunctive (like ‘therefore’), in the seventeenth century, consistently with its Latin etymology, the term also meant subsequently or consecutively, i.e., following in time or order (see OED first entry). When Hobbes wrote that “consequently all men agree on this, that Peace is Good,” he didn’t mean that everyone always already knows this truth; he meant that in the state of nature people will come to agree on it (and nothing else).


My argument here of course relies on a distinction between the capacity to know laws of nature and actually knowing them. This is the distinction Field calls into question. On her reading, since Hobbes was a materialist determinist who denied free will, a putative capacity one is never caused to exercise is no capacity at all: for Hobbes the capacity to do something is a function not merely of one’s “inner properties,” but of the entire web of causes that determines how one acts. If one is not caused to reason properly, then, on this view, there is no sense in which one could be said to have had the capacity to do so. Field thinks, moreover, this pulls the rug out from under normativity and normative practices—such as holding others attribution-responsible (e.g. criticizing them for violations) and, especially, holding them accountable-responsible.

I have reservations about both claims. First, all the textual evidence I called on to show that Hobbes thought some rational creatures fail to know the laws of nature despite the capacity to do so also serves as evidence that Hobbes did distinguish a capacity from its actual exercise. There is, moreover, a straightforward way in which determinists can make this distinction: one has the capacity to do something if, given the right external circumstances, one would do it—even if, under the actual external circumstances, one does not do it. This is the sense in which a rational agent has the capacity to reason and a stone does not: there are no circumstances in which a stone would reason. The distinction relies on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic properties, on the one hand, and hypothetical and actual external circumstances, on the other. (This is, I take it, what Hobbes was up to in his distinction between absolute and conditional impossibility and potentia in AW 37.5-6).

So Field’s real point must be, not that the distinction cannot be made, but that it is not normatively relevant (of no “salience,” as she puts it). This is just her second point: that a determinist is not entitled to deploy notions of normative responsibility and blame. That’s an old intuition, one Field shares with scholastics such as Bramhall. Field may or may not be philosophically correct about this, but hers’ was not Hobbes’s view, and I do think Hobbes’s view (whether true or false) is compelling enough to merit attention. I suspect that what might drive Field’s disagreement with Hobbes here is being in the grip of a conception of normative blame from which Hobbes meant to release us (what she calls “deep moral responsibility”). The question is: What is involved, for Hobbes, in normatively blaming someone in the reactive, accountability sense? It does not involve attributing to agents the ability to have done otherwise under their actual, causally determined circumstances; nor does it involve attributing to them any retrospectively determined theological status, such as being in a state of deserving punishment. This was Bramhall’s, not Hobbes’s, conception. Hobbes’s view is prospective. Normatively to blame someone in the accountability sense is to demand of them that they henceforth acknowledge a normative demand and to seek to vindicate the demand by condemning and sanctioning violations by demanding excuses, justification, or apology, or exacting compensation. But the point of the practice is not to give agents what they deserve in some theological sense, or to rectify an imbalance in the cosmic order. The point is to prevent violations in the future. Rational creatures are the appropriate object of such blame because they have the capacity to respond under the right circumstances, and practices of holding responsible are an attempt to furnish some of those (causal) circumstances. I take it that this is what Hobbes was trying to argue against Bramhall in Liberty and Necessity.


Eggers raises two sets of concerns. The first centres on  my division of Hobbes’s ethics into reasons of the good and reasons of the right, corresponding to two distinct concepts of normative obligation: a (traditional) eudaimonistic concept, which specifies what is conducive to one’s felicity; and a (new) juridical concept, which specifies what one owes to others, i.e., that to which others have the normative standing to hold one accountable. The laws of nature “oblige” rational creatures in the first, eudaimonistic or prudential sense; contracts give rise to obligations in the second, juridical sense. (As Eggers notes, D. D. Raphael has also distinguished between two senses of obligation in Hobbes: natural and artificial. But his notion of artificial obligation does not correspond to what I call juridical obligation. Raphael’s notion is of a purely “logical” obligation—a precept of rationality; he provides no account of why logical requirements would be normative for agents; and he does not explain why others would have the standing to hold one accountable to them, i.e., the sense in which logical obligations are owed to others.)

Eggers tries putting pressure on the division between eudaimonistic and juridical obligation by asking, “what entitles us to pay such disregard to Hobbes’s own repeated application of the term” (‘oblige’) to characterize the normative force of natural law? I confess to being puzzled by this charge of disregard, since much of the book regards Hobbes’s use of ‘obligation’ to characterize the normative force of natural law. I suspect Eggers might think we disagree here because he has slightly misunderstood my position: I did not intend to claim (as he puts it) that “only the obligation arising from agreements is ‘true’ obligation” or that “obligation towards the laws of nature is not ‘really’ obligation.” I agree with Eggers: eudaimonistic obligation is a kind of obligation in Hobbes’s usage. It is a “true” kind of obligation precisely in the sense that it is normative. (In fact, I argue that this was what ‘obligation’ exclusively meant prior to the early modern period.) My point was that Hobbes used ‘obligation’ in two distinct senses: one in the “proper” sense, i.e., which accords literally with his official, juridical definition (at L 14.7); and another in a “deviant” sense, i.e., which departs from his explicit definition. Part of the misunderstanding might stem from Eggers perceiving more similarities between my view and Bernd Ludwig’s than is warranted (which I cannot judge: my linguistic skills are not good enough to read German without a translation to hand). But on reflection, I also think the misunderstanding may partly stem from my use of ‘proper’ in Hobbes’s now obsolete sense to mean literal: a term’s “proper signification” for Hobbes is its literal meaning (in contrast to its extended, metaphorical meaning), i.e., strictly in accordance with his own explicit definition. This is the sense in which juridical (but not eudainmonistic) obligation is obligation proper. And although Hobbes’s non-literal use of ‘obligation’ departs from his official definition, I don’t think it is “in contradiction” with it: the two meanings are different, not contradictory; nor do natural obligations “contradict” conventionally acquired ones. They simply have a different kind of normative force.

I take it our true disagreement lies in this last claim: that natural (eudaimonistic) and conventionally acquired (juridical) obligations for Hobbes have a different kind of normative force. Eggers argues that Hobbes’s distinctions between broad and narrow peccatum, counsel and command, and the non-literal and proper senses of law are no evidence for this claim. The reason is that, as Eggers puts it, the “normative authority” of juridical obligations “ultimately derives from prudential considerations.” Eggers does not provide an argument for this assertion, and it faces an unanswered challenge. Hobbes’s juridical notion of obligation reduces to two components: (1) a normative reason one has to φ plus (2) the normative standing others have to hold one accountable for φ-ing. The first part might be explicable in terms of prudential considerations in favour of one’s φ-ing. But the second part is not: the fact that it would be good for me if others were to have the normative standing to hold me accountable does not amount to their having this standing. (I argue in the book that the normative standing to hold accountable is not reducible, for Hobbes, to the non-normative fact of holding accountable.) Eggers’s suggestion that adopting the second-personal standpoint “might only be needed for determining the content and scope of our directed obligations, without these obligations therefore acquiring a non-prudential normative status” therefore fails to explain the normative standing to hold accountable (and, relatedly, Hobbes’s distinction between punishment proper and “hostility”).

Nor do I think Eggers’ assertion reflects Hobbes’s view. Hobbes was clear that the prudential reasons one agent has cannot by themselves provide to other people the normative standing to hold the agent accountable. Thus, Hobbes repeatedly claimed that natural laws themselves provide “no place for Accusation” (L 14.30; 27.3; cf. 30.30). Another important piece of textual evidence that Eggers passes over concerns the relation between natural right and natural law. Hobbes characterized the full right of nature, in the “pure” state of nature, as implying the absence of any obligation. Yet he also characterized rational creatures, even in the pure state of nature, as already obliged by natural law. The only explanation for how one could be free of all obligation while simultaneously obliged is that there are two different kinds of obligation at stake: natural right corresponds to absence of obligation in the juridical sense, while natural law imposes obligation in the eudaimonistic sense. Failing to distinguish the two dimensions of normativity implausibly saddles Hobbes with an obvious contradiction at the heart of his ethics—and this, with respect to his two most central ethical concepts.

Egger’s second set of criticisms again concerns the second dimension of normativity I read in Hobbes. If Field argues that normative obligations and responsibility are in tension with Hobbes’s determinism in general, Eggers argues that juridical obligations and accountability-responsibility are in tension with Hobbes’s deterministic egoist-hedonist psychology in particular. His first argument to this effect is that juridical obligation may conceptually require that one outwardly conform to it for the “right” motivational reason, viz., simply because one is obligated. On Eggers’ suggestion, for example, if one were motivated to conform to a juridical obligation simply because of prudential considerations—such as fear of punishment—then one would fail to fulfil the obligation. But if, given Hobbes’s psychological egoism, Hobbesian individuals are always wholly motivated by prudential considerations of self-interest, then they could never, even in principle, fulfil their juridical obligations—which, Eggers suggests, violates “ought implies can.”

The thought that fulfilling juridical obligations requires being motivated by justice itself is, however, wholly alien to Hobbes’s conception of juridical obligation and accountability. To be sure, this is not because no people are ever motivated to conform to their juridical obligations from recognizing the obligation’s normative force. Hobbes was a psychological egoist and hedonist, but (as I argue in the book) not a strong one. He held that all action is prompted by desire and that we desire things only if we represent them as pleasant to ourselves, but he did not think that only considerations of self-interest can motivate people (or that the object of all desire is pleasure). He acknowledged, for example, benevolence or “Desire of good to another” (L 6.22). Hobbes also acknowledged the desire to conform to one’s obligations: there exist “Righteous” or virtuous individuals whose “Manners” or “disposition” of character are aptly called “Just” precisely because they are motivationally disposed to fulfil their obligations because they are averse to violating covenants. Such individuals possess “a certain Noblenesse or Gallantnesse of courage, (rarely found,) by which a man scorns to be beholding for the contentment of his life, to fraud, or breach of promise. This Justice of the Manners, is that which is meant, where Justice is called a Vertue” (L 15.10-12). This is the sense in which, as David Boonin has argued, Hobbes was a virtue theorist: virtuous individuals are motivationally disposed to act for the “right” reasons, i.e., because they recognize the justice of an action.

Yet for Hobbes, questions of desire or motivation in foro interno, dispositions of character, and virtue fall exclusively under the auspices of the first, attribution-responsibility dimension of normativity governed by natural law. Others may have the standing to criticize one for an unjust or vicious character—it is an imprudent character to have—but there is no question of others having the normative standing to hold one accountable for unjust dispositions or motivations. There are no grounds, for example, for punishing (or demanding an apology or compensation from) those who outwardly conform to the laws but are motivated to do so solely because they fear punishment. Hobbes was resolutely opposed to allowing inquisitorial practices to infect accountability relations: he considered it a grave “Errour” to “extend the power of the Law, which is the Rule of Actions onely, to the very Thoughts, and Consciences of men, by Examination, and Inquisition of what they Hold, notwithstanding the Conformity of their Speech and Actions” (L 46.39). There is no basis for punishing a non-virtuous individual who performs just actions out of “feare” or “because his Will is not framed by the Justice, but by the apparent benefit of what he is to do” (L 15.10). This is the point of Hobbes’s distinction between just men and just actions in paragraphs 10-12 of chapter 15: the justice of “Manners” or character is a eudaimonistic obligation prescribed by natural law as conducive to felicity; but juridical obligations owed to others concern solely the “Justice of Actions.” So not only can Hobbesian individuals be motivated by justice, not being motivated by justice does not itself imply a violation of their juridical obligation. Juridical obligations do not require any particular mental states. We may, of course, decide to cut off relations with people of a vicious character—or, as Hobbes warned the Foole, we may refuse to enter into society with them in the first place—but we should be doing so, on Hobbes’s view, for prudential reasons. Resentment or revengefulness is out of place.

(It is true that, as I note in the book, Hobbes deemed it appropriate to punish unjust actions differentially on the basis of the person’s imputed mental states. For example, the punishment for murder may be different than for homicide because the former involves malicious intent. But there is no sense in which the justice of an action—i.e., fulfilling one’s juridical obligations—requires specific motivations.)

Eggers’ second argument about the incompatibility of Hobbesian psychology and juridical obligation suffers the same fate. Here is the argument as I understand it: First, if we hold people accountable for their actions, but all action derives, as Hobbes believed, from the will, then “within the Hobbesian framework, we can only hold someone accountable for his will.” Second, if “all that can ever motivate Hobbesian individuals are considerations of self-interest, then this means that in holding someone accountable for violating his contractual obligations, we ultimately blame him for not acquiring the appropriate self-interested motivation, that is, for not behaving prudently.” But then it looks as if one is reduced to holding individuals accountable for actions because they were imprudent, i.e., because of a violation of eudaimonistic obligation—which appears to collapse the distinction between the two dimensions of normativity.

There are three problems with this argument. First, as we have seen, Hobbes did not think that only considerations of self-interest can motivate people. Second, even though all action is for Hobbes caused by the will (desire), it does not follow that in holding people accountable for their actions we thereby “ultimately” hold them accountable for their will or desires. Again, as we have seen, on Hobbes’s view we sanction people for their actions, not for the will that caused the action—nor, indeed, for the opinion that caused the will, nor for the food they ate that caused the appetite that became their will, nor for the rain that nourished the food they ate, etc. The normative force of blame and accountability does not always retrace whatever paths had been forged by empirical relations of causation. Third, there is a difference between holding people accountable for actions that are imprudent and holding them accountable for actions because they are imprudent. For Hobbes, because violations of juridical obligation are also imprudent, when people are held accountable they are held accountable for actions that turn out also to be imprudent. Nonetheless, one has the standing to hold them accountable for violations on the basis, not of the actions’ imprudence, but of their being violations of juridical obligation.

Arash Abizadeh (McGill University)

An Open Letter to the Hobbes Profession (UPDATED with responses)

An Open Letter to the Hobbes Profession, by S.A. Lloyd (USC) and A.P. Martinich (Austin, Texas)

Dear Colleagues,

Noel Malcolm’s recent scholarly three volume Clarendon edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan is without question an immensely valuable resource for Hobbes studies. We scholars appreciate having the English and Latin texts face to face, along with Malcolm’s annotations. What should be in question is whether requiring all scholars to refer to it facilitates, or instead burdens, our own work, and the efforts of many of us to stimulate broader interest in Hobbes studies.

Some university libraries in the developed world have bought a single edition to be shared amongst the faculty and students; but most college and university libraries have no edition at all. The volume cannot serve as a common reference point because so few enjoy access to it. Professors cannot teach using it because students cannot access it easily, nor can they afford to buy it for themselves. Functionally, no one in the developing world could follow along with our arguments were we to have to make our references to the Clarendon volume. We do not know whether the Clarendon Press imposes limitations on the use of the electronic version of the book; but many publishers limit the number of users who can use it at one time, and also restrict the number of pages that can be printed by an individual. Further, only students at some elite universities have access to digital libraries, and it is in any case unreasonable to require readers to navigate through Hobbes’s 600 page text electronically.

The Clarendon edition is also physically burdensome. Those with the privilege to afford purchase of the $100 paperback edition can attest to its unwieldy volume and weight. The hardback available to some on loan from their elite university library weighs in at 7 pounds, too heavy to carry to class or the coffeehouse. All that weight and bulk in either edition is unnecessary, because most people do not need, even if they were able, simultaneously to survey the Latin.

A system of reference to Leviathan by chapter and paragraph number, and/or 1651 page number, would enable the largest audience for Hobbes studies, regardless of social or economic status. All the good and widely used editions, including those of MacPherson, Tuck, Curley, Gaskin, Martinich, and now Malcolm, provide 1651 page numbers. These page numbers are so widely included that requiring them as the standard reference convention is most reasonable. Many of the editions just mentioned also have paragraph numbers. It is a defect of Malcom’s edition that it does not include paragraph numbers, one that we hope will be corrected in subsequent editions. Paragraph numbers could be used either as an alternative method or as a supplement to 1651 page numbers.

In the interests both of fairness to scholars, and of expanding accessibility to Hobbes for a larger public, we urge scholars to refer to Leviathan with numbers to chapters and paragraphs and/or pages as they occur in an edition of 1651. We urge editors not to require their contributors to include page references to the Clarendon edition.

S.A Lloyd and A.P. Martinich


Response by Daniel Garber (Princeton)

Dear Colleagues,

This morning we all received a thoughtful note from Profs. Lloyd and Martinich, two distinguished scholars, suggesting that we not attempt to make references to the new OUP Leviathan, edited by Noel Malcolm, standard in our publications on Hobbes. I respectfully disagree.

The crux of their argument is this. While they agree that it is an excellent edition, the main objection is to its cost, and consequently the difficulty of scholars either to afford to purchase it or find it at libraries that can afford to purchase it. They list the price at US$375. That is true for the hard-back edition. But the paperback is available for US$125 for the three volumes (including the introductory volume), and US$99 for the two text volumes. That is quite a reasonable price for an academic book. (In comparison, the single volume of the Oxford Handbook of Hobbes is available only in hardback at US$150.) I think that it is not unreasonable to expect serious scholars to invest US$99 in what is a central research tool for their work. I would also point out that the OUP edition is also available online in an electronic edition, part of a package to which many research libraries subscribe.

Profs. Lloyd and Martinich suggest using page numbers, chapter numbers, and paragraph numbers in the 1651 text instead of the OUP page numbers. This is not an unreasonable suggestion. But it does presume that one is making reference to the English version alone. One of the great innovations of the new Malcolm edition is precisely that it makes possible easy comparisons between the English and the Latin text, which should encourage scholars to pay more attention to the changes Hobbes introduced into his later edition. That for me is an important reason why we should encourage our students and colleagues to make use of Malcolm’s magnificent new edition. It is the rare circumstance in which a new tool could actually change the direction of scholarship.

Sincerely yours, Daniel Garber


Response by Patricia Springborg (HU Berlin)

I fully agree with the Lloyd Martinich Open Letter, and for the Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan we standardized references to Leviathan by chapter/para/1651 pp./and Curley pp. exactly as you suggest, the format I continue to use.

The beauty of it is that anyone using any standard edition can easily find the reference. CUP went along with it and did not suggest we use their Tuck edition, which is a good edition but does not have para nos and does not cross-reference the Latin edition, the advantage of Curley’s.

For publishers to insist on a specific edition is a break with convention and Lloyd and Martinich have made an excellent case that it is not warranted. I think they have done us a great service and would be surprised if the publishers are not persuaded!

Happy holidays and may 2019 be a good one!

Patricia Springborg


Response by Justin Champion (Royal Holloway College, University of London)

I write in reply to the recent joint open letter by Lloyd/Martinch, raising concerns in regard of the accessibility, functionality and paratextual presentation of Noel Malcolm’s three volume Clarendon scholarly edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan. The authors note that the edition, ‘is without question an immensely valuable resource for Hobbes studies’, and delivers considerable scholarly benefits, such as face to face versions of the English and Latin texts. These benefits are complemented by the capacious learning of Malcolm’s annotations and textual collation. Despite this positive appreciation, the letter raises a question about whether this combination of textual commentary, contextual erudition, and assessment of the scribal evidence and bibliographical variations, are advantageous to those who wish to explore the ideas of Hobbes and their reception. This question is phrased in a curious manner: implying that there is some sort of requirement or imperative laid as a burden upon all scholars, without indicating from whence this obligation derives. The corollary of their questions suggests that the edition imposes ‘burdens, our own work, and the efforts of many of us to stimulate broader interest in Hobbes studies’. The underlying implication seems to be that the existence of the edition, a monument to decades of archival research and considered historical enquiry, by its very virtuosity demands a strenuous effort on the part of the reader. To suggest that this is a negative aspect of Malcolm’s Leviathan could be regarded as short-sighted, if not churlish. Complaining that an edition is too learned, too replete with contextual explanation, or too detailed in textual annotation, seems to me to be a rejection of the imperatives of scholarly enquiry. Why bother with such learning at all? Why not simply download one of the various open access digital editions? Indeed why not employ the various summaries and extracted editions (which often exclude entire chapters from Books III and IV)?

I imagine the answer to these suggestions would be to lay claim to examining a text which was as close as possible to that authorised by Hobbes himself, or at least one which would have been recognisable by his contemporaries.  The problem highlighted by Lloyd/Martinch’s complaints may lie in the different modern usages of Hobbes’ text: the political philosopher may not be interested in textual variant, rhetorical sources, and contextual reception. Those aspects are precisely the dimensions which a robust history of ideas seeks to restore to the historical record. Reading texts from the past is a necessarily complex and multi-facetted business: concerns relating to scribal circulation, the complicated business of the making the material book, and the hinterland of contextual language and literary discourse, are the very materials historians of ideas seek. Complaints that the edition is too heavy to be used conveniently in coffee-shops or the lecture room, seem to be based on one model of how the student community might need to ‘use’ the edition: the letter draws a distinction between the potential use of the work in the ‘developed’ and ‘developing world’. It is not clear what this economic distinction means. If intended to imply constraint of access due to limited financial abilities, then the distinction is overly simple. Within even the most developed nation states there exists a variety of academic and school facilities, some of which will have the resources to gain access to the edition, others not. If the letter had gone on to develop an argument about the printing industry’s stranglehold on the global economics of scholarly publication, in order to develop a wider case for open access, it might have created more grounds for agreement. Neither of the letter’s authors appear to have published in open access format, nor do they indicate that they have any wider commitment to such projects.

The authors have claimed that ‘Some university libraries in the developed world have bought a single edition to be shared amongst the faculty and students; but most college and university libraries have no edition at all’. This is not sustained by even the most elementary search of the online World Catalogue, which indicates there are some 3158 copies in circulation in university and local public libraries across the globe – from New Zealand to Honduras, Chile, Hawaii, Philippines, and in regional public libraries in Surrey, Westminster, Middlesex, Wiltshire, Kent and Sussex. A more expert search of the various global catalogues might also provide evidence for the purchase of the Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, version too. It is Lloyd’s and Martinich’s contention that, ‘The volume cannot serve as a common reference point because so few enjoy access to it. Professors cannot teach using it because students cannot access it easily, nor can they afford to buy it for themselves’. These claims are not substantiated with any evidence of non-use. Certainly in the universities of London, Edinburgh, Reading, York and Warwick, there is online access to the volumes, and a further 22 universities have copies of the printed edition, (see COPAC search: Indeed the digital facilities of the online edition allows undergraduates and postgraduates to examine the texts, vocabulary and rhetoric of Leviathan in an engaged and innovative way. Far from confining or constraining an audience’s ability to explore Hobbes’ text the edition enables deeper enquiry for a wider readership.

The claims of Lloyd/Martinich regarding the usability of the volume, either in digital or print form, are equally flawed. Asserting that no one in the ‘developing world could follow along with our arguments were we to have to make our references to the Clarendon volume’, is illogical since that edition has original page numbers embedded so is in common use in most more popular editions (by Tuck and others); a more likely restraint on being able to follow the arguments of Lloyd/Martinich would be that their publications are in journal articles behind paywalls, or monographs beyond the purse of many private scholars, and indeed many university libraries. The claim that the digital edition available through Oxford scholarly editions online is limited to ‘only students at some elite universities’ requires substantiation: it seems from searches in the UK that many university libraries have access to the digital edition, and also operate access schemes for non-academic users. The claim that it is ‘unreasonable to require readers to navigate through Hobbes’s 600 page text electronically’, can only be based on lack of experience using the online digital platform, which indeed allows a swift and accurate means for searching for word, phrase or even annotated references. In fact it is easier to navigate the print volumes with the assistance of the digital edition. Navigation of a text is of course a different business than close reading of a passage, or tracing the repeated citation of biblical verses. The Malcolm edition facilitates both extensive and intensive reading patterns. The harvesting of relevant extracts for re-use in text collations also offers a swift method for providing students and researchers with valuable material which would require cumbersome typing ordinarily.

The ‘Letter’ also asserts that the Clarendon edition is physically burdensome, unwieldy in ‘volume and weight’. The heft of the edition, it is claimed ‘is unnecessary’: mainly, in a comment of staggering condescension, because of the parallel Latin text, which ‘most people do not need, even if they were able, simultaneously to survey the Latin’. The authors presumably include themselves in this category of ‘most people’, or may need to acknowledge that to some the English/Latin pages offer a just measure of stimulation and opportunity. The authors then proceed to compare the pagination of Malcolm’s edition with the other existing editions, noting that all of them offer reference to the 1651 edition as standard (and thereby all may be cross-referenced with each other). Yet even in this moment of acknowledgement, Malcolm is chastised for failing to include paragraph numbers, and encouraged to correct such an omission in subsequent editions. The issue of accessibility to the Latin edition, issued in 1668 and revising and adding to the earlier iteration, in appendices and textual expansion is a critical benefit of Malcolm’s edition. That Hobbes was prepared to restate his arguments, sometimes in bolder ways, after the restoration of the Church of England to full disciplinary authority suggests an important context for understanding the political theology he defended. Without Malcolm’s profound editorial work, this task of exploring the reception and restatement of Hobbes’ ideas in a climate of hostile and powerful churchmen would be a difficult project. With the edition, it is possible to explore and establish the synergies with his other Restoration publications. Hobbes returned to themes and passages from Leviathan in Behemoth, the translations of Homer, and works on law (all expertly edited by Seaward, Nelson and Cromartie/Skinner), too. The Latin text and translation also enables a better informed study of the posthumous publication of Hobbes’ Latin verse, Historia Ecclesiastica (1688), where the themes of the appendices are captured in poetic form, and the shared Latinate vocabulary of earlier works is evident.

The authors conclude with a proposal, invoking notions of fairness and accessibility ‘for a larger public’, although there is an imprecision about what ‘public’ this includes beyond the scholarly, university and wider academic community. They ‘urge scholars to refer to Leviathan with numbers to chapters and paragraphs and/or pages as they occur in an edition of 1651. We urge editors not to require their contributors to include page references to the Clarendon edition’. The use of the word ‘urge’ is an odd one implying some measure of urgency, or impending threat? One of the Oxford English Dictionary definitions suggests the word means, ‘to advocate or advise earnestly (some course of action, etc.); to press with importunity, claim or demand pressingly’. The request is unclear: do the authors ask (1) that editors simply do not stipulate the use of any particular edition; or is their position (2) that only an edition which includes paragraph numbers be used? The first request seems unexceptionable, since the editions used in research papers are commonly chosen by the authors rather than the journal requirements. That scholarly choice is most commonly exercised by an assessment of which edition is ‘best’: that is, by using an edition which has the most scholarly rigour and most helpful editorial apparatus. It is a moot point whether any serious scholar, capable of accessing the ‘best’ edition, would eschew it for a less comprehensive version. Most research active undergraduates, postgraduates and academics will have access to a facsimile of the various seventeenth century editions through the digital archive on Early English Books Online. In using that facility they will navigate by chapter and page number, not by paragraph. Malcolm’s edition captures that primary textual architecture, and supplements it with the precision of a scaffolding of line numbers too.

The use of paragraph numbers has recently developed, most commonly, where authors refer to un-paginated digital texts (see APA style guidance: The MLA guide suggests stronger advice: that is ‘using chapter or paragraph numbers when no page numbers are available, but only if the chapter or paragraphs are explicitly included in the original text’. The emboldened phrase suggests that adding paragraph numbers to Hobbes’ text is an unwarranted modern innovation, which, plausibly, might alter the way the text is read and digested. I am unaware of any discussion of when, and why, paragraph numbers were intruded into modern editions of Leviathan. Warrender, when outlining the Clarendon Hobbes’ works project, which he reiterated in his edition of De Cive, suggested that both the English and Latin Leviathan would be ‘supplied with paragraph numbers though again Hobbes’s original format has been preserved’.[1] The motivation for this was that it offered the reader ‘assistance in matching the English and Latin texts’, which he hoped, ‘improves also the readability of the work’. While Warrender suggested that Hobbes’ omission of paragraph numbers in Leviathan had made a ‘great stumbling block to the system of reference we have adopted’, the Malcolm edition addresses the core problem by having facing pages for the English and Latin versions, thus obviating the need for the intrusion of paragraph numbers. Warrender also noted that in Leviathan, ‘Hobbes’s own paragraphing was highly individualistic’, suggesting perhaps that those textual divisions displayed some authorial characteristics, best preserved in a comprehensive modern edition.

Hobbes did not eschew paragraph numeration altogether, and had used it in the many Latin and English editions of his works in the 1640s and 1650s, such as de Cive (which were reproduced by the translator of the English version, Philosophicall rudiments concerning government and society, 1651), the Elements of philosophy the first section, concerning body written in Latine by Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; and now translated into English; to which are added Six lessons (1656), and the Elementorum philosophiae sectio secunda De homine (1658). In these, each chapter was followed by an itemised list of the subjects contained in each chapter. That this was not the case in Leviathan, might suggest that Hobbes intended the work to be absorbed, and shared amongst readers, in a different manner to other contemporaneous texts. Of course it may have been the result of decisions taken in the print-shop, although it seems unlikely that Hobbes would have accepted such a key dimension of the presentation of his ideas without demure. Since paragraph numbers are absent in the seventeenth century editions of Leviathan, without some more considered justification they best be left out of a referencing system for modern readers. As Quentin Skinner’s work has been at pains to establish, the rhetorical structures of Hobbes’ text are significant components to an understanding of his intentions and their reception: crumbling the text into paragraphs may occlude this dimension of the author’s ambitions. Hobbes, himself, complained of those Bible critics who crumbled scripture into dust, to cast into the eyes of other men [Leviathan II, xliii, p. 331/p. 954].

Those interested in exploring the complex world of Hobbes’ mind and its interaction with its time and other minds, should be grateful that they have such a companion as Malcolm’s edition of Leviathan. While it may take some effort to become fully accomplished at exploiting its manifold possibilities, surely that is the business of being a scholar, even in the digital age?

Justin Champion

[1] The starting point would be Howard Warrender’s, ‘Thomas Hobbes: the collected works and a note on a new critical edition.’, Rivista Critica Di Storia Della Filosofia, vol. 33, no. 2 (1978), pp. 242–246, which outlined (p.244) a ‘general system of reference wherein Hobbes’s works are cited by short title, chapter and paragraph’. See also Howard Warrender (ed.), The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes, Vol. 2: De Cive: The Latin Version (Oxford, 1983), ‘The apparatus’, p.54, at footnote 3.

Online Colloquium (4): Eggers on Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh, followed by responses from Sandra Field and Michael LeBuffe. We now have a response from Daniel Eggers (Köln), and will conclude with a reply by Arash Abizadeh next week. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.


One of the main ideas running through Abizadeh’s impressive book, Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics, is the idea that Hobbes’s doctrine of the laws of nature and his theory of contractual agreements are largely independent of one another and that agreements give rise to strict moral obligations that can neither be reduced to nor be derived from the purely prudential obligation towards the laws of nature.

To be sure, neither of these two claims is new. They have previously been defended, for instance, by D. D. Raphael and by Bernd Ludwig whose book Die Wiederentdeckung des Epikureischen Naturrechtes provides their most systematic and comprehensive defence. Yet, Abizadeh clearly goes beyond these earlier discussions and arguably improves upon them.

Firstly, Abizadeh does not forward the evolutionary reading defended by Ludwig according to which the independence of the two elements of Hobbes’s overall system is only achieved in Leviathan.

Secondly, and again unlike Ludwig, Abizadeh does not go as far as to claim that the laws of nature are not obligatory at all—and therefore does not have a similar problem with the fact that Hobbes explicitly and repeatedly describes the laws of nature in these terms, both in the earlier works and Leviathan.

Thirdly, Abizadeh locates the relevant claims within the context of some broader conceptual distinctions informed by modern metaethics. According to Abizadeh, Hobbes distinguishes between two different spheres of normativity: normativity in the ‘attributability sense’ and normativity in the ‘accountability sense’. While the former only requires that one can legitimately be criticized for one’s behaviour, as is already the case when one behaves imprudently, the second sense presupposes an interpersonal practice of assuming a second-person standpoint and holding one another accountable. Corresponding to this latter distinction is a distinction between two different types of normative reasons: eudaimonistic reasons of the good on the one hand and genuinely moral reasons of the right on the other.

Fourthly, Abizadeh introduces additional evidence for this supposed ‘chasm’ in Hobbes’s theory. Though some of his key evidence is already drawn upon by Raphael or Ludwig (such as Hobbes’s ‘official definition’ of obligation (L 14.65), his claim that there is “no obligation on any man, which ariseth not from some Act of his own” (L 21.11) and Leviathan’s table of the sciences in which “ETHIQUES” and “The Science of JUST and UNJUST” appear as separate enterprises), Abizadeh also appeals to Hobbes’s distinction between a narrow and a broad sense of ‘sin’ (peccatum), his opposition of counsel and command and his claim that the laws of nature fail to qualify as proper laws.

Fifthly, Abizadeh ultimately infers from his analysis a specific claim about Hobbes’s place in the history of moral and political philosophy. According to Abizadeh, Hobbes revolutionizes ethical theory by transforming the traditional notions of obligation and natural law, and their mutual relation. As a result, Hobbes’s theory is viewed by him as marking a watershed in the history of both normative ethics and metaethics.

There can be no doubt, then, about the originality of Abizadeh’s way of articulating and defending the two ideas under consideration. This is not to say, however, that his discussion does not give rise to some of the same worries that are raised by Raphael’s and Ludwig’s interpretations.

For one thing, though Abizadeh may not go as far as claiming that the laws of nature impose no kind of obligation whatsoever, he does emphasize that only the obligation arising from agreements is ‘true’ obligation, and the question is: what entitles us to pay such disregard to Hobbes’s own repeated application of the term? The strongest support seems to be provided by the passage from the chapter ‘The Liberty of Subjects’ already referred to above. Yet, if we read this passage in the way Abizadeh suggests, then Hobbes’s claim is simply incompatible with his own use of the term and many of his relevant statements. However, if we read it in a way compatible with this use—for example, by taking the statement to refer, more narrowly, to ‘The Obligation of Subjects’—they provide no support for denying that the obligation towards the laws of nature is proper obligation, too.

Similar considerations apply to Hobbes’s ‘official definition’ of obligation. That the passage has a definitory nature is hard to deny. However, the concession that large parts of Hobbes’s discussion of obligation are in contradiction with his own ‘official definition’ of the term is by no means a tempting one. Moreover, there are other examples where definitory statements provided by Hobbes do not have the comprehensive application they intuitively seem to have, as with Hobbes’s definition of liberty as the absence of external impediments which is inapplicable to the liberty constituting the right of nature. Rather than taking Hobbes’s statement to mean that the obligation towards the laws of nature is not ‘really’ obligation, therefore, we should perhaps better take it to mean that it is importantly different from the one arising from contractual agreements.

It is important to emphasize that this view does not yet commit us to the interpretive claim Abizadeh ultimately defends. According to Abizadeh, the obligations are not only different, they are of an entirely different kind. What distinguishes them is that they do not have the same normative status: while the obligation towards the laws of nature is purely prudential, the obligation generated by agreements is entirely independent of the negative consequences that might redound to the agent.

Yet, in my opinion, the textual evidence cited by Abizadeh does not sufficiently support this specific claim. For example, the fact that obligations arising from agreements are directed obligations, i.e. obligations in virtue of which I specifically owe something to someone, is fully compatible with the idea that their normative authority ultimately derives from prudential considerations. Likewise, Hobbes’s distinction between the broad and narrow senses of peccatum and his distinction between counsel and command are entirely neutral with regard to the question of what grounds our obligation towards contractual agreements. The same applies to the related claim that the laws of nature are not properly laws. The laws of nature are not properly laws because they do not have a law-giver (unless we conceive of them as expressions of God’s will). However, the question of whether the laws of nature express the will of someone with the authority to make laws and command certain behavior is neither here nor there with regard to the question of whether the normative status of the obligation towards these laws differs from the normative status of contractual obligations.

This leaves Abizadeh’s more explicit arguments on why the obligation towards contractual agreements is neither reducible to nor derivable from the prudential obligation towards the laws of nature, which are provided in chapter 6.2. In discussing the first point, Abizadeh rejects S. A. Lloyd’s ‘reciprocity interpretation’ of the laws of nature. With regard to the issue under consideration, however, this rejection does not have any real import since the question thereby being answered is not whether the obligations towards contractual agreements might not really be prudential, but the opposite question of whether the obligation towards the laws of nature might not really be non-prudential. Similarly, the way in which Abizadeh tackles the second issue, namely by distinguishing between the prudential reasons we have for assuming the second-person standpoint and the properties in virtue of which we have the normative power to take on contractual obligations, does not suffice to show that there must be such a thing as strictly moral, non-prudential obligation in Hobbes. For all Abizadeh tells us, the interpersonal practice of assuming a second-person standpoint, from which our directed obligations are said to emerge, might only be needed for determining the content and scope of our directed obligations, without these obligations therefore acquiring a non-prudential normative status.

In my view, then, the positive evidence provided in support of Abizadeh’s reading falls short of supporting his crucial claim—even if it may show quite impressively how keen Hobbes was on discussing the normative realm created by contractual agreements in its own right. Moreover, any interpretation of Hobbes that wants to drive a wedge between the two types of obligation needs to come up with a plausible explanation for the existence of the third law of nature and for the fact that Hobbes repeatedly discusses contractual agreements from a prudential perspective, as in his famous ‘reply to the Foole’. According to Abizadeh, what explains the link between prudence and contractual obligation is that Hobbesian individuals can only ever be motivated to fulfill their strict moral obligations in virtue of prudential considerations and that the self-interest of an agent serves as a general constraint on the obligations we can possibly attract by means of contractual agreements.

In my view, this attempt of reconciling the two spheres of normativity creates further problems, if not for Abizadeh, then for Hobbes. One question is whether the above account is compatible with the principle ‘ought implies can’ to which Hobbes obviously subscribes (see also Abizadeh’s discussion of the conditions of moral responsibility in chapter 4.1). Abizadeh’s treatment suggests that the principle is respected if there is some way for individuals to act in accordance with their contractual obligations or some way for them to be motivated to act in the relevant manner. However, one might think that the principle actually requires something stronger, namely that we can fulfill our strict moral obligations as strict moral obligations and be motivated by the fact that we are obliged in this specific sense.

Furthermore, it is not clear that Abizadeh’s solution sits well with the idea of accountability in terms of which he explicates strict moral obligation. According to Hobbes, it is impossible for us not to act on our will (unless, of course, we are hindered by some external factor). This suggests that, within the Hobbesian framework, we can only hold someone accountable for his will, that is, for that which the individual was overridingly motivated to do. If we hold someone accountable for not fulfilling his contractual obligations, then, we really hold him accountable for not being sufficiently motivated to fulfill these obligations. Yet, if all that can ever motivate Hobbesian individuals are considerations of self-interest, then this means that in holding someone accountable for violating his contractual obligations, we ultimately blame him for not acquiring the appropriate self-interested motivation, that is, for not behaving prudently. However, this suggests that the position Abizadeh ascribes to Hobbes, namely a combination of a modern accountability conception of contractual obligation and a “egoist-hedonist psychology” (229), is internally unstable. In fact, something similar seems to follow from the concession that our self-interest provides a general constraint for our strict moral obligations since the resulting view suggests that, after all, the fundamental normative value of Hobbes’s theory is self-interest and that we are only ever obliged by our own good, that is, prudentially.

The least we may say of Abizadeh’s analysis, therefore, is that he tends to treat Hobbes overly charitably and keeps quiet about some serious problems that are attached to the supposed enterprise of separating reasons of the right from reasons of the good—problems that fully come to the fore in the works of later moral philosophers, most famously in the works of Immanuel Kant.

Daniel Eggers (Universität zu Köln)

New Article: The natural kingdom of God in Hobbes’s political thought



In Leviathan, Hobbes outlines the concept of the ‘Kingdome of God by Nature’ or ‘Naturall Kingdome of God’, terms rarely found in English texts at the time. This article traces the concept back to the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), which sets forth a threefold understanding of God’s kingdom – the kingdoms of nature, grace, and glory – none of which refer to civil commonwealths on earth. Hobbes abandons this Catholic typology and transforms the concept of the natural kingdom of God to advance a claim often missed by his interpreters: Leviathan-states are the manifestation of a real, not metaphorical, kingdom of God. This argument plays a key role in Leviathan, which identifies the kingdom of God as the Christian doctrine most subject to abuse. Hobbes harshly criticizes Catholic and Presbyterian clergy for claiming to represent God’s kingdom. This claim, he argues, comes with the subversive implication that the church possesses spiritual and temporal authority, and caused great turmoil during the English Civil War. As an alternative, Hobbes points to civil commonwealths as the manifestation of God’s natural kingdom, which is the only form his kingdom currently takes.

Online Colloquium (3): LeBuffe on Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh and a response from Sandra Field. We now have a response from Michael LeBuffe (Otago), which will be followed by one from Daniel Eggers and then a reply by Arash Abizadeh. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.


I would like to begin by congratulating Arash Abizadeh. Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics is a splendid book. Even where I have disagreed with Abizadeh, the book has been a great help to me in framing central issues and in setting out pressing questions for different interpretations. I am sure that it will be a valuable resource for students of Hobbes for many years.

Here I will discuss Abizadeh’s views on the science of morality in Hobbes, and I will focus on his Chapter 3. I will begin from the principles that form the basis of that science and proceed to its conclusions, the laws of nature. In both cases, although I recognize the difficulties that Abizadeh has presented for what he calls subjectivism, I am also concerned about the alternative interpretation that he defends. On that interpretation, prudentialism, the view that one ought to desire and pursue one’s own good, is a foundational principle of moral science, which gives us reason to follow the laws of nature. The principle is distinct from any particular desire or knowledge, but its practical importance is guaranteed by epistemic access to the laws of nature: any sane adult can easily know the laws of nature.

Science, Hobbes writes in Leviathan, proceeds from definitions of words; to general affirmations; to syllogisms; to conclusions (L 7.4, cf. L 5.17). In the familiar case of the “science of virtue and vice” (L 15.40), Hobbes defines ‘right of nature’, ‘liberty’, and ‘law of nature’ (L 14.1–3); makes general affirmations in the right to everything and the fundamental law of nature (L 14.4); and proceeds by something recognizably like syllogistic reasoning to arrive at conclusions in the laws of nature (L 14–15).

Neither in Hobbes’s definition of ‘science’ nor in Leviathan 14–15 does the vexed term ‘principle’ arise, but I do not think that this is a significant problem for Abizadeh’s claim that the first normative principle is “desire and pursue your own good” (110). Hobbes does use ‘principle’ immediately before the L 5.17 definition of ‘science’ (see also the account of first philosophy at L 9). Moreover, where Hobbes does use the term ‘principle’ (or principium) more freely, as at De Corpore 15, he seems happy to have both definitions, such as the definition of ‘motion’, and also results of argument that are somehow fundamental, such as his version of the law of inertia, count as principles (DC 15.1).

I do think, however, that whatever Hobbes takes to be a principle he states explicitly and straightforwardly. Reason requires such transparency if it is to proceed on a solid footing. Where, then, Abizadeh claims that for Hobbes the first normative principle which grounds natural law is “desire and pursue your own good,” rather than the explicit definitions and fundamental precepts of Leviathan 14, I think his view is problematic. Considering the moral argument of Leviathan in parallel with the physical argument of De Corpore, it seems likely that Hobbes would have been happy to call his definitions, the right to everything, and fundamental law of nature “principles” in Leviathan. It seems quite unlikely, though, and contrary to his account of science, that he would have a fundamental principle that he does not mention.

Compare the case of Spinoza, whose psychology and method are similar in many respects to those of Hobbes. At the outset of his dictates of reason, Spinoza writes: “Because reason demands nothing contrary to nature, it therefore demands … absolutely, that each person should strive, as far as it is in him, to preserve his own being.” On the basis of this passage, one might argue that “desire and pursue the preservation of your being” is a principle of Spinoza’s dictates of reason. He starts with this emphatic statement about what we should do in general and other dictates of reason follow from it. Similarly, to take Abizadeh’s own comparison case (97), Thomas Aquinas explicitly and at the outset of his account of natural law makes it his first principle that the good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided (ST I–II q. 94 a. 2). If Abizadeh is right about Hobbes’s first principle, the case with Hobbes is quite different. He never does claim that one ought desire and pursue one’s own good. Notably, there is no such claim where one would expect to find it, at the beginning of Leviathan 14.

This point matters, I think, to Abizadeh’s assessment of interpretations of Hobbes that make him a subjectivist about reasons. If Hobbes were somewhere to assert as self-evident or to derive in argument the claim that one ought desire and pursue one’s own good, then the normativity of the laws of nature might well inherit their normativity from this principle: one ought to pursue peace because it is a necessary means to one’s good, and one ought to pursue necessary means to whatever ends one ought to pursue. The fact that Hobbes does not explicitly present this principle, though, is an impetus to take subjectivism and the deflationary sense of the normative that it presents seriously.

Turning now from the foundations to the conclusions of moral science, on Abizadeh’s view, we ought to understand Hobbes’s laws of nature as giving us reasons to act in particular ways that are independent of our particular desires or knowledge. Alternatively, if some subjectivist view is correct, then we ought to take them to give us reasons that are dependent upon our desires and knowledge. For example, on Watkins’s very simple “doctor’s orders” interpretation, I want to live, and I know that peace is means to survival (Watkins, 76–77). That knowledge gives me a motive (and so, in that sense, a reason) to seek peace. Textual evidence that may be relevant to the broader issue, then, is evidence concerning Hobbes’s views about whether human beings desire the ends secured by his laws of nature and whether human beings know that the laws of nature help to secure those ends. On the first topic, Abizadeh offers an excellent, nuanced account of Hobbes’s views about human desire. If subjectivism about reasons were to work, it would have to accommodate something close to desire as Abizadeh presents it. On the second topic, Hobbes’s views about human knowledge of laws of nature, however, I do have reservations about Abizadeh’s argument.

Abizadeh contends (122, 131) that, according to Hobbes, we need not know the laws of nature. If that were so, it would be a strong point against most varieties of subjectivist interpretation. The textual evidence that Abizadeh raises in support of this view, however, does not, to my eyes, do the job. One passage is Leviathan 30.4, where Hobbes writes that the grounds of sovereign rights need to be taught. Abizadeh paraphrases: “those who could know the laws of nature but do not, ‘need to be diligently, and truly taught’” (122). Perhaps one might work one’s way to the laws of nature from the rights of sovereigns, eventually, but the notions—and Hobbes makes this point emphatically (L 14.3)—are not simply intersubstitutable. Later, Abizadeh cites Leviathan 26.21, where Hobbes writes that the laws of nature need interpretation because we are frequently blinded by self-love and other strong passions. This also seems to me not directly related to the question of our knowledge of the laws of nature. The passage, I think, is naturally understood as one in which Hobbes notes that, although we all do know the laws of nature (perhaps because we all have a minimal degree of reason), we nevertheless easily misinterpret that law. The paragraph, after all, concerns the need for interpretation of all law. If knowing the law at all were a problem, that would be a more fundamental problem and would need to be addressed prior to the problem of misinterpretation.

A prominent passage in Leviathan states explicitly that all sane adults do know the laws of nature. At the conclusion of Hobbes’s moral science, Leviathan 15.40, he writes: “all men agree on this, that peace is good; and therefore also the way or means of peace … justice, gratitude … and the rest of the laws of nature.” Abizadeh’s contention that Hobbes defends a condition of epistemic access to natural law does offer a clear alternative reading of other passages (such as, L 15.35 and R&C 13) that a subjectivist might too quickly take to be equivalent to this passage: they do, read closely and without the context of 15.40, suggest that all can know the laws of nature and not that all do. In the light of 15.40, however, it seems to me that the subjectivist reading of these passages is better after all: all of us ought to know the laws of nature in the same sense that my socks ought to be in the drawer where I left them. In any case, the assertion that all minimally rational adults do know the laws of nature is perfectly consistent with the assertion that all minimally rational adults can know the laws of nature. Evidence that Hobbes maintains the latter, if that is what these other passages are, is not evidence that he does not hold the former.

Abizadeh’s analysis and criticism of subjectivist interpretations is excellent. In summary, I do worry that the alternatives he presents face pressing difficulties also. With respect to prudentialism, it is not what Hobbes would call “good and orderly” proceeding in science to have fundamental principles that are not explicit, and I do not think that Hobbes would have slipped this badly in his moral science. With respect to the view that we all must be able to know but need not know the laws of nature, it seems to me that Hobbes’s view is simpler: sane adults know the laws of nature. It is the enormously difficult function of the sovereign to create broader agreement and then fruitful cooperation from this small shared ground.

Michael LeBuffe (University of Otago)


Abbreviations of Historical Texts

L: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. I have freely modernized Hobbes’s English, and have typically followed the edition of Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994). I also follow Curley’s paragraph numbering.

DC: Thomas Hobbes, De Corpore.

ST: Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologicae.

Also cited

John Watkins, Hobbes’s System of Ideas (London: Hutchinson, 1965).

Online Colloquium (2): Field on Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh. We now have a response from Sandra Field (Yale-NUS), which will be followed by responses from Michael LeBuffe (Otago) and Daniel Eggers (Köln), and finally a reply by Arash Abizadeh. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.


Abizadeh’s Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics is an ambitious book. It seeks to provide a comprehensive interpretation of Hobbes’s ethics, and to make that interpretation speak equally to historians of ideas as to contemporary metaethics and normative ethics. There is much to admire in the execution of this project. Abizadeh is relentless in parsing fine distinctions amongst contemporary readings of Hobbes, and in deploying textual evidence from across Hobbes’s oeuvre to support his favoured view. And the ends to which this rigour and precision are deployed are intellectually significant. Abizadeh identifies a bifurcation between the good and the right in Hobbes’s normative ethics—on the one hand, a natural law representing an ethics of individual prudence; on the other hand, a model of justice representing a juridical morality of interpersonal obligation—claiming that both are genuinely, but independently, normative. This interpretation is controversial but ultimately compelling, and historically illuminating. I found his analysis of the genuine normativity of the ethics of individual self-interested prudence particularly useful; Abizadeh diagnoses a certain narrowness of current philosophical conceptions of morality as the obstacle to appreciating this normativity (10, 219–23).

My critical comments focus on Abizadeh’s central metaethical claim: that Hobbes offers a sophisticated ethical naturalism, one which is neither reductionist or noncognitivist (17–19, 61). While the bulk of Abizadeh’s discussion is devoted to exegesis, at no point in the book does Abizadeh indicate finding the position to be problematic or incoherent. Thus, I take it that Abizadeh’s goal is not merely to establish that Hobbes held this view, but also to commend such a view as being sufficiently philosophically compelling and appealing to merit our present attention. I will try to articulate the enduring difficulties facing such a view, both on Hobbes’s own terms and for us.

Abizadeh’s starting point is the puzzle of the apparent incompatibility between Hobbes’s materialist mechanistic metaphysics and his normative philosophy (7–8). One might think that in a materialist metaphysics, lacking free will, there can only be causal responsibility and instrumental sanctions (like rewards and punishments for animals), not genuine moral responsibility. But to the contrary, Abizadeh argues that this is a medieval scholastic prejudice: aligning Hobbes with the earlier Aristotelian view, we see that the possibility of attributing genuine moral responsibility relies not on the possession of free will, but on the capacity for reason (183–87, 213). Might one then object that that in a materialist metaphysics, reason itself is deflated, becoming a merely passive mental process? Again, to the contrary, Abizadeh argues that it is possible for one’s reasoning to be active, by which he means capable of reflecting on and being guided by reasons (62–65, 93).

Abizadeh’s response to worries about Hobbes’s naturalism ultimately relies on identifying a capacity for active reasoning. Hobbes and Abizadeh distinguish having a capacity for reason from exercising that capacity: there are people with weak understanding, unclear thoughts, countervailing motivations, and so on, and correspondingly people often fail to fulfil their moral responsibilities. But how is the distinction between possessing an unexercised capacity versus simply lacking the capacity to be specified? And given Hobbes’s determinist view of causation, how can the salience of such a distinction be upheld?

Abizadeh does not provide an explicit account, so let us turn to Hobbes’s general metaphysics of bodies. Hobbes makes clear that at a fundamental level, nothing is truly contingent: an act is either determined to occur, or it is not. The possibility of an act does not mean its contingency, but rather that the act is not impossible: at some point of time a full set of determinate causes will converge such that it will in fact occur (AW 37.5). This view of possibility generates a fundamentally un-Aristotelian understanding of capacity. As Hobbes explains in the course of criticising his Aristotelian opponent’s view: ‘We may say … that an axe can cut because there is nothing in the axe that stops it from cutting. Yet there may well be, in the nature of things, causes that make it impossible for the axe—or anything else—ever to be picked up, and as a result the axe cannot cut’ (AW 37.11). Thus, it is not the inner properties of a thing which specify its capacities, but its place in an actual web of deterministic causes: if determinate causes mean a putative capacity is never exercised, it turns out that it is no capacity at all. In our ignorance of the future, more loosely and derivatively we might call an act possible when it may (for all we know) occur; correspondingly we might attribute a capacity or power to produce that act. (DCo 10.5; AW 35.6–10). This is harmless enough, so long as we bear in mind the strict meaning of possibility: if there are reasons to think that the act will not occur, then it is not permissible to attribute capacity or power for that act.

Is Hobbes’s discussion of the human capacity for reason, and correspondingly of the human capacity to feel the rational force of obligations, compatible with this anti-Aristotelianism? At face value, it is compatible. After all, Hobbes and Abizadeh are careful not to attribute a capacity for reason in certain cases where it predictably will not be put into practice (19, 122, 136). Children and the mad are ruled out; and even amongst sane adults, the attribution of normative obligations requires that the relevant reasons are epistemically and motivationally accessible (in particular, ruling out normative obligations to act in extreme contravention to one’s own wellbeing, for instance any purported obligation to obey a command to kill oneself or one’s parent). And outside of these cases, individuals (for all we know) may reason and act well, so we may permissibly attribute full capacity for reason and full moral responsibility, which is exactly what Abizadeh proposes doing.

However, against appearances, I would suggest that Hobbes’s ethics’ extensive reliance on the human capacity for reason and corresponding rational action is deeply problematic on his own terms. The problem comes into view once we shift the analytical lens from humans considered individually to the domain of sociological reflection. At the scale of society, we can see poor reasoning and poor behaviour arising predictably from certain aspects of the social domain, even when subjects are not facing the kind of extreme threat to their wellbeing outlined above. Under certain social conditions, it is predictable that a proportion of the population will steal (for instance, when law enforcement is imperfect and there is a stark gap between rich and poor). Under certain social conditions, it is predictable that a proportion of the population will rationalise unjust conduct (for instance, when gratifying rhetoric connects with feelings of grievance or dissatisfaction). (See DC Chapter 12; L Chapter 29). In this light, while it may be fair to say that for all we know, a particular individual will behave rationally and fulfil their obligations, it is not fair to say that for all we know, everyone will do so. Thus, to say that all sane adult members of a population have the Hobbesian ‘capacity’ to reason aright and to fulfil their obligations seems untenable.

The tension is brought to the fore in the discussion of punishment. Abizadeh wants to reject the view by which materialist metaphysics requires a merely strategic attitude to practices of blame and punishment (in terms of salutary sociological and political effects, not in terms of genuine moral responsibility). On Abizadeh’s reading, certainly, for Hobbes it is necessary that such practices do have salutary effects (this explains his opposition to vengeful punishment). But strategic usefulness alone is not sufficient: those breaking the law are truly morally responsible for their action, in light of their rational capacity. Therefore punishment is also morally important mode of expressing this second-person holding responsible (21, 203–9). Perhaps this is textually accurate (although it seems to me that Hobbes’s own defence of blame and punishment rests rather more heavily on its salutary strategic effects than Abizadeh’s reconstruction would suggest, see LN 248–55). But I want to underscore the unappealing, and perhaps incoherent, commitment this kind of naturalism involves. It seeks still to blame people for bad behaviour, even if it is the sociologically predictable result of certain social conditions. It lays deep moral responsibility on the individual and obscures the larger web of causes in which individual action occurs. The political consequence is holding communities responsible for sociologically predictable dysfunction.

Perhaps Abizadeh’s moralised naturalism, with its concomitant individualisation of responsibility and refusal of the ambiguities of agency, is the genuine legacy of Hobbes’s political philosophy, and the correct all-things-considered interpretation of his texts. But first, I wonder about its coherence: it is not clear to me that it fully addresses the challenge of a materialist metaphysics. Abizadeh comprehensively addresses one possible tension (how naturalism fits with the possibility of moral truths and the possibility of active reasoning) without addressing adequately another tension (how complex causal determinism fits with the attribution of moral blame). And second, it is far from clear why Hobbes’s moralised naturalism merits being promoted over the thoroughgoing materialist undercurrent of Hobbes that Abizadeh rejects. According to this more subversive undercurrent, political and sociological reflection on the determinate causes of human conduct should complicate the easy attribution of a capacity for moral and just action, and give us pause to reflect on the broader determinate causes helping or inhibiting the development of such capacity.

Sandra Field (Yale-NUS College)



AW: Thomas Hobbes, Thomas White’s De Mundo Examined, trans. Harold Whitmore Jones (London: Bradford University Press, 1976).

DC: Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, ed. and trans. Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

DCo: ‘De Corpore’, in Thomas Hobbes, Thomæ Hobbes Malmesburiensis Opera philosophica quæ latine scripsit omnia, Vol. 1, ed. William Molesworth (London: John Bohn, 1839).

L: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994).

LN: ‘Liberty and Necessity’, in Thomas Hobbes, The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, Vol. 4, ed. William Molesworth (London: John Bohn, 1839).

Workshop on “Hobbes & Gender” in Erlangen

From 22 – 23 November 2018, the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg hosted a workshop on “Hobbes & Gender”, which was organised by Eva Odzuck and Alexandra Chadwick in cooperation with the European Hobbes Society.

A variety of international scholars with special interests in Hobbes and feminism were invited to discuss their pre-circulated papers: Sharon Lloyd, Susanne Sreedhar, Joanne Boucher, Joel van Fossen, Alissa MacMillan, Eun Kyung Min, Meghan Robison and Ericka Tucker.

The event was aimed at contextualising Hobbes’s theory of state, power and sovereignty along the lines of natural maternal dominion, the role of what Carol Pateman has called the ‘sexual contract’, and a general understanding of Hobbes’s views on sex and gender. While all participants agreed that sex and gender is a topic with a lot of potential for further research in Hobbes studies, there was strong disagreement about whether Hobbes can be considered as a pioneer in feminist (political) theory, empowering women in their role as natural sovereigns, or whether he ultimately reverts to a naturalistic account of gender roles. Here is the poster and programme.

We would like to thank all workshop participants for their contributions. Also thanks to the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg for making available the workshop venue and to the Office for Gender and Diversity of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg that kindly supported the event.

A selection of the revised papers will be published in a special issue of Hobbes Studies after a peer review process.

Online Colloquium (1): Introduction to Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We begin with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh himself, which will be followed by weekly responses from Sandra Field (Yale-NUS), Michael LeBuffe (Otago) and Daniel Eggers (Köln), and finally by a reply from Arash Abizadeh. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.


Eudaimonia was the Greek term for the ultimate good of a human life, what the Latins translated as felicitas and in English is often translated as well-being, happiness, or flourishing. The central question of Greek ethics had been: How should I live? The nearly unanimous answer was: Live the best life, the life of eudaimonia, and cultivate the character conducive to living such a life. What the eudaimonist philosophers disagreed about was what the good life consists in: a life of pleasure, of virtue, of bodily and external goods, or some combination thereof. But they agreed that practical reasons are ultimately all grounded in one’s own good. Perhaps one should be beneficent or just to others, but if so, ultimately it is because being beneficent or just is good for one’s own self, a constituent of—or at least the means to—one’s eudaimonia or felicity.

Hobbes stood at a watershed in the history of ethics, a moment in which the eudaimonist model rooted in ancient Greece began to give way to a distinctly modern, juridical model of morality. If Greek ethics focussed on the dispositions of character conducive to eudaimonia, modern ethics took the form of a juridical code specifying moral laws and obligations that could in principle conflict with one’s own good. It is in the works of Grotius and Hobbes in particular that we see the emergence of a juridical notion of obligation. The traditional eudaimonistic notion of ethical obligation just amounts to a reason one has whose normativity is grounded in one’s own good or felicity. Thus for Aquinas to say one is obligated by natural law was simply for him to say that conforming to natural law is conducive to one’s own felicity. Although for Aquinas natural law is intrinsically oriented to the common good, the reason one should act for the common good is that it is a constituent of one’s own good. Hobbes dropped the assumption that the common good is a constituent of the individual’s good, but he nevertheless retained a eudaimonistic notion of obligation: it is in this eudaimonistic sense that Hobbesian laws of nature “oblige” each rational creature. (Hobbesian laws of nature are intrinsically oriented to the individual’s own good or “self-preservation,” not the common good as in classical natural law). But Hobbes also deployed ‘obligation’ in a distinct, new, juridical sense to name what one owes others, that is, obligations to which others have the normative standing to hold one accountable (just as, under the Roman law, others had the legal standing to hold one accountable to one’s legal obligations). Hobbes thought that by right of nature human beings are free of all obligations in this strict, juridical sense: if one violates natural laws prior to conventionally acquiring juridical obligations, others have the standing to criticize one for being imprudent, and are free to protect themselves as they see fit, but no one has the standing to hold one accountable. One does not owe it to others to act prudently to secure one’s own felicity. But once one acquires obligations by contract, one is accountable to those to whom the obligation is owed.

These are the two faces of ethics in Hobbes, represented on the book’s cover by the figures of Prudentia on the right and Justitia on the left (in a seventeenth-century engraving by the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius). The first face comprises reasons of the good: reasons for which we are responsible, but for which we are not accountable to anyone. It paradigmatically consists for Hobbes in the precepts of natural law, which prescribe the means of self-preservation. We are responsible in the sense that, qua rational creatures, the actions or passions these reasons govern are attributable to us: we may be correctly counselled or warned, and justifiably commended or criticized, in their light. But we do not thereby owe anyone any excuse, justification, or compensation. The second face comprises reasons of the right: reasons for which we are second-personally accountable to others. It paradigmatically comprises the obligations arising from contract. Here others have standing to demand our conformity to such reasons in ways that reiterate and seek to vindicate the demand in case of failure to conform, that is, to condemn and sanction failures by demanding excuses, justification, or apology, and exacting compensation. Failing to heed reasons of the first kind renders us an appropriate target for criticism or critical blame, but failing to heed the second kind renders us an appropriate target for vindicatory or reactive blame or sanction.

Recognizing these two faces of Hobbesian ethics is indispensable for resolving several apparent puzzles plaguing Hobbes scholarship. One puzzle concerns the relation between natural right and natural law. Hobbes asserted that by nature humans are free from obligation: obligation arises only by voluntary conventions such as contract. Yet he also asserted that by nature humans are obligated by natural laws. How could people prior to giving up their full right of nature be free of all obligation while at the same time obligated by natural law? The answer becomes clear only once we recognize the two faces of ethics: by right of nature people are free of juridical obligations, whereas the laws of nature impose merely eudaimonistic obligations. The two faces of ethics are also reflected in Hobbes’s distinction between rational agents and persons. In virtue of their capacity for reasoning, rational agents have normative reasons: they “own” or are attribution-responsible for their actions. But to be accountable to others—to occupy the second-personal standpoint—one must also be a person to them, which requires being intersubjectively recognized as a person by them. The artificial category of personhood is central to Hobbes’s ethics.

For Hobbes, these two dimensions of normativity are neither reducible to nor derivable from each other. Whereas the science of the good concerns natural laws and eudaimonistic obligations, the science of justice concerns artificial laws and juridical obligations. To be sure, fulfilling contractual obligations is also prescribed by Hobbes’s third law of nature, but this is because in Hobbes’s view we have prudential reasons to heed reasons of the right—not because natural law furnishes or grounds reasons of the right. Prudence coincides with justice, as Hobbes insisted in his reply to the Foole, but it does not ground justice. In repudiating natural sociability, Hobbes was denying that conventional, juridical obligations derive from or reduce to natural, eudaimonistic ones. He was also denying that the common good is constitutive of one’s own good: Hobbes repudiated the classical assumption of an underlying harmony of interests. Hobbes confronted the ensuing spectre of fundamental clashes of interests by appealing to a common social good—peace—constructed from the overlap between each individual’s antecedent good. And he obviated the possibility of divergent eudaimonistic and juridical obligations by building prudential constraints into the content of the latter (via what I call his sign theory of consent). Prudentia and Justitia are distinct figures, each with their own face, but locked in intimate embrace.

The book has two overarching ambitions. One is to identify—at the level of normative ethics—the two dimensions of normativity I have just sketched and their relation to each other. The second is to provide a sustained treatment of Hobbes’s implicit metaethical commitments—in particular, to show Hobbes’s commitment to genuine, irreducibly normative truths. This is the topic of Part I and the book’s concluding chapter. Hobbes was at the forefront of the new, mechanistic model of science gripping the seventeenth century. He claimed the only real entities are bodies in motion and all real properties reduce to extension and motion. Many of his readers have consequently assumed he was ultimately a nihilist about genuine, irreducibly normative properties and truths. Some have read him as a kind of ethical-naturalist reductionist (according to which all normative properties and facts reduce to non-normative ones, concerning, for example, the means for fulfilling one’s own desires), as an error theorist (according to which, because there are no genuinely normative properties, all positive, genuinely normative judgements and propositions are erroneous), or as a prescriptivist (according to which normative judgements and discourse are not truth apt, because they do not purport to represent anything, but merely prescribe what to think, feel, or do). The most promising interpretation construing Hobbes as a nihilist about irreducible normativity, however, is a hybrid view, according to which normative discourse consists in (a) a prediction about what people would do upon reasoning properly along with (b) the prescription that they do it. Yet even this hybrid view ultimately falters: it is gainsaid by Hobbes’s account of deliberation, reasoning, and counsel, which presupposes genuine, irreducibly normative truths. In the book’s concluding chapter I return to his metaethics to argue Hobbes is best read as a naturalist who denied that normative properties are real (they have no causal standing) but who nevertheless took irreducibly normative propositions to be truth apt and many of them—viz. his own—to be true.

Part II is devoted to the first, attributability dimension of normativity (reasons of the good). Hobbes was not a subjectivist or instrumentalist about reasons: he was a prudentialist who (like the ancient eudaimonists) held that even those who do not properly care for their ongoing good or felicity ought to do so. Many readers have thought that Hobbes either denied the existence of an ultimate good for human beings, or at least denied felicity any role in determining what one ought to do. They have thought that the normative foundation of Hobbes’s normative theory, and hence of his laws of nature, is a notion of bare survival or death-avoidance that makes no reference to a substantive conception of the good. I demonstrate this is a mistake: Hobbesian laws of nature are grounded not in survival, but in “self-preservation” in an expansive sense that includes the constituents of a minimum level of felicity. The normative foundation of Hobbesian natural law is not life per se, but a life worth living. (This is why under some extreme circumstances, suicide might be reasonable.) And felicity consists in a life of ongoing pleasure: Hobbes was a hedonist about the good. But he departed from classical, Epicurean hedonism in two important respects: neither felicity nor pleasure is a “final” end in the sense of being the aim of all valuable action; and felicity does not come from the termination of desires. Hobbes took felicity primarily to consist, not in pleasures of satisfaction, but in ongoing anticipatory pleasure: the pleasure we take when we imagine and hope for the satisfaction of our desires (where hope is nourished by repeated past success in satisfying desires). It is true that which particular desires people have and what they take pleasure in differ from one person to the next. In this sense Hobbes did not advance a “thick” conception of the good life. But it is still substantive: it consists in ongoing pleasure. (In the book I clarify Hobbes’s theory of the good and felicity in part by mining the rich evidence found in Hobbes’s manuscript Anti-White. The manuscript has unfortunately been unduly neglected by anglophone scholars, partly because it is a recent, mid-twentieth-century discovery and partly because the only available English translation is so atrocious. I provide retranslations of all quoted passages.) Hobbes was also alive to the role of language in not just describing, but determining what is instrumentally good. In prescriptively self-fulfilling circumstances, calling something ‘good’ may actually make it good (by helping to bring about the social preconditions in which the thing actually serves as a means to the good). This is what the Hobbesian sovereign does.

Part III is devoted to the second, accountability dimension of normativity (reasons of the right). Being owed an obligation does not reduce to the naturalistic relation of holding someone accountable; it consists in the normative standing to hold accountable, i.e., the standing to censure in second-personal, reactive ways demanding a response. Hobbes used the juridical vocabulary of “accusation” and “condemnation” to distinguish these reactive forms of blame from mere criticism. It is true that Hobbes defended a prospective theory of punishment: punishment should always be for the sake of some future good such as deterrence or reform; inflicting pain on others solely with a view to the past, or simply to take pleasure in exacting revenge, is a mode of imprudent cruelty forbidden by natural law. Nevertheless, he also viewed reactive punishment, which expresses revengefulness, as a mode of prospectively deterring and reforming recalcitrant behaviour: in punishing criminals, the commonwealth acts prospectively not merely by providing material incentives for future conformity; punishment also dialogically reiterates the initial legal requirement and seeks to elicit from the accused a normative response acknowledging the requirement.

Hobbes’s role as a watershed in the transition from the ancient, eudaimonist conception of ethics to the modern, juridical conception of morality—and the question of whether Hobbes advanced a genuinely moral philosophy in the modern sense—has been obscured by the fact that Hobbes himself continued to use the word ‘moral’ in its older senses. In the aftermath of the seventeenth century, philosophers today typically use the term in one of two ways: to denote reasons grounded in a requirement to take others’ interests impartially into account; or to denote reasons for which one is accountable to others. Both the impartialist and accountability conceptions raise the anti-eudaimonist possibility that morality may sometimes require acting against one’s own interests, i.e., against prudence. For classical writers, by contrast, the Latin term moralis, which translated the Greek ēthikos, simply referred, in its most generic sense, to the actions of normatively responsible agents, i.e., actions meriting praise or blame. As a result, mores could also refer to the customary norms regulating social interaction amongst responsible agents—what in French became ‘moeurs’, in English ‘morays’ and ‘manners’, equivalent to what today we call social. To call norms moral in this sense is not even to claim they are genuinely normative, but merely to say they are social norms, i.e., customarily followed in social interaction. By extension, genuine reasons are moral in this sense insofar as they govern social interaction. Here, moral reasons neither require impartially considering others’ interests, nor are owed to others; they are moral in the sense they govern social interaction and what foreseeably affects others’ interests. Classical authors also used ‘moral’ more strictly to denote what serves interests others share with oneself, that is, the common good. Yet moral reasons in this sense are not, as in impartialist theories, grounded in the common good: for the eudaimonists, one’s practical reasons are all grounded in one’s own good.

Hobbes used the term ‘moral’ in the inherited classical sense. In calling natural laws “moral laws,” he meant they govern social interaction; indeed, he meant they prescribe means to one’s own preservation that are also means to others’ preservation, i.e., that are also conducive to a common good. Natural laws are not, however, intrinsically moral in the modern, impartialist or accountability, senses: they are essentially prudential precepts articulating merely eudaimonistic obligations. Thus the set of precepts articulated in natural law that compose what Hobbes called “Moral Philosophy,” which “is nothing but the Science of what is Good, and Evill, in the conversation, and Society of man-kind” (Leviathan 15.40), is not a genuinely moral philosophy in either the impartialist or the accountability sense. But it would be a mistake thereby to conclude Hobbes did not advance a moral philosophy in any modern sense. He did—not in the impartialist sense, but in the accountability sense. His label for that part of ethics concerning what we owe each other was not “moral philosophy” or “ethiques” but—as he put it in Leviathan’s table of sciences, “The Science of JUST and UNJUST.” Reasons of the right are reasons of Justitia.

Prudentia and Justitia are locked in intimate embrace because reasons of the good, according to Hobbes, shape the content of reasons of the right. Reasons of the right are acquired by convention, through voluntary acts of consent signifying to others one’s intention to obligate oneself to them. But Hobbes did not ground consent in one’s actual intentions; he grounded it instead in the intersubjective signs of consent. He therefore grounded consent in the intention others could reasonably impute to one in social interaction, on the basis of semantic and syntactic conventions and pragmatic context, but also on the assumption that one acts in a minimally reasonable and prudent fashion. This is why, Hobbes argued, some aspects of our right of nature are inalienable: no one could ever reasonably understand us to be intending to consent to an obligation to refrain from preserving for ourselves a life worth living. It is also why a developed legal system inherently incorporates the laws of nature: judges must interpret the sovereign’s legislative will (as expressed in civil law) by imputing to him the prudential intention to conform to natural law. Reasons of the good shape the content of reasons of the right at both the individual-ethical and the political-legal levels. Prudentia is locked in not merely an intimate but also a rather public embrace of Justitia.

Arash Abizadeh (McGill University)

New Article: Rethinking the sexual contract. The case of Thomas Hobbes

Lorenzo Rustighi (2018): Rethinking the sexual contract: The case of Thomas Hobbes, in: Philosophy & Social Criticism


Feminist scholars have long debated on a key contradiction in the political theory of Thomas Hobbes: While he sees women as free and equal to men in the state of nature, he postulates their subjection to male rule in the civil state without any apparent explanation. Focusing on Hobbes’s construction of the mother–child relationship, this article suggests that the subjugation of the mother to the father epitomizes the neutralization of the ancient principle of ‘governance’, which he replaces with a novel concept of ‘power’ as formally authorized command. This scrutiny leads to three main conclusions: (1) a radicalization of Pateman’s concept of ‘sexual contract'; (2) the acknowledgement that patriarchy is inseparable from the logic of political authority constructed by Hobbes; and (3) the claim that criticism of patriarchal rule requires an overall problematization of the mainstream conception of political participation we have inherited from modern political science.