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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Patricia Springborg (Humboldt University, Berlin)

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

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

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

[4]  Hobbes, Elements of Law, ‘Epistle Dedicatory’ (Constitution Society online edition, 1640, at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Ted. H. Miller (University of Alabama)

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

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

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

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

[5]  Miller, Mortal Gods, 81–114.

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

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

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

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

New article on the person and office of the sovereign in Hobbes’ Leviathan

Laurens van Apeldoorn (2019): On the person and office of the sovereign in Hobbes’ Leviathan, in: British Journal for the History of Philosophy,


I contextualize and interpret the distinction in Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651) between the capacities of the sovereign and show its importance for contemporary debates on the nature of Hobbesian sovereignty. Hobbes distinguishes between actions the sovereign does on personal title (as a natural person), and actions he undertakes in a political capacity (as artificial person and in the office of representative of the state). I argue that, like royalists defending King Charles I before and during the English civil war, he maintains that the highest magistrate is sovereign in both his natural and political capacities because the capacities are inseparable, though district. This position goes back to the treatment of Calvin’s Case by Francis Bacon and Edward Coke and has further precedents in medieval English constitutional thought. An important reason for Hobbes to include this doctrine in Leviathan, I suggest, is to provide a response to parliamentarians who employed the sovereign’s multiple capacities to justify armed resistance against the king. I show the relevance of this contextualization by intervening in two recent debates, regarding the possibility of constitutionalist limitations on the actions of the Hobbesian sovereign and regarding whether sovereignty is held by the commonwealth or by the person of the sovereign.

Online Colloquium (1): Introduction to Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes

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


Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes began life as a cluster of doubts about some of our standard assumptions regarding Hobbes’s understanding and practice of rhetoric. Among such assumptions are: that the early Hobbes was a thoroughgoing humanist and, a fortiori, an unapologetic teacher and practitioner of the art of rhetoric who saw it as a valuable aspect of civic life; that Hobbes began, in the later 1630s, to develop concerns about rhetoric as self-serving and therefore dangerous; that, in embracing the so-called ‘scientific’ or ‘geometrical’ method around 1640 Hobbes rejected humanism, banishing rhetoric from his new civil science; and that, a decade later, in Leviathan, Hobbes effected a rapprochement with rhetoric, which he now, finally, came to see as an indispensable part of civil science.

There were, it seemed to me, problems with the chronology of the supposed stages of the development of Hobbes’s thinking about rhetoric. The turn away from rhetoric seemed to be detected in works that were also treated as products of Hobbes’s ‘high’ humanist period (such as the Briefe of Aristotle’s Rhetoric); while the rapprochement with rhetoric seemed to be detected in works that are considerably earlier than Leviathan (the 1646 preface to De cive, for example), thus severely curtailing the scope of the supposedly ‘scientific’ period. And it seemed questionable to me whether Hobbes’s concerns about rhetoric could be neatly accommodated to different stages. Hobbes seems to have been consistently concerned about the impact of orators on civil society in works of all periods—from the 1628 translation of Thucydides, through Leviathan, to late works like Behemoth and the Historia ecclesiastica. And up through his very latest major works—his translations of Homer—Hobbes’s humanist commitments remained unshaken.

It also seemed to me that in attempting to grasp the character of Hobbes’s conception of rhetoric we had failed to give due weight to the fact that in teaching rhetoric to the third earl of Devonshire, Hobbes used for his text not some staple of the humanist curriculum like the pseudo-Ciceronian Ad Herennium or Quintilian’s Institutes, nor even a modern textbook like that of Cyprian Soarez—but, unusually for the age, Aristotle’s Rhetoric: a work he later extolled to his friend John Aubrey as ‘rare’. Aristotle, it seemed to me, was the key to a proper understanding of Hobbes’s thinking about rhetoric.

Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes works through the implications of that insight. Where Cicero saw rhetoric as an essential complement to philosophy and found in the orator the ideal of active citizenship, a vital member of a healthy civitas, Aristotle’s attitude toward rhetoric as the ability to see the available means of persuasion involved no large claims for its philosophical value or political importance, and consisted with the concerns he frequently registered about the dangers presented by its subversion of rational processes by appeals to the character of the speaker and the passions of the audience. Although Aristotle was, for humanists, traditionally accommodated to a Ciceronian understanding of rhetoric, recent approaches by scholars such as Theodore Goulston—whose bilingual edition Hobbes appears to have used—set about the task of clearing away later accretions, freeing Aristotle’s account of rhetoric from its high-minded Roman framing.

Acknowledging Hobbes’s understanding of rhetoric as, from the first, Aristotelian rather than Ciceronian allows us to recognize a consistency in the concerns over rhetoric Hobbes registered at various points in his career without having to posit a dizzying series of voltes faces to explain them. Rhetoric is a tool, both powerful and dangerous; it needs to be kept apart from philosophy, which is—or ought to be—concerned with truth, not with persuasion. The problem, as Hobbes came to see it at the end of the 1630s, was that rhetoric had not been kept apart from philosophy.

Hobbes’s adoption of the ‘scientific’ method was founded, I argue, not on any general discontent over the power or character of rhetoric. It involved no general dismissal or rejection of the art. Hobbes continued to deploy, in dedicatory epistles and addresses to readers, the age-old techniques of capturing attention and securing goodwill. Nor was it founded on any sudden confidence in the persuasive power of reason: reason could yield truth; but truth did not necessarily persuade.

Hobbes’s new method was based on no discontent with rhetoric, but, rather, on the recognition that there was something fundamentally wrong with philosophy, which had been pursued not logically, by perfect and immutable reasoning, but rhetorically, by way of approximate proofs and persuasive instances, by means of likelihoods and probabilities. Philosophy, Hobbes insisted in Anti-White, I.3, has nothing to do with rhetoric. And from that position, I argue, he never retreated.

What, then, of Leviathan, and Hobbes’s supposed rapprochement therein with rhetoric? It is of course true that Leviathan exhibits some of the most brilliant flourishes of Hobbes’s English style; but this, in my view, does not involve a rapprochement between rhetoric and philosophy. The rhetorical texture of Leviathan is in part attributable to the mere contradiction of theory by practice. But the differences between Leviathan and Hobbes’s earlier works of civil philosophy have been overestimated. Hobbes’s exposition of his political philosophy in Leviathan differs less markedly from The Elements of Law and De cive than has recently been suggested. And the most distinctively ‘rhetorical’ parts of Leviathan are those sections of the work (part three and, especially, part four) which are new to Leviathan and which are not, strictly speaking, philosophical but controversial. Indeed, the generic and stylistic shift from the bare exposition of political philosophy in the early sections of Leviathan to the anti-clerical polemic of part four is so dramatic that the work’s most recent editor, Noel Malcolm, suggests that Hobbes’s intentions must have changed radically during the process of composition, after an Anglican attempt to undermine his position at court. In so arguing Malcolm echoes earlier commentators who have questioned the coherence of the work: J.G.A. Pocock, for instance, suggests that Leviathan is not one but two books.

Not only in respect to its textual practice does Leviathan subvert the notion of a late rapprochement with rhetoric; it does so also on the level of theory. It is in Leviathan that Hobbes offers his most sustained analysis of the contamination of philosophy by rhetoric. In Leviathan, for instance, Hobbes shows how political philosophers hostile to monarchy have deployed the term ‘tyranny’ to denote a distinct species of monarchy, while in fact denoting only monarchy itself, with the addition of their personal dislike. In an extended discussion, Hobbes exposes the way in which the orators and pseudo-philosophers who made up the early church deployed rhetoric to consolidate their spiritual authority and expand their temporal power. Indeed, in Hobbes’s analysis, it was by way of rhetorical figuration—particularly through metaphor, synecdoche, and metonymy—that they did so. The term ‘episcopus’ (‘bishop’), for instance, originally denoted merely a humble overseer of sheep; it was illicitly extended by metaphor to signify a ruler of people—even being stretched to denote monarchical authority over them. Among other examples of such figurative extension are the concepts of ‘hell’, ‘the kingdom of God’, and the papal ‘fulmen excommunicationis’.

But this emphasis on the dangers of figuration should not lead us to the conclusion that the main problem with rhetoric was, for Hobbes, the capacity of figurative language to hoodwink readers and auditors. This is a feature of elocutio, or style, on which I believe we have been too narrowly focused; it was a central feature of the Roman approach to rhetoric to which we are still largely indebted.

Although style is indeed a problem, our focus on it has, I argue, obscured the importance for Hobbes of the prior problem of inventio, or discovery: specifically, that method of argumentation which proceeds by finding the available means of persuasion. The fundamental problem with this approach is that it is a means of literary composition, not a method of logical demonstration: its proofs are merely plausible, not universal and necessary. This distinction, Hobbes believes, is what earlier philosophers have failed to observe. And Hobbes, I think, never backs away from this position.

Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, argues for a new understanding of Hobbes’s thinking about the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric. That relationship does not, I argue, undergo a series of fundamental changes in Hobbes’s thinking. From first to last Hobbes is concerned about the political dangers of oratory. At the end of the 1630s, after (and, I suggest, in part because of) working intensely on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he set about freeing philosophy from the procedures of rhetorical reasoning and setting it on a firm footing. In so doing he drew a line between rhetoric and philosophy that he never, in theory at least, erased.

But although its central argument addresses the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric in Hobbes’s thinking, this is not the sole focus of the book. My reconsideration of Hobbes’s attitude to rhetoric led me to a more general reconsideration of his early humanism, the character of which was, I came to see, less literary, less civic or Ciceronian, than has usually been supposed. Hobbes’s translation of Thucydides, for instance, emphasizes not the virtue of eloquent men acting in the interests of the civitas, but the corruption of the state by demagogues—a panel illustrating which point Hobbes incorporated within his engraved title. That panel furnishes the dustwrapper image for Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes.

The humanism of Hobbes’s Thucydides is not brightly Ciceronian; it is darker and colder, in keeping with the Tacitean outlook detected in the Cavendish household by Noel Malcolm and Richard Tuck. Hobbes’s introductory account of Thucydides’ manner and method reveals opposition to Ciceronian canons of style and indebtedness to the ‘politic’ history that Bacon had drawn from Thucydides, with its quest to uncover the secret springs and hidden causes of political action.

Bacon was a significant influence on the Cavendish household, and in Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes I trace his impact on the essays and discourses of the Horae subsecivae (works sometimes recently assigned to Hobbes, but for which I adduce additional evidence in favour of William Cavendish’s authorship), and on Hobbes’s Latin poem on the ‘wonders’ of the Peak. While that poem has generally been treated as a contribution to humanist letters (as indeed it is), I suggest that in its focus on the rational investigation of natural phenomena both regular (e.g. the sources of rivers) and irregular (e.g. the ebbing and flowing well) and its investigation of the procedures of mechanical arts (e.g. the techniques of Derbyshire lead mining) the poem is informed by the concerns of Renaissance Aristotelianism and by those of Baconian natural history. My reading of these works of the 1620s and 1630s leads to some recalibration of our understanding of Hobbes’s humanism as more engaged with the philosophical and natural philosophical concerns of his maturity than has previously been recognized.

In sum, while it is the goal of Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes to offer a fresh understanding of the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric in Hobbes’s thinking, it aims also to furnish a more nuanced account of Hobbes’s early philosophical interests, and a new understanding of the emergence of Hobbes’s mature philosophical stance. How far it succeeds in these goals is, of course, not for the author, but for his readers, to determine.

Professor Timothy Raylor (Carleton College)

Canadian Philosophical Association 2019 Book Prize: Arash Abizadeh

The Canadian Philosophical Association has announced that Arash Abizadeh (McGill) has won their 2019 Book Prize for his Hobbes and the Two Face of Ethics (Cambridge, 2018). From the jury report:

This is an outstanding book, one of the best books on early modern philosophy in the past 10 years. It exemplifies how history of philosophy should be done these days, combining mastery of Hobbes’s works and a sophisticated use of the conceptual apparatus of contemporary work on metaethics. The book’s main thesis is that Hobbes’s ethics is best understood on the background of Hobbes’s distinction between (prudential) “reasons of the good” and “reasons of the right” (or justice). Whereas the first comprise natural law, the domain of the second are contractual obligations for which we are accountable to others. As Abizadeh demonstrates, this distinction grounds two kinds of normativity, which he examines in detail. The main challenge for any reader of Hobbes is to understand how normativity fits his materialist and mechanist metaphysics. The author argues with great subtlety that Hobbes’s general metaphysical outlook leaves room for non-reductive analysis of normative properties. This sheds an important new light on Hobbes’s naturalism. Along the way, the book deals with related topics in Hobbes’s ethics such as his account of the good and his concept of personhood. No serious scholar of Hobbes and early modern moral philosophy can ignore this book and it should become an instant classic. Contemporary philosophers, especially those working on metaethics, will also benefit.” (Source)

New Volume: Interpreting Hobbes’s Political Philosophy, edited by S. A. Lloyd (Cambridge University Press)

S. A. Lloyd (ed.) (2019): Interpreting Hobbes’s Political Philosophy, Cambridge University Press

The essays in this volume provide a state-of-the-art overview of the central elements of Hobbes’s political philosophy and the ways in which they can be interpreted. The volume’s contributors offer their own interpretations of Hobbes’s philosophical method, his materialism, his psychological theory and moral theory, and his views on benevolence, law and civil liberties, religion, and women. Hobbes’s ideas of authorization and representation, his use of the ‘state of nature’, and his reply to the unjust ‘Foole’ are also critically analyzed. The essays will help readers to orient themselves in the complex scholarly literature while also offering groundbreaking arguments and innovative interpretations. The volume as a whole will facilitate new insights into Hobbes’s political theory, enabling readers to consider key elements of his thought from multiple perspectives and to select and combine them to form their own interpretations of his political philosophy.


  1. Methodologies of interpreting Hobbes: historical and philosophical, Adrian Blau
  2. Hobbes’s political-philosophical project: science and subversion, A. P. Martinich
  3. Hobbes’s philosophical method and the passion of curiosity, Gianni Paganini
  4. Hobbes, life, and the politics of self-preservation: the role of materialism in Hobbes’s political philosophy, Samantha Frost
  5. Human nature and motivation: Hamilton versus Hobbes, Michael J. Green
  6. On benevolence and love of others, Gabriella Slomp
  7. Interpreting Hobbes’s moral theory: rightness, goodness, virtue, and responsibility, S. A. Lloyd
  8. Interpreting Hobbes on civil liberties and rights of resistance, Susanne Sreedhar
  9. Hobbes and Christian belief, Johann Sommerville
  10. Hobbes on persons and authorization, Paul Weithman
  11. The character and significance of the state of nature, Peter Vanderschraaf
  12. Hobbes’s confounding Foole, Michael Byron
  13. ‘Not a woman-hater’, ‘no rapist’, or even inventor of ‘the sensitive male’? Feminist interpretations of Hobbes’s political theory and their relevance for Hobbes studies, Eva Odzuck
  14. The productivity of misreading: interpreting Hobbes in a Hobbesian contractarian perspective, Luc Foisneau

Hobbes Studies: Special Issue

Hobbes Studies Volume 32, Issue 1, 2019
Special Issue: The Reception of Hobbes in Germany

A new issue of Hobbes Studies is now available containing the following articles:

Celi Hirata: Subject and Subjectivity in Hobbes and Leibniz

Nathaniel Boyd: The Reception of Hobbes in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire

Daniel Eggers: Hobbes, Kant, and the Universal ‘right to all things’, or Why We Have to Leave the State of Nature

Edgar Straehle: The Problem of Sovereignty: Reading Hobbes through the Eyes of Hannah Arendt

Dirk Brantl: Recent Trends in German Hobbes Scholarship

Olaf Asbach De cive / Vom Bürger, written by Thomas Hobbes

New chapter on Oakeshott’s and Strauss’s Hobbes

McIlwain D. (2019) The Philosophical Intention and Legacy of Hobbes. In: Michael Oakeshott and Leo Strauss. Recovering Political Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Abstract: Michael Oakeshott’s engagement with Leo Strauss on Hobbes is known to be an important part of Oakeshott’s development as a thinker, but the extent to which the Hobbes chapter of Strauss’s Natural Right and History forms a response to Oakeshott’s “Introduction to Leviathan” is less well known. McIlwain argues that when taken with Oakeshott’s rejoinder in “The Moral Life in the Writings of Thomas Hobbes” this constitutes the rudiments of a dialogue. Participating in the scholarly return to Hobbes in the 1930s, both thinkers approached Hobbes’s thought on moral grounds. The chapter examines and compares the divergent interpretations in which Strauss detected the origins of modern technological mindset in Hobbes while Oakeshott presented Hobbes as securing the non-substantive civil autonomy for a Renaissance individuality.

New article on Hobbes’s philosophy of science

A new entry by Marcus Adams on Hobbes’s philosophy of science in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). Content:

  1. The Criteria for Scientific Knowledge
  2. The Use of Mathematics and Hypotheses in Scientific Explanations
  3. Hobbes on Experimentation: Conflict with Robert Boyle and the Royal Society
  4. The Prospects for a Science of Civil Philosophy

New Article: The Political Theology of Betrayal: Hobbes’ Uzzah, and Schmitt’s Hobbes

Feisal G. Mohamed (2018): The Political Theology of Betrayal: Hobbes’ Uzzah, and Schmitt’s Hobbes, in: Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, 11-33.


Carl Schmitt’s interest in the writings of Thomas Hobbes is widely known, and clearly visible in Political Theology (1922). This essay explores the relationship between these two thinkers, especially surrounding the “protection- obedience axiom” that Schmitt strongly associated with Hobbes. As is apparent in Hobbes’ responses to the story of Uzzah, protection and obedience are more complex in his writings than might first appear. This essay considers these responses alongside those of John Donne, Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes. Schmitt tends to overlook this complexity, even as he comes to similar conclusions on the loyal subject’s exposure to the sovereign’s arbitrary violence. We will see that Schmitt is ambivalent about Hobbes, associating him with the advent of legal positivism, the strain of legal theory against which he continually strives. If Political Theology enlists Hobbes as an ally, then, it is on the point of methodology propping up Schmitt’s central argument: that political theory must be grounded in a sociology of the concept of sovereignty.