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)

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)

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).

New Article: War by Other Means? Incentives for Power Seekers in Thomas Hobbes’s Political Philosophy

Eva Odzuck: War by Other Means? Incentives for Power Seekers in Thomas Hobbes’s Political Philosophy, in: The Review of Politics, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp. 21-46


The problem of the power seeker is of crucial importance for Hobbes’s political philosophy. While education might aid in changing the behavior of some people, Hobbes is clear that there are limits to the effectiveness of education and that incurable, unsocial power seekers will persist. In my analysis, I ask whether and, if so, how Hobbes can also get these incurable power seekers on board. The result of my findings that Hobbes provides a huge variety of treatments for power seekers, including incentives to betray and exploit their fellow citizens by employing a public gesture of civility, has implications for Hobbes research: it shows the complexity and costs of Hobbes’s “solution” to the problem of war and corrects a widespread developmental hypothesis about the concept of honor in Hobbes’s works. Thereby, it can also enrich a recent diagnosis about the decline of honor in modern societies.

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).

New Article: Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté

Robin Douglass (2018): Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté, in: Les Défis de la représentation Langages, pratiques et figuration du gouvernement, édité par Manuela Albertone e Dario Castiglione, pp. 91-114


Cette étude retrace les changements dans la manière dont Thomas Hobbes a théorisé la relation entre l’État et le souverain des Elements of Law au Leviathan, afin de montrer ce que le concept de représentation a apporté aux versions précédentes de sa théorie. Nous réévaluons également le statut de Hobbes comme père de la compréhension de la représentation politique par le biais d’une remise en question des arguments principaux qui ont été avancés pour justifier l’idée qu’il demeure encore pertinent aujourd’hui.

New book: Hobbes on Politics and Religion

Van Apeldoorn, Laurens / Douglass, Robin (2018) (eds.): Hobbes on Politics and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This volume marks the culmination of the inaugural research project of the Euroepan Hobbes Society. The majority of chapters in this volume were presented at two workshops in 2015, the first at King’s College London and the Second at Leiden University.

Description: Thomas Hobbes, one of the most important figures in the history of political philosophy, is still widely regarded as a predominantly secular thinker. Yet a great deal of his political thought was motivated by the need to address problems of a distinctively religious nature. This is the first collection of essays dedicated to the complex and rich intersections between Hobbes’s political and religious thought. Written by experts in the field, the volume opens up new directions for thinking about his treatment of religion as a political phenomenon and the political dimensions of his engagement with Christian doctrines and their history. The chapters investigate his strategies for showing how his provocative political positions could be accepted by different religious audiences for whom fidelity to religious texts was of crucial importance, while also considering the legacy of his ideas and examining their relevance for contemporary concerns. Some chapters do so by pursuing mainly historical inquiries about the motives and circumstances of Hobbes’s writings, while others reconstruct the logic of his arguments and test their philosophical coherence. They thus offer wide-ranging and sometimes conflicting assessments of Hobbes’s ideas, yet they all demonstrate how closely intertwined his political and religious preoccupations are and thereby showcase how this perspective can help us to better understand his thought.

Table of contents:

Introduction, Laurens van Apeldoorn and Robin Douglass
1: The Theocratic Leviathan: Hobbes’s Arguments for the Identity of Church and State, Johan Olsthoorn
2: Natural Sovereignty and Omnipotence in Hobbes’s Leviathan, A. P. Martinich
3: First Impressions: Hobbes on Religion, Education, and the Metaphor of Imprinting, Teresa M. Bejan
4: Tolerance as a Dimension of Hobbes’s Absolutism, Franck Lessay
5: Hobbes on the Motives of Martyrs, Alexandra Chadwick
6: Hobbes, Calvinism, and Determinism, Alan Cromartie
7: Mosaic Leviathan: Religion and Rhetoric in Hobbes’s Political Thought, Alison McQueen
8: Devil in the Details: Hobbes’s Use and Abuse of Scripture, Paul B. Davis
9: The Politics of Hobbes’s Historia Ecclesiastica, Patricia Springborg
10: A Profile in Cowardice? Hobbes, Personation, and the Trinity, Glen Newey
11: Hobbes and the Future of Religion, Jon Parkin
12: Hobbes and Early English Deism, Elad Carmel
13: All the Wars of Christendom: Hobbes’s Account of Religious Conflict, Jeffrey Collins
14: Religious Conflict and Moral Consensus: Hobbes, Rawls, and Two Types of Moral Justification, Daniel Eggers
15: Hobbes on the Duty Not to Act on Conscience, S. A. Lloyd

New book: Thomas Hobbes’s Conception of Peace

Maximilian Jaede, Thomas Hobbes’s Conception of PeaceCivil Society and International Order (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

About this book: This book explores Hobbes’s ideas about the internal pacification of states, the prospect of a peaceful international order, and the connections between civil and international peace. It questions the notion of a negative Hobbesian peace, which is based on the mere suppression of violence, and emphasises his positive vision of everlasting peace in a well-governed commonwealth. The book also highlights Hobbes’s ideas about international coexistence and cooperation, which he considers integral to good government. In examining Hobbes’s conception of peace, it provides a fresh perspective on his international political thought. The findings also have wider implications for the ways in which we think about Hobbes’s relationship to the realist and liberal traditions of international thought, and will appeal to students and scholars of political theory and international relations.


New publication: Europe and the Heritage of Modernity

This new volume, edited by Domagoj Vujeva and Luka Ribarević, contains four chapters on Hobbes, and one discussing the relationship between Hobbes and Rousseau.

Dirk Brantl, ‘Political Stability for Passionate Machines: Hobbes on Manners and Political Education’.

Philippe Crignon, ‘Representation and the State Paradigm in Hobbes’s Political Philosophy’.

Luc Foisneau, ‘Simplifying Hobbes: Hume’s Conception of Justice in a Hobbesian Perspective’.

Luka Ribarević, ‘Political Hebraism in Leviathan: Hobbes on I Samuel 8′.

Dragutin Lalovićm, ‘Republican Synthesis of the Political and of the State in Rousseau’s Political Theory’.

The publication is part of a project entitled ‘Political in the Time of Actual Crisis: the Heritage of Modernity and Contemporary Challenges to the Project of European Unity’, funded by the European Social Fund. Since the publication was financed by EU funds, it can be downloaded free of charge in pdf format by clicking on the following link:

Chapter on ‘Hobbes “At the Edge of Promises and Prophecies”’

Alison McQueen’s book, Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times (Cambridge University Press, 2017) contains a chapter on Hobbes, alongside chapters on Machiavelli and Morgenthau. It is available now as an ebook, and will be published in hardback in February.

About this book: From climate change to nuclear war to the rise of demagogic populists, our world is shaped by doomsday expectations. In this path-breaking book, Alison McQueen shows why three of history’s greatest political realists feared apocalyptic politics. Niccolò Machiavelli in the midst of Italy’s vicious power struggles, Thomas Hobbes during England’s bloody civil war, and Hans Morgenthau at the dawn of the thermonuclear age all saw the temptation to prophesy the end of days. Each engaged in subtle and surprising strategies to oppose apocalypticism, from using its own rhetoric to neutralize its worst effects to insisting on a clear-eyed, tragic acceptance of the human condition