New article: ‘Hobbes’s Practical Politics’, by Adrian Blau

Adrian Blau, ‘Hobbes’s Practical Politics: Political, Sociological and Economistic Ways of Avoiding a State of Nature’, Hobbes Studies, online first.

Abstract: This paper offers a systematic analysis of Hobbes’s practicalpolitical thought. Hobbes’s abstract philosophy is rightly celebrated, but he also gave much practical advice on how to avoid disorder. Yet he is typically interpreted too narrowly in this respect, especially by those who only read him economistically. Other scholars supplement this economistic focus with sociological or political interpretations, but to my knowledge, no one stresses all three aspects of his thought. This paper thus examines each of Hobbes’s practical proposals for avoiding corruption and a state of nature. Hobbes clearly uses economistic, sociological and political approaches, which involve shaping incentives, desires/preferences, and opportunities, respectively. This intentionally anachronistic framework helps us see further, highlighting Hobbes’s rich and wide-ranging practical proposals for avoiding disorder – a crucial part of his theory.

New article: ‘Hobbes and the Tragedy of Democracy’, by Christopher Holman

Christopher Holman, ‘Hobbes and the Tragedy of Democracy’, History of Political Thought, vol. 40, no. 4 (2019), pp. 649-75.

Abstract: This article reconsiders Thomas Hobbes’s critique of the democratic sovereign form from the standpoint of what it identifies as the latter’s most important ontological conditions: the lack of a transcendent source of fundamental law, and a natural human equality that renders all individuals competent to participate in legislative modes. For Hobbes these two conditions combine to render democracy a tragic regime. Democracy is tragic to the extent that it must be a regime of self-limitation, there existing no ethical standard external to society that may intervene so as to guide our political self-activity, and yet the structure of deliberation in democratic assemblies tends to render such self-limitation impossible. Hence what Hobbes sees as the inherent tendency of democratic activity to descend into excess and madness. This risk is an intrinsic potentiality embedded within democracy’s very conditions, a fact covered up by much post-Hobbesian liberal democratic theory that attempts to normatively ground the democratic form in various universal principles of natural law or right.

New article: ‘The Curious Case of Hobbes’s Amazons’, by Susanne Sreedhar

Susanne Sreedhar, ‘The Curious Case of Hobbes’s Amazons’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 57, no. 4 (Oct. 2019), pp. 621-46.

Abstract: Hobbes’s philosophy involves a fundamental shift in ideas about the theological, metaphysical, and axiological significance of sex, gender, reproduction, and the family. He fundamentally rejects the idea that dominion is naturally or divinely ordained, using a strategy I call ‘dethroning.’ In this paper, I argue that the Amazon myth, which Hobbes invokes in every version of his political theory, is one such act of rhetorical dethroning in that it attacks naturalized familial and gender hierarchies, denying natural parent/child, as well as husband/wife, relations of rule and subordination. Substantive discussions of Hobbes’s use of the Amazons in the secondary literature are few and consist of contradictory understandings of the example, with some seeing it as a prototype of early feminism and others seeing it as a retrenchment of misogyny and racism. I use my interpretation, one that makes sense of the example by reference to the internal logic of Hobbes’s overall philosophical and political project, in order to examine both sides of this debate.

Latest Issue of Hobbes Studies (October 2019)

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

Contents:

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews:

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

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

Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Raylor

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Timothy Raylor (Carleton College)


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

[2]  Mortal Gods, 93.

[3]  Mortal Gods, 17–23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11]  Leviathan, 389.

[12]  Leviathan, 389.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Alan Cromartie (University of Reading)

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Patricia Springborg (Humboldt University, Berlin)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Ted. H. Miller (University of Alabama)



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

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

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

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

[5]  Miller, Mortal Gods, 81–114.

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

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

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

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

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,
https://doi.org/10.1080/09608788.2019.1613632

Abstract

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)