Article: ‘Hobbes and political realism’

Robin Douglass: ‘Hobbes and political realism’, European Journal of Political Theory, published online: November 20, 2016 (doi: 10.1177/1474885116677481)

Abstract: Thomas Hobbes has recently been cast as one of the forefathers of political realism. This article evaluates his place in the realist tradition by focusing on three key themes: the priority of legitimacy over justice, the relation between ethics and politics, and the place of imagination in politics. The thread uniting these themes is the importance Hobbes placed on achieving a moral consensus around peaceful coexistence, a point which distances him from realists who view the two as competing goals of politics. The article maintains that only a qualified version of the autonomy of the political position can be attributed to Hobbes, while arguing more generally that attending to the relation between ethics and politics is central to assessing his liberal credentials from a realist perspective. Against the prevalent reading of Hobbes as a hypothetical contract theorist, the article proceeds to show that the place of consent in his theory is better understood as part of his wider goal of transforming the imagination of his audience: a goal which is animated by concerns that realists share.

New issue of Hobbes Studies

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

Elliott Karstadt: The Place of Interests in Hobbes’s Civil Science

James J. Hamilton: Hobbes on Felicity: Aristotle, Bacon and Eudaimonia

Marcus Schultz-Bergin: The Authority Dilemma: Eternal Salvation and Authorization in Hobbes’s Leviathan

S. A. Lloyd: Authorization and Moral Responsibility in the Philosophy of Hobbes

There are also reviews of Michael Byron’s Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth (reviewed by Luciano Venezia), Robin Douglass’s Rousseau and Hobbes: Nature, Free Will, and the Passions (reviewed by  Ioannis D. Evrigenis), Tom Sorell’s Emergencies and Politics: A Sober Hobbesian Approach (reviewed by Maximilian Jaede), Nicolas Dubos’ Thomas Hobbes et l’Histoire: Système et Récits à l’Âge Classique (reviewed by  George Wright), and of a new edition of De homine (reviewed by Johann Sommerville).

Article: Hobbes’s materialism and Epicurean mechanism

Patricia Springborg: ‘Hobbes’s materialism and Epicurean mechanism’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 24 (2016).

Abstract: Hobbes belonged to philosophical and scientific circles grappling with the big question at the dawn of modern physics: materialism and its consequences for morality. ‘Matter in motion’ may be a core principle of this materialism but it is certainly inadequate to capture the whole project. In wave after wave of this debate the Epicurean view of a fully determined universe governed by natural laws, that nevertheless allows to humans a sphere of libertas, but does not require a creator god or teleology to explain it, comes up against monotheism and its insistence on the incoherence of an ordered world in the absence of a God and his purposes. The following questions were central to this debate: (1) Can we understand the universe as law-governed in the absence of a god? (2) If so, what room is there in a fully determined mechanical universe for human freedom? (3) If humans do enjoy freedom, does the same hold for other animals? (4) Is this freedom compatible with standard views of morality? (5) Is there an analogue between the material world as law-governed and human social order? (6) If so does it also obtain for other animals?

Article: Democracy and the Body Politic from Aristotle to Hobbes

Sophie Smith: ‘Democracy and the Body Politic from Aristotle to Hobbes’, Political Theory, Published online: September 8, 2016 (doi: 10.1177/0090591716649984)

Abstract: The conventional view of Hobbes’s commonwealth is that it was inspired by contemporary theories of tyranny. This article explores the idea that a paradigm for Hobbes’s state could in fact be found in early modern readings of Aristotle on democracy, as found in Book Three of the Politics. It argues that by the late sixteenth century, these meditations on the democratic body politic had developed claims about unity, mythology, and personation that would become central to Hobbes’s own theory of the commonwealth. Tracing the history of commentary on the relevant passages in Aristotle reveals new perspectives not only on the political theories of both Aristotle and Hobbes but also introduces modern readers to the richness of early modern commentaries on classical political texts. The article ends with some thoughts on why attention to traditions of commentary might be valuable for political theorists today.

New book: Hobbes and the Artifice of Eternity

Christopher Scott McClureHobbes and the Artifice of Eternity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

About this book: Thomas Hobbes argues that the fear of violent death is the most reliable passion on which to found political society. His role in shaping the contemporary view of religion and honor in the West is pivotal, yet his ideas are famously riddled with contradictions. In this breakthrough study, McClure finds evidence that Hobbes’ apparent inconsistencies are intentional, part of a sophisticated rhetorical strategy meant to make man more afraid of death than he naturally is. Hobbes subtly undermined two of the most powerful manifestations of man’s desire for immortality: the religious belief in an afterlife and the secular desire for eternal fame through honor. McClure argues that Hobbes purposefully stirred up controversy, provoking his adversaries into attacking him and unwittingly spreading his message. This study will appeal to scholars of Hobbes, political theorists, historians of early modern political thought and anyone interested in the genesis of modern Western attitudes toward mortality.

Article: The Beast and the Sovereign according to Hobbes

Arnaud Milanese: ‘The Beast and the Sovereign according to Hobbes’, Philosophy Today, 60, 1 (2016).

Abstract: Hobbes obviously thought politics with metaphors relating politics to bestiality and monstrosity: in De Cive, a man is a wolf to a man, and two of his major political books are entitled with the name of a biblical monster, Leviathan and Behemoth. Did Hobbes mean that political problems emerge from a natural violence of men and that the political solution to these problems must be found in sovereign violence? This contribution tries to demonstrate that these references do not outline any natural human ugliness but a double bind of culture and society (which is organized and developed for natural reason but thanks to artificial means). For human reasons, the historical development of human life separates this life from humanity in two ways—politics and history turn humanity into monstrosity and divinity (a man is also a god to a man and Leviathan is also a mortal god), and Behemoth means that historical violence is a cultural product.

Book: Hobbes, La vie inquiète

Luc Foisneau: Hobbes, La vie inquiète, Editions Gallimard, Collection Folio essais, 2016.

In the recently published paperback edition of Hobbes, La vie inquiète, Luc Foisneau provides a wideranging interpretation of Hobbes’s answer to the question how we should live together when we fundamentally disagree about the good life.

In a review of the book in Le Monde (27.4.2016) Roger-Pol Droit writes: ‘En plus de 600 pages, il met en lu­mière les changements – anthro­pologiques, moraux et théologico-politiques – accomplis par Hobbes. Il analyse leurs répercussions, souvent méconnues, sur Mauss, Voegelin, Foucault ou Rawls. Directeur de recherche au CNRS, enseignant à Sciences Po et à Oxford, aujourd’hui à l’EHESS, Luc Foisneau se révèle, avec cette somme, guide expérimenté. Rien de hobbesien ne semble lui être étranger.’

New issue of Hobbes Studies

A special issues of Hobbes Studies is now available, focusing on Optics, Simple Circular Motion and Conatus.


JOHN HENRY: Hobbes, Galileo, and the Physics of Simple Circular Motions

JOSÉ MÉDINA: Hobbes’s Geometrical Optics

DOUGLAS JESSEPH: Hobbes on ‘Conatus’: A Study in the Foundations of Hobbesian Philosophy

FRANCO GIUDICE: Optics in Hobbes’s Natural Philosophy

Chapter: Hobbes and Gassendi between Neo-Epicureanism and Mechanical Models of the Mind

Gianni Paganini: ‘Hobbes e Gassendi tra neo-epicureismo e modelli meccanici della mente’, in Anima-corpo alla luce dell’etica: Antichi e moderni, ed. Eugenio Canone, “Lessico Intellettuale Europeo”, CXXIV, Firenze: Olschki (2015), pp. 281-94. 

Abstract: It was only recently that the relationship between Thomas Hobbes and Pierre Gassendi received proper scholarly attention. Moreover, while Gassendi’s physics and epistemology have always been studied with a keen interest and with a particular focus on the fundamental questions of atomism and empiricism, it was only in recent times that his ethics, politics and Epicurean transformations introduced by his philosophy received the same kind of attention. This contribution examines primarily the figure of Gassendi and the complex interplay with Hobbes that characterized his thought, especially with regard to the founding of mechanistic psychology.

Book: Thomas Hobbes’ körperbasierter Liberalismus

Eva Helene Odzuck: Thomas Hobbes’ körperbasierter Liberalismus: Eine kritische Analyse des Leviathan (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2016)

About this book: The book Thomas Hobbes’ Body-based liberalism – A critical analysis of Leviathan presents a fresh, new reading of the contractualistic argument, as it is presented by Hobbes in the English Leviathan. Contemporary Hobbes scholarship focuses on the rational actor and broadly ignores the role of the body and the passions for Hobbes’ political philosophy. This book aims to address this gap and develops an interpretation which highlights the role of the body: the body determines the content and the theoretical limits of the argument in a decisive manner and is the source of a serious theoretical problem, which the author calls “biopolitical Aporia”. Furthermore, focusing on the body can explain the practical role of Hobbes’s argument. The argument can be regarded as an appeal to the bodily passions, which aims at a practical effect: To achieve the obedience of the subjects. This book shows that Hobbes’ rhetorical strategies are grounded in a distinct and differentiated theory of the passions and thereby is an important contribution to the problem of how to read Hobbes’ texts adequately. It discusses the hypothesis of Leviathan as a counsel book for sovereigns and shows the plausibility and the limits of that interpretative hypothesis. In addition to the dominant interpretations of Hobbes through the lenses of game theory and of theory of rights, the focus on the body shows that Hobbes develops a special sort of “liberalism” which has to be understood as a Body-based liberalism. By showing that this kind of “liberalism” has both grave problems of consistency and uses “liberalism” in an external way as a sort of rhetorical façade, this book is also meant as a contribution to the discussion of the historical roots and contemporary developments of liberal states.