A new German edition of De cive is now available. Thomas Hobbes: De cive/ Vom Bürger is edited by Andree Hahmann and Dieter Hüning,
Fleming, Sean. “The two faces of personhood: Hobbes, corporate agency and the personality of the state” In European Journal of Political Theory, 2017/10/30, doi: 10.1177/1474885117731941
Abstract: There is an important but underappreciated ambiguity in Hobbes’ concept of personhood. In one sense, persons are representatives or actors. In the other sense, persons are representees or characters. An estate agent is a person in the first sense; her client is a person in the second. This ambiguity is crucial for understanding Hobbes’ claim that the state is a person. Most scholars follow the first sense of ‘person’, which suggests that the state is a kind of actor – in modern terms, a ‘corporate agent’. I argue that Hobbes’ state is a person only in the second sense: a character rather than an actor. If there are any primitive corporate agents in Hobbes’ political thought, they are representative assemblies, not states or corporations. Contemporary political theorists and philosophers tend to miss what is unique and valuable about Hobbes’ idea of state personality because they project the idea of corporate agency onto it.
A new issue of Hobbes Studies is now available, containing the following articles:
Eva Helene Odzuck, ‘I Professed to Write Not All to All’
S.A. Lloyd, ‘Duty Without Obligation’
Jacob Tootalian, ‘That Giant Monster Call’d a Multitude’
Peter Auger, ‘The Books of Tho. Hobbes’.
The notions of happiness and trust as cements of the social fabric and political legitimacy have a long history in Western political thought. However, despite the great contemporary relevance of both subjects, and burgeoning literatures in the social sciences around them, historians and historians of thought have, with some exceptions, unduly neglected them. In Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought, editors László Kontler and Mark Somos bring together twenty scholars from different generations and academic traditions to redress this lacuna by contextualising historically the discussion of these two notions from ancient Greece to Soviet Russia. Confronting this legacy and deep reservoir of thought will serve as a tool of optimising the terms of current debates.
Contains a chapter by Peter Schröder on Fidem Observandam Esse – Trust and Fear in Hobbes and Locke and a chapter by Eva Odzuck on The Concept of Trust in Hobbes’s Political Philosophy
Daniel Luban, ‘Hobbes and Slavery’, Political Theory, first published online: October 6 2017 (DOI: 10.1177/0090591717731070).
Abstract: Although Thomas Hobbes’s critics have often accused him of espousing a form of extreme subjection that differs only in name from outright slavery, Hobbes’s own striking views about slavery have attracted little notice. For Hobbes repeatedly insists that slaves, uniquely among the populace, maintain an unlimited right of resistance by force. But how seriously should we take this doctrine, particularly in the context of the rapidly expanding Atlantic slave trade of Hobbes’s time? While there are several reasons to doubt whether Hobbes’s arguments here should be taken at face value, the most serious stems from the highly restricted definition that he gives to the term “slave,” one that would seem to make his acceptance of slave resistance entirely hollow in practice. Yet a closer examination of Hobbes’s theory indicates that his understanding of slavery is less narrow than it might initially appear—and thus that his argument carries a genuine political bite.
Turner, Piers Noris / Gaus, Gerald (ed.) (2018): Public Reason in Political Philosophy. Classic Sources and Contemporary Commentaries. London: RoutledgeWhen people of good faith and sound mind disagree deeply about moral, religious, and other philosophical matters, how can we justify political institutions to all of them? The idea of public reason—of a shared public standard, despite disagreement—arose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the work of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. At a time when John Rawls’ influential theory of public reason has come under fire but its core idea remains attractive to many, it is important not to lose sight of earlier philosophers’ answers to the problem of private conflict through public reason.
The distinctive selections from the great social contract theorists in this volume emphasize the pervasive theme of intractable disagreement and the need for public justification. New essays by leading scholars then put the historical work in context and provide a focus of debate and discussion. They also explore how the search for public reason has informed a wider body of modern political theory—in the work of Hume, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill—sometimes in surprising ways. The idea of public reason is revealed as an overarching theme in modern political philosophy—one very much needed today.
This online colloquium has been established to discuss the recent work of Michael Byron (Kent State) Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth. We began first with an introduction to the text by Professor Byron and responses by Michael Krom – here - (St Vincent State), Deborah Baumgold – here - (University of Oregon), and Johan Olsthoorn - here -(KU Leuven). We end with a reply by Professor Byron. Many thanks to Palgrave for supporting this colloquium.
Reply to Critics
I am grateful for the comments and criticism from Deborah Baumgold, Michael Krom, and Johan Olsthoorn. And I am especially grateful for this opportunity to discuss my work afforded by Joanne Paul and the European Hobbes Society.
Allow me to offer the briefest of responses to the thoughtful remarks from my colleagues. Baumgold and Krom both suggest, rightly, that I need to say more about Hobbes’s theory of religion, especially in light of what I have said about submission to God. The question Baumgold raises, “whether religious education might be a subject in its own right, separate from and even at odds with theology” opens a promising avenue of research. Krom, for his part, makes explicit the connection between Hobbes’s marginal note, “And to do all this sincerely from the heart,” and the passage in Leviathan it marks, which enjoins Christian agape. And although we need not think that sincerity is essentially or exclusively Christian, it is probably fair to say that Hobbes believes not only in the correctness of the Christian religion but in its being the measure of effectiveness of a commonwealth.
Olsthoorn’s rather longer comment engages the book more directly on a range of points. He first challenges the book’s exclusive focus on Leviathan, on the grounds that “other works in which Hobbes discusses justice and related themes are largely, or even completely, ignored.” Second, he charges that the book employs “a surprisingly limited range of Hobbesian concepts,” omitting to delve into, among other things, the natural right to all things. These defects, if that is what they are, might indeed be grave were the purpose of the book to explicate Hobbes’s theory of justice. But as the book aims instead to examine the roles that submission and subjection play in Leviathan, it is less clear that these features of the book constitute bugs.
Third, Olsthoorn complains that the book engages a “limited set of secondary sources,” which made me “overlook relevant alternative interpretive moves.” The charge of not including everything relevant is difficult to refute; I suppose I plead guilty, and beg to be excused on the grounds that my aim was not so much an exhaustive discussion of 350 years of literature, but to introduce a fresh bit of interpretation without utterly abandoning scholarly depth. Opinions regarding the balance I struck are bound to differ.
I will, however, dispute the specific example of a relevant omission: Gauthier’s reading of the laws of nature as obliging “in conscience without disallowing any particular action in practice” has less explanatory power than my interpretation. I can explain the notion that the “laws of nature are ceaselessly operative in conditions of war without being violable” in terms of the distinction between the rational theorems and the proper laws. The rational theorems apply to anyone with the power of reason; thus, the precepts of the laws of nature are in a way “ceaselessly operative.” Yet they are obligatory, and possibly violated, only where there is a “common power” to enforce them. The varieties of normativity in play explain what Hobbes says without appeal to the wooly notion of “obliging in conscience.”
Olsthoorn contends that my view treats “law and obligation as purely subjective: to be obligated by natural law is to see yourself as being obligated to God to obey it” (original emphasis). He states quite correctly that on my view the laws of nature are (or can be) obligatory prior to a (civil) sovereign’s “scriptural legislation,” and he infers that therefore anyone obligated by them in a secondary state of nature must be effectively a prophet, who has received the word of God directly. This is a non sequitur.
Anyone with reason may deduce the content of the laws of nature as rational theorems. Theists recognize those precepts as also divine commands addressed to subjects of God’s natural kingdom, and thus proper laws that obligate them. In a common- wealth, the authoritative interpretation of the precepts is the exclusive province of the sovereign. But in a state of nature, people have no authority but themselves. Flip Olsthoorn’s question: he seems to suggest that in a state of nature scripture is uninterpretable. That surely cannot be Hobbes’s view.
When Olsthoorn says that law and obligation are on my view “subjective,” he smears the view. True, to be obligated by natural law entails that one see oneself as obligated. No one is an accidental theist. But merely seeing oneself as obligated does not constitute obligation. Legal obligation is constituted by submission to a (divine or civil) sovereign.
Olsthoorn raises an intriguing issue when he reminds us that for Hobbes even the intent to sin is a violation. “Pace Byron, it does not follow that we ought to conform our value schema to that of the sovereign.” A larger problem lurks. Hobbes does not define intention in his psychological theory, and it is not clear given his hydraulic account of motivation where intention might fit in the genesis of action. Medieval philosophers like Aquinas regard intention as a function of will, but Hobbes has flattened will into the last desire before action. Intention might be will, but that would make the concept redundant. This question deserves detailed examination, which space does not allow. In the meantime, my view is grounded in Hobbes’s motivational theory in a way that tries to explain how “sincerely from the heart” might become an apt modifier of subjects’ actions.
This online colloquium has been established to discuss the recent work of Michael Byron (Kent State) Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth. We began first with an introduction to the text by Professor Byron and responses by Michael Krom – here - (St Vincent State) and Deborah Baumgold – here - (University of Oregon). Today we have our final response, from Johan Olsthoorn (KU Leuven). Next week we will post a reply by Professor Byron. Many thanks to Palgrave for supporting this colloquium.
Response by Johan Olsthoorn
Michael Byron’s tightly argued and well-written short monograph on Hobbes has many virtues. Inter alia, it presents a new and logically coherent interpretation of an enduring problem within Hobbes scholarship: which persons are morally obliged to obey the laws of nature as laws and why? The laws of nature offer sound practical advice to everyone keen to survive amidst others (Lev. 15.34). Abiding by these laws is obligatory, Byron argues, only for God’s subjects (i.e., persons who acknowledge God’s sovereignty and providence). According to Hobbes, precepts have the status of laws only if issued to individuals who had earlier bound themselves to obey the lawgiver (Lev. 26.2). On Byron’s reading, this holds true for the laws of nature as well.
Byron contends that his voluntarist conception of moral obligation permits a superior interpretation of why and in what sense justice can be said to ‘apply’ in a state of nature (p. 13). Leviathan boldly proclaims that “the Notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have… no place… where there is no common Power” (Lev. 13.13). This claim is befuddling. Isn’t natural law operative outside the commonwealth? And isn’t abiding by the laws of nature ‘just’ and their violation ‘unjust’? To solve this puzzle, Byron turns to the idea of a dual state of nature, developed by Kavka (1986) and Martinich (1992) (pp. 13-19). God exists but does not rule in the primary state of nature. Natural law governs conduct in this state in the form of good counsel, not as law. Since just and unjust have meaning only in relation to law, it follows that there is no justice or injustice in the primary state of nature (p. 3). The secondary state of nature does contain proper laws, rendering it possible for actions to be just or unjust. These laws are the laws of nature seen ‘as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things’ (Lev. 15.41). Absent human government, anyone who has bound themselves to obey the word of God inhabits the secondary state of nature.
Submission and Subjection in Leviathan deserves praise for developing an original and ingenuous interpretation of Hobbesian moral obligation. Having myself recently published an alternative explanation for the state-dependency of justice and injustice (Olsthoorn 2015),[i] I hope the reader will forgive me for focusing on this theme first. Three general methodological choices, I submit, impair Byron’s interpretation. First, Byron focuses exclusively on Leviathan: other works in which Hobbes discusses justice and related themes are largely, or even completely, ignored. Second, he draws on a surprisingly limited set of Hobbesian concepts. On the textbook interpretation of Hobbes, for example, the natural right to everything precludes the possibility of injustice outside the state. Submission and Subjection all but fails to mention this right.
Third, Byron engages a fairly limited set of secondary sources. His nigh exclusive conversation with Hampton, Lloyd, and Martinich has arguably made him overlook relevant alternative interpretive moves. For instance, he does not consider the well-known suggestion by Gauthier (1969: 48-52) that the laws of nature are ceaselessly operative in conditions of war without being violable. Put differently, in the state of nature (which is a state of war), natural law obliges in conscience without disallowing any particular action in practice. After all, when peace cannot be obtained, right reason allows us ‘by all means we can, to defend our selves’ (Lev. 14.4). Leviathan therefore states that prior to the formation of the state, the laws of nature are ‘not properly Lawes, but qualities that dispose men to peace, and to obedience’. ‘For it is the Soveraign Power that obliges men to obey them’ (Lev. 26.8). Byron may rightly object that justice remains, on this reading, applicable in the state of nature. For it seems that any action performed with right is done justly (EL 16.2, 5; DCv 3.5).
Another solution not considered by Byron is that Hobbes does not call natural law violations ‘unjust’ – at least not in the later works. In the 1647 De Cive, Hobbes explains what his infamous doctrine of a right to everything amounts to:
This must be understood as meaning that nothing that one does in a purely natural state is a wrong against anyone, at least against any man. Not that it is impossible in such a state to sin against God or to violate the Natural Laws. For injustice against men presupposes Human Laws, and there are none in the natural state. (DCv: 1.10n; also DPS: 36)
This passage suggests that, whatever view we may take on the possibility of natural law violations beyond the state, such conduct constitutes no injustice towards humans. The Latin Leviathan makes a stronger claim yet, insisting that transgressing natural law should be called ‘iniquitous’, rather than ‘unjust’: “For Iniquitous is called what is done contrary to the Law of Nature, Unjust what is done contrary to the Civil Law. Yet, nothing was Just or Unjust before the Common-wealth was constituted” (LL 18.6; also DPS 31). These passages – ignored by Byron – allow for a straightforward explanation for the state-dependency of justice and injustice. An explanation, moreover, that neither hinges on the sense in which the laws of nature “oblige all Mankind” (Lev. 30.30), nor on postulating two conceptually distinct states of nature (for which there is no textual evidence).
Here, I will refrain from outlining my rival interpretation for why justice and injustice are inapplicable outside the Hobbesian commonwealth, published elsewhere. Instead, I will raise two further worries about Byron’s short and impressive book, informed by the above-mentioned methodological infelicities. The laws of nature, Byron maintains, are properly laws only qua divine commands, to those who have subjected themselves to God. This interpretation hinges heavily on Lev. 15.41:
These dictates of Reason, men use to call by the name of Lawes, but improperly… yet if we consider the same Theoremes, as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things; then are they properly called Lawes.
Byron overlooks the parallel passage in De Cive, which spells out what the relevant word of God is:
properly speaking, the natural laws are not laws, in so far as they proceed from nature. But in so far as the same laws have been legislated by God in the holy scriptures… they are very properly called by the name of laws (DCv 3.33)
If natural law is law by dint of having been prescribed in Scripture, then Byron has a serious problem. For in Leviathan, Hobbes insists that biblical canons are rendered obligatory by the sovereign’s authority (except for those to whom God has spoken personally) (Lev. 33.24). Paradoxically, the divine injunctions found in Scripture are civil laws in Leviathan. This suggests that, until the sovereign ‘obliges men to obey them’, the laws of nature are but theorems of reason (Lev. 26.8).
In response, Byron must argue that the Bible’s moral doctrine is law without the civil sovereign’s validation. In support, he could appeal to Leviathan’s discussion of the triple ‘word of God’ (Lev. 31.3). “God declareth his Lawes” by revelation, by faith, and ‘by the Dictates of Naturall Reason’ (Lev. 31.3). Here, ‘the question is not of obedience to God, but of when, and what God hath said’ (Lev. 33.1). Supernatural revelation is rare, while faith is nothing else than belief in men. It thus seems that in the natural condition, God’s laws are primarily promulgated by reason. And we indeed read that biblical doctrines which ‘differ not from the Laws of Nature… are the Law of God, and carry their Authority with them, legible to all men that have the use of natural reason’ (Lev. 33.22). However, Hobbes may well have been talking here about the laws of nature qua theorems of reason: the content of natural law can be rationally determined. Byron must show that natural law has obligatory force prior to the sovereign’s Scriptural legislation. How to know that the natural dictates of reason are simultaneously divine legislations? And how to know that these and only these conclusions of reason are divine laws – and not, for instance, whatever right reason reveals is the best course of action in war? (‘Force, and Fraud’ – Lev. 13.13). The worry here is that to inhabit the secondary state of nature, governed by obligatory natural laws, one has to be a true prophet, in personal communication with God. If, as Byron argues, mere belief in God gives natural law the force of law (pp. 89-92), then this appears to render law and obligation purely subjective: to be obligated by natural law is to see yourself as being obligated to God to obey it. After all, God has directly spoken and legislated to very few of us, if any.
In conclusion, a word on Byron’s thesis that being a good subject requires ‘desiring what the law prescribes and eschewing what the law prohibits’ (p. 7). ‘Insofar as my personal value schema fails to conform to that prescribed by the sovereign, my judgments of good and evil are wrong’ (p. 79). This interpretive claim strikes me as unwarrantedly strong. Byron righty points out that within the commonwealth, the civil law is the sole authoritative measure of actions (Lev. 46.11). Having promised to simply obey the sovereign, it is unjust for citizens to disobey the law for conscience’s sake (Lev. 29.7). Furthermore, Byron duly stresses that the very design or intention to break the law is sinful (p. 77). Pace Byron, it does not follow that we ought to conform our value schema to that of the sovereign. What follows is that it is impermissible to act or plan to act contrary to the civil law. We can accept this without holding that the civil law offers normative guidance for private conscience.
Indeed, we have good reason to reject the notion of ‘value conforming desire’. The sovereign’s interpretation of the laws of nature is certainly authoritative and binding for citizens. Yet authority does not imply truth: “For the interpretation, though it be made by just authority, must not therefore always be true” (EW 4, 340). Hobbes is quite aware that civil laws are often immoral (e.g. EL 21.3; DCv 7.14; Lev. 21.7, 22.15, 24.7; DPS 31). Why think that citizens should internalize the values immoral civil laws express? Doing so would bring conflict closer. Consider, furthermore, the biblical figure Naaman the Syrian (Lev. 42.11). Naaman was ordered by his lawful sovereign to publicly deny his Christian faith. Hobbes argues that he could have safely obeyed this order, since ‘that action is not his, but his Soveraigns’. The third law of nature did indeed require Naaman to obey. Yet Hobbes nowhere claims that to be a good subject, Naaman should adopt his sovereign’s heretical value schema. All he needs to do is obey. In Hobbes’s view, I contend, citizens may think and value whatever they want, provided they take the civil law as their rule of actions. Hobbes is more liberal, in this respect, than Byron suggests (pp. 9, 114-15).
Gauthier, David. 1969. The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Olsthoorn, Johan. 2015. ‘Why justice and injustice have no place outside the Hobbesian State’, European Journal of Political Theory 14, no. 1: 19–36.
Hobbesian Applied Ethics and Public Policy, edited by Shane D. Courtland (Routledge, 2018).
About this book: Most philosophers and political scientists readily admit that Thomas Hobbes is a significant figure in the history of political thought. His theory was, arguably, one of the first to provide a justification for political legitimacy from the perspective of each individual subject. Many excellent books and articles have examined the justification and structure of Hobbes’ commonwealth, ethical system, and interpretation of Christianity. What is troubling is that the Hobbesian project has been largely missing in the applied ethics and public policy literature. We often find applications of Kantian deontology, Bentham’s or Mill’s utilitarianism, Rawls’s contractualism, the ethics of care, and various iterations of virtue ethics. Hobbesian accounts are routinely ignored and often derided. This is unfortunate because Hobbes’s project offers a unique perspective. To ignore it, when such a perspective would be fruitful to apply to another set of theoretical questions, is a problem in need of a remedy. This volume seeks to eliminate (or, at the very least, partially fill) this gap in the literature.
This online colloquium has been established to discuss the recent work of Michael Byron (Kent State) Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth. We began first with an introduction to the text by Professor Byron and a response by Michael Krom (St Vincent State). This is now followed by a response by Deborah Baumgold (University of Oregon). Look for responses by Johan Olsthoorn (KU Leuven) next week, and finally a last reply by Professor Byron. Many thanks to Palgrave for supporting this colloquium.
Response by Deborah Baumgold
Byron tells us at the outset that the basis of this interpretation is a ‘seldom-remarked passage’ in Leviathan on rulers’ duty: ‘[subjects] are to be taught that, not only the unjust facts, but the designs and intentions to do them . . . are injustice, which consisteth in the pravity of the will as well as the irregularity of the act’ (pp. x, 2). ‘The goal of this essay is modest’, he continues, ‘and its focus tight: the objective is to draw on a range of interpretative resources in order to resolve a set of textual issues, especially concerning Hobbes’s idea of a good subject’ (p. 10). The textual issues concern moral, political and religious obligation and are drawn from the secondary philosophical literature, principally from Sharon Lloyd’s and Al Martinich’s works and, to lesser extent, from arguments by Bernard Gert, Jean Hampton, Gregory Kafka and Perez Zagorin. By virtue of the secondary context, there are alternative ways of viewing and assessing Byron’s interpretation: as a reading of Hobbes’s texts or as a contribution to an interpretive stream within current moral philosophy.
Both in intention and impact, the work seems better read as the latter than the former. In lieu of focusing on textual discussions of servitude, subjection and slavery, the titular theme is a constructed distinction between mere submission and subjection done well.
The activity of subjection is distinct from the act of submission . . . submission is the last act a person performs in a state of nature, whereas subjection is an ongoing activity in a commonwealth. My act of submission constitutes me as a subject and the sovereign as my sovereign. . . . But the daily business of fulfilling that promise and continuing to obey the sovereign is much more than submission. Subjection is a distinct activity the successful performance of which includes the adoption of the VCD (p. 83).
‘VCD’ is shorthand for ‘value conforming desire’: political subjection centrally consists, in Byron’s view, in adoption of the sovereign’s ‘value schema’, especially as this is codified in civil law. Thus one might characterize the overall interpretation as conjoining the concept of justice as a virtue (the possession of a ‘just man’) with Leviathan’s emphasis on the sovereign’s duty of political education. Good subjects are those who have been well-educated in and have adopted the sovereign’s outlook and values.
Having developed a different line of interpretation of subjection, one based more explicitly on the textual servant/slave contrast, I am understandably skeptical about the textual authenticity of the interpretation. However, I find much of interest in the arguments themselves, especially as these concern religion. Byron asserts that the submission/subjection distinction applies to human’s relationship to God as well as to political subjection. There is, he says, but one difference between the relationships: towards God, submission is accomplished simply by belief. By virtue of irresistible power, God possesses the right to govern, no contract is required (§4.3.3).
But, I suggest, there is actually a further difference, which is a problematic point in Byron’s interpretation but also points to an intriguing extension of Leviathan’s emphasis on political education. The difference is that the sovereign’s value schema can be a certainty (presuming a rational sovereign) but God’s cannot be. Recognizing the problem, Byron has to take the further step of specifying content. He equates Hobbes’s undoubted theism with Christian belief: ‘Crucial to this argument is a proper understanding of God: a providential God in an orthodox Christian conception is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good. So when I believe in that God, I thereby accept that God has irresistible power and therefore dominion over the world’ (p. 91). With basic content thus specified, Byron follows Hobbes in deducing subjects’ obligation to adopt their sovereign’s brand of Christianity.
While the argument seems to sidestep the pressing issues of religious knowledge and pluralism that greatly concerned Hobbes and his contemporaries, Byron’s discussion of the role of an authoritative value schema suggests a possible extension of Leviathan’s discussion of political education. Only in that final version of the theory did Hobbes emphasize political education, identifying it as a major duty of the sovereign and laying out key points in which subjects should be instructed (chapter 30, ¶3-13). By extension, might one expect religious education to have a similarly enhanced role in the work? So, pace the contrast drawn above between textual and analytic readings, Byron’s reading generates a question about the text: Does Part III of Leviathan’s evidence a trajectory of developing concern with what subjects should be taught as contrasted, say, to theological argumentation and ecclesiology? An intriguing hint in this direction, at least in the negative, can be found in comparison with the organization of the parallel Part III in De Cive. There, he employed a substantive template, dividing the Part into successive chapters on divine government by nature, the old covenant, and the new covenant. The straightforward arrangement is abandoned in Leviathan, where casual perusal indicates Hobbes was intent on pressing a Scriptural definition of God’s value schema (aka the ‘word of God’). So perhaps he was more orthodox a Christian as regards religious education—what subjects should be taught—than in his theological views? Instead of equating theism with a (Christian) authoritative value schema, Byron could follow his own lead and consider whether religious education might be a subject in its own right, separate from and even at odds with theology, in Leviathan.
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