New Article: the Whig legacy of Thomas Hobbes

Elad Carmel (2018): “I will speake of that subject no more”: the Whig legacy of Thomas Hobbes, in: Intellectual History Review


Hobbes left a complicated legacy for the English Whigs. They thought that his Leviathan was all too powerful, but they found other elements in his thought more appealing – mostly his anticlericalism. Still, the precise relationship between Hobbes and the Whigs has remained underexplored, while some still argue that Hobbes was simply too much of an absolutist for the Whigs to rely on his political ideas. This article attempts to show that Hobbes was, in fact, recruited by proto- and early Whigs for their causes. It shows how Hobbesian ideas were used in the toleration debates of the 1660s and 1670s, and even in debates on human reason and liberty of conscience. Then it demonstrates how similar Hobbesian principles, and even phrases, were used subsequently in the formative years of Whiggism from the 1680s to the 1720s, by thinkers who were worried, as Hobbes was, about the political aspirations of the Church. By collecting a series of prominent thinkers who are associated with Whiggism and who engaged with Hobbes in various ways – including Buckingham, Marvell, Cavendish, Warren, Blount, Tindal, Trenchard and Gordon – this article shows that Hobbes was employed systematically in the service of Whig causes, such as limited toleration, civil religion and an opposition to religious persecution.

New Article: Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes

Alan Ryan (2018): Escaping the War of All against All: Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, in: Social Research: An International Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Fall 2018), pp. 639-649


Is Leviathan persuasive? One might think that the existence of the United States is sufficient refutation of Hobbes’s insistence that there can be only one source of law in a coherent political system; if federalism is one problem, the separation of powers is another. Hobbes was deeply hostile to judges who thought that their expertise in the Common Law gave them an authority equal or superior to the sovereign’s. On the other hand, one might think that the lumbering and lobbyist-ridden American system suggests that Hobbes was on to something even if we could not demonstrate it with the certainty of geometry. Above all, perhaps, his skepticism about rights and his prioritizing freedom from fear above all other freedoms still pose some awkward questions for us some 370 years later.

New Article: Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté

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


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

Article: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor

Rebecca Ploof (2018): The Automaton, the Actor and the Sea Serpent: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor, in: History of Political Thought, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 634-661


Challenging interpretations of Leviathan that read its metaphors for sovereignty either as non-theoretical persuasive devices, like Skinner, or sites for the text’s theoretical deconstruction, like Derrida, I argue that metaphor is conceptually integral to and productive of Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty. Seeking to produce a political scientific account of this concept, Hobbes relies on a metaphorical understanding of language in which words are compared to mathematical signs and their logical manipulation is compared to quantitative analysis. Within such a theory of language, metaphor itself is defined as paradox, or the simultaneity of equivalence and nonequivalence. Hobbes’s formulation of sovereignty is metaphorical, I demonstrate, not only insofar as it is dependent on a metaphorical conceptualization of language, but also insofar as it is paradoxical: constructing Hobbesian sovereignty demands a healthy dose of pride in humanity’s creative ingenuity, yet sustaining it demands modest acknowledgement of human limitation. Hobbes theorizes sovereignty through a series of metaphors that in their imagistic content, and most importantly figurative form, articulate such contradiction. Where the metaphors of automaton and actor affirm the powers of human agency, the metaphorical sea serpent leviathan underscores human frailty by way of divine animality.

New article: Thomas Hobbes on the Fiction of Constituent Power

Adam Lindsay (2018): “Pretenders of a Vile and Unmanly Disposition”: Thomas Hobbes on the Fiction of Constituent Power, in: Political Theory

doi: 10.1177/0090591718805979


The prevailing interpretation of constituent power is taken to be the extra-institutional capacity of a group, typically “the people,” to establish or revise the basic constitutional conditions of a state. Among many contemporary democratic theorists, this is understood as a collective capacity for innovation. This paper excavates an alternative perspective from constituent power’s genealogy. I argue that constituent power is not a creative material power, but is a type of political claim that shapes the collective rights, responsibilities, and identity of “the people.” I do so by recovering Thomas Hobbes’s intervention into debates over constituent power among Scottish Presbyterians during the English Civil War. Though a materialist, Hobbes appreciated the centrality of the imagination to politics, and he argued that constituent power was one such phantasm of the mind. In Leviathan, he showed constituent power not to be a material power, but a world-making fiction that furnished political realities with ornamentation of the imagination, which might provide the beliefs and justifications to serve any number of political ends. More generally, the retrieval of a Hobbesian constituent power provides an important challenge to contemporary theories by demonstrating how partisan constructions of constituent power shape the political options available to groups.


New article: Legal Thought in Early Modern England. The Theory of Thomas Hobbes

Raffaella Santi (2018):  Legal Thought in Early Modern England: The Theory of Thomas Hobbes, in: Economics World, Vol. 6, No. 5, 384-389

doi: 10.17265/2328-7144/2018.05.005


Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (1588-1679) is one of the most influential British philosophers of the seventeenth century. The paper reconstructs Hobbes’s legal theory, focusing on his definition of law (civil law, as he calls it) found in Leviathan, XXVI, 3. The definition is only apparently simple, since it has been interpreted in different ways, especially with regard to the connections with natural law—and the Hobbesian assertion that civil law and natural law “contain each other”. Moreover, the definition of civil law changes in the corresponding paragraph of the Latin version of 1668. What is the meaning of this change? What about the divisions of the law/divisio legis, which—as Hobbes emphasizes—appears in different forms in different writers? Finally, if a good law is “that which is needful, for the good of the people”, what is it that dictates the paths to be followed by the sovereign representative, who is also the supreme legislator, when writing a new law? These are the main problems in Hobbes’s legal thought that the paper will address.


New Issue: Hobbes Studies

Hobbes Studies Volume 31, Issue 2, 2018

A new issue of Hobbes Studies is now available, containing the following articles:
Ismael del Olmo: Against Scarecrows and Half-Baked Christians

Caleb R. Miller: ‘A State of Lesser Hope’

Elad Carmel: “Philosophy, Therefore, Is within Yourself”

Evan Oxman: Hobbes on the Artificiality of (His Own) Authority

For those interested in the European Hobbes Society, we recommend the following piece:

Laurens van Apeldoorn and Robin Douglass: The European Hobbes Society

New article: Context and Consequences of the Hobbes–Wallis Dispute

Jesseph, Douglas (2018): Geometry, Religion and Politics: Context and Consequences of the Hobbes–Wallis Dispute, in: Notes and Records, The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, .

Abstract: The dispute that raged between Thomas Hobbes and John Wallis from 1655 until Hobbes’s death in 1679 was one of the most intense of the ‘battles of the books’ in seventeenth-century intellectual life. The dispute was principally centered on geometric questions (most notably Hobbes’s many failed attempts to square the circle), but it also involved questions of religion and politics. This paper investigates the origins of the dispute and argues that Wallis’s primary motivation was not so much to refute Hobbes’s geometry as to demolish his reputation as an authority in political, philosophical, and religious matters. It also highlights the very different conceptions of geometrical methodology employed by the two disputants. In the end, I argue that, although Wallis was successful in showing the inadequacies of Hobbes’s geometric endeavours, he failed in his quest to discredit the Hobbesian philosophy in toto.

New Book: Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics, by Arash Abizadeh (Cambridge University Press, 2018)


Reading Hobbes in light of both the history of ethics and the conceptual apparatus developed in recent work on normativity, this book challenges received interpretations of Hobbes and his historical significance. Arash Abizadeh uncovers the fundamental distinction underwriting Hobbes’s ethics: between prudential reasons of the good, articulated via natural laws prescribing the means of self-preservation, and reasons of the right or justice, comprising contractual obligations for which we are accountable to others. He shows how Hobbes’s distinction marks a watershed in the transition from the ancient Greek to the modern conception of ethics, and demonstrates the relevance of Hobbes’s thought to current debates about normativity, reasons, and responsibility. His book will interest Hobbes scholars, historians of ethics, moral philosophers, and political theorists.

  • Reads Hobbes in light of recent work on normativity, reasons, and responsibility
  • Shows Hobbes to be a watershed in the transition to the modern, juridical conception of ethics
  • Is the only book extensively to treat Hobbes’s metaethics