History_of_Political_Thought

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’

EHS Mini-Workshop, Amsterdam, 20 Nov 2019

A mini-workshop on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes will be held at the University of Amsterdam (Roeterseilandcampus B1.02) on Wednesday 20 November 2019:

Programme:

13:00-14:15   Johan Olsthoorn (Amsterdam) – ‘Hobbes on the Rights of War’

14:20-15:35   Alexandra Chadwick (Groningen) – ‘Hobbes on the Nature of Man and the Nature of Politics’

15:40-16:55 Alan Nelson (UNC, Chapel Hill) – ‘Leviathan as Science and Why That Matters’

Organized by: Challenges to Democratic Representation (UvA); Amsterdam Centre for Political Thought; European Hobbes Society.

For more information, please contact Eric Schliesser (E.S.Schliesser@uva.nl)

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.

New article stressing intolerance in Hobbes

Boleslaw Z. Kabala (2019): The return of the intolerant Hobbes, in: History of European Ideas, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2019.1628581

Abstract
Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan presented a paradigm of the social contract that has proven foundational in Western political thought. A proper understanding of the philosopher’s thought is thus of paramount importance. I argue that today’s case for a religiously tolerant Hobbes has missed an important part of the historical record. I first consider an obscure but important document, the second edition of the Humble Proposals. It demonstrates that leading members of a seventeenth century Christian denomination, the Independents, considered a state-enforced confession of faith. Independents are generally seen as tolerant, and one of the arguments for Hobbesian toleration is that Hobbes endorsed them. But the second edition of the Humble Proposals aligns with the possibility in Hobbes that the civil sovereign will impose part III of Leviathan on the Universities and treat its contents as a legally required confession of faith – one that may be necessary for security, and the avoidance of civil war. Hobbes’s endorsement of Independency alone cannot be used to argue that his work leads to religious toleration. The evidence I present reinforces an earlier assessment and alongside other evidence points to the return of the intolerant Hobbes.