Hobbes Face

Book manuscript workshop Hobbes on Justice

Organized by: Challenges to Democratic Representation; OZSW Study Group
in Political Philosophy


University of Amsterdam
University Library, Potgieterzaal
Singel 425

All are welcome. Registration is free but required: please e-mail Eric Boot – E.R.Boot[a]tilburguniversity.edu


Tuesday 6 December 2022
12:00-12:30 Welcome, with coffee, tea, and pastries
12:30-13:20 Ch. 1: Vindicating the ‘Mortal God’
13:30-14:20 Ch. 2: Justice, rights, and injury
14:20-14:50 Coffee break
14:50-15:40 Ch. 4: Distributive justice and equity
15:40-16:30 Ch. 5: Justice and property
16:30-17:00 Coffee break
17:00-18:00 Ch. 6: Justice and civil law

Wednesday 7 December 2022
09:30-10:20 Ch. 7: The right to everything as a right of war
10:30-11:20 Ch. 8: Morality among states
11:20-11:40 Coffee break
11:40-12:30 Ch. 9: Rebels, traitors, enemies, and fools

 Arash Abizadeh (McGill)
 Robin Douglass (KCL)
 Daniel Eggers (Regensburg)
 Signy Gutnick Allen (Zürich)
 James Harris (St Andrews)
 Rebecca Ploof (Leiden)
 Meghan Robison (Montclair)
 Laurens van Apeldoorn (OU)

Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Slomp

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship. We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Response to Alexandra Chadwick, Theodore Christov, and Nicholas Gooding.

Gabriella Slomp, University of St Andrews

I wish to express my gratitude to Gonzalo Bustamante and the European Hobbes Society for organizing a symposium on my book on Hobbes Against Friendship; I also wish to thank Alexandra Chadwick, Theodore Christov, and Nicholas Gooding for their very interesting comments and challenging questions.

To begin with, I will consider Chadwick’s typically insightful remarks and address two questions that she raises, one about natural sociability and the other about Hobbes’s model of friendship.

Regarding ‘natural sociability’, Chadwick draws attention to my claim that ‘Hobbes ruled out natural sociability; however, he maintained that men can and ought to become sociable.’ She enquires about the difference between Aristotle and Hobbes- if there is a ‘natural’ capacity for sociability (given man can be sociable), then where do we draw the line between this and ‘natural’ sociability?

First let me elucidate my claim: on the one hand, Hobbes tells us that by nature men are unsociable – a claim that is particularly clear in De Cive where we read that ‘By nature, then, we are not looking for friends but for honour or advantage from them’[1]; on the other hand, Hobbes maintains that men ‘ought’ to be sociable (sociability is ‘the sum’ of the laws of nature) and ‘can’ become so by training (‘ought’ for Hobbes depends on ‘can’). On my reading, Hobbes is very keen to highlight the difference  between ‘natural’ versus ‘acquired’ behaviour: men are naturally unsociable but canbecome sociable through education and discipline.

Having said this, I agree with Chadwick that on sociability ‘articulating the difference between the two [Aristotle and Hobbes] becomes trickier once we reject the caricature of a Hobbesian man as an isolated, exclusively self-interested individual.’

Chadwick also raises an important question about the triadic model of friendship that I attribute to Hobbes vis-a-vis the triadic model of friendship that I (and others) associate with ancient and medieval political thought. The difference between the two models is significant and here I want to make another attempt to clarify it. The ancient and medieval model of friendship was anchored to an entity – the good, the beautiful, God – that men did not invent but discovered. This entity regulated the relationship between friends and set limits to what they could ask and expect of each other. In contrast, according to my interpretation, the Hobbesian model of friendship is fastened to an entity created by man – the state – that will regulate partial societies and affiliations among citizens in a way that strengthens peace. Although for Hobbes the Leviathan is accountable to God and its decisions are not arbitrary but informed by the laws of nature, nevertheless the Leviathan’s criterion of selection is not a Christian principle, but a secular value: the safety and wellbeing of the commonwealth. Building on Chapter 22 of Leviathan, I argue that the state will foster those partial societies that can become the ‘muscles’ of the commonwealth and suppress those affiliations that are cancerous and can undermine its health. In this respect too Hobbes has been influential: although some contemporary theories of civic friendship (e.g. Schwarzenbach) claim to reject Hobbes and to put forward a revised and updated Aristotelian model of civic friendship, in fact they are adopting the Hobbesian secular triadic model of friendship.

 Next, I want to thank Christov for his engaging reflections on natural persons, international relations, and the modern self. Here I limit myself to clarify my position on two topics.

First, international relations. In the book I consider two separate narratives on how friendship works among political entities or states – the narrative that stretches from Plato’s Lysis to Carl Schmitt, according to which all friendship is a response to enmity (I call this ‘negative friendship’) and the narrative from Cicero to the Scottish Enlightenment according to which friendship is the engine of economics and of ‘commodious living’ (I call this ‘positive friendship’). I argue that Hobbes’s discussion of leagues, confederacies, alliances, and factions resonates with themes of the first narrative, while his discussion of financial corporations and colonies shares themes with the second. Ultimately I show that, according to Hobbes, leagues and alliances work in international relations, as do financial corporations and cultural networks; in contrast, neither negative nor positive friendship are effective in natural conditions. This difference undermines the famous correspondence between international relations and the state of nature.

Second, Christov eloquently reminds us of Hobbes’s new science of politics and of the concept of the modern self. I wholeheartedly agree with Christov that Hobbes’s contribution to modern political thought is immense, but at the same time I concur with the growing number of scholars who maintain that Hobbes looked backward in order to move forward. I agree with Christov that there are significant differences between ancient and modern theories and practices of friendship; it is interesting though that both Aristotle and Hobbes discussed friendship between equals and unequals and suggested that friendship can be an equalizer. Contemporary supporters of the revival of friendship point out that the friendship approach is ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’ and looks at people and states as they ‘stand together’ rather than how they ‘stand over each other’.

Last but not least I must thank Nicholas Gooding for his very thoughtful critique. I will organize my response into two parts: (i) clarifications and (ii) grounds for healthy debate.

To begin with, a few clarifications.

First, Gooding raises the topic of the ambivalence of friendship and asks whether this was in fact under-appreciated by the ancients, as my quotation from C.S. Lewis would seem to suggest. Rather, my argument in the book is (or tries to be) that a range of ancient authors considered the ambivalence of friendship and highlighted the connection between friendship, corruption, and other evils. However, I conclude – following Cicero – that the prevailing view in Greece and Rome was that a relationship that entailed immorality could not be regarded as amicitia. The idea that ‘only good men can be friends’ is attributed to the ancients by Hobbes in Anti-White.

Second, I agree with Gooding that Hobbes ‘has no use for’ the Aristotelian taxonomy, but from different reasons from those he states. Rather than the absence of objective distinguishing criteria that causes the taxonomy to be ‘of no use’, it is the existence of a separate criterion – namely, the effect of friendship on peace – that renders the Aristotelian taxonomy unfit for Hobbes’s purposes. From an Hobbesian perspective, although conspirators may be more generous with their friends than merchants are with theirs, nevertheless the selfless friendships of the former can damage the commonwealth more than the self-interested friendships of the latter.

Third, in my book, I intended not to selectively cite from Hobbes and instead include the range of his views on virtue. I agree with Gooding that one cited passage (where Hobbes discusses ‘the cause’ of virtue) does Hobbes little service; however, what I tried to convey in this part of the book was  that – on balance- Hobbes emphasizes  ‘the effect’ or ‘impact’ of actions on peace and the wellbeing of the commonwealth. Indeed, I have been a long-standing supporter of the view, expressed forcibly by S.A. Lloyd,[2] that Hobbes disconnected virtue from the pursuit of individual excellence and fastened it to peace.

Finally, Gooding makes a couple of statements that are grounds for healthy debate. For instance, Gooding suggests that some views by Hobbes on Aristotelian virtue contain ‘misreading’ or ‘carelessness’ or ‘philosophical shortcomings’. My view is different: Hobbes was very well-acquainted with Aristotle’s work and had an above-average capacity to understand Aristotle’s politics and ethics. However, when dealing with Aristotelian ideas Hobbes could not help being polemical in Carl Schmitt’s sense of the word. As Carl Schmitt maintained that the definition of political terms is part of a theorist’s political struggle, so Hobbes seemed to think that a new definition of virtue – and the vilification of the Aristotelian meaning – was part and parcel of his battle against the Aristotelians.

Next, Gooding maintains that Hobbes marginalized friendship because ‘he had no use of it’. I beg to differ because in a Review and Conclusion to Leviathan Hobbes draws the attention of the reader to the importance of ‘a constant Civill Amity’ within his commonwealth. Hobbes acknowledges the difficulty of developing civil amity, but rejects the idea that it cannot be attained; in his argument, education and discipline are the means of its development. On my reading, the engine of Hobbesian civic friendship is neither love nor custom; rather it is the citizens’ shared understanding of the function of authority and their commitment to obey the law.

I hope to have answered some of the questions raised by my three readers. 

[1] ‘The majority of previous writers on public affairs either assume or seek to prove or simply assert that Man is an animal born fit for Society …. This Axiom, though very widely accepted, is nevertheless false; the error proceeds from a superficial view of human nature. … For if man naturally loved his fellow man … there is no reason why everyone would not love everyone equally as equally men … (On the Citizen, Part I, 1.2, 21–22)

[2] ‘The Laws of Nature articulate moral virtues, and moral virtues are the dispositions that create and sustain civil society, that is the commonwealth-based form of life requisite for peaceful, sociable, and comfortable living. Rational excellences that contribute to the interests of the agent but not reliably to the interests of the collective … are neither moral virtues nor among “the” Laws of nature Hobbes enumerates.’ (Lloyd, S.A. 2009. Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Cases in the Law of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 141)

Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie_Cover

New article: The Name ‘Leviathan’ – or the Shadow that Fell on a Work

Waas, Lothar R. (2022): The Name ‘Leviathan’ – or the Shadow that Fell on a Work: Hobbes and Bodin, the Bible and a Commentary or Two on Job, in: Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, https://doi.org/10.25162/arsp-2022-0010

Is the reference to the Book of Job sufficient to explain why Hobbes gave the name ‘Leviathan’ to the state he advocated? Had he not been aware of how maligned this name had been for centuries: that it not only referred to a monster, but soon became synonymous with the devil himself? – The “long shadow” that, according to Carl Schmitt, the name ‘Leviathan’ alone had cast on Hobbes’s work from the very beginning was first cleared somewhat in 2007 by Noel Malcolm’s reference to Jacques Boulduc’s Job- commentary of 1619/37. As far as the “extraneous influence” in question is concerned, however, reference could also be made to the Job-commentary of a certain Joseph Caryl of 1643, which in turn took away some of the scandalous connotation of the biblical Leviathan. The real key to Hobbes’s naming, however, may lie with Jean Bodin, with whom Hobbes shares everything that the name ‘Leviathan’ stands for in his political philosophy.

Italian Translation of Hobbes's Autobiographies_cover

The first Italian translation of Hobbes’s Autobiographies

Hobbes, Thomas (2022): Vita di Thomas Hobbes di Malmesbury. Le due autobiografie latine, transl. and ed. by Luca Tenneriello. Milan: Mimesis.

The book collects the first Italian translations of Hobbes’s two Latin autobiographies: the renowned Vita Carmine Expressa, written in 1672, and the little-known Vita, drawn up in prose from the 1660s onwards. The works have been translated and edited by Dr. Luca Tenneriello, Sapienza University of Rome. The volume shows Hobbes’s life and thought in his own words, “a crumb of Hobbes’s mind” (micam salis hobbiani), like a last will and testament for posterity.

Online Colloquium (4): Comments on Gabriella Slomp, Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalization of an Ancient Political Concept

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.

We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Nicholas Gooding
University of California, Berkeley
Department of Philosophy

When I told a friend and fellow philosopher that I was reading a book about Hobbes on friendship, she responded with the suspicion that Hobbes scholars were scraping the bottom of the barrel. An understandable reaction, since Hobbes hardly mentions friendship. But what Professor Slomp’s argument suggests is that my friend’s reaction betrays precisely Hobbes’s success: Though Aristotle could list as a “common opinion” the idea that friendship was more important to the polis than justice, after Hobbes, it appears that the default assumption is that friendship is irrelevant to the political theorist.

In fact, Aristotle’s account of friendship plays an important role in the story that Professor Slomp tells. Here, I want to comment on, and raise some questions about, her discussion of Hobbes’s relationship to two particular elements in the Aristotelian theory.

The first is what Aristotle called “friendship for the sake of the useful.” Aristotle suggested that “political friendship” is an instance of such, and though he used the term “political friendship” only a handful of times, later thinkers would come to recognize it as having profound importance. Within this tradition, Professor Slomp discerns two different (though “intertwined”) strands, which she labels “negative friendship” (an alliance for protection against a common enemy; chapter 3) and “positive friendship” (a cooperative partnership enabling the friends to live “commodiously”; chapter 4). On Slomp’s telling, Hobbes’s criticism is relatively nuanced (see, e.g., p. 97). He does not deny the possibility of such friendships, and he incorporates elements of both negative and positive friendship into his own political theory. Where he diverges most sharply from the tradition concerns the question of whether anything plausibly thought of as “friendship” could provide the basis of peace and stability.

Slomp’s argument here is, I think, quite persuasive. I could, admittedly, imagine feeling that her conclusion, when stated in such general terms, is hardly something anyone would have thought to deny. But what makes her discussion illuminating is its capacity to bring out, by means of a bird’s-eye survey of the vicissitudes of “political friendship” before Hobbes, that Hobbes’ silence on the topic is surprising—surprising in ways that we (belonging as we do to an intellectual world partly shaped by Hobbes) might otherwise be blind to. On this basis, it seems to me that Professor Slomp is able to offer a plausible account of the Hobbesian views that can be inferred from what looks at first like an almost total neglect of the topic.

I find myself somewhat less persuaded by her discussion of another Aristotelian idea, that of “virtue friendship”—the only genuine form of friendship according to Aristotle, since, unlike friendships for the sake of utility or pleasure, it involves loving another in himself and wishing him well for his own sake. (Slomp labels this “normative friendship.”) Here, Slomp tells us, Hobbes is uncompromising: Whereas he “made some important concessions to the narratives on negative and positive friendship,” his “theory contains a forceful…rejection of the ancient model of normative friendship…” (p. 97).

Hobbes does not explicitly discuss Aristotle’s notion of virtue friendship. So why believe that he nonetheless rejects it? An initially tempting answer might be that Hobbes—with his notoriously reductive view of human motivation—simply thought it impossible for one person to love another in himself or to wish him well for his own sake. But Slomp is not persuaded by this familiar line of thought: “Hobbes’s description of human nature does not exclude the possibility of one man considering another to be ‘a second self,’…[nor] preclude men from acting generously towards a select few, even if he rules out universal love for mankind.” (p. 112)[1]

So, Hobbes’s rationale for rejecting normative friendship does not derive from his psychology. Instead, Professor Slomp suggests that it derives from his rejection of the Aristotelian conception of virtue as consisting in a “mean” that lies between a vice of deficiency and one of excess—a view Hobbes breezily demolishes thus: “as if not the cause, but the degree of daring, made fortitude; or not the cause, but the quantity of a gift, made liberality” (Lev. 15.40; cf. Slomp p. 113). If we read this a criticism of Aristotle, however, then it does not seem to be Hobbes at his best, since it would have to depend on a superficial misreading of Aristotle’s account of ethical virtue. Aristotle explicitly says that the reason or motive for an action (“the cause”) is part of what makes it virtuous;[2] and, whatever “the mean” is, it is very explicitly not the midpoint between two extremes.[3] Professor Slomp’s discussion of this topic can sometimes give the impression that she is simply following Hobbes in his misreading of Aristotle (see p. 113); I expect that this impression is misleading, but it does raise some questions: Is she assuming that Hobbes’s carelessness or philosophical shortcomings on this score do not matter for her argument? Or that Aristotle himself need not be the target of Hobbes’s critique—that Hobbes’s purposes will be served well enough by knocking down this strawman instead?

But, granting Hobbes’s rejection of the Aristotelian account of virtue, it is hard for me to see why this, on its own, should imply a rejection, rather than a reinterpretation, of the idea of virtue friendship. After all, Hobbes does not reject the notion of virtue altogether; instead, he presents us with a view according to which the moral virtues are those qualities that lead to peace (Lev. 15.40). Is there some reason to suppose (without falling back on that crude or reductive psychology that Slomp cautions us against) that the recognition of such qualities in another could not be the basis of love, as the Aristotelian virtues supposedly were?

Professor Slomp does offer us a further justification for Hobbes’s rejection of normative friendship: “Hobbes took and voiced a position on friendship that distinguishes the moderns from the ancients—he stressed the ambivalence of friendship” (p. 114), in the sense that he saw that it could be a potential danger (not only a benefactor) to the political community.

            Were “the ancients” unaware of the ambivalence of friendship? C.S. Lewis appears to have thought so—Professor Slomp quotes him approvingly (I take it) on p. 114: “Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. It is ambivalent. It makes good men better, and bad men worse.” The problem is that Lewis seems to be very straightforwardly mistaken here. In fact, his claim could almost be a paraphrase of the final paragraph of Aristotle’s discussion of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics:

Hence, the friendship of base people turns out to be vicious. For they are unstable and share base pursuits; and by becoming similar to each other, they grow vicious. But the friendship of decent people is decent, and increases the more often they meet. And they seem to become still better from their activities and their mutual correction. (NE 9.12, 1172a9-12; Irwin translation)

            Now, Professor Slomp might (perfectly correctly) point out that Aristotle is not talking about people being made worse by virtue friendship. Granted, but now there is some risk that Hobbes’s purported disagreement with the Aristotelians will devolve into a merely verbal dispute. Any friendship that is a potential “school of vice” and therefore a danger to the community will, for that very reason, not count as a “virtue friendship.” But that does not involve the Aristotelian in any substantive disagreement with the idea that the relationships normally referred to as “friendships” are politically ambivalent. 

Perhaps we can do better. The Aristotelian believes we have reason to conceptually mark off those relationships that are not ambivalent; Hobbes has no use for her taxonomy. Why? One idea that may suggest itself is that Hobbes thought that the distinction could not be drawn, because there are no independent, objective criteria of goodness or virtue; thus, if (those whom we are inclined to think of as) the vicious love each other because of qualities they themselves respect, their relationship has just as much claim on the label of virtue (or genuine) friendship as any other. But I don’t think that Slomp can avail herself of this kind of argument, since she grants that there are, for Hobbes, just such objective criteria (the laws of nature, the moral virtues).

            To echo something Alexandra says in her contribution, I do not mean to suggest that Hobbes was a closet proponent of the Aristotelian view of friendship, and I am sure that there are other reasons that we might come up with for supposing that Hobbes would be skeptical about it. Perhaps we might appeal to his rejection of natural teleology, which is certainly involved in Aristotle’s tripartite account of friendship. Or we might imagine that singling out some friendships as “virtue friendships” would involve, by Hobbes’s lights, arrogating rights to oneself that properly belong only to the sovereign. But, even if we can come up with such a story, I still find myself wondering: What does Hobbes’s silence on the matter show? That his rejection of the Aristotelian picture of friendship was so uncompromising that he could not even bring himself to speak of it, or that—in the words of one of Hobbes’s anti-Aristotelian contemporaries—he simply felt he did “not have the time to waste on subtleties of this kind”?[4]

One can imagine, after all, why Hobbes may have thought that virtue friendship was irrelevant to his concerns, and thus that he need not bother with the subtleties of refuting it. Professor Slomp points out that, rare though it was, virtue friendship was of profound political importance for Aristotle and many thinkers influenced by him. But this is because for those thinkers the moral education of citizens was a (perhaps the) central goal of the polis; virtue friendship was politically important insofar as it both contributed to and was made possible by the achievement of this goal. But once that view of the proper goal of the political community is rejected, virtue friendship immediately becomes peripheral. Hobbes has a conception of politics according to which, even if there is such a thing as virtue friendship and even if it is of paramount importance to people in their personal lives, it is anyway of no political importance. He declines to speak of it simply because he has no use for it.

That, anyway, is one alternative explanation—too baldly stated, no doubt—for Hobbes’s silence.  I would be curious to hear more about why Professor Slomp believes, instead, that it is best explained by supposing that he rejected the idea of normative friendship altogether.

Perhaps, however, there is an inevitable indeterminacy here. It is, after all, a much trickier business for an interpreter to draw inferences from a thinker’s silences than from his statements. And notwithstanding my worries and questions about the place of Aristotelian virtue friendship in Professor Slomp’s argument, it seems to me that she generally handles this tricky business with thoroughness and care. I learned a lot from her new book, and am grateful both to her and EHS for the opportunity to participate in this symposium. 

[1] I am sympathetic with this claim, but I would have liked to hear a bit more about how she understands passages that seem to be in some tension with it—for instance, the argument of chapter 1 of De Cive, which, at least at first pass, presents us with a view of men as seeking the company and friendship of others, not because we love them as such, but for the sake of our own advantage and glory. Hobbes concludes part of his argument, for instance, with a striking claim: “So it is clear from experience to anyone who gives serious attention to human behavior that every voluntary encounter is the product either of mutual need or the pursuit of glory.” (Silverthorne translation, slightly altered; emphasis added).

[2] See Aristotle’s repeated claims that, in order to be virtuous, an action must be undertaken “for the sake of the fine,” e.g., NE 4.1, 1120a24; 2.4, 1105a32; on courage specifically, see NE 3.7, esp. 1115b17-24; on generosity, see NE 4.1, esp. 1120a28-30.

[3] See NE 2.6, 1106a30-b8; 2.7, 1107a1-2.

[4] Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, AT 25.

Online Colloquium (3): European Hobbes Society online colloquium on Gabriella Slomp’s Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalisation of an Ancient Political Concept, Response by Alexandra Chadwick (University of Jyväskylä)

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.

We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Response by Alexandra Chadwick (University of Jyväskylä)

I’m grateful to Professor Slomp and the European Hobbes Society for the opportunity to read and comment on this book. As Slomp makes clear in her introduction to this colloquium, her study contributes to that important strand of Hobbes scholarship which seeks to ‘advance our understanding of his theory in relation to ancient and medieval political thought’. Despite Hobbes’s frequent references to the novelty of his theories, such studies (of his political ideas, and his wider philosophy) often find the break he makes with earlier traditions of thought to be less sharp than first appeared. It then becomes particularly interesting—and challenging—to clarify precisely where and why Hobbes’s position is distinctively ‘modern’, and where he might better be said to have transposed old tunes into a new key. 

            Slomp draws attention to the way that, despite his avoidance of the term, and contrary to enduring images of Hobbesian humans as self-interested (p. 4), ‘friendship’ is far from alien to Hobbesian man: ‘Hobbes did not deny or oppose the occurrence of practices of friendship between individuals, peoples, and states; rather, he rejected friendship as an explanatory and normative principle of peace and concord’ (p. 2). She makes a number of comparisons with earlier traditions which will no doubt be of use to scholars interested in ancient and medieval ideas, as well as early modernists.

             I would like to ask for a little more detail about two differences that Slomp identifies: first, Hobbes’s rejection of natural sociability, and second, the claim that for Hobbes ‘the Leviathan replaces the external entity—the good, God—that anchored ancient and medieval models of friendship’ (p. 127). I’ll finish with a small question about the role of ‘materialism’ in Hobbes’s understanding of friendship. 

Natural sociability

Although Hobbes’s alleged rejection of natural sociability is often stated, and perhaps has a relatively minor role in the book, Slomp’s position on the matter seems important. For one thing, the denial of natural sociability is often used to support the ‘self-interested’ interpretation of Hobbesian man that Slomp rejects. For another, natural sociability is often understood to be a distinctive feature of those ‘anthropological and ethical assumptions whose demolition Hobbes saw as his mission to accomplish’ (p. 144).

According to Slomp, while Aristotle and—building on his ideas—Cicero (p. 68) believed that humans are naturally sociable, ‘Hobbes ruled out natural sociability; however, he maintained that men can and ought to become sociable’ (p. 129). I would be interested to hear more about exactly what Hobbes is ruling out. For something to be ‘natural’ to man has meant several different things to different thinkers. The belief that men ‘can and ought’ to become sociable seems to me to draw on two prominent Aristotelian meanings: sociability is natural to man because it is something humans have a capacity for, and sociability is natural to man because it is something that humans ought to strive for. What marks the difference between Hobbes’s position and a properly ‘natural’ sociability? Or, to put it another way, what meaning(s) of natural sociability does Hobbes deny?

I am not trying to suggest that Hobbes’s position is the same as that of Aristotle, but rather reflecting on the fact that, for all Hobbes might have thought that Aristotle’s anthropology was misconceived (p. 84), articulating the difference between the two becomes much trickier once we reject the caricature of a Hobbesian human as an isolated, exclusively self-interested individual. 

The ‘man-made state’ in Hobbes’s ‘triadic’ model of friendship

My second question moves from thinking about the ‘natural’ to the ‘artificial’ within Hobbes’s theory. A key claim in the book, as summarised in the introduction to this colloquium, is that ‘Hobbes rejected the ancient…and medieval…model of friendship that was triadic and entailed an external entity—the Good or God—that philosophers did not invent but discovered and that set boundaries to what friends could ask of each other’. Hobbes’s theory retains ‘a triadic model of friendship’, but ‘the third entity is created by man: the state’. In the book this is expressed as follows: ‘the ancient and medieval model of friendship…was fastened to an eternal truth—the good, the beautiful, the gods, or God’, whereas Hobbes’s model ‘replaces the external anchor—the good and beautiful—that existed independently from man’s will with a human construction, the Leviathan’. It is the state, for Hobbes, which ‘regulate[s]’ and ‘supervises’ all forms of friendship (p. 127-8; see also p. 145).

            Yet, as Slomp goes on to note, ‘the third entity of Hobbes’s model of friendship—the man-made state—is ultimately accountable to an entity that is not created by man—God’, insofar as He has fixed the content of the laws of nature which the state should uphold (p. 128). There seems to be, then, an ‘external entity’, an ‘eternal truth’ independent of human will that sets the boundaries of friendship. That being so, what is the significance, for Hobbes’s understanding of friendship, of the state being a ‘human construction’? 


Finally, Hobbes’s position on friendship is said to capture ‘the spirit of modernity—its individualism, nominalism, pragmatic scepticism, and materialism’ (p.2; see also p. 124 and p. 144). I would be interested to hear more about the role that materialism plays here. Slomp writes that ‘materialism prevents [Hobbes] from understanding friendship as a mingling or blending of souls’ (p. 124). Is this simply because the Hobbesian form of materialism denies that there any such entity as a ‘soul’, or is something else meant by this? Given that Slomp rejects the link some commentators have made between materialism and ‘selfishness’ (see p. 35, n. 10), I am curious to hear more about how she understands Hobbesian materialism to form and constrain the relationship between self and other. 

Hobbes Against Friendship is a very stimulating read, and these three questions inevitably reflect particular thoughts that it set off in relation to my own interests. I’ll be very grateful to hear Slomp’s response to any of them which she considers to be of interest too.