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.