On Monday 25 February 2019 the European Hobbes Society will organize a half-day workshop at the University of Amsterdam with Prof. Arash Abizadeh (McGill). Prof. Abizadeh is one of the world’s most prominent Hobbes scholars today. Earlier this year, Cambridge University Press published his monograph Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics — a rich and original study of Hobbes’s moral philosophy.
All are welcome; registration is required but free of charge. (email@example.com)
Univ. of Amsterdam
University Library (Vondelzaal)
Monday 25th February 2019
12:30-13:00 Welcome, with coffee and pastries
13:00-13:50 Susanne Sreedhar (Boston University) – ‘Hobbes on Sexual Morality’
13:50-14:40 Alexandra Chadwick (Groningen) – ‘How Hobbesian is Hume on Human Nature?’
14:40-15:00 Coffee break
15:00-15:50 Takuya Okada (Oxford) – ‘Hobbes on Toleration’
15:50-16:20 Johan Olsthoorn (Amsterdam) – ‘Book proposal: Hobbes on Justice’
16:20-16:40 Coffee break
16:40-17:30 Arash Abizadeh (McGill) – ‘Glory and the Evolution of Hobbes’s Theory of War’
17:30 Drinks, followed by dinner
An Open Letter to the Hobbes Profession, by S.A. Lloyd (USC) and A.P. Martinich (Austin, Texas)
Noel Malcolm’s recent scholarly three volume Clarendon edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan is without question an immensely valuable resource for Hobbes studies. We scholars appreciate having the English and Latin texts face to face, along with Malcolm’s annotations. What should be in question is whether requiring all scholars to refer to it facilitates, or instead burdens, our own work, and the efforts of many of us to stimulate broader interest in Hobbes studies.
Some university libraries in the developed world have bought a single edition to be shared amongst the faculty and students; but most college and university libraries have no edition at all. The volume cannot serve as a common reference point because so few enjoy access to it. Professors cannot teach using it because students cannot access it easily, nor can they afford to buy it for themselves. Functionally, no one in the developing world could follow along with our arguments were we to have to make our references to the Clarendon volume. We do not know whether the Clarendon Press imposes limitations on the use of the electronic version of the book; but many publishers limit the number of users who can use it at one time, and also restrict the number of pages that can be printed by an individual. Further, only students at some elite universities have access to digital libraries, and it is in any case unreasonable to require readers to navigate through Hobbes’s 600 page text electronically.
The Clarendon edition is also physically burdensome. Those with the privilege to afford purchase of the $100 paperback edition can attest to its unwieldy volume and weight. The hardback available to some on loan from their elite university library weighs in at 7 pounds, too heavy to carry to class or the coffeehouse. All that weight and bulk in either edition is unnecessary, because most people do not need, even if they were able, simultaneously to survey the Latin.
A system of reference to Leviathan by chapter and paragraph number, and/or 1651 page number, would enable the largest audience for Hobbes studies, regardless of social or economic status. All the good and widely used editions, including those of MacPherson, Tuck, Curley, Gaskin, Martinich, and now Malcolm, provide 1651 page numbers. These page numbers are so widely included that requiring them as the standard reference convention is most reasonable. Many of the editions just mentioned also have paragraph numbers. It is a defect of Malcom’s edition that it does not include paragraph numbers, one that we hope will be corrected in subsequent editions. Paragraph numbers could be used either as an alternative method or as a supplement to 1651 page numbers.
In the interests both of fairness to scholars, and of expanding accessibility to Hobbes for a larger public, we urge scholars to refer to Leviathan with numbers to chapters and paragraphs and/or pages as they occur in an edition of 1651. We urge editors not to require their contributors to include page references to the Clarendon edition.
S.A Lloyd and A.P. Martinich
Response by Daniel Garber (Princeton)
This morning we all received a thoughtful note from Profs. Lloyd and Martinich, two distinguished scholars, suggesting that we not attempt to make references to the new OUP Leviathan, edited by Noel Malcolm, standard in our publications on Hobbes. I respectfully disagree.
The crux of their argument is this. While they agree that it is an excellent edition, the main objection is to its cost, and consequently the difficulty of scholars either to afford to purchase it or find it at libraries that can afford to purchase it. They list the price at US$375. That is true for the hard-back edition. But the paperback is available for US$125 for the three volumes (including the introductory volume), and US$99 for the two text volumes. That is quite a reasonable price for an academic book. (In comparison, the single volume of the Oxford Handbook of Hobbes is available only in hardback at US$150.) I think that it is not unreasonable to expect serious scholars to invest US$99 in what is a central research tool for their work. I would also point out that the OUP edition is also available online in an electronic edition, part of a package to which many research libraries subscribe.
Profs. Lloyd and Martinich suggest using page numbers, chapter numbers, and paragraph numbers in the 1651 text instead of the OUP page numbers. This is not an unreasonable suggestion. But it does presume that one is making reference to the English version alone. One of the great innovations of the new Malcolm edition is precisely that it makes possible easy comparisons between the English and the Latin text, which should encourage scholars to pay more attention to the changes Hobbes introduced into his later edition. That for me is an important reason why we should encourage our students and colleagues to make use of Malcolm’s magnificent new edition. It is the rare circumstance in which a new tool could actually change the direction of scholarship.
Sincerely yours, Daniel Garber
Response by Patricia Springborg (HU Berlin)
I fully agree with the Lloyd Martinich Open Letter, and for the Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan we standardized references to Leviathan by chapter/para/1651 pp./and Curley pp. exactly as you suggest, the format I continue to use.
The beauty of it is that anyone using any standard edition can easily find the reference. CUP went along with it and did not suggest we use their Tuck edition, which is a good edition but does not have para nos and does not cross-reference the Latin edition, the advantage of Curley’s.
For publishers to insist on a specific edition is a break with convention and Lloyd and Martinich have made an excellent case that it is not warranted. I think they have done us a great service and would be surprised if the publishers are not persuaded!
Happy holidays and may 2019 be a good one!
Response by Justin Champion (Royal Holloway College, University of London)
I write in reply to the recent joint open letter by Lloyd/Martinch, raising concerns in regard of the accessibility, functionality and paratextual presentation of Noel Malcolm’s three volume Clarendon scholarly edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan. The authors note that the edition, ‘is without question an immensely valuable resource for Hobbes studies’, and delivers considerable scholarly benefits, such as face to face versions of the English and Latin texts. These benefits are complemented by the capacious learning of Malcolm’s annotations and textual collation. Despite this positive appreciation, the letter raises a question about whether this combination of textual commentary, contextual erudition, and assessment of the scribal evidence and bibliographical variations, are advantageous to those who wish to explore the ideas of Hobbes and their reception. This question is phrased in a curious manner: implying that there is some sort of requirement or imperative laid as a burden upon all scholars, without indicating from whence this obligation derives. The corollary of their questions suggests that the edition imposes ‘burdens, our own work, and the efforts of many of us to stimulate broader interest in Hobbes studies’. The underlying implication seems to be that the existence of the edition, a monument to decades of archival research and considered historical enquiry, by its very virtuosity demands a strenuous effort on the part of the reader. To suggest that this is a negative aspect of Malcolm’s Leviathan could be regarded as short-sighted, if not churlish. Complaining that an edition is too learned, too replete with contextual explanation, or too detailed in textual annotation, seems to me to be a rejection of the imperatives of scholarly enquiry. Why bother with such learning at all? Why not simply download one of the various open access digital editions? Indeed why not employ the various summaries and extracted editions (which often exclude entire chapters from Books III and IV)?
I imagine the answer to these suggestions would be to lay claim to examining a text which was as close as possible to that authorised by Hobbes himself, or at least one which would have been recognisable by his contemporaries. The problem highlighted by Lloyd/Martinch’s complaints may lie in the different modern usages of Hobbes’ text: the political philosopher may not be interested in textual variant, rhetorical sources, and contextual reception. Those aspects are precisely the dimensions which a robust history of ideas seeks to restore to the historical record. Reading texts from the past is a necessarily complex and multi-facetted business: concerns relating to scribal circulation, the complicated business of the making the material book, and the hinterland of contextual language and literary discourse, are the very materials historians of ideas seek. Complaints that the edition is too heavy to be used conveniently in coffee-shops or the lecture room, seem to be based on one model of how the student community might need to ‘use’ the edition: the letter draws a distinction between the potential use of the work in the ‘developed’ and ‘developing world’. It is not clear what this economic distinction means. If intended to imply constraint of access due to limited financial abilities, then the distinction is overly simple. Within even the most developed nation states there exists a variety of academic and school facilities, some of which will have the resources to gain access to the edition, others not. If the letter had gone on to develop an argument about the printing industry’s stranglehold on the global economics of scholarly publication, in order to develop a wider case for open access, it might have created more grounds for agreement. Neither of the letter’s authors appear to have published in open access format, nor do they indicate that they have any wider commitment to such projects.
The authors have claimed that ‘Some university libraries in the developed world have bought a single edition to be shared amongst the faculty and students; but most college and university libraries have no edition at all’. This is not sustained by even the most elementary search of the online World Catalogue, which indicates there are some 3158 copies in circulation in university and local public libraries across the globe – from New Zealand to Honduras, Chile, Hawaii, Philippines, and in regional public libraries in Surrey, Westminster, Middlesex, Wiltshire, Kent and Sussex. A more expert search of the various global catalogues might also provide evidence for the purchase of the Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, version too. It is Lloyd’s and Martinich’s contention that, ‘The volume cannot serve as a common reference point because so few enjoy access to it. Professors cannot teach using it because students cannot access it easily, nor can they afford to buy it for themselves’. These claims are not substantiated with any evidence of non-use. Certainly in the universities of London, Edinburgh, Reading, York and Warwick, there is online access to the volumes, and a further 22 universities have copies of the printed edition, (see COPAC search: https://copac.jisc.ac.uk/search?&author=noel+malcolm&title=leviathan). Indeed the digital facilities of the online edition allows undergraduates and postgraduates to examine the texts, vocabulary and rhetoric of Leviathan in an engaged and innovative way. Far from confining or constraining an audience’s ability to explore Hobbes’ text the edition enables deeper enquiry for a wider readership.
The claims of Lloyd/Martinich regarding the usability of the volume, either in digital or print form, are equally flawed. Asserting that no one in the ‘developing world could follow along with our arguments were we to have to make our references to the Clarendon volume’, is illogical since that edition has original page numbers embedded so is in common use in most more popular editions (by Tuck and others); a more likely restraint on being able to follow the arguments of Lloyd/Martinich would be that their publications are in journal articles behind paywalls, or monographs beyond the purse of many private scholars, and indeed many university libraries. The claim that the digital edition available through Oxford scholarly editions online is limited to ‘only students at some elite universities’ requires substantiation: it seems from searches in the UK that many university libraries have access to the digital edition, and also operate access schemes for non-academic users. The claim that it is ‘unreasonable to require readers to navigate through Hobbes’s 600 page text electronically’, can only be based on lack of experience using the online digital platform, which indeed allows a swift and accurate means for searching for word, phrase or even annotated references. In fact it is easier to navigate the print volumes with the assistance of the digital edition. Navigation of a text is of course a different business than close reading of a passage, or tracing the repeated citation of biblical verses. The Malcolm edition facilitates both extensive and intensive reading patterns. The harvesting of relevant extracts for re-use in text collations also offers a swift method for providing students and researchers with valuable material which would require cumbersome typing ordinarily.
The ‘Letter’ also asserts that the Clarendon edition is physically burdensome, unwieldy in ‘volume and weight’. The heft of the edition, it is claimed ‘is unnecessary’: mainly, in a comment of staggering condescension, because of the parallel Latin text, which ‘most people do not need, even if they were able, simultaneously to survey the Latin’. The authors presumably include themselves in this category of ‘most people’, or may need to acknowledge that to some the English/Latin pages offer a just measure of stimulation and opportunity. The authors then proceed to compare the pagination of Malcolm’s edition with the other existing editions, noting that all of them offer reference to the 1651 edition as standard (and thereby all may be cross-referenced with each other). Yet even in this moment of acknowledgement, Malcolm is chastised for failing to include paragraph numbers, and encouraged to correct such an omission in subsequent editions. The issue of accessibility to the Latin edition, issued in 1668 and revising and adding to the earlier iteration, in appendices and textual expansion is a critical benefit of Malcolm’s edition. That Hobbes was prepared to restate his arguments, sometimes in bolder ways, after the restoration of the Church of England to full disciplinary authority suggests an important context for understanding the political theology he defended. Without Malcolm’s profound editorial work, this task of exploring the reception and restatement of Hobbes’ ideas in a climate of hostile and powerful churchmen would be a difficult project. With the edition, it is possible to explore and establish the synergies with his other Restoration publications. Hobbes returned to themes and passages from Leviathan in Behemoth, the translations of Homer, and works on law (all expertly edited by Seaward, Nelson and Cromartie/Skinner), too. The Latin text and translation also enables a better informed study of the posthumous publication of Hobbes’ Latin verse, Historia Ecclesiastica (1688), where the themes of the appendices are captured in poetic form, and the shared Latinate vocabulary of earlier works is evident.
The authors conclude with a proposal, invoking notions of fairness and accessibility ‘for a larger public’, although there is an imprecision about what ‘public’ this includes beyond the scholarly, university and wider academic community. They ‘urge scholars to refer to Leviathan with numbers to chapters and paragraphs and/or pages as they occur in an edition of 1651. We urge editors not to require their contributors to include page references to the Clarendon edition’. The use of the word ‘urge’ is an odd one implying some measure of urgency, or impending threat? One of the Oxford English Dictionary definitions suggests the word means, ‘to advocate or advise earnestly (some course of action, etc.); to press with importunity, claim or demand pressingly’. The request is unclear: do the authors ask (1) that editors simply do not stipulate the use of any particular edition; or is their position (2) that only an edition which includes paragraph numbers be used? The first request seems unexceptionable, since the editions used in research papers are commonly chosen by the authors rather than the journal requirements. That scholarly choice is most commonly exercised by an assessment of which edition is ‘best’: that is, by using an edition which has the most scholarly rigour and most helpful editorial apparatus. It is a moot point whether any serious scholar, capable of accessing the ‘best’ edition, would eschew it for a less comprehensive version. Most research active undergraduates, postgraduates and academics will have access to a facsimile of the various seventeenth century editions through the digital archive on Early English Books Online. In using that facility they will navigate by chapter and page number, not by paragraph. Malcolm’s edition captures that primary textual architecture, and supplements it with the precision of a scaffolding of line numbers too.
The use of paragraph numbers has recently developed, most commonly, where authors refer to un-paginated digital texts (see APA style guidance: https://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/cite-website-material). The MLA guide suggests stronger advice: that is ‘using chapter or paragraph numbers when no page numbers are available, but only if the chapter or paragraphs are explicitly included in the original text’. The emboldened phrase suggests that adding paragraph numbers to Hobbes’ text is an unwarranted modern innovation, which, plausibly, might alter the way the text is read and digested. I am unaware of any discussion of when, and why, paragraph numbers were intruded into modern editions of Leviathan. Warrender, when outlining the Clarendon Hobbes’ works project, which he reiterated in his edition of De Cive, suggested that both the English and Latin Leviathan would be ‘supplied with paragraph numbers though again Hobbes’s original format has been preserved’. The motivation for this was that it offered the reader ‘assistance in matching the English and Latin texts’, which he hoped, ‘improves also the readability of the work’. While Warrender suggested that Hobbes’ omission of paragraph numbers in Leviathan had made a ‘great stumbling block to the system of reference we have adopted’, the Malcolm edition addresses the core problem by having facing pages for the English and Latin versions, thus obviating the need for the intrusion of paragraph numbers. Warrender also noted that in Leviathan, ‘Hobbes’s own paragraphing was highly individualistic’, suggesting perhaps that those textual divisions displayed some authorial characteristics, best preserved in a comprehensive modern edition.
Hobbes did not eschew paragraph numeration altogether, and had used it in the many Latin and English editions of his works in the 1640s and 1650s, such as de Cive (which were reproduced by the translator of the English version, Philosophicall rudiments concerning government and society, 1651), the Elements of philosophy the first section, concerning body written in Latine by Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; and now translated into English; to which are added Six lessons (1656), and the Elementorum philosophiae sectio secunda De homine (1658). In these, each chapter was followed by an itemised list of the subjects contained in each chapter. That this was not the case in Leviathan, might suggest that Hobbes intended the work to be absorbed, and shared amongst readers, in a different manner to other contemporaneous texts. Of course it may have been the result of decisions taken in the print-shop, although it seems unlikely that Hobbes would have accepted such a key dimension of the presentation of his ideas without demure. Since paragraph numbers are absent in the seventeenth century editions of Leviathan, without some more considered justification they best be left out of a referencing system for modern readers. As Quentin Skinner’s work has been at pains to establish, the rhetorical structures of Hobbes’ text are significant components to an understanding of his intentions and their reception: crumbling the text into paragraphs may occlude this dimension of the author’s ambitions. Hobbes, himself, complained of those Bible critics who crumbled scripture into dust, to cast into the eyes of other men [Leviathan II, xliii, p. 331/p. 954].
Those interested in exploring the complex world of Hobbes’ mind and its interaction with its time and other minds, should be grateful that they have such a companion as Malcolm’s edition of Leviathan. While it may take some effort to become fully accomplished at exploiting its manifold possibilities, surely that is the business of being a scholar, even in the digital age?
 The starting point would be Howard Warrender’s, ‘Thomas Hobbes: the collected works and a note on a new critical edition.’, Rivista Critica Di Storia Della Filosofia, vol. 33, no. 2 (1978), pp. 242–246, which outlined (p.244) a ‘general system of reference wherein Hobbes’s works are cited by short title, chapter and paragraph’. See also Howard Warrender (ed.), The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes, Vol. 2: De Cive: The Latin Version (Oxford, 1983), ‘The apparatus’, p.54, at footnote 3.
Response by Noel Malcolm (All Souls College, University of Oxford)
[NB: this response was received after the further reply of 10th January by Martinich and Lloyd in the comments below]
I should like to have an opportunity to respond to the ‘Open Letter’ published on this website by Professors S. A. Lloyd and A. P. Martinich, concerning my edition of Leviathan.
First, let me emphasize that I fully agree with the essential point they are making: it is indeed useful to have a universal reference system for Leviathan. They comment that there are two possible methods: using the 1651 page-numbers, or using the paragraph-numbers which have been added in some modern editions. Of these two, I think the former is hugely preferable. As they say, these 1651 page-numbers are present in almost all modern editions; they list six, and some earlier 20th-century editions could be added to that list. I really do not think it makes sense to use paragraph-numbers. Of the six editions they list, they say that ‘many’ have them; but in fact only three do, and the ones that do not include the Tuck edition, which is very widely used by students, and very commonly referred to in the existing secondary literature. (I cannot agree, by the way, that it is a ‘defect’ of my edition that it does not give them; my edition is a critical edition of the original text, which did not have these paragraph-numbers, and such numbers are not imposed in any other Clarendon Hobbes Edition volumes.)
But their letter goes some way beyond making that simple and, I think, uncontroversial point. They write: ‘We urge editors not to require their contributors to include page references to the Clarendon edition.’ I hope it will not seem self-centred of me if I say that I find this a little troubling. If I have done my work correctly, the Clarendon edition is a more authoritative and scholarly presentation of the text than any previous edition. It is certainly the only critical edition, in the proper sense of that term, to have been published so far. I am struggling to think of any comparable case of a major philosophical or political text where editors would be urged not to ask writers to refer to the best available edition – and where, indeed, a general call would go out to all specialists in the field, telling them to do the urging.
The apparent implication of Lloyd and Martinich’s letter – even if it was not the intended one – is that the English Leviathan is just a generic text, which will be the same, and mean the same, regardless of which version of it one looks at. But this is not the case. In some places I have made emendations to the 1651 text, or promoted to the text material present in the manuscript or the second edition; these form material differences between my text and the text appearing in other editions. Some editors, including Martinich, have modernized such things as punctuation; however scrupulously this is done, it is possible that a nuance of meaning can be changed thereby. The reason why I spent years of my life working away at small textual details was that it is always possible for these things to matter to a particular interpretation of the meaning.
Of course, I recognize that the whole focus of the letter from Lloyd and Martinich is on pedagogy, and I respect the importance of that. But scholars write also for other scholars, perhaps sometimes pursuing significances in the text that would be lost in the relatively broad-brush treatment of the lecture-hall or the classroom.
I leave aside here the possibility that in some ways pedagogy too may benefit from my edition – for example, in the case of a graduate seminar spending a whole term studying the text, where easy recourse to the Latin (or to my translation apparatus from the Latin, for those who do not know that language) may be of real value – since Professor Dan Garber has already made that point, for which I am very grateful.
To return to the central problem raised in the Open Letter: surely there is a simple solution to it? Here as in other cases, scholars should follow the rule that they use, and cite, the most reliable and scholarly edition; but in this case they should also give 1651 page-numbers. I think this would best be done as double references each time; however, some might prefer to state in an initial note that this is the edition they are citing, and then give only the 1651 page-numbers, except when they are citing from my editorial materials (e.g. my translations of passages added or changed in the Latin).
Finally, I’d just like to make a few comments on the practicalities, where I think that the letter from Lloyd and Martinich is a little imprecise. They say that ‘only students at some elite universities’ have access to the electronic edition; while the OUP is unwilling, for commercial reasons, to give detailed figures, it assures me that the take-up of Oxford Scholarly Editions Online is widespread, extending well beyond a sub-set of ‘elite universities’, and that the module in which this edition occurs is one of their best-selling ones, both in the USA and Canada, and in the UK and the rest of the world.
They also write that ‘We do not know whether the Clarendon Press imposes limitations on the use of the electronic version of the book; but many publishers limit the number of users who can use it at one time, and also restrict the number of pages that can be printed by an individual.’ The answer, which I am sure the OUP would happily have given them had it been asked, is that a) the number of users who have access at one time depends on what level of access each institution purchases, which can range from a small number of unique users at any one time through to unlimited access, and b) users of Oxford Scholarly Editions Online are free to print as much as they wish of the texts for their own personal use (as opposed to dissemination to others, which is subject to standard copyright restrictions).
Lloyd and Martinich also complain of the size and weight of the edition, saying that the hardback edition weighs 7 pounds. The two paperback volumes of the text come to a total of 4 pounds, 12 ounces. The OUP specifically arranged for these two volumes to be purchasable on their own, without volume 1 (the Introduction); their price is $99 in the US, or £60 in the UK. Although this may indeed be more than students would have to pay for editions of many other texts, it might still seem a worthwhile investment for someone signing up for a class or seminar that was going to spend a whole term studying this text.
For those whose budgets are limited, there will in due course be another option. I have agreed with the OUP to produce a paperback edition, in the Oxford World’s Classics series (replacing the one by Gaskin); it will reproduce the text of the Clarendon Edition of the English, with some, but not all, of the accompanying editorial apparatus, and it will omit the Latin text. It will of course also include the 1651 page-numbers. I hope that this will be useful to students, and to general readers. But I also hope that when Hobbes scholars publish books or articles, they will still think it best to refer to the Clarendon Edition, where the full apparatus is present.
I do not know whether Professors Lloyd and Martinich have had their Open Letter published on other websites or mailing lists. If so, and if they think the points I make here are at all helpful, I should be very grateful if they could forward this response to those venues and ask for it to be published there too.
- Gianni Paganini, Hobbes Philosopher of Curiosity, p. 7-36
- Patricia Springborg, Curiosity, Anxiety and Religion in Thomas Hobbes, p. 287-314
- Franco Giudice, Conoscenza e curiosità nella teoria ottica di Thomas Hobbes, p. 315-334
- Daniel Garber, Curiosity, Noveltu, and the Politics of Opinion in Hobbes, p. 335-352
- S.A. Lloyd, The Moral Assessment of Human Curiosity in Hobbes’s Leviathan, p. 353-374
- P.-F. Moreau, La curiosité chez Hobbes et Spinoza, p. 375-391
This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh, followed by responses from Sandra Field, Michael LeBuffe, and Daniel Eggers. We conclude this week with a reply by Arash Abizadeh. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.
What a pleasure to have one’s work scrutinized so seriously and intelligently. My sincere thanks to Sandra Field, Michael LeBuffe, and Daniel Eggers for their critiques, and to Robin Douglass for bringing us together.
Hobbes in his political works claimed that the first and “fundamental” law of nature prescribes seeking peace; the rest prescribe the means to peace. The question is what, according to Hobbes, makes natural laws normative: Why do individuals have a reason to (be disposed to) do as they prescribe? I claim that what grounds the normativity of natural law for Hobbes is a foundationally normative principle prescribing that one desire and pursue one’s own ongoing good or felicity. The laws of nature are normative because they prescribe what conduces to one’s ongoing good—even in the face of imprudent or self-destructive desires, whose realization would be noxious to one’s felicity. These laws are intrinsically prudential normative precepts.
LeBuffe has qualms about this prudentialist interpretation, because “whatever Hobbes takes to be a principle,” we should expect him to state it “explicitly.” I agree with LeBuffe: it would be “contrary to his [Hobbes’s] account of science” to rely on “a fundamental principle that he does not mention.” (‘Principle’ denotes the starting point for a chain of reasoning.) But I do not agree with LeBuffe’s claim that Hobbes failed to indicate this foundational normative principle. Hobbes did so rather clearly by incorporating it into the very definition of natural law, which in the English Leviathan he defined as “a Precept … by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life … and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved” (L 14.3). Natural laws by definition consist in precepts that proscribe what conduces to self-destruction and prescribe the means to self-preservation. They are normative because self-preservation is normative. This is typical Hobbes: stating a particular science’s “principle” or starting point—here, the prescription to (be disposed to) pursue one’s own preservation—by incorporating it into the definition of a fundamental concept of that science. Hobbes stated his foundational normative principle precisely where LeBuffe says he should have: at the beginning of chapter 14 of Leviathan in his definition of a law of nature.
One might of course object that what Hobbes incorporated into his definition was a precept to pursue, not one’s good in general, but self-preservation. Yet Hobbes explicitly and frequently indicated that he meant by self-preservation not just bare survival, but the preservation of a life worth living, i.e., the preservation of “a life, as not to be weary of it,” not just “a bare Preservation, but also all other Contentments of life” (L 14.8; 17.1). This is why in the Latin Leviathan Hobbes could reformulate natural law’s definition in terms of a proscription against what tends to harm one’s good (“quod ad damnum suum sibi tendere”). Hence it is a mistake to say, as LeBuffe does, that “Abizadeh claims that for Hobbes the first normative principle which grounds natural law is “desire and pursue your own good,” rather than the explicit definitions and fundamental precepts of Leviathan 14” (my emphasis). I take ‘desire and pursue your own good’ to be, not a rival, but a gloss on the foundational principle incorporated into Hobbes’s definition, viz. desire and pursue your own preservation.
True, the “fundamental” law of nature as Hobbes stated it in his political works prescribes seeking peace (rather than self-preservation itself). But Hobbes treated the laws of nature themselves not as “principles” or the foundational starting point of reasoning, but as precepts “found out by Reason” (L 14.3, my emphasis)—on the basis of the foundational principle incorporated into their definition. Indeed, for Hobbes, as for Aquinas, the foundational “principle” of a particular science may itself be grounded in and derivative of some other principle outside the scope of that science. (Philosophia prima, the science lying at the foundation of all other sciences, is an exception.) Seeking peace is the first precept of Hobbes’s “moral” laws of nature, by which he meant those precepts that prescribe the social means to self-preservation. But although in his political works Hobbes was only concerned with precepts regulating social interaction, he also acknowledged, as relevant to ethics more broadly construed, other natural laws (such as temperance) concerning the non-social means to self-preservation. Both the social precepts of reason Hobbes treated in his political works, and the non-social precepts he mentioned but left aside, are grounded in a common normative foundation: self-preservation in the broad, Hobbesian sense of one’s own ongoing good.
LeBuffe is also worried about my claim that, although Hobbes took the laws of nature he specified to be epistemically accessible to every rational creature, he thought some may nevertheless fail to know them, i.e., some may not be aware of those precepts or, if aware, may not take them to be normative (“precepts of reason”). LeBuffe suggests that, according to Hobbes, although we may “easily misinterpret” the laws of nature, we nevertheless “all do know” them as precepts of reason. Presumably this means, for example, that although all rational creatures know that they ought to perform their covenants—i.e., although everyone takes the third law of nature to be normative—some misinterpret what this means, perhaps because they misapply the law in failing to understand the particular circumstances in which an undertaking counts as a valid covenant.
Hobbes certainly did envision that some who in principle know the laws of nature misinterpret them in practice. For example, Hobbes asserted that one reason why some “are prone to violate the Lawes” is because they are misled by “false Teachers” who “mis-interpret the Law of Nature” (L 27.11). Yet Hobbes asserted that people might also violate the laws of nature not because they misinterpret the laws they know, but because they fail to know them in the first place. This can happen in two ways: either because they are simply ignorant of the law (without believing anything false), or because they have positively false beliefs about which precepts are normative. The former consists in “some defect of the Understanding,” which “is Ignorance”; the latter consists in “Erroneous Opinion” stemming from “some errour in Reasoning.” When Hobbes asserted here that “Ignorance of the Law of Nature Excuseth no man; because every man that hath attained to the use of Reason, is supposed to know,” he was speaking about people who violate the laws of nature because (contrary to LeBuffe’s suggestion) they are ignorant of it. The colonial subtext of the example he immediately used to illustrate inexcusable ignorance—of “a man come here from the Indies” who would “perswade men here to receive a new Religion or teach them any thing that tendeth to disobedience of the Lawes of this Country” (L 27.4)—makes his view crystal clear.
There are “three wayes,” according to Hobbes, in which one may come to have positively false beliefs about natural law. One way I already mentioned: some are simply taken in by false interpretations (as LeBuffe suggests). The other two, however, consist not in misinterpreting known laws, but in failing to know the laws, in virtue of false beliefs about which precepts are normative. First, one may draw “Erroneous Inferences from True Principles.” Second, one may begin one’s reasoning “by Presumption of false Principles,” for example by taking as one’s initial premise “That Justice is but a vain word” or “That whatsoever a man can get by his own Industry, and hazard, is his own” (L 27.10-12). Hobbes’s most famous example of a person who in virtue of “specious reasoning” fails to know the law of nature is, of course, the Foole who claims “there is no such thing as Justice.” The Foole does not deny that violating one’s covenant “may be called Injustice,” but “he questioneth, whether Injustice … may not sometimes stand with that Reason, which dictateth to every man his own good,” i.e., he denies that Hobbes’s third natural law is normative (L 15.4). (Note the premise Hobbes shared with the Foole, and which LeBuffe says Hobbes never stated explicitly: reason “dictateth to every man his own good.”)
LeBuffe cites one passage that might at first glance seem to run counter to Hobbes’s numerous discussions of people who are unaware of, or indeed have positively false views about, which precepts are normative: “all men agree on this, that Peace is Good, and therefore also the way, or means of Peace” or “the rest of the Laws of Nature” (L 15.40). We should already be sceptical of LeBuffe’s interpretation of this passage, however: it is gainsaid by the Foole and, more generally, the fact that people sometimes reason erroneously. The problem is that LeBuffe has severed his quotation from the scope restriction Hobbes had imposed on “all men” immediately before. The fuller passage reads: “so long as a man is in the condition of meer Nature, (which is a condition of War,) as private Appetite is the measure of Good, and Evill: And consequently all men agree on this, that Peace is Good…” (my emphasis). Hobbes was talking about people living in a state of war (“so long as…”). The Latin predecessor in De Cive contains the same restriction: “All men easily acknowledge this state [of war], as long as they are in it, to be evill, and consequently [per consequens] that Peace is good” (DCv 3.31). Once in society, however, many people lose sight of the evils of war and hence fail to recognize the normativity of peace and its means: for “by nature,” human beings are “destitute of those prospective glasses (namely Morall and Civill Science,) to see a farre off the miseries that hang over them” in the state of nature (L 18.20). It is the job of Hobbesian science to provide these prospective glasses so we can know the normativity of peace and its means via philosophical reasoning—whatever our empirical circumstances.
Let me go further: the point of the paragraph from which LeBuffe’s quotation is extracted is that even in the state of nature not everyone immediately recognizes that peace is good. People at some point (for example, after catastrophe) will become united in agreeing that peace and its means are overriding goods. Hobbes was saying in this paragraph that in the state of nature people initially call ‘good’ whatever happens to be the object of their variable appetites (so that even “the same man, in divers times, differs from himselfe; and one time praiseth, that is, calleth Good, what another time he dispraiseth”), but that, subsequently, they all come to agree that peace is good. True, Hobbes wrote “consequently,” not subsequently, but we should not be fooled by twenty-first century usage. If today ‘consequently’ is used exclusively as a quasi-conjunctive (like ‘therefore’), in the seventeenth century, consistently with its Latin etymology, the term also meant subsequently or consecutively, i.e., following in time or order (see OED first entry). When Hobbes wrote that “consequently all men agree on this, that Peace is Good,” he didn’t mean that everyone always already knows this truth; he meant that in the state of nature people will come to agree on it (and nothing else).
My argument here of course relies on a distinction between the capacity to know laws of nature and actually knowing them. This is the distinction Field calls into question. On her reading, since Hobbes was a materialist determinist who denied free will, a putative capacity one is never caused to exercise is no capacity at all: for Hobbes the capacity to do something is a function not merely of one’s “inner properties,” but of the entire web of causes that determines how one acts. If one is not caused to reason properly, then, on this view, there is no sense in which one could be said to have had the capacity to do so. Field thinks, moreover, this pulls the rug out from under normativity and normative practices—such as holding others attribution-responsible (e.g. criticizing them for violations) and, especially, holding them accountable-responsible.
I have reservations about both claims. First, all the textual evidence I called on to show that Hobbes thought some rational creatures fail to know the laws of nature despite the capacity to do so also serves as evidence that Hobbes did distinguish a capacity from its actual exercise. There is, moreover, a straightforward way in which determinists can make this distinction: one has the capacity to do something if, given the right external circumstances, one would do it—even if, under the actual external circumstances, one does not do it. This is the sense in which a rational agent has the capacity to reason and a stone does not: there are no circumstances in which a stone would reason. The distinction relies on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic properties, on the one hand, and hypothetical and actual external circumstances, on the other. (This is, I take it, what Hobbes was up to in his distinction between absolute and conditional impossibility and potentia in AW 37.5-6).
So Field’s real point must be, not that the distinction cannot be made, but that it is not normatively relevant (of no “salience,” as she puts it). This is just her second point: that a determinist is not entitled to deploy notions of normative responsibility and blame. That’s an old intuition, one Field shares with scholastics such as Bramhall. Field may or may not be philosophically correct about this, but hers’ was not Hobbes’s view, and I do think Hobbes’s view (whether true or false) is compelling enough to merit attention. I suspect that what might drive Field’s disagreement with Hobbes here is being in the grip of a conception of normative blame from which Hobbes meant to release us (what she calls “deep moral responsibility”). The question is: What is involved, for Hobbes, in normatively blaming someone in the reactive, accountability sense? It does not involve attributing to agents the ability to have done otherwise under their actual, causally determined circumstances; nor does it involve attributing to them any retrospectively determined theological status, such as being in a state of deserving punishment. This was Bramhall’s, not Hobbes’s, conception. Hobbes’s view is prospective. Normatively to blame someone in the accountability sense is to demand of them that they henceforth acknowledge a normative demand and to seek to vindicate the demand by condemning and sanctioning violations by demanding excuses, justification, or apology, or exacting compensation. But the point of the practice is not to give agents what they deserve in some theological sense, or to rectify an imbalance in the cosmic order. The point is to prevent violations in the future. Rational creatures are the appropriate object of such blame because they have the capacity to respond under the right circumstances, and practices of holding responsible are an attempt to furnish some of those (causal) circumstances. I take it that this is what Hobbes was trying to argue against Bramhall in Liberty and Necessity.
Eggers raises two sets of concerns. The first centres on my division of Hobbes’s ethics into reasons of the good and reasons of the right, corresponding to two distinct concepts of normative obligation: a (traditional) eudaimonistic concept, which specifies what is conducive to one’s felicity; and a (new) juridical concept, which specifies what one owes to others, i.e., that to which others have the normative standing to hold one accountable. The laws of nature “oblige” rational creatures in the first, eudaimonistic or prudential sense; contracts give rise to obligations in the second, juridical sense. (As Eggers notes, D. D. Raphael has also distinguished between two senses of obligation in Hobbes: natural and artificial. But his notion of artificial obligation does not correspond to what I call juridical obligation. Raphael’s notion is of a purely “logical” obligation—a precept of rationality; he provides no account of why logical requirements would be normative for agents; and he does not explain why others would have the standing to hold one accountable to them, i.e., the sense in which logical obligations are owed to others.)
Eggers tries putting pressure on the division between eudaimonistic and juridical obligation by asking, “what entitles us to pay such disregard to Hobbes’s own repeated application of the term” (‘oblige’) to characterize the normative force of natural law? I confess to being puzzled by this charge of disregard, since much of the book regards Hobbes’s use of ‘obligation’ to characterize the normative force of natural law. I suspect Eggers might think we disagree here because he has slightly misunderstood my position: I did not intend to claim (as he puts it) that “only the obligation arising from agreements is ‘true’ obligation” or that “obligation towards the laws of nature is not ‘really’ obligation.” I agree with Eggers: eudaimonistic obligation is a kind of obligation in Hobbes’s usage. It is a “true” kind of obligation precisely in the sense that it is normative. (In fact, I argue that this was what ‘obligation’ exclusively meant prior to the early modern period.) My point was that Hobbes used ‘obligation’ in two distinct senses: one in the “proper” sense, i.e., which accords literally with his official, juridical definition (at L 14.7); and another in a “deviant” sense, i.e., which departs from his explicit definition. Part of the misunderstanding might stem from Eggers perceiving more similarities between my view and Bernd Ludwig’s than is warranted (which I cannot judge: my linguistic skills are not good enough to read German without a translation to hand). But on reflection, I also think the misunderstanding may partly stem from my use of ‘proper’ in Hobbes’s now obsolete sense to mean literal: a term’s “proper signification” for Hobbes is its literal meaning (in contrast to its extended, metaphorical meaning), i.e., strictly in accordance with his own explicit definition. This is the sense in which juridical (but not eudainmonistic) obligation is obligation proper. And although Hobbes’s non-literal use of ‘obligation’ departs from his official definition, I don’t think it is “in contradiction” with it: the two meanings are different, not contradictory; nor do natural obligations “contradict” conventionally acquired ones. They simply have a different kind of normative force.
I take it our true disagreement lies in this last claim: that natural (eudaimonistic) and conventionally acquired (juridical) obligations for Hobbes have a different kind of normative force. Eggers argues that Hobbes’s distinctions between broad and narrow peccatum, counsel and command, and the non-literal and proper senses of law are no evidence for this claim. The reason is that, as Eggers puts it, the “normative authority” of juridical obligations “ultimately derives from prudential considerations.” Eggers does not provide an argument for this assertion, and it faces an unanswered challenge. Hobbes’s juridical notion of obligation reduces to two components: (1) a normative reason one has to φ plus (2) the normative standing others have to hold one accountable for φ-ing. The first part might be explicable in terms of prudential considerations in favour of one’s φ-ing. But the second part is not: the fact that it would be good for me if others were to have the normative standing to hold me accountable does not amount to their having this standing. (I argue in the book that the normative standing to hold accountable is not reducible, for Hobbes, to the non-normative fact of holding accountable.) Eggers’s suggestion that adopting the second-personal standpoint “might only be needed for determining the content and scope of our directed obligations, without these obligations therefore acquiring a non-prudential normative status” therefore fails to explain the normative standing to hold accountable (and, relatedly, Hobbes’s distinction between punishment proper and “hostility”).
Nor do I think Eggers’ assertion reflects Hobbes’s view. Hobbes was clear that the prudential reasons one agent has cannot by themselves provide to other people the normative standing to hold the agent accountable. Thus, Hobbes repeatedly claimed that natural laws themselves provide “no place for Accusation” (L 14.30; 27.3; cf. 30.30). Another important piece of textual evidence that Eggers passes over concerns the relation between natural right and natural law. Hobbes characterized the full right of nature, in the “pure” state of nature, as implying the absence of any obligation. Yet he also characterized rational creatures, even in the pure state of nature, as already obliged by natural law. The only explanation for how one could be free of all obligation while simultaneously obliged is that there are two different kinds of obligation at stake: natural right corresponds to absence of obligation in the juridical sense, while natural law imposes obligation in the eudaimonistic sense. Failing to distinguish the two dimensions of normativity implausibly saddles Hobbes with an obvious contradiction at the heart of his ethics—and this, with respect to his two most central ethical concepts.
Egger’s second set of criticisms again concerns the second dimension of normativity I read in Hobbes. If Field argues that normative obligations and responsibility are in tension with Hobbes’s determinism in general, Eggers argues that juridical obligations and accountability-responsibility are in tension with Hobbes’s deterministic egoist-hedonist psychology in particular. His first argument to this effect is that juridical obligation may conceptually require that one outwardly conform to it for the “right” motivational reason, viz., simply because one is obligated. On Eggers’ suggestion, for example, if one were motivated to conform to a juridical obligation simply because of prudential considerations—such as fear of punishment—then one would fail to fulfil the obligation. But if, given Hobbes’s psychological egoism, Hobbesian individuals are always wholly motivated by prudential considerations of self-interest, then they could never, even in principle, fulfil their juridical obligations—which, Eggers suggests, violates “ought implies can.”
The thought that fulfilling juridical obligations requires being motivated by justice itself is, however, wholly alien to Hobbes’s conception of juridical obligation and accountability. To be sure, this is not because no people are ever motivated to conform to their juridical obligations from recognizing the obligation’s normative force. Hobbes was a psychological egoist and hedonist, but (as I argue in the book) not a strong one. He held that all action is prompted by desire and that we desire things only if we represent them as pleasant to ourselves, but he did not think that only considerations of self-interest can motivate people (or that the object of all desire is pleasure). He acknowledged, for example, benevolence or “Desire of good to another” (L 6.22). Hobbes also acknowledged the desire to conform to one’s obligations: there exist “Righteous” or virtuous individuals whose “Manners” or “disposition” of character are aptly called “Just” precisely because they are motivationally disposed to fulfil their obligations because they are averse to violating covenants. Such individuals possess “a certain Noblenesse or Gallantnesse of courage, (rarely found,) by which a man scorns to be beholding for the contentment of his life, to fraud, or breach of promise. This Justice of the Manners, is that which is meant, where Justice is called a Vertue” (L 15.10-12). This is the sense in which, as David Boonin has argued, Hobbes was a virtue theorist: virtuous individuals are motivationally disposed to act for the “right” reasons, i.e., because they recognize the justice of an action.
Yet for Hobbes, questions of desire or motivation in foro interno, dispositions of character, and virtue fall exclusively under the auspices of the first, attribution-responsibility dimension of normativity governed by natural law. Others may have the standing to criticize one for an unjust or vicious character—it is an imprudent character to have—but there is no question of others having the normative standing to hold one accountable for unjust dispositions or motivations. There are no grounds, for example, for punishing (or demanding an apology or compensation from) those who outwardly conform to the laws but are motivated to do so solely because they fear punishment. Hobbes was resolutely opposed to allowing inquisitorial practices to infect accountability relations: he considered it a grave “Errour” to “extend the power of the Law, which is the Rule of Actions onely, to the very Thoughts, and Consciences of men, by Examination, and Inquisition of what they Hold, notwithstanding the Conformity of their Speech and Actions” (L 46.39). There is no basis for punishing a non-virtuous individual who performs just actions out of “feare” or “because his Will is not framed by the Justice, but by the apparent benefit of what he is to do” (L 15.10). This is the point of Hobbes’s distinction between just men and just actions in paragraphs 10-12 of chapter 15: the justice of “Manners” or character is a eudaimonistic obligation prescribed by natural law as conducive to felicity; but juridical obligations owed to others concern solely the “Justice of Actions.” So not only can Hobbesian individuals be motivated by justice, not being motivated by justice does not itself imply a violation of their juridical obligation. Juridical obligations do not require any particular mental states. We may, of course, decide to cut off relations with people of a vicious character—or, as Hobbes warned the Foole, we may refuse to enter into society with them in the first place—but we should be doing so, on Hobbes’s view, for prudential reasons. Resentment or revengefulness is out of place.
(It is true that, as I note in the book, Hobbes deemed it appropriate to punish unjust actions differentially on the basis of the person’s imputed mental states. For example, the punishment for murder may be different than for homicide because the former involves malicious intent. But there is no sense in which the justice of an action—i.e., fulfilling one’s juridical obligations—requires specific motivations.)
Eggers’ second argument about the incompatibility of Hobbesian psychology and juridical obligation suffers the same fate. Here is the argument as I understand it: First, if we hold people accountable for their actions, but all action derives, as Hobbes believed, from the will, then “within the Hobbesian framework, we can only hold someone accountable for his will.” Second, if “all that can ever motivate Hobbesian individuals are considerations of self-interest, then this means that in holding someone accountable for violating his contractual obligations, we ultimately blame him for not acquiring the appropriate self-interested motivation, that is, for not behaving prudently.” But then it looks as if one is reduced to holding individuals accountable for actions because they were imprudent, i.e., because of a violation of eudaimonistic obligation—which appears to collapse the distinction between the two dimensions of normativity.
There are three problems with this argument. First, as we have seen, Hobbes did not think that only considerations of self-interest can motivate people. Second, even though all action is for Hobbes caused by the will (desire), it does not follow that in holding people accountable for their actions we thereby “ultimately” hold them accountable for their will or desires. Again, as we have seen, on Hobbes’s view we sanction people for their actions, not for the will that caused the action—nor, indeed, for the opinion that caused the will, nor for the food they ate that caused the appetite that became their will, nor for the rain that nourished the food they ate, etc. The normative force of blame and accountability does not always retrace whatever paths had been forged by empirical relations of causation. Third, there is a difference between holding people accountable for actions that are imprudent and holding them accountable for actions because they are imprudent. For Hobbes, because violations of juridical obligation are also imprudent, when people are held accountable they are held accountable for actions that turn out also to be imprudent. Nonetheless, one has the standing to hold them accountable for violations on the basis, not of the actions’ imprudence, but of their being violations of juridical obligation.
Arash Abizadeh (McGill University)
This online colloquium has been established to discuss Arash Abizadeh’s recent book, Hobbes and Two Faces of Ethics. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Abizadeh, followed by responses from Sandra Field and Michael LeBuffe. We now have a response from Daniel Eggers (Köln), and will conclude with a reply by Arash Abizadeh next week. Many thanks to Cambridge University Press for supporting this colloquium.
One of the main ideas running through Abizadeh’s impressive book, Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics, is the idea that Hobbes’s doctrine of the laws of nature and his theory of contractual agreements are largely independent of one another and that agreements give rise to strict moral obligations that can neither be reduced to nor be derived from the purely prudential obligation towards the laws of nature.
To be sure, neither of these two claims is new. They have previously been defended, for instance, by D. D. Raphael and by Bernd Ludwig whose book Die Wiederentdeckung des Epikureischen Naturrechtes provides their most systematic and comprehensive defence. Yet, Abizadeh clearly goes beyond these earlier discussions and arguably improves upon them.
Firstly, Abizadeh does not forward the evolutionary reading defended by Ludwig according to which the independence of the two elements of Hobbes’s overall system is only achieved in Leviathan.
Secondly, and again unlike Ludwig, Abizadeh does not go as far as to claim that the laws of nature are not obligatory at all—and therefore does not have a similar problem with the fact that Hobbes explicitly and repeatedly describes the laws of nature in these terms, both in the earlier works and Leviathan.
Thirdly, Abizadeh locates the relevant claims within the context of some broader conceptual distinctions informed by modern metaethics. According to Abizadeh, Hobbes distinguishes between two different spheres of normativity: normativity in the ‘attributability sense’ and normativity in the ‘accountability sense’. While the former only requires that one can legitimately be criticized for one’s behaviour, as is already the case when one behaves imprudently, the second sense presupposes an interpersonal practice of assuming a second-person standpoint and holding one another accountable. Corresponding to this latter distinction is a distinction between two different types of normative reasons: eudaimonistic reasons of the good on the one hand and genuinely moral reasons of the right on the other.
Fourthly, Abizadeh introduces additional evidence for this supposed ‘chasm’ in Hobbes’s theory. Though some of his key evidence is already drawn upon by Raphael or Ludwig (such as Hobbes’s ‘official definition’ of obligation (L 14.65), his claim that there is “no obligation on any man, which ariseth not from some Act of his own” (L 21.11) and Leviathan’s table of the sciences in which “ETHIQUES” and “The Science of JUST and UNJUST” appear as separate enterprises), Abizadeh also appeals to Hobbes’s distinction between a narrow and a broad sense of ‘sin’ (peccatum), his opposition of counsel and command and his claim that the laws of nature fail to qualify as proper laws.
Fifthly, Abizadeh ultimately infers from his analysis a specific claim about Hobbes’s place in the history of moral and political philosophy. According to Abizadeh, Hobbes revolutionizes ethical theory by transforming the traditional notions of obligation and natural law, and their mutual relation. As a result, Hobbes’s theory is viewed by him as marking a watershed in the history of both normative ethics and metaethics.
There can be no doubt, then, about the originality of Abizadeh’s way of articulating and defending the two ideas under consideration. This is not to say, however, that his discussion does not give rise to some of the same worries that are raised by Raphael’s and Ludwig’s interpretations.
For one thing, though Abizadeh may not go as far as claiming that the laws of nature impose no kind of obligation whatsoever, he does emphasize that only the obligation arising from agreements is ‘true’ obligation, and the question is: what entitles us to pay such disregard to Hobbes’s own repeated application of the term? The strongest support seems to be provided by the passage from the chapter ‘The Liberty of Subjects’ already referred to above. Yet, if we read this passage in the way Abizadeh suggests, then Hobbes’s claim is simply incompatible with his own use of the term and many of his relevant statements. However, if we read it in a way compatible with this use—for example, by taking the statement to refer, more narrowly, to ‘The Obligation of Subjects’—they provide no support for denying that the obligation towards the laws of nature is proper obligation, too.
Similar considerations apply to Hobbes’s ‘official definition’ of obligation. That the passage has a definitory nature is hard to deny. However, the concession that large parts of Hobbes’s discussion of obligation are in contradiction with his own ‘official definition’ of the term is by no means a tempting one. Moreover, there are other examples where definitory statements provided by Hobbes do not have the comprehensive application they intuitively seem to have, as with Hobbes’s definition of liberty as the absence of external impediments which is inapplicable to the liberty constituting the right of nature. Rather than taking Hobbes’s statement to mean that the obligation towards the laws of nature is not ‘really’ obligation, therefore, we should perhaps better take it to mean that it is importantly different from the one arising from contractual agreements.
It is important to emphasize that this view does not yet commit us to the interpretive claim Abizadeh ultimately defends. According to Abizadeh, the obligations are not only different, they are of an entirely different kind. What distinguishes them is that they do not have the same normative status: while the obligation towards the laws of nature is purely prudential, the obligation generated by agreements is entirely independent of the negative consequences that might redound to the agent.
Yet, in my opinion, the textual evidence cited by Abizadeh does not sufficiently support this specific claim. For example, the fact that obligations arising from agreements are directed obligations, i.e. obligations in virtue of which I specifically owe something to someone, is fully compatible with the idea that their normative authority ultimately derives from prudential considerations. Likewise, Hobbes’s distinction between the broad and narrow senses of peccatum and his distinction between counsel and command are entirely neutral with regard to the question of what grounds our obligation towards contractual agreements. The same applies to the related claim that the laws of nature are not properly laws. The laws of nature are not properly laws because they do not have a law-giver (unless we conceive of them as expressions of God’s will). However, the question of whether the laws of nature express the will of someone with the authority to make laws and command certain behavior is neither here nor there with regard to the question of whether the normative status of the obligation towards these laws differs from the normative status of contractual obligations.
This leaves Abizadeh’s more explicit arguments on why the obligation towards contractual agreements is neither reducible to nor derivable from the prudential obligation towards the laws of nature, which are provided in chapter 6.2. In discussing the first point, Abizadeh rejects S. A. Lloyd’s ‘reciprocity interpretation’ of the laws of nature. With regard to the issue under consideration, however, this rejection does not have any real import since the question thereby being answered is not whether the obligations towards contractual agreements might not really be prudential, but the opposite question of whether the obligation towards the laws of nature might not really be non-prudential. Similarly, the way in which Abizadeh tackles the second issue, namely by distinguishing between the prudential reasons we have for assuming the second-person standpoint and the properties in virtue of which we have the normative power to take on contractual obligations, does not suffice to show that there must be such a thing as strictly moral, non-prudential obligation in Hobbes. For all Abizadeh tells us, the interpersonal practice of assuming a second-person standpoint, from which our directed obligations are said to emerge, might only be needed for determining the content and scope of our directed obligations, without these obligations therefore acquiring a non-prudential normative status.
In my view, then, the positive evidence provided in support of Abizadeh’s reading falls short of supporting his crucial claim—even if it may show quite impressively how keen Hobbes was on discussing the normative realm created by contractual agreements in its own right. Moreover, any interpretation of Hobbes that wants to drive a wedge between the two types of obligation needs to come up with a plausible explanation for the existence of the third law of nature and for the fact that Hobbes repeatedly discusses contractual agreements from a prudential perspective, as in his famous ‘reply to the Foole’. According to Abizadeh, what explains the link between prudence and contractual obligation is that Hobbesian individuals can only ever be motivated to fulfill their strict moral obligations in virtue of prudential considerations and that the self-interest of an agent serves as a general constraint on the obligations we can possibly attract by means of contractual agreements.
In my view, this attempt of reconciling the two spheres of normativity creates further problems, if not for Abizadeh, then for Hobbes. One question is whether the above account is compatible with the principle ‘ought implies can’ to which Hobbes obviously subscribes (see also Abizadeh’s discussion of the conditions of moral responsibility in chapter 4.1). Abizadeh’s treatment suggests that the principle is respected if there is some way for individuals to act in accordance with their contractual obligations or some way for them to be motivated to act in the relevant manner. However, one might think that the principle actually requires something stronger, namely that we can fulfill our strict moral obligations as strict moral obligations and be motivated by the fact that we are obliged in this specific sense.
Furthermore, it is not clear that Abizadeh’s solution sits well with the idea of accountability in terms of which he explicates strict moral obligation. According to Hobbes, it is impossible for us not to act on our will (unless, of course, we are hindered by some external factor). This suggests that, within the Hobbesian framework, we can only hold someone accountable for his will, that is, for that which the individual was overridingly motivated to do. If we hold someone accountable for not fulfilling his contractual obligations, then, we really hold him accountable for not being sufficiently motivated to fulfill these obligations. Yet, if all that can ever motivate Hobbesian individuals are considerations of self-interest, then this means that in holding someone accountable for violating his contractual obligations, we ultimately blame him for not acquiring the appropriate self-interested motivation, that is, for not behaving prudently. However, this suggests that the position Abizadeh ascribes to Hobbes, namely a combination of a modern accountability conception of contractual obligation and a “egoist-hedonist psychology” (229), is internally unstable. In fact, something similar seems to follow from the concession that our self-interest provides a general constraint for our strict moral obligations since the resulting view suggests that, after all, the fundamental normative value of Hobbes’s theory is self-interest and that we are only ever obliged by our own good, that is, prudentially.
The least we may say of Abizadeh’s analysis, therefore, is that he tends to treat Hobbes overly charitably and keeps quiet about some serious problems that are attached to the supposed enterprise of separating reasons of the right from reasons of the good—problems that fully come to the fore in the works of later moral philosophers, most famously in the works of Immanuel Kant.
Daniel Eggers (Universität zu Köln)
In Leviathan, Hobbes outlines the concept of the ‘Kingdome of God by Nature’ or ‘Naturall Kingdome of God’, terms rarely found in English texts at the time. This article traces the concept back to the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), which sets forth a threefold understanding of God’s kingdom – the kingdoms of nature, grace, and glory – none of which refer to civil commonwealths on earth. Hobbes abandons this Catholic typology and transforms the concept of the natural kingdom of God to advance a claim often missed by his interpreters: Leviathan-states are the manifestation of a real, not metaphorical, kingdom of God. This argument plays a key role in Leviathan, which identifies the kingdom of God as the Christian doctrine most subject to abuse. Hobbes harshly criticizes Catholic and Presbyterian clergy for claiming to represent God’s kingdom. This claim, he argues, comes with the subversive implication that the church possesses spiritual and temporal authority, and caused great turmoil during the English Civil War. As an alternative, Hobbes points to civil commonwealths as the manifestation of God’s natural kingdom, which is the only form his kingdom currently takes.