Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan presented a paradigm of the social contract that has proven foundational in Western political thought. A proper understanding of the philosopher’s thought is thus of paramount importance. I argue that today’s case for a religiously tolerant Hobbes has missed an important part of the historical record. I first consider an obscure but important document, the second edition of the Humble Proposals. It demonstrates that leading members of a seventeenth century Christian denomination, the Independents, considered a state-enforced confession of faith. Independents are generally seen as tolerant, and one of the arguments for Hobbesian toleration is that Hobbes endorsed them. But the second edition of the Humble Proposals aligns with the possibility in Hobbes that the civil sovereign will impose part III of Leviathan on the Universities and treat its contents as a legally required confession of faith – one that may be necessary for security, and the avoidance of civil war. Hobbes’s endorsement of Independency alone cannot be used to argue that his work leads to religious toleration. The evidence I present reinforces an earlier assessment and alongside other evidence points to the return of the intolerant Hobbes.
The predication of the eternal law served as premise and and foundation for the existence of the law of nature in the classical/medieval intellectual inheritance of Thomas Hobbes and his contemporaries. Unlike them, he makes no mention of the eternal law in his early writings, The Elements of Law Natural and Politic, and On the Citizen. His triple use of the expression eternal law of God in Leviathan is ambiguous and misleading. Instead , he is one of the first writers in English to assert the eternity of the law of nature. He does that by invoking a biblical-based expression, verbum aeternum. In On the Citizen, and its exegetical, theological identification with Christ, to establish that claim. In Leviathan he repeats his declaration that the law of nature is eternal nine times, spread across more than five Chapters and twelve hundred pages. Four of them are equivalently excised from the Latin Leviathan and the others remain brief assertions, unanalyzed and undefended, rendering their effect incidental and perfunctory. He also abandons the expression verbum aeternum (as well as eternal word, which he never uses).
After abandoning the approach taken in The Elements of Law, Hobbes used De Cive to establish his new civil science on a materialist basis, thus challenging the dualist foundations of Descartes’s mechanical philosophy. This shift is analysed here with close reference to the discontinuity in Hobbes’s use of the concepts of ‘laws of nature’ and ‘right reason’. The article argues that, the descriptive nature of mechanics notwithstanding, De Cive’s foundational aim left civil science with the normative task of producing its own material conditions of possibility until, in Leviathan, Hobbes went as far as reconsidering Plato’s philosophical commitment to political pedagogy.
This paper explores Hobbes’s relationship to Lucretius. Building on scholarship dealing with Hobbes’s knowledge and use of Lucretius, I show that in Leviathan Hobbes decisively rejected central features of Lucretius’ argument. Hobbes’s rejection of these features, in turn, highlights the distinctiveness of key features of his argument about the passions and language, the distinctively authoritarian version of his contract theory, and his ultimate rejection of Lucretius’ Epicurean project.
This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor, followed by responses from Ted H. Miller and Patricia Springborg. We now have a response from Alan Cromartie, before finishing with a reply by Timothy Raylor next week. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.
It is a pleasure to welcome Timothy Raylor’s Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. Both specialists in rhetoric and generalist Hobbes scholars will surely find much to admire in its careful presentation. As someone doing work that crosses much of the same ground, I was grateful for the thoroughness of the picture it presents and the deftness and acuteness with which it summarises existing scholarship. Irreversible local advances range from the discovery of natural-philosophical concerns in De mirabilibus pecci to the removal of doubts about the Hobbesian authorship of A briefe of the art of rhetorique. The most striking claims, however, are that Hobbes’s ‘attitude to rhetoric underwent no radical changes during the course of his long life’ (11) and that it remained essentially Aristotelian in basis. To my mind, these claims are convincing; the difficulties lie in working out the implications for the precise relationship of rhetoric with logic. Given the opportunity, I’d like to ask two questions, both raised by presupposing that Hobbes’s rhetoric is broadly Aristotelian in nature. The first is concerned with what lies within the scope of ‘rhetoric’; the second with what lies outside the scope of Hobbesian ‘logic’. The starting point of both is some remarks about A briefe.
There is a case for saying that Hobbes’s concern with ‘belief’ involves a subtle distortion of Aristotle’s views, re-orienting study of the possible means of persuasion towards an unqualified focus on the endpoint of the process. But A briefe is unquestionably loyal to its Aristotelian source in treating the ‘belief’ produced by the art of rhetoric as coming ‘partly from the behaviour of the speaker; partly from the passions of the hearer: but especially from the proofes of what we alledge’ (Briefe, 5) – in other words, from êthos, pathos, but especially logos. The Digest and A briefe are both surprisingly insistent on the dominant role of logic in the art of rhetoric. Moreover, the logic that interests Hobbes is formally valid logic; he shows surprisingly little concern with fallacies (less, certainly, than Sturmius and Goulston). He mentions the use of examples—characterised as ‘short inductions’—but he is much more interested in ‘short syllogisms’ (that is, in enthymemes), which are for the most part presented as conventional syllogisms whose fault is that they are based upon endoxa. The Latin Digest’s summary of Book One, Chapter Six goes so far as to provide cross-references explaining the logical links that obtain between the colours of good. Significantly, Hobbes departs from Aristotle’s text in interpreting refutative enthymemes as arguments ‘wherein from that which the Adversary maintaineth, wee conclude that which is manifestly impossible’ (Briefe, 131). The Greek does not specifically refer to this kind of manoeuvre. In other words, Hobbes was using his rhetoric classes to teach the earl of Devonshire a kind of argument that was to be essential to his ‘scientific’ thinking.
My first question, then, is concerned with the survival of this capacious view of the art of rhetoric in the political writings of his maturity. Aristotle’s appeals to êthos, pathos, and logos all have a fairly obvious potential to go wrong: the hearer’s faith may be misplaced, his passions may distract him, and the commonly held opinions on which his ‘proofs’ are based may be in various respects misleading. But they can also go right; indeed, they must go right if any political order is to be sustainable. Belief is not only the basis of Christianity, but the default condition of human interaction. The Elements tells us that ‘there be many things which we receive from the reports of others, of which it is impossible to imagine any cause of doubt’; such things compose ‘a great part of our histories’ (EL, I.vii.9). Moreover, when specific people do specific things, they do so at the prompting of the passions. Reason is even powerless to make hearers pay attention (217). The point is not just that fear is at the heart of political life, nor even (if Oakeshott and others are right) that good behaviour can be driven by a generous pride, but that the causal chain that sets a human being in motion invariably passes through a passion. From his translation of Thucydides onwards, Hobbes is hostile to deliberate inflammation of the passions (of the type that will inevitably occur in large assemblies), but any presentation of future goods and evils will of its nature stimulate a passion-driven response. Lastly, there is some suggestion that ‘logic’ is still a component of what Hobbes calls ‘eloquence’, at least in the passage at Civ, xii.12 where the ‘art’ of one type of ‘eloquence’ is said to be logic, while the ‘art’ of the other—involving the use of metaphors and endoxa—is ‘rhetoric’ (a weaker claim, I think, than saying that these manoeuvres simply are rhetoric). I agree that this kind of contrast between ‘rhetoric’ and ‘logic’ is in a pejorative sense of the term a rhetorical manoeuvre (182), improperly implying that the art of rhetoric should be identified with some of its aspects. But has anything else really changed?
My second question is concerned with logic’s limitations. Here I differ from the view that natural philosophy is something less than science (14). This raises some deep problems that it would be impossible to settle by quotation. I take it, though, that Hobbes’s official position is that ‘science’ is conditional knowledge; the ‘truth’ that is involved in scientific propositions takes the form ‘if x, then y’. Civil science and geometry do have the special advantage that human beings can bring x about, but science by its very nature rests on suppositions and cannot lead to any non-hypothetical conclusions. Leviathan, Chapter Seven could hardly be clearer that ‘no Discourse whatsoever, can End in absolute Knowledge of Fact, past or to come’ (Lev 1651, 30); not only is there no path from fact to ‘science’, there is equally no path from science to fact. There may of course be passages in which Hobbes lapses from this very radical position, implying that a factual correspondence can be ‘true’ (at 179, the principia vera of Civ, x.11 are a possible example), but if we take it seriously, then science relates tp words, not things. This was the view, at all events, that Hobbes himself expressed in his ‘Objections’ to Descartes (190). Science can police our language—discouraging, for instance, loose talk of ‘liberty’—but cannot map the words we use onto specific actions. If so, it is not much to the discredit of rhetoric that it pursues an object that is not strictly ‘truth’. One such object worth pursuing is destroying pernicious religion. Prophetic religion is based on a historic revelation: the faith of a believer is faith in testimony (in general of testimony that miracles occurred). In other words, its basis falls outside the scope of science. But because it is faith in a person, it is open to attack by anything that attacks that person’s êthos. This surely explains the highly rhetorical texture of Leviathan, Part IV: ‘Of the Kingdome of Darknesse’ that is acknowledged on all sides to constitute a problem.
More tentatively, it can be suggested that the tone of the rest of the volume is appropriate to a project that has some elements of advocacy (deliberative rhetoric encouraging specific people to do specific things: encouraging, for instance, royalists to acquiesce in a republic that they found repulsive). All Hobbes’s major works display much literary art, but Leviathan does seem to aim at different, more varied effects. Pace Schuhmann, these effects do seem consistent with the view that
‘in all Deliberations, and in all Pleadings, the Faculty of solid Reasoning is necessary: for without it, the Resolutions of men are rash, and their Sentences unjust: and yet if there be not powerfull Eloquence, which procureth attention and Consent, the effects of Reason will be little’ (Lev, 389).
It is true that this passage forms part of an argument Hobbes rejects, but the claim that he objects to is not the premise that eloquence is necessary ‘in all deliberations’, but the conclusion that the faculty of eloquence cannot co-exist in one person with solid reasoning. If Leviathan just is deliberative rhetoric, should we be surprised that it uses rhetorical techniques?
Professor Alan Cromartie (University of Reading)
We asked some leading scholars to identify areas of Hobbes studies that they think have been relatively under-studied to date and deserve greater attention. Here’s what they suggested. (We welcome further suggestions from Hobbes scholars and will happily add them to this post.)
The “continental” Hobbes – Hobbes’s metaphysical, scientific and theological thought in his relations with correspondents in France and on the continent (in particular P. Gassendi and the circle of erudite libertines, including P. Sorbière and La Mothe Le Vayer).
We usually consider Hobbes to be a great English thinker, and to place him in that context, but we do not often take sufficient store of the fact that he wrote some of his most important works (e.g. Leviathan, De cive and most of De corpore) during the decade of his exile in France (1641–1651), notably in Paris, that is on the continent. In this perspective, it would be helpful to study the printed and manuscript sources related to his “continental” stay.
This aspect has been studied significantly with regard to the debate with Descartes regarding his Meditations, to which Hobbes wrote a series of Objections; however, much less study has been focused on the relationships and ties between Hobbes and the thinkers that were closer to him from a metaphysical, epistemological and also political standpoint, such as the so-called French “libertines” and Pierre Gassendi. Gassendi, in turn, represented the Epicurean renewal, which interested Hobbes both due to its materialist bent as for the importance accorded to instituting a conventional contract as a source of law and politics. This genuine network of Epicurean friendships, in which an interest in science and a passion for philosophy went hand in hand, has yet to be explored in depth. In particular, the manuscripts connected to Sorbière (close friend of both Hobbes and Gassendi) and his correspondence (manuscripts held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris) could provide us with new clues into Hobbes’s associations in Paris and the intellectual ties that he was able to establish with the French neo-Epicurean and libertine tradition. We also need to study systematically the manuscripts (conserved in Tours) that demonstrate the various steps of Gassendi’s writing of Syntagma philosophicum. These manuscripts are very interesting, as they enable us to compare the parallel evolution of both systems during Hobbes’s decade in Paris.
I think there are still many important questions to be asked about the young Hobbes. How significant was his sojourn in Italy and France in 1614/15? What more might be learned about his relationship with Francis Bacon? What are we to think of his work as a translator? When and why did he translate Thucydides’s History, and how political was his translation? How important was his Latin version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric for his understanding of the theory of eloquence? How far may that in turn have been important in relation to his project for a science of politics? Some of the finest historical work on Hobbes of recent times has of course addressed these and related issues – most obviously the work of Kinch Hoekstra, Noel Malcolm, Timothy Raylor and the late Karl Schuhmann. But it seems to me there’s still considerable scope for more research on Hobbes’s intellectual formation and development.
My immediate thoughts concern possibilities for empirical research. Quentin Skinner in his recent book, From Humanism to Hobbes—tracing the immediate context for Hobbes’s breakthrough in Leviathan of treating the person of the state as artificial, the seat of power—has made brilliant use of the Thomason Collection of documents held in the British Library, comprising some 22,000 items including civil war pamphlets, and especially those which parroted some of the most exaggerated arguments for popular sovereignty of the radical French Huguenot’s whom Hobbes was desperately concerned to refute. This material must somehow have made its way to Paris, where Hobbes was writing, and there must still be traces of it in the Bibliothèque Nationale or the innumerable private libraries which have survived. Far too little work has been done on Hobbes’s period in Paris, and especially empirical work.
Elsewhere I have suggested that Hobbes is also a perfect candidate for prosopography, which allows us to create from the careers of individuals nested in important networks a profile for the group, to try to throw light on ideas and actions for which in individual cases, like that of Hobbes, we lack material evidence. The parallels between the factions that ran the parliament of 1621, for which we have excellent records, and those which ran the Virginia Company, of which we also have excellent minutes, are striking. Hobbes’s patron, Cavendish, in making Hobbes a member of the Virginia and Somers Island Companies, of which he turned out to be one of the most diligent members, was surely stacking the court. But to what end? Such a study would teach us more about the Virginia Company as a school for politicians, and its possible impact on the formation of Hobbes’s ideas on government and public administration in the critical chapters 22, 24, and 29 of Leviathan!
In his major works of political philosophy, Hobbes makes striking pronouncements about sexual behaviour. For example, in De Cive he asserts that no sexual behaviour is forbidden in nature, that there can be no such thing as marriage in the absence of a civil state, that what counts as adultery is determined entirely by the positive law, and that marriages can be dissolved or not, depending on those laws. In Leviathan he adds that men can take as many wives as the law of their country permits.
Some of these claims are accorded a few sentences of explanation or defence, but most are simply asserted. Even when Hobbes does try to provide some justification for these pronouncements, it tends to be unsatisfactory. His various remarks about sex appear prominently in harsh criticisms by Hobbes’s contemporaries. Bishop Bramhall castigates Hobbes for his remarks on adultery and divorce while the Earl of Clarendon expresses horror at his allowance of polygamy. Present-day readers may not share the horror of Hobbes’s contemporaries. They nevertheless are entitled to an explanation for why Hobbes holds these views, which arguments he enlists to defend them, and how those views fit into his overall moral and political theory.
What are we, today, to make of Hobbes’s provocative claims about sex? How should we understand his view on sex, given that he offers scant or unsatisfying explanations for what he says about it?
Mainstream Hobbes scholarship sheds little light on these questions. With a few notable exceptions, Hobbes scholars of the past, say, fifty years have not had much, if anything, to say about sex. Although there is a growing industry of feminist political theorists, literary critics, and even some philosophers who take up Hobbes on the question of gender, few consider questions about sex and sexuality apart from gender.
Hobbes does not give a systematic view of human sexuality or sexual morality. The pieces of texts where he mentions the subjects are scattered throughout his different works and they are brief. Can we reconstruct Hobbes’s position from these scattered remarks and the logic behind them? If so, how does this effect understanding Hobbes’s overall philosophical political project and what implications does it have for the debates over how to understand Hobbes’s views on gender?