Jessica Wolfe, Homer and the Question of Strife from Erasmus to Hobbes (University of Toronto Press, 2015)
About this Book: From antiquity through the Renaissance, Homer’s epic poems – the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the various mock-epics incorrectly ascribed to him – served as a lens through which readers, translators, and writers interpreted contemporary conflicts. They looked to Homer for wisdom about the danger and the value of strife, embracing his works as a mythographic shorthand with which to describe and interpret the era’s intellectual, political, and theological struggles.
Homer and the Question of Strife from Erasmus to Hobbes elegantly exposes the ways in which writers and thinkers as varied as Erasmus, Rabelais, Spenser, Milton, and Hobbes presented Homer as a great champion of conflict or its most eloquent critic. Jessica Wolfe weaves together an exceptional range of sources, including manuscript commentaries, early modern marginalia, philosophical and political treatises, and the visual arts. Wolfe’s transnational and multilingual study is a landmark work in the study of classical reception that has a great deal to offer to anyone examining the literary, political, and intellectual life of early modern Europe.
A new German translation of Behemoth
This year Meiner Verlag fur Philosophie published Peter Schröder‘s new translation and edition of Behemoth. Dr. Schröder explains why this new edition was necessary, and outlines some of the main arguments of his new introduction to the text:
There are obvious practical reasons why a new German translation of Behemoth was desirable. The fact that the existing translation has been out of print for quite some time is the most evident one. My new translation makes this important text available in German again. Even if German students are rightly asked to engage with the original text, a reading in translation of their native language facilitates access to the often undervalued sophistication of the arguments in this text. This new translation also offered the possibility to address some shortcomings and even factual errors of the previous translation, done in 1927 by Julius Lips and reproduced more or less unaltered in Herfried Münkler’s 1990 edition. The explanatory notes of this new edition are considerably expanded and key concepts in English are directly inserted in the text, which should lead to a better understanding of what Hobbes was trying to do. Given that Paul Seaward’s edition of Behemoth in the Clarendon edition was published recently, this was also the opportunity to provide references to this edition on each page of the German translation. This allows German readers to navigate easily between the German translation and the English original now available in Seaward’s edition.
Apart from these specific needs of German students of philosophy, politics, law and the history of political thought, this edition also provided a welcome opportunity to highlight the importance of Behemoth within the oeuvre of Hobbes’s political thought. In my introductory essay “Behemoth or the Long Parliament im Kontext von Hobbes’ politischer Philosophie” (p. VII-LIII), Behemoth is interpreted as a specific contribution to Hobbes’s political philosophy. Despite the obvious link, already suggested by their titles, there is a closer argumentative connection between Leviathan and Behemoth than has been previously recognised. My introduction traces developments from the Elements via De Cive and Leviathan to Behemoth. I argue that Hobbes was increasingly aware that state authority or sovereignty depended not only on de facto power, but also – and perhaps even more crucially – on the ability to direct public opinion. As has been argued before, Behemoth can be seen as an attempt to influence public opinion and to describe the necessary conditions for how this can be achieved. Two main aspects can be discerned in this respect: the importance of confessional strife and the role universities play in public education. Behemoth was also one of Hobbes’s attempts to ward off the increasingly hostile attacks against him by the Anglicans, who had regained considerable political influence after the restoration. Hobbes tried hard to coin, and influence the use of, concepts through which contemporary discussions of political power and its execution were framed. This was a promising strategy in a serious ideological and political battle. Despite Hobbes’s attempts to portray himself as an objective arbiter of the ideological conflicts of the Civil War, such a position was impossible. One way to understand his goals in Behemoth, therefore, is that it was yet another, albeit failed, attempt to present his theory as above the fray of ordinary politics.
Jess Keiser: ‘Very Like a Whale: Metaphor and Materialism in Hobbes and Swift’, Modern Philology, 113,2 (2015)
This new article argues for a connection between Hobbes’s materialist philosophy and his satirical style. It goes on to suggest that Hobbes in turn influenced Jonathan Swift, despite the latter’s attacks on his materialism.
Thomas Holden: ‘Hobbes’s First Cause’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 53, 4 (2015)
Abstract: Hobbes maintains that natural human reason can prove the existence of a “first cause of all causes.” But he also maintains that for all natural human reason can tell, the regress of causes might recede to infinity with no beginning at all. I argue that this apparent contradiction dissolves once we take his expressivist interpretation of religious language into account. For Hobbes, the proper function of talk about the divine attributes, including talk about its status as the “first cause of all,” is not to represent the nature of the deity, but simply to express our reverence and humility before it.
Special Issue of Philosophical Inquires: Revue des Philosophes Anglophones: ‘Bacon et Hobbes : le sens d’un silence’ (June 2015)
The issue contains the following articles:
Jean Terrel, Hobbes et Bacon : une relation décisive
Arnaud Milanese, Sur le passage de Bacon à Hobbes : un système et ses tensions
Jauffrey Berthier, Prudence juridique et prudence politique chez Bacon et Hobbes
A new issue of Hobbes Studies is now available, including the following articles:
Noel Malcolm, ‘Hobbes and sexual desire‘
Abstract: Hobbes has long been associated with the sexual ‘libertinism’ of the Restoration period. The connections that are commonly made are crude, misrepresenting his philosophy; moreover, the attitude to sexual matters expressed in many of his published works was quite puritanical. Yet there are elements of his thought that could be taken to support a libertine agenda: hostility to Augustinian teaching on lust and chastity; the idea that marriage laws are merely human; a recognition of self-regarding elements in sexual psychology; and the idea that desires in themselves are not sins. On this last point, however, Hobbes’s distinction between desires and intentions to act, combined with his account of the role of imagination in desire, does make it possible to attribute to him a distinctly non-libertine theory of how sexual behaviour is modified in civil society.
Joanne Paul, ‘Counsel, Command and Crisis’
Abstract: Although the distinction between counsel and command in Hobbes’s works, especially Leviathan, has been often acknowledged, it has been little studied. This article provides background and analysis of this critical distinction by placing it in conversation with the works of Henry Parker and in the context of the English Civil War, especially as regards the discussion of prudence, interests and crisis. In so doing, three conclusions can be drawn. First, it becomes clear that for both Parker and Hobbes, counsel serves as a foundation to their arguments about the placement and function of sovereignty. Second, in grounding their arguments about sovereignty in the discourse of counsel, both authors – intentionally or unintentionally – undermine the previously critical discourse of counsel. Finally, we see that especially Hobbes’s engagement with and overthrow of the discourse of counsel profoundly alters of the terms and focus of modern political debate, moving from a ‘monarchy of counsel’ to a discussion of political sovereignty.
Gregory J. Robson, ‘Two Psychological Defenses of Hobbes’s Claim Against the “Fool”’
Abstract: A striking feature of Thomas Hobbes’s account of political obligation is his discussion of the Fool, who thinks it reasonable to adopt a policy of selective, self-interested covenant breaking. Surprisingly, scholars have paid little attention to the potential of a psychological defense of Hobbes’s controversial claim that the Fool behaves irrationally. In this paper, I first describe Hobbes’s account of the Fool and argue that the kind of Fool most worth considering is the covert, long-term Fool. Then I advance and critically assess two psychological arguments according to which the Fool’s policy of self-interested covenant breaking is prudentially irrational. The first argument holds that, taken together, the deep guilt from early-stage covenant breaking, the cumulative guilt from continued covenant breaking, and the high statistical risk of detection during high-volume covenant breaking (which increases greatly when one is desensitized to guilt) render the Fool’s policy irrational. The second argument holds that the Fool’s policy is irrational because it puts him at risk of adopting a psychologically intolerable view of his fellow covenanters and, specifically, the extent to which they can be trusted.
Andrew T. Forcehimes, ‘Leviathans Restrained: International Politics for Artificial Persons’
Abstract: This essay challenges the analogy argument. The analogy argument aims to show that the international domain satisfies the conditions of a Hobbesian state of nature: There fails to be a super-sovereign to keep all in awe, and hence, like persons in the state of nature, sovereigns are in a war every sovereign against every sovereign. By turning to Hobbes’ account of authorization, however, we see that subjects are under no obligation to obey a sovereign’s commands when doing so would contradict the very end that motivated the authorization of the sovereign in the first place. There is thus an important disanalogy between natural and artificial persons, and this accordingly produces different reactions to the state of nature.
This issue also contains reviews by Nicholas Gooding of Images of Anarchy: The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature by Ioannis D. Evrigenis, and by Juhana Lemetti of the Clarendon edition of Leviathan, edited by Noel Malcolm.