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Article: Forgiveness and reconciliation in Hobbes’s natural law theory

Maximilian Jaede: ‘Forgiveness and reconciliation in Hobbes’s natural law theory’, in History of European Ideaspublished online: 23 Feb 2017 (DOI: 10.1080/01916599.2017.1287831)

Abstract: Thomas Hobbes’s laws of nature dictate the making and keeping of the social contract. In addition, Hobbes’s natural law theory considers traditional moral virtues, such as mercy and gratitude, as being conducive to peace. Some Hobbes scholars have argued that these other natural laws call for ‘forgiveness’ and facilitate ‘reconciliation’. However, as this essay shows, Hobbes does not use these terms to mean the reparation of broken relationships between victims and perpetrators. Rather, Hobbesian reconciliation refers to efforts to propitiate enemies in order to win their favour, while forgiveness is a synonym for pardon, in the sense of punishment-forbearance. It is argued that neither of these requires true remorse and reparation of the wrong done. By contrasting Hobbes’s conception of anger with that of Aristotle, the article provides an explanation for why Hobbes maintains that the rage of enemies could be appeased by instrumental calculations of expected benefits, thus ignoring more deep-seated resentments caused by moral wrongs.