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Article: A Pragmatics of Political Judgment: Hobbes and Spinoza

Oliver Feltham: ‘A Pragmatics of Political Judgment: Hobbes and Spinoza’, Philosophy Today, 60, 1 (2016).

Abstract: The question of political judgement is usually addressed within a normative or epistemological framework. In contrast in this paper the approach is that of a pragmatics of judgement. The leading questions are what does political judgement do and how does it operate? This enquiry, carried out through an examination of political judgement in Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza, is shown to ineluctably lead to an ontology of action. These philosophers’ contrasting ontologies give rise to two different frameworks for political judgement whose avatars are still with us today: Hobbesian functionalism and Spinozist affirmationism. Finally these competing frameworks of judgement are put to the test of resolving—or at least treating—the very problem that gave rise to them in the first place in Hobbes and Spinoza’s philosophies, the problem of political conflict. The singularity of Spinoza’s affirmationist framework for judgement is identified as its capacity to pose the reflexive question of who the subject of judgement is for the object of judgement in the actual action of judgement. The hypothesis is that this question opens a way for both subject and object of judgement to increase their power to act and think.