Friday, November 14, 2008

The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes

Check out this new play by Adriano Shaplin, which features (you guessed it!) Thomas Hobbes:

"The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes brings vividly to life a period of history when science was the new theatre and philosophy became a new faith. It is a provocative and experimental journey back to a time of dead dogs, new gods and apparent miracles."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paper Abstracts

We'll be posting upcoming paper abstracts. So check back soon!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hobbes on drunkenness and cruelty

In De Cive, Hobbes says that drunkenness and cruelty are violations of natural law; “For I cannot see what drunkenness or cruelty (which is vengeance without regard to a future good) contribute to any man’s peace or preservation” (III.27n). I’ve always wondered about this passage. First, does anyone have any thoughts on what might be behind the drunkenness constraint? It seems plausible to say that in the state of nature, being drunk would only increase one’s vulnerability. But this doesn’t seem like enough to motivate an absolute prohibition on drunkenness. In Leviathan, Hobbes compares the actions of drunk men to the actions of madmen (8.23). So perhaps he is merely saying that he cannot imagine a situation in which acting like a madman could be conducive to a person’s preservation. Second and more importantly, given that the right of nature is the right to anything one judges conducive to one’s self-preservation, does that mean that the famous “right to all things” doesn’t include the right to be drunk or cruel? 

Monday, June 16, 2008

Women and lesser animals

It seems that Hobbes accords some fairly robust natural equality to women on the ground that they are sufficiently equal in strength and wit to men that arrangements between the sexes will have to be consensual. He says that dominion over children, in the absence of any express contract, resides in the mother because only she can declare who the father is. (Doesn't this seem like a terrible argument?) But he allows that non-human animals may permissibly, under the law of nature, be used (if they are tameable and useful) or killed (if they are noxious), not on Humean grounds that they are too weak to merit considerations of justice, but (it seems) on the ground that they would be unfairly advantaged if we were morally required to refrain from killing them while they were given moral impunity to kill us. Does this position make any sense?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Must commonwealths be able to defend themselves?

Hobbes seems to define a commonwealth as an entity of sufficient size and strength to deter would-be attackers. In an age of nuclear weapons and suicide bombers, can commonwealths or nations serve the function Hobbes assigned them?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hobbes on human nature

Would you characterize Hobbes's view of human nature as pessimistic, or merely realistic? Although he seems to adopt something like the later Bentham's "predominant egoism", he also acknowledges humans' tendency to form "transcendent interests", interests in the service of which they are willing to risk death , or embrace death. If the goal of political philosophy is to display, as Rawls insisted, a realistic utopia, can Hobbes's conception of human nature be a building block in anyb realistic utopia?

Could a system of divided and limited government count as a Hobbesian sovereign?

Certainly. Hobbes offers a functional definition of a sovereign as an authoritiative public judgment to resolve all disputes and enforce those decisions. Experience proves that a mixed and tempered system may serve that function. Even so, we should keep in mind that the American experiment had not lasted 100 years before it imploded into civil war. Was Hobbes right that these mixed systems are less stable?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lessons from a Materialist Thinker

“This is an intensively philosophical book that speaks importantly to issues in the philosophy of mind, of action, and of responsibility. The author is fully conversant with Cartesian and post-Cartesian anti-materialism and has a refined and complex understanding of the Hobbesean alternative to it. As the term "lessons" indicates, Frost aims to help us escape from Cartesian ways of thinking and to move us to a sense of ourselves and one another as material, embodied beings who can and should relate to one another in sinuous but mutually productive ways." —Richard Flathman, The Johns Hopkins University

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Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory

Both conflict and cooperation are ubiquitous features of human social life. Interests of individuals conflict with those of their neighbors because (among other reasons) material resources are scarce, ideals and values are diverse, and people care about their reputations and relative standing among their fellows. At the same time, individuals share a number of common interests and concerns, and this makes social cooperation possible. Among the most important of these common interests are the prevention and limitation of violent conflict and the protection of personal possessions. When these interests are secured and when environmental and economic conditions are reasonably favorable, people generally can live out their lives and engage in cooperative (and competitive) social activities without constant concern for their own survival and that of their loved ones. But it is not easy to secure persons and possessions when others may gain by attacking the former or seizing the latter. In fact, it requires two major social institutions--morality and government--working in a coordinated fashion to do so. This is one of the main themes of Hobbes's philosophy that will be developed in this book. -- Gregory S. Kavka

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Hobbes: A Biography

Hobbes's position as one of the founders and leading theorists of modern political philosophy has been established for some time. His connections with leading thinkers of his day, as well as his investigations in such fields as mathematics, physics, and religion, have placed him in the forefront of modern philosophy. Martinich's biography, one of the most accessible and thoroughly researched of recent years, delves into the motivations behind Hobbes's ideas, the events and people that influenced him, and the significance of his ideas for contemporary thought. At the same time, it shows him to have been a far wider-ranging thinker than may previously have been realized. Martinich's writing style is clear, and his exposition of Hobbes's thought is well within the reach of most readers, even those who do not have an extensive grounding in political theory or philosophy. Written by a Hobbes expert (e.g., A Hobbes Dictionary, Blackwell, 1995), this biography should serve most libraries well and should certainly be a part of any political theory or political philosophy collection. -- Terry C. Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Two Gods of Leviathan

As well as being considered the greatest English political philosopher, Hobbes has traditionally been thought of as a purely secular thinker, highly critical of all religion. In this provocative new study, Professor Martinich argues that conventional wisdom has been misled. In fact, he shows that religious concerns pervade Leviathan and that Hobbes was really intent on providing a rational defense of the Calvinistic Church of England that flourished under the reign of James I. Professor Martinich presents a close reading of Leviathan in which he shows that, for Hobbes, Christian doctrine is not politically destabilizing and is consistent with modern science.

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Ideals as Interests: The Power of Mind Over Matter (Lloyd)

S. A. Lloyd proposes a radically new interpretation of Hobbes's Leviathan that shows transcendent interests--interests that override the fear of death--to be crucial to both Hobbes's analysis of social disorder and his proposed remedy to it. Most previous commentators in the analytic philosophical tradition have argued that Hobbes thought that credible threats of physical force could be sufficient to deter people from political insurrection. Professor Lloyd convincingly shows that because Hobbes took the transcendence of religious and moral interests seriously, he never believed that mere physical force could ensure social order. Lloyd's interpretation demonstrates the ineliminability of that half of Leviathan devoted to religion, and attributes to Hobbes a much more plausible conception of human nature than the narrow psychological egoism traditionally attributed to Hobbes.

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