Thomas Hobbes Archives

More Generally: Historical Thinkers (257)

January 12, 2017

Berkeley and Hobbes

From a certain point of view (or perhaps several points of view), one might think that no two early modern philosophers are more opposed than Berkeley and Hobbes. True, both are empiricists, and the disagreement between rationalists and empiricists is often treated as the 'main event' of early modern philosophy. However, a comparison between Berkeley and Hobbes might well be regarded as a vivid and compelling illustration of the failings of the traditional rationalist-empiricist narrative. Note, for starters, that the ontologies of Berkeley and Hobbes are disjoint: Hobbes believes only in material substances, Berkeley believes only in spiritual (immaterial) substances....
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May 3, 2016

Two Definitions of 'Empiricism'

In traditional tellings of the history of early modern philosophy, the school of British empiricists - the Locke-Berkeley-Hume triumvirate - is seen as according foundational status to the Aristotelian principle, "nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses." This is, of course, given new formulations in terms of the modern 'Way of Ideas'. Their philosophical systems, so the story goes, are built on this foundation. However, there is another meaning of 'empiricism' that is more common in the early modern period. This notion goes back to the ancient 'empirics,' a school of physicians who eschewed theorizing in...
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February 19, 2011

Berkeley and Leibniz Should be Friends

In his 1733 Theory of Vision Vindicated, commenting on the prevalence of the deist and free-thinking movements in England and Ireland, and justifying his association of these views with outright atheism, Berkeley writes: That atheistical principles have taken deeper root, and are farther spread than most people are apt to imagine, will be plain to whoever considers that pantheism, materialism, fatalism are nothing but atheism a little disguised; that the notions of Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibnitz [sic], and Bayle are relished and applauded; that as they who deny the freedom and immortality of the soul in effect deny its being, even...
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November 29, 2010

Leibniz and Frankfurt on Freedom

The history of the debate on free will is sometimes narrated as follows: first, we have the 'classic compatibilists', starting from Hobbes, through Locke, Hume, and the positivists. At first these fellows square off against libertarians like Bramhall and Reid, who are (so the story goes) deservedly obscure. The debate is terribly unsophisticated: the compatibilists hold that freedom just is the ability to do what you want to do, the absence of any sort of external constraints. The libertarians require some kind of magic 'contra-causal' agent causation they can't explain. They slowly die out as English language philosophy is purified...
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April 13, 2010

Morality as a System of Assertoric Imperatives

I recently read Philippa Foot's paper "Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives" for an ethics class. The paper, as the name suggests, puts forward the view (which Foot has since rejected) that the imperatives of morality are merely hypothetical and not, as Kant had argued, categorical. What this means is that morality tells us how we should act if we want certain things, such as justice and the general happiness of humanity. As Foot recognizes, an untoward consequence of this view is that, if it is true, we can't sensibly tell people that they should want justice or the...
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January 12, 2010

Alternative Groupings of Early Modern Philosophers

Last month, there was some blog discussion about historiography and teaching methods in early modern philosophy. The standard story is evidently due to Hegel, and continues to be standard despite being unpopular among specialists in history of modern. It groups modern philosophers before Kant as follows:
Dana McCourt, blogging at The Edge of the American West...
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August 23, 2009

The Biblical Origin of Hobbes's State of Nature Theory

Thomas Hobbes is famous for his pessimistic state of nature theory. According to Hobbes, the 'state of nature' (i.e. anarchy) is a "warre of every man against every man" (Leviathan, p. 63 of the 1651 'Head' edition). The concepts of justice or injustice are, according to Hobbes, not applicable in this state of war. This is because injustice is defined as "the not Performance of Covenant" (p. 71). However, "If a Covenant be made, wherein neither of the parties performe presently, but trust one another; in the condition of meer nature ... upon any reasonable suspicion, it is Voyd"...
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March 19, 2009

(Self-)Quote of the Day: A Controversial Claim for Your Consideration

Hobbes's normative theory implicitly commits him to the belief that a constitutionally limited government of the sort that would later be described by John Locke would be a paradise if only it could be achieved and maintained.
    - Kenneth L. Pearce, "Deposing Leviathan: Hobbes and Locke on Grievances Against the State" (working draft)
This is the last sentence of a paper that I just finished my first draft of. (I'm running a little late - it's due tomorrow evening!) As I'm editing, I'll be taking a closer look to try to see whether I've really established a claim this strong...
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March 18, 2009

Hobbes, Locke, and Grievances Against the State

It is a fact of life that people frequently come into conflict in various ways: conflicts both about whether a certain action took place, and about whether that sort of action is acceptable. Thomas Hobbes calls the first of these "a question Of Fact" and the second "a question Of Right" (Leviathan ch. 15). Both Hobbes, the notorious proponent of absolute sovereignty, and John Locke, the great proponent of limited government (can you tell whose side I'm on?), agree that one of the chief reasons for forming governments is to prevent these disputes from leading to violence...
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January 20, 2009

Topics of Thought for This Quarter

Although I only very rarely post life updates to this blog, it is my custom here to list the subjects I am studying each term because it generally has some bearing on what interesting philosophy I will be blogging about. This quarter I am taking courses on the following topics: Early Modern Social Contract Theory. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I am already considering a paper topic: grievances against the state. (A timely subject.) Hobbes seems to say that you can't sue a sovereign (whether sovereignty is held by an individual or a group) unless he/she/they intentionally set up a process...
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January 7, 2009

'Contemning the Shame'

I was reading Hobbes today, and came across a word I'm not sure I've ever seen before. At Leviathan 1.6 (p. 24 of the original edition), Hobbes writes: Those things which we neither Desire, nor Hate, we are said to Contemne: CONTEMPT being nothing else but an immobility, or contumacy of the Heart, in resisting the action of certain things; and proceeding from that the Heart is already moved otherwise, by other more potent objects; or from want of experience of them. The word I am talking about, 'contemne' (which was later spelled 'contemn' - I will use this spelling...
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