David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of the History of Philosophy 34 (1):33-60 (1996)
Reason and Ethics in Hobbes's Leviathan JOHN DEIGH HOBBES'S ETHICS teaches the ways of self-preservation. Its lessons are arranged in a system of rules that Hobbes understood to be the laws of nature. These two themes, self-preservation and natural law, have inspired opposing inter- pretations of Hobbes's text. The historically dominant and still prevailing interpretation, which develops the former theme, is that Hobbes's ethics is a form of egoism. A later and less popular interpretation, which develops the latter theme, is that his ethics is a system of absolutes, "a strict deontology. ''1 These two interpretations represent a dispute between what I will call ortho- doxy and dissent in Hobbes scholarship. The dispute chiefly turns on two questions: What is the basis of Hobbes's ethics? and How stringent are the rules it comprises?' Orthodoxy takes Hobbes's ethics to be based on his moral psychology, specifically, his theory of motivation. That theory, on the orthodox reading, is thoroughly egocentric. It holds that all voluntary action springs from self- interest.3 Hence, on this reading, one can attribute to Hobbes the view that a I am grateful to Ed Curley, Bernard Gert, Richard Kraut, Connie Rosati, and Ira Singer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. ' A. E. Taylor, "The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes," Philosophy a 3 : 406-24, esp. 408. ' One can find the orthodox interpretation in Henry Sidgwick's Outline of the History..
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