Hobbes and Psychological Egoism

Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (4):503-520 (1967)
Abstract
Hobbes has served for both philosophers and political scientists as the paradigm case of someone who held an egoistic view of human nature. In this article I shall attempt to show that the almost unanimous view that Hobbes held psychological egoism is mistaken, and further that Hobbes's political theory does not demand an egoistic psychology, but on the contrary is incompatible with psychological egoism. I do not maintain that Hobbes was completely consistent; in fact, I shall show that there was a continuous development in Hobbes's works away from an egoistic psychology. But I do think that the main outlines of Hobbes's political theory, i.e., his account of the laws of nature, the right of nature, the obligations imposed by laws and covenants, and the rights and duties of citizen and sovereign, are essentially the same in The Elements of Law, De Cive, and Leviathan. I thus hold that even in his earliest work, The Elements, the only one where a charge of egoism is justifiable, the political theory does not depend on egoism. But the first and most important point to be established is that Hobbes did not hold an egoistic psychology.
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