A Kinder, Gentler Hobbes

Abstract

I want to present a new interpretation of Hobbes, in particular of what he was up to when he wrote Leviathan. In order to do this I will examine how he viewed the problem of social disorder and how he intended for that problem to be solved. I will argue that although he held that maintaining a credible threat of punishment for wrongdoing is necessary for social order, to Hobbes it is not sufficient; unless the subjects are properly educated the commonwealth is doomed. I maintain that this need to ensure proper education illuminates Leviathan’s intent and its structure. Further, I’ll argue that when education is given its proper place in Hobbes’ scheme, the result is an account of disorder and a solution to it which are truer to Hobbes’ text and more plausible than those of certain competing views. In what follows, I will give an overview of the line I propose to take, then discuss how it contrasts with other views of Hobbes in the literature. The problem of disorder. A great deal of Hobbes scholarship focuses on the account he gives in the first half of Leviathan of how people in a state of nature could create a commonwealth. Fruitful and important as it is, however, this focus tends to leave the second half of the book a mystery: if what’s important about Leviathan is its presentation of a social contract theory, it’s not obvious why Hobbes devotes half of his treatise to theological matters. I will argue that once we have a clearer understanding of the problem Hobbes was addressing, Leviathan’s second half can be seen as an important component of Hobbes’ intended solution. While modern theoreticians are often most interested in Hobbes’ account of how people prior to society could make one from scratch, Hobbes himself was most concerned with how to prevent disorder from destroying an existing government. Hobbes wrote a good deal about the causes of disorder—whole chapters and many 1 scattered remarks in The Elements of Law, De Cive, and Leviathan, plus much of Behemoth—and I propose examining these writings closely in order to clarify how Hobbes conceived the problem he was addressing..

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