Fantasies of Death and Demons: Hobbes Against the Ontological Illusion

Hobbes is commonly taken as arguing that individuals are primarily motivated by a fear of violent death. In this paper, I argue that, for Hobbes, people come with a wide range of fears and desires; analyzing how to redirect these into the politically stabilizing fear of death is a central preoccupation of Leviathan. One of the main problems is managing what I call the “ontological illusion,” the constitutive human tendency to take presentations of the imagination as entities in the world. I first assess the textual evidence for and against the violent death reading. I then offer a reading of Hobbes’s psychology that underscores the diversity of human affective states. In the third section, I assess Hobbes’s neglected chapter on demonology – theories of witchcraft – as demonstrating both the need to manage the ontological illusion and the Hobbesian strategy for doing so.
Keywords Hobbes  Fear  Demonology  Witchcraft  Imagination
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