Pufendorf disciple of Hobbes: The nature of man and the state of nature: The doctrine of socialitas

History of European Ideas 34 (1):26-60 (2008)
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No doctrine of Pufendorf's is better known than that of socialitas. The reason is that Pufendorf himself declared that socialitas was the foundation of natural law. No interpreter of Pufendorf can therefore avoid dealing with it. Moreover, Pufendorf linked the issue of socialitas to the question of the state of nature, thus raising important issues with both theological and philosophical implications. Given the prominence and importance of this theme in Pufendorf's work, a close analysis of what he meant by it is central to the interpretation of his work, even though this means to pose again a new number of questions already discussed in the scholarly literature. In particular, this article examines the relationship between Pufendorf and Hobbes with regard to this central theme. In fact, a traditional historiographic topos is that Pufendorf and Hobbes fundamentally disagree on the doctrine of socialitas, while the former is closer to Grotius and to the Aristotelian-classic tradition that see man as a social animal. This article takes, instead, Pufendorf to be a follower of Hobbes, and tries to explain how the more traditional view of Pufendorf as a critic of Hobbes was in some way due to Pufendorf's own attempt to distance himself from the accusations of Hobbesism (and hence of atheism and moral indifference) that the critics made against him when his work first appeared. In order to do this, Pufendorf tried to rethink his own position within the history of ethics, and put himself on the side of the Stoics, of Grotius and of Cumberland, against Epicurus and Hobbes. This retrospective ‘illusion’ has greatly influenced later scholarship, giving us a distorted image of Pufendorf's own view of socialitas. A more precise account of the latter gives a better prospective from which to look at the relationship between Pufendorf and Hobbes. ☆ The publication of this text, in this form, may require some explanation. In what it now appears the very distant June 1989, the Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte in Göttingen organised an International Workshop on ‘Unsocial Sociability: Modern natural Law and the 18th-Century Discourse of Politics, History and Society’. The proceedings of that Workshop were never published, even though individual contributions have piecemeal appeared since then. My own contribution consisted in a short extract from a chapter from my book Samuel Pufendorf discepolo di Hobbes. Per una reinterpretazione del giusnaturalismo moderno (Bologna, 1990), which appeared in print the following year. For this reason, I considered the separate publication of that intervention as superfluous. Rather naively I underestimated the fact that the publication of my book in Italian restricted its circulation in the Anglo-American academic circles, and even if occasionally quoted, the book would not be much read. Recently, following the solicitations of many friends to present in English part of the theses developed in that book, I had decided to have my intervention at the Göttingen Workshop finally published. After all, this had amply circulated as a manuscript and been cited by many in that form. But while I was planning to revise that manuscript, I was presented with the draft translation of the second chapter of my book done by Dr. Melissa Calaresu of Cambridge University, when she was still a graduate student. It is probably better to leave aside the story of why Melissa did that translation, but I am extremely grateful to her for having allowed me to use it as the basis for this piece, which is therefore a revised version of the second chapter of my Italian book on Hobbes. I have decided to publish it in English with some hesitation, at least for two reasons. First, because with the publication in English of only part of my book I may risk to reinforce a rather simplified interpretation of my work, and consequently of Pufendorf's thought, that his main contribution lies in his doctrine of socialitas and of the state of nature. I am instead firmly convinced that the most important parts of my own work are those that are still untranslated, that is those on the nature of moral obligation and that of moral entities, beside the comparison I make in the second part of the book between the first and the second edition of De iure. Secondly, because during the intervening years I have distanced myself from a conception of the history of philosophy understood as an internal analysis of the texts, and have become more attentive to the context in which to place philosophical texts. I have therefore developed a slight impatience towards the rather nick-picking analysis of texts, which with a certain virtuosism I performed in the book. Nonetheless, since even after so many years I do not believe that the theses I developed in that book have lost their force, I am happy for this partial translation, with some essential bibliographic updating, to appear, in the hope that such theses will be finally discussed for what they are and not on the basis of second-hand reports. I am grateful to Dario Castiglione for his precious help with the final revision of the text, and to Richard Whatmore and Brian Young for their willingness to publish this translation in their Journal.



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