A Portrait of Hobbes

A Portrait of Hobbes

In chapter 6, Hobbes addresses what moves humans.  What prompts us to action?  What causes us to do this and not that?  Hobbes seems to suggest by his title to this chapter, that it is the passions.  This is an unusual starting point considering for the Ancients, while the passions were not ignored, they were of a lower rank in the ordering of the soul.

Hobbes seems to suggest that all things–courage or cowardice, stinginess or liberality–are derived from the emotional side of man.  Indeed, it seems all his “virtues” are a result of fear and choices between pleasure and pain.  What a low view of mankind!

Even his view of deliberation is somehow connected to interest and passion.  Deliberation to Aristotle meant to reason about a topic.  It meant to dialogue about some thing in relation to the justice of doing that action at this time, in this way, etc.  Not so for Hobbes.  He believes deliberation is the “sum of desires, aversions, hopes, and fears.” If that does not suffice, in his discussion of the will, Hobbes attacks the Ancients for saying that it ought to consist of rational appetite as “not good.”

We might wonder if Hobbes’ understanding of the will corresponds with the Ancient understanding of spiritedness ( θυμος ).  We might also wonder if Hobbes believes we have reason–and in some form he clearly believes humans are able to reason, but in what manner, how many actually are capable of reason–not to mention what he considers reason is–is all up for consideration here.

Chapter 7

Hobbes comes back to deliberation in this chapter.  He argues that it consists of arguments about “good and bad.” This is essentially justice!  Has Hobbes found common ground with the Ancients here?  No.  Why?  Because these deliberations are derived from mere opinion.  He does not say that it is fact (and to Hobbes facts are important), nor is opinion right opinion, nor is it reflective of truth.  No, Hobbes complicates everything because getting the beginning right is difficult–understanding what we mean when we say X.  Further, what others understand we mean when we say X.  Definitions must be understood from the word go.  Very scientific!  In the end, belief in something is what we opine about something.

Hobbes contends that the prophets were not really prophesying, but were claiming things about other things.  We believe they are true because we choose somehow to believe they are true.  Worse still (perhaps), we believe not in the Word, but in the prophet himself!


To bring this post to an end, we will consider chapters 12-21 later this week.  The laws of nature will get some consideration, and then we enter the Commonwealth itself.  The grounds of politics in natural rights makes an appearance, as does the overarching reach of government.

A thought as we part:  It seems that Hobbes has cast radical doubt on knowing.  Why should we accept his opinions of the grounds of government, much less the remedy for the ills of this world?  Why should we consider anything he has to say given the enormous difficulty in knowing and understanding?  In other words, does Hobbes undermine the legitimacy of Leviathan?