Triadomania. Thought of the Day 117.0


Peirce’s famous ‘triadomania’ lets most of his decisive distinctions appear in threes, following the tripartition of his list of categories, the famous triad of First, Second, and Third, or Quality, Reaction, Representation, or Possibility, Actuality, Reality.

Firstness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, positively and without reference to anything else.

Secondness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, with respect to a second but regardless of any third.

Thirdness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, in bringing a second and third into relation to each other.

Firstness constitutes the quality of experience: in order for something to appear at all, it must do so due to a certain constellation of qualitative properties. Peirce often uses sensory qualities as examples, but it is important for the understanding of his thought that the examples may refer to phenomena very far from our standard conception of ‘sensory data’, e.g. forms or the ‘feeling’ of a whole melody or of a whole mathematical proof, not to be taken in a subjective sense but as a concept for the continuity of melody or proof as a whole, apart from the analytical steps and sequences in which it may be, subsequently, subdivided. In short, all sorts of simple and complex Gestalt qualities also qualify as Firstnesses. Firstness tend to form continua of possibilities such as the continua of shape, color, tone, etc. These qualities, however, are, taken in themselves, pure possibilities and must necessarily be incarnated in phenomena in order to appear. Secondness is the phenomenological category of ‘incarnation’ which makes this possible: it is the insistency, then, with which the individuated, actualized, existent phenomenon appears. Thus, Secondness necessarily forms discontinuous breaks in Firstness, allowing for particular qualities to enter into existence. The mind may imagine anything whatever in all sorts of quality combinations, but something appears with an irrefutable insisting power, reacting, actively, yielding resistance. Peirce’s favorite example is the resistance of the closed door – which might be imagined reduced to the quality of resistance feeling and thus degenerate to pure Firstness so that his theory imploded into a Hume-like solipsism – but to Peirce this resistance, surprise, event, this thisness, ‘haecceity’ as he calls it with a Scotist term, remains irreducible in the description of the phenomenon (a Kantian idea, at bottom: existence is no predicate). About Thirdness, Peirce may directly state that continuity represents it perfectly: ‘continuity and generality are two names of the same absence of distinction of individuals’. As against Secondness, Thirdness is general; it mediates between First and Second. The events of Secondness are never completely unique, such an event would be inexperiencable, but relates (3) to other events (2) due to certain features (1) in them; Thirdness is thus what facilitates understanding as well as pragmatic action, due to its continuous generality. With a famous example: if you dream about an apple pie, then the very qualities of that dream (taste, smell, warmth, crustiness, etc.) are pure Firstnesses, while the act of baking is composed of a series of actual Secondnesses. But their coordination is governed by a Thirdness: the recipe, being general, can never specify all properties in the individual apple pie, it has a schematic frame-character and subsumes an indefinite series – a whole continuum – of possible apple pies. Thirdness is thus necessarily general and vague. Of course, the recipe may be more or less precise, but no recipe exists which is able to determine each and every property in the cake, including date, hour, place, which tree the apples stem from, etc. – any recipe is necessarily general. In this case, the recipe (3) mediates between dream (1) and fulfilment (2) – its generality, symbolicity, relationality and future orientation are all characteristic for Thirdness. An important aspect of Peirce’s realism is that continuous generality may be experienced directly in perceptual judgments: ‘Generality, Thirdness, pours in upon us in our very perceptual judgments’.

All these determinations remain purely phenomenological, even if the later semiotic and metaphysical interpretations clearly shine through. In a more general, non-Peircean terminology, his phenomenology can be seen as the description of minimum aspects inherent in any imaginable possible world – for this reason it is imaginability which is the main argument, and this might point in the direction that Peirce could be open to critique for subjectivism, so often aimed at Husserl’s project, in some respects analogous. The concept of consciousness is invoked as the basis of imaginability: phenomenology is the study of invariant properties in any phenomenon appearing for a mind. Peirce’s answer would here be, on the one hand, the research community which according to him defines reality – an argument which structurally corresponds to Husserl’s reference to intersubjectivity as a necessary ingredient in objectivity (an object is a phenomenon which is intersubjectively accessible). Peirce, however, has a further argument here, namely his consequent refusal to delimit his concept of mind exclusively to human subjects (a category the use of which he obviously tries to minimize), mind-like processes may take place in nature without any subject being responsible. Peirce will, for continuity reasons, never accept any hard distinction between subject and object and remains extremely parsimonious in the employment of such terms.

From Peirce’s New Elements of Mathematics (The New Elements of Mathematics Vol. 4),

But just as the qualities, which as they are for themselves, are equally unrelated to one other, each being mere nothing for any other, yet form a continuum in which and because of their situation in which they acquire more or less resemblance and contrast with one another; and then this continuum is amplified in the continuum of possible feelings of quality, so the accidents of reaction, which are waking consciousnesses of pairs of qualities, may be expected to join themselves into a continuum. 

Since, then an accidental reaction is a combination or bringing into special connection of two qualities, and since further it is accidental and antigeneral or discontinuous, such an accidental reaction ought to be regarded as an adventitious singularity of the continuum of possible quality, just as two points of a sheet of paper might come into contact.

But although singularities are discontinuous, they may be continuous to a certain extent. Thus the sheet instead of touching itself in the union of two points may cut itself all along a line. Here there is a continuous line of singularity. In like manner, accidental reactions though they are breaches of generality may come to be generalized to a certain extent.

Secondness is now taken to actualize these quality possibilities based on an idea that any actual event involves a clash of qualities – in the ensuing argumentation Peirce underlines that the qualities involved in actualization need not be restrained to two but may be many, if they may only be ‘dissolved’ into pairs and hence do not break into the domain of Thirdness. This appearance of actuality, hence, has the property of singularities, spontaneously popping up in the space of possibilities and actualizing pairs of points in it. This transition from First to Second is conceived of along Aristotelian lines: as an actualization of a possibility – and this is expressed in the picture of a discontinuous singularity in the quality continuum. The topological fact that singularities must in general be defined with respect to the neighborhood of the manifold in which they appear, now becomes the argument for the fact that Secondness can never be completely discontinuous but still ‘inherits’ a certain small measure of continuity from the continuum of Firstness. Singularities, being discontinuous along certain dimensions, may be continuous in others, which provides the condition of possibility for Thirdness to exist as a tendency for Secondness to conform to a general law or regularity. As is evident, a completely pure Secondness is impossible in this continuous metaphysics – it remains a conceivable but unrealizable limit case, because a completely discon- tinuous event would amount to nothing. Thirdness already lies as a germ in the non-discontinuous aspects of the singularity. The occurrences of Secondness seem to be infinitesimal, then, rather than completely extensionless points.

Mathematical Reductionism: As Case Via C. S. Peirce’s Hypothetical Realism.


During the 20th century, the following epistemology of mathematics was predominant: a sufficient condition for the possibility of the cognition of objects is that these objects can be reduced to set theory. The conditions for the possibility of the cognition of the objects of set theory (the sets), in turn, can be given in various manners; in any event, the objects reduced to sets do not need an additional epistemological discussion – they “are” sets. Hence, such an epistemology relies ultimately on ontology. Frege conceived the axioms as descriptions of how we actually manipulate extensions of concepts in our thinking (and in this sense as inevitable and intuitive “laws of thought”). Hilbert admitted the use of intuition exclusively in metamathematics where the consistency proof is to be done (by which the appropriateness of the axioms would be established); Bourbaki takes the axioms as mere hypotheses. Hence, Bourbaki’s concept of justification is the weakest of the three: “it works as long as we encounter no contradiction”; nevertheless, it is still epistemology, because from this hypothetical-deductive point of view, one insists that at least a proof of relative consistency (i.e., a proof that the hypotheses are consistent with the frequently tested and approved framework of set theory) should be available.

Doing mathematics, one tries to give proofs for propositions, i.e., to deduce the propositions logically from other propositions (premisses). Now, in the reductionist perspective, a proof of a mathematical proposition yields an insight into the truth of the proposition, if the premisses are already established (if one has already an insight into their truth); this can be done by giving in turn proofs for them (in which new premisses will occur which ask again for an insight into their truth), or by agreeing to put them at the beginning (to consider them as axioms or postulates). The philosopher tries to understand how the decision about what propositions to take as axioms is arrived at, because he or she is dissatisfied with the reductionist claim that it is on these axioms that the insight into the truth of the deduced propositions rests. Actually, this epistemology might contain a short-coming since Poincaré (and Wittgenstein) stressed that to have a proof of a proposition is by no means the same as to have an insight into its truth.

Attempts to disclose the ontology of mathematical objects reveal the following tendency in epistemology of mathematics: Mathematics is seen as suffering from a lack of ontological “determinateness”, namely that this science (contrarily to many others) does not concern material data such that the concept of material truth is not available (especially in the case of the infinite). This tendency is embarrassing since on the other hand mathematical cognition is very often presented as cognition of the “greatest possible certainty” just because it seems not to be bound to material evidence, let alone experimental check.

The technical apparatus developed by the reductionist and set-theoretical approach nowadays serves other purposes, partly for the reason that tacit beliefs about sets were challenged; the explanations of the science which it provides are considered as irrelevant by the practitioners of this science. There is doubt that the above mentioned sufficient condition is also necessary; it is not even accepted throughout as a sufficient one. But what happens if some objects, as in the case of category theory, do not fulfill the condition? It seems that the reductionist approach, so to say, has been undocked from the historical development of the discipline in several respects; an alternative is required.

Anterior to Peirce, epistemology was dominated by the idea of a grasp of objects; since Descartes, intuition was considered throughout as a particular, innate capacity of cognition (even if idealists thought that it concerns the general, and empiricists that it concerns the particular). The task of this particular capacity was the foundation of epistemology; already from Aristotle’s first premisses of syllogism, what was aimed at was to go back to something first. In this traditional approach, it is by the ontology of the objects that one hopes to answer the fundamental question concerning the conditions for the possibility of the cognition of these objects. One hopes that there are simple “basic objects” to which the more complex objects can be reduced and whose cognition is possible by common sense – be this an innate or otherwise distinguished capacity of cognition common to all human beings. Here, epistemology is “wrapped up” in (or rests on) ontology; to do epistemology one has to do ontology first.

Peirce shares Kant’s opinion according to which the object depends on the subject; however, he does not agree that reason is the crucial means of cognition to be criticised. In his paper “Questions concerning certain faculties claimed for man”, he points out the basic assumption of pragmatist philosophy: every cognition is semiotically mediated. He says that there is no immediate cognition (a cognition which “refers immediately to its object”), but that every cognition “has been determined by a previous cognition” of the same object. Correspondingly, Peirce replaces critique of reason by critique of signs. He thinks that Kant’s distinction between the world of things per se (Dinge an sich) and the world of apparition (Erscheinungswelt) is not fruitful; he rather distinguishes the world of the subject and the world of the object, connected by signs; his position consequently is a “hypothetical realism” in which all cognitions are only valid with reservations. This position does not negate (nor assert) that the object per se (with the semiotical mediation stripped off) exists, since such assertions of “pure” existence are seen as necessarily hypothetical (that means, not withstanding philosophical criticism).

By his basic assumption, Peirce was led to reveal a problem concerning the subject matter of epistemology, since this assumption means in particular that there is no intuitive cognition in the classical sense (which is synonymous to “immediate”). Hence, one could no longer consider cognitions as objects; there is no intuitive cognition of an intuitive cognition. Intuition can be no more than a relation. “All the cognitive faculties we know of are relative, and consequently their products are relations”. According to this new point of view, intuition cannot any longer serve to found epistemology, in departure from the former reductionist attitude. A central argument of Peirce against reductionism or, as he puts it,

the reply to the argument that there must be a first is as follows: In retracing our way from our conclusions to premisses, or from determined cognitions to those which determine them, we finally reach, in all cases, a point beyond which the consciousness in the determined cognition is more lively than in the cognition which determines it.

Peirce gives some examples derived from physiological observations about perception, like the fact that the third dimension of space is inferred, and the blind spot of the retina. In this situation, the process of reduction loses its legitimacy since it no longer fulfills the function of cognition justification. At such a place, something happens which I would like to call an “exchange of levels”: the process of reduction is interrupted in that the things exchange the roles performed in the determination of a cognition: what was originally considered as determining is now determined by what was originally considered as asking for determination.

The idea that contents of cognition are necessarily provisional has an effect on the very concept of conditions for the possibility of cognitions. It seems that one can infer from Peirce’s words that what vouches for a cognition is not necessarily the cognition which determines it but the livelyness of our consciousness in the cognition. Here, “to vouch for a cognition” means no longer what it meant before (which was much the same as “to determine a cognition”), but it still means that the cognition is (provisionally) reliable. This conception of the livelyness of our consciousness roughly might be seen as a substitute for the capacity of intuition in Peirce’s epistemology – but only roughly, since it has a different coverage.

Accelerated Capital as an Anathema to the Principles of Communicative Action. A Note Quote on the Reciprocity of Capital and Ethicality of Financial Economics


Markowitz portfolio theory explicitly observes that portfolio managers are not (expected) utility maximisers, as they diversify, and offers the hypothesis that a desire for reward is tempered by a fear of uncertainty. This model concludes that all investors should hold the same portfolio, their individual risk-reward objectives are satisfied by the weighting of this ‘index portfolio’ in comparison to riskless cash in the bank, a point on the capital market line. The slope of the Capital Market Line is the market price of risk, which is an important parameter in arbitrage arguments.

Merton had initially attempted to provide an alternative to Markowitz based on utility maximisation employing stochastic calculus. He was only able to resolve the problem by employing the hedging arguments of Black and Scholes, and in doing so built a model that was based on the absence of arbitrage, free of turpe-lucrum. That the prescriptive statement “it should not be possible to make sure profits”, is a statement explicit in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and in employing an Arrow security in the context of the Law of One Price. Based on these observations, we conject that the whole paradigm for financial economics is built on the principle of balanced reciprocity. In order to explore this conjecture we shall examine the relationship between commerce and themes in Pragmatic philosophy. Specifically, we highlight Robert Brandom’s (Making It Explicit Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment) position that there is a pragmatist conception of norms – a notion of primitive correctnesses of performance implicit in practice that precludes and are presupposed by their explicit formulation in rules and principles.

The ‘primitive correctnesses’ of commercial practices was recognised by Aristotle when he investigated the nature of Justice in the context of commerce and then by Olivi when he looked favourably on merchants. It is exhibited in the doux-commerce thesis, compare Fourcade and Healey’s contemporary description of the thesis Commerce teaches ethics mainly through its communicative dimension, that is, by promoting conversations among equals and exchange between strangers, with Putnam’s description of Habermas’ communicative action based on the norm of sincerity, the norm of truth-telling, and the norm of asserting only what is rationally warranted …[and] is contrasted with manipulation (Hilary Putnam The Collapse of the Fact Value Dichotomy and Other Essays)

There are practices (that should be) implicit in commerce that make it an exemplar of communicative action. A further expression of markets as centres of communication is manifested in the Asian description of a market brings to mind Donald Davidson’s (Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective) argument that knowledge is not the product of a bipartite conversations but a tripartite relationship between two speakers and their shared environment. Replacing the negotiation between market agents with an algorithm that delivers a theoretical price replaces ‘knowledge’, generated through communication, with dogma. The problem with the performativity that Donald MacKenzie (An Engine, Not a Camera_ How Financial Models Shape Markets) is concerned with is one of monism. In employing pricing algorithms, the markets cannot perform to something that comes close to ‘true belief’, which can only be identified through communication between sapient humans. This is an almost trivial observation to (successful) market participants, but difficult to appreciate by spectators who seek to attain ‘objective’ knowledge of markets from a distance. To appreciate the relevance to financial crises of the position that ‘true belief’ is about establishing coherence through myriad triangulations centred on an asset rather than relying on a theoretical model.

Shifting gears now, unless the martingale measure is a by-product of a hedging approach, the price given by such martingale measures is not related to the cost of a hedging strategy therefore the meaning of such ‘prices’ is not clear. If the hedging argument cannot be employed, as in the markets studied by Cont and Tankov (Financial Modelling with Jump Processes), there is no conceptual framework supporting the prices obtained from the Fundamental Theorem of Asset Pricing. This lack of meaning can be interpreted as a consequence of the strict fact/value dichotomy in contemporary mathematics that came with the eclipse of Poincaré’s Intuitionism by Hilbert’s Formalism and Bourbaki’s Rationalism. The practical problem of supporting the social norms of market exchange has been replaced by a theoretical problem of developing formal models of markets. These models then legitimate the actions of agents in the market without having to make reference to explicitly normative values.

The Efficient Market Hypothesis is based on the axiom that the market price is determined by the balance between supply and demand, and so an increase in trading facilitates the convergence to equilibrium. If this axiom is replaced by the axiom of reciprocity, the justification for speculative activity in support of efficient markets disappears. In fact, the axiom of reciprocity would de-legitimise ‘true’ arbitrage opportunities, as being unfair. This would not necessarily make the activities of actual market arbitrageurs illicit, since there are rarely strategies that are without the risk of a loss, however, it would place more emphasis on the risks of speculation and inhibit the hubris that has been associated with the prelude to the recent Crisis. These points raise the question of the legitimacy of speculation in the markets. In an attempt to understand this issue Gabrielle and Reuven Brenner identify the three types of market participant. ‘Investors’ are preoccupied with future scarcity and so defer income. Because uncertainty exposes the investor to the risk of loss, investors wish to minimise uncertainty at the cost of potential profits, this is the basis of classical investment theory. ‘Gamblers’ will bet on an outcome taking odds that have been agreed on by society, such as with a sporting bet or in a casino, and relates to de Moivre’s and Montmort’s ‘taming of chance’. ‘Speculators’ bet on a mis-calculation of the odds quoted by society and the reason why speculators are regarded as socially questionable is that they have opinions that are explicitly at odds with the consensus: they are practitioners who rebel against a theoretical ‘Truth’. This is captured in Arjun Appadurai’s argument that the leading agents in modern finance believe in their capacity to channel the workings of chance to win in the games dominated by cultures of control . . . [they] are not those who wish to “tame chance” but those who wish to use chance to animate the otherwise deterministic play of risk [quantifiable uncertainty]”.

In the context of Pragmatism, financial speculators embody pluralism, a concept essential to Pragmatic thinking and an antidote to the problem of radical uncertainty. Appadurai was motivated to study finance by Marcel Mauss’ essay Le Don (The Gift), exploring the moral force behind reciprocity in primitive and archaic societies and goes on to say that the contemporary financial speculator is “betting on the obligation of return”, and this is the fundamental axiom of contemporary finance. David Graeber (Debt The First 5,000 Years) also recognises the fundamental position reciprocity has in finance, but where as Appadurai recognises the importance of reciprocity in the presence of uncertainty, Graeber essentially ignores uncertainty in his analysis that ends with the conclusion that “we don’t ‘all’ have to pay our debts”. In advocating that reciprocity need not be honoured, Graeber is not just challenging contemporary capitalism but also the foundations of the civitas, based on equality and reciprocity. The origins of Graeber’s argument are in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1836 John Stuart Mill defined political economy as being concerned with [man] solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging of the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end.

In Principles of Political Economy With Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy, Mill defended Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population, which focused on scarcity. Mill was writing at a time when Europe was struck by the Cholera pandemic of 1829–1851 and the famines of 1845–1851 and while Lord Tennyson was describing nature as “red in tooth and claw”. At this time, society’s fear of uncertainty seems to have been replaced by a fear of scarcity, and these standards of objectivity dominated economic thought through the twentieth century. Almost a hundred years after Mill, Lionel Robbins defined economics as “the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses”. Dichotomies emerge in the aftermath of the Cartesian revolution that aims to remove doubt from philosophy. Theory and practice, subject and object, facts and values, means and ends are all separated. In this environment ex cathedra norms, in particular utility (profit) maximisation, encroach on commercial practice.

In order to set boundaries on commercial behaviour motivated by profit maximisation, particularly when market uncertainty returned after the Nixon shock of 1971, society imposes regulations on practice. As a consequence, two competing ethics, functional Consequential ethics guiding market practices and regulatory Deontological ethics attempting stabilise the system, vie for supremacy. It is in this debilitating competition between two essentially theoretical ethical frameworks that we offer an explanation for the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009: profit maximisation, not speculation, is destabilising in the presence of radical uncertainty and regulation cannot keep up with motivated profit maximisers who can justify their actions through abstract mathematical models that bare little resemblance to actual markets. An implication of reorienting financial economics to focus on the markets as centres of ‘communicative action’ is that markets could become self-regulating, in the same way that the legal or medical spheres are self-regulated through professions. This is not a ‘libertarian’ argument based on freeing the Consequential ethic from a Deontological brake. Rather it argues that being a market participant entails restricting norms on the agent such as sincerity and truth telling that support knowledge creation, of asset prices, within a broader objective of social cohesion. This immediately calls into question the legitimacy of algorithmic/high- frequency trading that seems an anathema in regard to the principles of communicative action.

Organic and the Orgiastic. Cartography of Ground and Groundlessness in Deleuze and Heidegger. Thought of the Day 43.0


In his last hermeneutical Erörterung of Leibniz, The Principle of Ground, Heidegger traces back metaphysics to its epochal destiny in the twofold or duplicity (Zwiefalt) of Being and Thought and thus follows the ground in its self-ungrounding (zugrundegehen). Since the foundation of thought is also the foundation of Being, reason and ground are not equal but belong together (zusammenhören) in the Same as the ungrounded yet historical horizon of the metaphysical destiny of Being: On the one hand we say: Being and ground: the Same. On the other hand we say: Being: the abyss (Ab-Grund). What is important is to think the univocity (Einsinnigkeit) of both Sätze, those Sätze that are no longer Sätze. In Difference and Repetition, similarly, Deleuze tells us that sufficient reason is twisted into the groundless. He confirms that the Fold (Pli) is the differenciator of difference engulfed in groundlessness, always folding, unfolding, refolding: to ground is always to bend, to curve and recurve. He thus concludes:

Sufficient reason or ground is strangely bent: on the one hand, it leans towards what it grounds, towards the forms of representation; on the other hand, it turns and plunges into a groundless beyond the ground which resists all forms and cannot be represented.

Despite the fundamental similarity of their conclusions, however, our short overview of Deleuze’s transformation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason has already indicated that his argumentation is very different from Heideggerian hermeneutics. To ground, Deleuze agrees, is always to ground representation. But we should distinguish between two kinds of representation: organic or finite representation and orgiastic or infinite representation. What unites the classicisms of Kant, Descartes and Aristotle is that representation retains organic form as its principle and the finite as its element. Here the logical principle of identity always precedes ontology, such that the ground as element of difference remains undetermined and in itself. It is only with Hegel and Leibniz that representation discovers the ground as its principle and the infinite as its element. It is precisely the Principle of Sufficient Reason that enables thought to determine difference in itself. The ground is like a single and unique total moment, simultaneously the moment of the evanescence and production of difference, of disappearance and appearance. What the attempts at rendering representation infinite reveal, therefore, is that the ground has not only an Apollinian, orderly side, but also a hidden Dionysian, orgiastic side. Representation discovers within itself the limits of the organized; tumult, restlessness and passion underneath apparent calm. It rediscovers monstrosity.

The question then is how to evaluate this ambiguity that is essential to the ground. For Heidegger, the Zwiefalt is either naively interpreted from the perspective of its concave side, following the path of the history of Western thought as the belonging together of Being and thought in a common ground; or it is meditated from its convex side, excavating it from the history of the forgetting of Being the decline of the Fold (Wegfall der Zwiefalt, Vorenthalt der Zwiefalt) as the pivotal point of the Open in its unfolding and following the path that leads from the ground to the abyss. Instead of this all or nothing approach, Deleuze takes up the question in a Nietzschean, i.e. genealogical fashion. The attempt to represent difference in itself cannot be disconnected from its malediction, i.e. the moral representation of groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss. As Bergson already observed, representational reason poses the problem of the ground in terms of the alternative between order and chaos. This goes in particular for the kind of representational reason that seeks to represent the irrepresentable: Representation, especially when it becomes infinite, is imbued with a presentiment of groundlessness. Because it has become infinite in order to include difference within itself, however, it represents groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss, a universal lack of difference, an indifferent black nothingness. Indeed, if Deleuze is so hostile to Hegel, it is because the latter embodies like no other the ultimate illusion inseparable from the Principle of Sufficient Reason insofar as it grounds representation, namely that groundlessness should lack differences, when in fact it swarms with them.

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Thomas Hobbes, the Materialist (1)


Hobbes was fundamentally a materialist and was utterly hostile to the supernatural hypotheses in the realm of social thought. In his political philosophy, Hobbes tried to conceptualize the relationship between the new nation State, which had been emerging under the Tudors, and the individual citizen, who could no longer be regarded simply as having a set place in a divinely instituted order. In the old medieval society a man was bound by ties attaching to his status and by duties prescribed for him by the Church. Aristotle’s doctrine of natural kinds and natural places and his account of man as a social animal provided a fitting naturalistic foundation or the theological world view that was accepted by the rulers and the ruled alike. But with the rise of individualism and the social mobility that accompanied the rise of commerce and capitalism, this old conception of man in society no longer applied. Men had shaken off the ties of their guilds and local communities, and the new natural philosophy was beginning to render the naturalistic foundations of the former worldview untenable.

Hobbes’ picture of life as a race, in which we must suppose to have no other good, nor other garland, but being foremost, was a gruesome form of social control which could take its place and prevent the anarchy of a State of nature. The answer was to be found of course in the increasing power of the

executive power of the State and in the growth of the statute law, together with the development of the individual conscience, whereby regulation from within replaced the external authority of the Catholic Church. Hobbes distrusted the anarchic tendencies of the individual conscience as much as he loathed the extramundane authority of the Church of Rome. For him, the task was to banish both, along with the traditional ties. He thought of reconstructing the civil society as a simple mechanistic system.

Let us take a brief look at his social contract and the commonwealth.

Social Contract: Hobbes had a ready model at hand through which he might present his Galilean analysis of the rationale of civil society, the social contract theory. Despite its obvious flaws, the social contract theory was an attempt to rationalize political obligations, to substitute an intelligent bargain for mystifying appeals to Divine Right and tradition. Hobbes’ feat was to employ this model to demonstrate that absolutism is the only possible logical outcome of consistent concern for individual interests. In his attitude towards tradition and Divine Right, he was at one with the defenders of the Government by consent. But because of his depressing estimate of human nature, he came to the somewhat gleeful conclusion, that absolutism could be the only rationally defensible form of Government. Hobbes imagined the individual in the State of nature as having an unlimited right to “protect his life and members” and “to use all the means, to do all the actions, without which he cannot preserve himself.” Hobbes uses the concept of right in a way to talk about both what a person is entitled to do and what a person cannot be obliged to renounce. Hobbes’ “Rights” of nature are derivative from man’s tendency to assert him and seek power. Hobbes held that men would also be driven by his fear of death to accept certain laws of nature and prescribed that every man should lay down his rights to all things and be contended with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself. This could be done with either not interfering with other’s enjoyment of their rights or by transferring one’s rights to another, in which case the transfer is obliged not to hinder the recipient. The mutual transferring of such rights is called a contract and the third law of nature is that men perform their covenants made.

Commonwealth: The definition of commonwealth is, “one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves everyone the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall see expedient, for their peace and common defence.” The person that results is the Sovereign, and everyone else is his subject. The Sovereign is created by the contract, but is not a party to it. His basic principle of human nature is revealed by his Galilean resolution, “that the dispositions of men are naturally such that, except they be restrained through some coercive power, every man will dread and distrust each other.” No motive in human nature, except the fear of death, is strong enough to counteract the disruptive force of man’s self-assertion. The fear of death must, therefore, the explanation of the existence of civil society. Sovereignty must be perpetual, undivided and absolute, for to divide and limit sovereignty would be to risk anarchy. The safety of the people is the supreme law.

Historical background

In the 17th century England, the middle class had carried forward their rebellion against absolute monarchy based on Divine Rights. The Parliament was the representation of this class and its fight. The men who now fought the Stuart Kings were precisely those who had profited from Tudor absolutism, which now began to irritate them. The lower middle class then split from their upper counterpart and rallied around Cromwell. So far as the untitled and the unmoneyed class was concerned, they stood largely by the Throne, although they had as little to gain by the King as from the Parliament. The middle class was so afraid of the poor people as of the King. When the parliamentarians talked about the Government based on consent, they had no intention of extending the franchise to the people; it was to be their own consent. Right to property, which they held to be sacred, meant to them the principle that the King had no right to tax them without their consent; it also meant the denial of property to the poor.

It was in this climate that Hobbes arrived on the intellectual scene of England. Coke was attacking the Divine Rights of Kings and he regarded both King and the Parliament, as subject to common law which, to him, was the truly sovereign power in the land. Common law had to be interpreted by the Judges. Throughout Europe, absolute State was becoming the order of the day. Louis XI had first subjugated the feudal nobility. The Reformation then enabled the monarchs to better the Church. Henry VIII had claimed jurisdiction and powers, which no earlier British King had done. To the discomfiture of Hobbes, the cursed Puritans had undone the work so artistically done by Henry VIII and the price had to be redesigned so that the fabric may be saved from total destruction in the hands of the rabble.

Hobbes was eclectic as he borrowed from previous thinkers, but gave his own orientation to their concepts. He agrees with Machiavelli that man is selfish and that human nature is bad but insists that the State could transfer the man into a moral being by the exercise of the master’s rod. He is indebted to Bodin for his concept of sovereignty but, unlike Bodin, would impose no limitations of Divine, Natural or Constitutional law on his subjects. He agrees with Grotius that, reason is the basis of law but insists that it must be sovereign’s reason alone. He modifies the Divine Right theory by discarding the Divine origin of the State and by giving Divine Right to the State instead to the King. Hobbes like Machiavelli, subordinated ethics and religion to politics and was the first prophet of sovereignty.

Morality as a basis for his political philosophy:

Political philosophy of Hobbes was based on Moral philosophy on the one hand and politics on the other. Hobbes treated it systematically in his three discourses viz., Elements of Law, Elements Philosophiae and in the Leviathan. In so far as the principles of political philosophy are not borrowed from natural sciences, the two are independent of each other. According to Hobbes theory of human nature, the basis is in the two most certain postulates of human nature. The first being that of ‘natural appetite’. The second being ‘natural reason’. Hobbes reduces man’s natural appetite to vanity; he can’t recognize the fear of a violent death, not the fear of a painful death, and certainly not the striving after self-preservation as the principle of morality. As he aptly puts it that it is not the legality of the action, but the morality of the purpose that makes a just man.

Concept of individual:

In modern political philosophy, the individual is looked upon as the unit of the society and his liberty and freedom are of central importance. He undoubtedly has the duty to obey the law of the State, but the ground of political obligation is no longer an inexplicable divinity, which hallowed the medieval polity; but an expanded area of freedom which, obedience would release. The State is all-powerful, but its omnipotence is not the outcome of sheer physical force; it is a result of the superior moral ethos, which is the offspring of the contract. The primary functions of the modern State are threefold:

  1. Happiness or Utility.
  2. Material or moral progress.
  3. Promotion of fear and extension of liberty.

The individual, therefore, is of capital importance and the State is, in the long run, subservient to him. It is to hinder hindrances. The hindrance may be the individual himself, or a group of individuals or a class; it may be other states, aggressive, jingoistic and expansionist. In every case, the State has to function as a shield for the individual against aggression and as a sword for his welfare. Positive in content, modern political philosophy is scientific and empirical in nature, approach, and methodology and in technique. Advances in pure and applied sciences have had a deep impact on political thought, the chief example being Hobbes.

Heidegger’s Bridge to Latency. Note Quote.


We can understand Heidegger’s choice of the term hermeneutics over alternatives as interpretation when we remember that implicit in the Heideggerian project is the effort to regain a grasp of being that has been lost in modern times and indeed since the time of Plato and Aristotle. One seeks the “hidden weight” of ancient words precisely in order to go behind what is self-evident in modern thinking. This special and intense listening Heidegger calls for is necessary in order to break away from the confines of the modern world view. Hermeneutics, it will be remembered, is the discipline concerned with deciphering utterances from other times, places, and languages–without imposing one’s own categories on them (the hermeneutic problem). It is significant that Heidegger attempts to sharpen his reflection by a conversation with a person from a radically alien world–a Japanese. The atmosphere of the conversation is an effort to understand the most difficult and ineffable conceptions–beauty, utterance, language. A Japanese tentativeness and delicacy pervades the dialogue, and one can understand Heidegger’s fascination with a people whose art strives for the letting-be of what is.

But the use of a Japanese dialogical partner is not the only indication of Heidegger’s effort to transcend the westernized, modern world view. Heidegger explicitly states that the careful listener will put in question “the guiding notions which, under the names ‘expression,’ ‘experience,’ and ‘consciousness,’ determine modern thinking. If one thinks of these conceptions as constituting the make-up of one’s “world,” then what Heidegger has in mind is that interpretation as hermeneutics should be “world-shaking,” a fateful message that shakes the foundations of thought. Only an interpretation that goes outside the prevailing conceptualities can move toward what Heidegger has in mind–“a transformation of thinking.” Unfortunately, the word interpretation fails to suggest a mediation from something outside and alien, but hermeneutics, since it customarily has reference to interpreting ancient texts in another language, has precisely this sense of relating to something essentially other yet capable of being understood.

The mediation Heidegger has in mind here is ontologically significant. It would seem to be a kind of bridge to non-being. The transcending of the already-given world is elsewhere in Heidegger even called the “step back”: a “step back” from presentational thought as such. This “step back” is a movement back from embeddedness in a set of fixed definitions of reality, in order to regain access to a certain realm of “latency” which we might also call our deeper sense of the meaning of being. Heidegger roots his thinking in a latency lying below the level of manifest consciousness. It is not nonbeing in the sense of a mere emptiness but rather a source of being for which the word “latency” seems rather apt. The mediation, in this case, is not between two well-lighted but incommensurate realms of being but between the well-lighted daylight of consciousness and something more like the mysterious night of what lies below and above consciousness. Heidegger clarified in his well-known letter to Richardson that this realm, as ontological nonbeing, is not the transcendental in the sense of Kant’s conditions for the possibility for phenomena but a kind of creative foundation and source for our being-in-the-world.

Theories of Fields: Gravitational Field as “the More Equal Among Equals”


Descartes, in Le Monde, gave a fully relational definition of localization (space) and motion. According to Descartes, there is no “empty space”. There are only objects, and it makes sense to say that an object A is contiguous to an object B. The “location” of an object A is the set of the objects to which A is contiguous. “Motion” is change in location. That is, when we say that A moves we mean that A goes from the contiguity of an object B to the contiguity of an object C3. A consequence of this relationalism is that there is no meaning in saying “A moves”, except if we specify with respect to which other objects (B, C,. . . ) it is moving. Thus, there is no “absolute” motion. This is the same definition of space, location, and motion, that we find in Aristotle. Aristotle insists on this point, using the example of the river that moves with respect to the ground, in which there is a boat that moves with respect to the water, on which there is a man that walks with respect to the boat . . . . Aristotle’s relationalism is tempered by the fact that there is, after all, a preferred set of objects that we can use as universal reference: the Earth at the center of the universe, the celestial spheres, the fixed stars. Thus, we can say, if we desire so, that something is moving “in absolute terms”, if it moves with respect to the Earth. Of course, there are two preferred frames in ancient cosmology: the one of the Earth and the one of the fixed stars; the two rotates with respect to each other. It is interesting to notice that the thinkers of the middle ages did not miss this point, and discussed whether we can say that the stars rotate around the Earth, rather than being the Earth that rotates under the fixed stars. Buridan concluded that, on ground of reason, in no way one view is more defensible than the other. For Descartes, who writes, of course, after the great Copernican divide, the Earth is not anymore the center of the Universe and cannot offer a naturally preferred definition of stillness. According to malignants, Descartes, fearing the Church and scared by what happened to Galileo’s stubborn defense of the idea that “the Earth moves”, resorted to relationalism, in Le Monde, precisely to be able to hold Copernicanism without having to commit himself to the absolute motion of the Earth!

Relationalism, namely the idea that motion can be defined only in relation to other objects, should not be confused with Galilean relativity. Galilean relativity is the statement that “rectilinear uniform motion” is a priori indistinguishable from stasis. Namely that velocity (but just velocity!), is relative to other bodies. Relationalism holds that any motion (however zigzagging) is a priori indistinguishable from stasis. The very formulation of Galilean relativity requires a nonrelational definition of motion (“rectilinear and uniform” with respect to what?).

Newton took a fully different course. He devotes much energy to criticise Descartes’ relationalism, and to introduce a different view. According to him, space exists. It exists even if there are no bodies in it. Location of an object is the part of space that the object occupies. Motion is change of location. Thus, we can say whether an object moves or not, irrespectively from surrounding objects. Newton argues that the notion of absolute motion is necessary for constructing mechanics. His famous discussion of the experiment of the rotating bucket in the Principia is one of the arguments to prove that motion is absolute.

This point has often raised confusion because one of the corollaries of Newtonian mechanics is that there is no detectable preferred referential frame. Therefore the notion of absolute velocity is, actually, meaningless, in Newtonian mechanics. The important point, however, is that in Newtonian mechanics velocity is relative, but any other feature of motion is not relative: it is absolute. In particular, acceleration is absolute. It is acceleration that Newton needs to construct his mechanics; it is acceleration that the bucket experiment is supposed to prove to be absolute, against Descartes. In a sense, Newton overdid a bit, introducing the notion of absolute position and velocity (perhaps even just for explanatory purposes?). Many people have later criticised Newton for his unnecessary use of absolute position. But this is irrelevant for the present discussion. The important point here is that Newtonian mechanics requires absolute acceleration, against Aristotle and against Descartes. Precisely the same does special relativistic mechanics.

Similarly, Newton introduced absolute time. Newtonian space and time or, in modern terms, spacetime, are like a stage over which the action of physics takes place, the various dynamical entities being the actors. The key feature of this stage, Newtonian spacetime, is its metrical structure. Curves have length, surfaces have area, regions of spacetime have volume. Spacetime points are at fixed distance the one from the other. Revealing, or measuring, this distance, is very simple. It is sufficient to take a rod and put it between two points. Any two points which are one rod apart are at the same distance. Using modern terminology, physical space is a linear three-dimensional (3d) space, with a preferred metric. On this space there exist preferred coordinates xi, i = 1,2,3, in terms of which the metric is just δij. Time is described by a single variable t. The metric δij determines lengths, areas and volumes and defines what we mean by straight lines in space. If a particle deviates with respect to this straight line, it is, according to Newton, accelerating. It is not accelerating with respect to this or that dynamical object: it is accelerating in absolute terms.

Special relativity changes this picture only marginally, loosing up the strict distinction between the “space” and the “time” components of spacetime. In Newtonian spacetime, space is given by fixed 3d planes. In special relativistic spacetime, which 3d plane you call space depends on your state of motion. Spacetime is now a 4d manifold M with a flat Lorentzian metric ημν. Again, there are preferred coordinates xμ, μ = 0, 1, 2, 3, in terms of which ημν = diag[1, −1, −1, −1]. This tensor, ημν , enters all physical equations, representing the determinant influence of the stage and of its metrical properties on the motion of anything. Absolute acceleration is deviation of the world line of a particle from the straight lines defined by ημν. The only essential novelty with special relativity is that the “dynamical objects”, or “bodies” moving over spacetime now include the fields as well. Example: a violent burst of electromagnetic waves coming from a distant supernova has traveled across space and has reached our instruments. For the rest, the Newtonian construct of a fixed background stage over which physics happen is not altered by special relativity.

The profound change comes with general relativity (GTR). The central discovery of GR, can be enunciated in three points. One of these is conceptually simple, the other two are tremendous. First, the gravitational force is mediated by a field, very much like the electromagnetic field: the gravitational field. Second, Newton’s spacetime, the background stage that Newton introduced introduced, against most of the earlier European tradition, and the gravitational field, are the same thing. Third, the dynamics of the gravitational field, of the other fields such as the electromagnetic field, and any other dynamical object, is fully relational, in the Aristotelian-Cartesian sense. Let me illustrate these three points.

First, the gravitational field is represented by a field on spacetime, gμν(x), just like the electromagnetic field Aμ(x). They are both very concrete entities: a strong electromagnetic wave can hit you and knock you down; and so can a strong gravitational wave. The gravitational field has independent degrees of freedom, and is governed by dynamical equations, the Einstein equations.

Second, the spacetime metric ημν disappears from all equations of physics (recall it was ubiquitous). At its place – we are instructed by GTR – we must insert the gravitational field gμν(x). This is a spectacular step: Newton’s background spacetime was nothing but the gravitational field! The stage is promoted to be one of the actors. Thus, in all physical equations one now sees the direct influence of the gravitational field. How can the gravitational field determine the metrical properties of things, which are revealed, say, by rods and clocks? Simply, the inter-atomic separation of the rods’ atoms, and the frequency of the clock’s pendulum are determined by explicit couplings of the rod’s and clock’s variables with the gravitational field gμν(x), which enters the equations of motion of these variables. Thus, any measurement of length, area or volume is, in reality, a measurement of features of the gravitational field.

But what is really formidable in GTR, the truly momentous novelty, is the third point: the Einstein equations, as well as all other equations of physics appropriately modified according to GTR instructions, are fully relational in the Aristotelian-Cartesian sense. This point is independent from the previous one. Let me give first a conceptual, then a technical account of it.

The point is that the only physically meaningful definition of location that makes physical sense within GTR is relational. GTR describes the world as a set of interacting fields and, possibly, other objects. One of these interacting fields is gμν(x). Motion can be defined only as positioning and displacements of these dynamical objects relative to each other.

To describe the motion of a dynamical object, Newton had to assume that acceleration is absolute, namely it is not relative to this or that other dynamical object. Rather, it is relative to a background space. Faraday, Maxwell and Einstein extended the notion of “dynamical object”: the stuff of the world is fields, not just bodies. Finally, GTR tells us that the background space is itself one of these fields. Thus, the circle is closed, and we are back to relationalism: Newton’s motion with respect to space is indeed motion with respect to a dynamical object: the gravitational field.

All this is coded in the active diffeomorphism invariance (diff invariance) of GR. Active diff invariance should not be confused with passive diff invariance, or invariance under change of coordinates. GTR can be formulated in a coordinate free manner, where there are no coordinates, and no changes of coordinates. In this formulation, there field equations are still invariant under active diffs. Passive diff invariance is a property of a formulation of a dynamical theory, while active diff invariance is a property of the dynamical theory itself. A field theory is formulated in manner invariant under passive diffs (or change of coordinates), if we can change the coordinates of the manifold, re-express all the geometric quantities (dynamical and non-dynamical) in the new coordinates, and the form of the equations of motion does not change. A theory is invariant under active diffs, when a smooth displacement of the dynamical fields (the dynamical fields alone) over the manifold, sends solutions of the equations of motion into solutions of the equations of motion. Distinguishing a truly dynamical field, namely a field with independent degrees of freedom, from a nondynamical filed disguised as dynamical (such as a metric field g with the equations of motion Riemann[g]=0) might require a detailed analysis (for instance, Hamiltonian) of the theory. Because active diff invariance is a gauge, the physical content of GTR is expressed only by those quantities, derived from the basic dynamical variables, which are fully independent from the points of the manifold.

In introducing the background stage, Newton introduced two structures: a spacetime manifold, and its non-dynamical metric structure. GTR gets rid of the non-dynamical metric, by replacing it with the gravitational field. More importantly, it gets rid of the manifold, by means of active diff invariance. In GTR, the objects of which the world is made do not live over a stage and do not live on spacetime: they live, so to say, over each other’s shoulders.

Of course, nothing prevents us, if we wish to do so, from singling out the gravitational field as “the more equal among equals”, and declaring that location is absolute in GTR, because it can be defined with respect to it. But this can be done within any relationalism: we can always single out a set of objects, and declare them as not-moving by definition. The problem with this attitude is that it fully misses the great Einsteinian insight: that Newtonian spacetime is just one field among the others. More seriously, this attitude sends us into a nightmare when we have to deal with the motion of the gravitational field itself (which certainly “moves”: we are spending millions for constructing gravity wave detectors to detect its tiny vibrations). There is no absolute referent of motion in GTR: the dynamical fields “move” with respect to each other.

Notice that the third step was not easy for Einstein, and came later than the previous two. Having well understood the first two, but still missing the third, Einstein actively searched for non-generally covariant equations of motion for the gravitational field between 1912 and 1915. With his famous “hole argument” he had convinced himself that generally covariant equations of motion (and therefore, in this context, active diffeomorphism invariance) would imply a truly dramatic revolution with respect to the Newtonian notions of space and time. In 1912 he was not able to take this profoundly revolutionary step, but in 1915 he took this step, and found what Landau calls “the most beautiful of the physical theories”.

Genesis and Evaluation of Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Part 2.


Hobbes recognizes the nature of the ideal of an exact philosophical morality,which is paradoxical and makes it the backbone of his political philosophy. In his moral philosophy also, the antithesis between the virtue and pseudo-virtue forms a constituent part. He also teaches that true virtue and pseudo-virtue differ only in their reason. Like Plato, he also recognizes only political virtues. Hobbes also distrusts rhetoric, in a way, which recalls Plato.

A pleader commonly thinks he ought to say all he can for the benefit of his client, and therefore has need of a faculty to wrest the sense of words from their true meaning, and the faculty of rhetoric to seduce the jury, and sometimes the judge also, and many other arts which I neither have, nor intend to study.

Basing his reason on Platonic approach, he thought that the difference between the analysis of ordinary values and of passions given in Aristotle’s rhetoric on the one hand, and the theory of ethics on the other, not nearly great enough. While in Aristotle’s view the common passionate valuations have a peculiar consistency and universality, Hobbes, by reason of his radical criticism of opinion as such, cannot but deny them this dignity. 

What Hobbes’ political philosophy owes to Platonism is the antithesis between truth and appearance, the fitting and the great, between reason and passion. From the very outset, Hobbes’ conviction was the antithesis between vanity and fear and for him, it was of fundamental importance for morals. But in the beginning, Hobbes understood this antithesis as an antithesis within the domain of the passions. But when he turned to Plato, he began to conceive this antithesis between vanity and fear as the antithesis between passion and reason. However, resolutely Hobbes demands a completely passionless, purely rational political philosophy, he desires, as it were, in the same breath, that the norm to be set by reason should be in accord with the passions. Respect for applicability determines the seeking after the norm from the outset. With this, Hobbes does not merely tacitly adopt Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s political philosophy but he goes much beyond Aristotle.

Primary reason for Hobbes’ opposition to Plato, is the motive for turning to Euclid as to the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method. In this method, the given object of investigation is first analysed, traced back to its reasons, and then by completely lucid deduction the object is again reconstituted. The axioms, which Hobbes gains by going back from the existing State to its reasons, and from there he deduces the form of the right State; are according to him, the man’s natural selfishness and the fear of death. Hobbes’ political philosophy differs from Plato in that, in the latter, exactness means the undistorted reliability of the standards, while in the former, exactness means unconditional applicability, under all circumstances. Hobbes took the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method over from Galileo. He believes that by this method he can achieve for political philosophy what Galileo achieved for physics. But the adequacy for physics does not guarantee its adequacy for political philosophy. For while the subject for physics is the natural body, the subject of political philosophy is an artificial body, i.e. a whole that has to be made by men from natural wholes. Thus the concern of political philosophy is not so much knowledge of the artificial body as the production of that body. Political philosophy analyses the existing State into its elements only in order that by a better synthesis of those elements the right State may be produced. Political philosophy thus becomes a technique for the regulation of the State. Its task is to alter the unstable balance of the existing State to the stable balance of the right State. The introduction of Galileo’s method into political philosophy from the outset renounces all discussions of the fundamental political problems, i.e. the elimination of the fundamental question as to the aim of the State.

Hobbes doesn’t question the necessity of political philosophy, i.e. he doesn’t ask first, ‘What is virtue?’ and ‘Can it be taught?’ and ‘What is the aim of the State?’, because for him, these questions are answered by tradition, or by common opinion. The aim of the State is for him as a matter of course peace, i.e. peace at any price. The underlying presupposition is that violent death is the first and greatest and supreme evil. After finding this presupposition as a principle when he analysed the existing State, he proceeds to deduce from it the right State; opposed to Plato, whose consideration of the genesis of the State seems superficially akin, but has the character of reflection, of deliberate questioning of what is good and fitting. Convinced of the absolutely typical character of the mathematical method, according to which one proceeds from axioms to self-evident truths/conclusions, Hobbes fails to realize that in the ‘beginning’, in the ‘evident’ presuppositions whether of mathematics or of politics, the task of ‘dialectic’ is hidden. Hobbes considers it superfluous, even dangerous, to take as one’s point of departure what men say about justice and so forth: ‘the names of virtues and vices…can never be true grounds of any ratiocination’. The application of the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method to political philosophy is of doubtful value as it prevented Hobbes from asking the questions as to the standard. He begins his political philosophy with the question as to the nature of the man in the sense of that which falls to all men before education. If the procedure of deducing the right State is to be significant, the principles themselves contain the answer to the question as to the right State, as to the standard. Hobbes characterizes the two principles viz., limitless self-love on the one hand and that of violent death on the other as he principles of the wrong and the principles of the right. But this characterization does not arise from the analysis, for the analysis can only show the principles of the existing State, and cannot, therefore, teach anything about the rightness and wrongness of those principles, and, on the other hand, this characterization is the presupposition of the synthesis, which as a synthesis of the right State cannot arise until it has been established what is the right. This qualification, which follows the analysis and precedes the synthesis, is certainly into the frame of the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method; but it is not to be understood from this method, either in general or even in particular. The justification of the standard, which is the fundamental part of the political philosophy, is hidden by the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method and even made unrecognizable.

What is justified in this way is indeed not a standard, an obligation; but a right, a claim. According to Hobbes, the basis of politics is not the ‘law of nature’, but the ‘right of nature’. This right is the minimum claim, which as such is fundamentally just, and the origin of any other just claim; more exactly, it is unconditionally just because it can be answered for in face of all men in all circumstances. A claim of this kind is only the claim to defend life and limb. Its opposite is the maximum claim, which is fundamentally unjust, for it cannot be answered for in face of any other man. The maximum claim, the claim man makes by nature, i.e. as long as he is not educated by ‘unforeseen mischances’, is the claim to triumph over all other men. This ‘natural’ claim is checked by fear of violent death and becomes man’s rational minimum claim, and thus ‘right of nature’ comes into being, or atleast comes to light. That is to say, the ‘right of nature’ is the first juridical or moral fact, which arises if one, starts from man’s nature i.e. from man’s natural appetite. The ‘law of nature’ belongs to a much later stage of the progress from human nature to the State: ‘natural right’ is dealt with in the first chapter of De Cive, ‘natural law’ in the second and third chapters.

The ‘law of nature’ owes all its dignity simply to the circumstances that it is the necessary consequence of the ‘right of nature’. We may ask the question as to what is the peculiarity of modern political thought in relation to the classical political thought?  While modern thought starts from the rights of the individual, and conceives the State as existing to secure the conditions of his development, Greek thought starts from the right of the State. Modern and classical political philosophy are fundamentally distinguished in that modern political philosophy takes ‘right’ as the starting point, whereas classical political philosophy has ‘law’ as its starting point.

Hobbes marked an epoch not only by subordinating law to right. He was at the same time ‘the first writer to grasp the full importance of the idea of sovereignty…he must take the credit of being the first to see that the idea of sovereignty lies at the very root of the whole theory of the State; and the first to realize the necessity of fixing precisely where it lies, and what are its functions and its limits’. By this also Hobbes stands in contrast to classical political philosophy: ‘Amongst the most notable omissions of Greek philosophy is the absence of any clear attempt to define the nature of sovereignty, to determine its seat, or settle the ultimate sanction on which it rests’. In classical times, the question, ‘who or what shall rule?’ has the antiquity answer running, ‘the law’. Philosophers who could not acquiesce in the Divine origin of the law justify this answer in the following way: the rational should rule over the irrational (the old over the young, the man over the woman, the master over the slave) and therefore law over men. Granting that there are men who by force of reason are undoubtedly superior to others, would those others submit to them merely on this ground, and obey them? Would they recognize their superiority? But doubt does not stop at that. It is denied that any considerable difference in reasonableness exists between men. Because reason is essentially impotent, it is not enough to reply that reason is the origin and the seat of sovereignty. Thus it becomes fundamentally questionable, which of the men who are equal and alike is to rule over the others, and under which conditions and within which limits, they have a claim to rule. Because all men a re equally reasonable, the reason of one or more individuals must arbitrarily be made the standard reason as an artificial substitute for the lacking natural superiority of the reason. Because reason is impotent, the rational ‘law of nature’ also loses its dignity. In its place we have the ‘right of nature’ which is, indeed, according to reason but dictated not by reason but by the fear of death. The break with rationalism is thus the decisive presupposition for the concept of sovereignty as well as for the supplanting of ‘law’ by ‘right’.

Hobbes in his writings conceives sovereign power not as reason but as will. Hobbes expressly turns against the view still predominant in his age that the holder of the sovereign power is in the same relation to the State as the head to the whole man. The holder of the sovereign power is not the ‘head’, that is, the capacity to deliberate and plan, but the ‘soul’, that is, the capacity to command, in the State. The explicit break with rationalism is thus the reason for the antithesis of modern political thought to classical and is characterized thusly: ‘the Greeks believed in the need of education to tune and harmonize social opinions to the spirit and tone of a fixed and fundamental law. The modern belief is the need of a representation to adjust and harmonize a fluid and changing and subordinate law to the movement of a sovereign public opinion or ‘general will’.

The view of classical rationalism, that only reason justifies dominion, found its most radical expression in Plato’s saying that the only necessary and adequate condition for the weal of a State is that the philosophers should be Kings and Kings philosophers. This amounts to stating that the setting up of a perfect commonwealth depends exclusively on ‘internal policy’ and not at all on foreign policy. From here on, Plato’s theory of justice can be summed up thus: there is no happiness for men without justice; justice means attending to one’s own business, bringing oneself into the right disposition with regard to the transcendent unchanging norm, to which the soul is akin, and not meddling into other people’s affairs; and justice in the State is not different from justice in the individual, except that the State is self-sufficient and can thus practice justice; attending to its own business; incomparably more perfectly than can the individual who is not self-sufficient. The citizens of the perfect State, for this very reason to foreigners, happen to be either allies to be esteemed or foes to be feared. Let us take Plato’s example; if the essence of the thing is to be preferred to its external conditions, to the self-realization and self-assertion of that thing against its external conditions, then, for instance, the right constitution of the body, its health, is to be preferred to its return to its health, to its recovery after its loss of health. By this example, Plato makes clear that the good statesman carries out his legislation with an eye to peace, which is to the good internal constitution of the State, and not with an eye to war, that is, to the assertion of the State against external conditions. Hobbes differs from Plato and asserts that the recovery of health is to be preferred to the undisturbed possession of health. While for Plato and to an extent for Aristotle, and in accordance with the primary interest they attach to home policy, the question of the number of inhabitants of the perfect State, that is, the limits set to the State by its inner necessity, is of decisive importance; Hobbes brushes this question aside in these words: ‘The Multitude sufficient to confide in for our security, is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison by the enemy we feare…’ The primacy of foreign policy is not specifically taught by Hobbes, but it is an integral part of all of modern political philosophy. Immanuel Kant in one of his works has a phrase, which runs like: ‘The problem of establishing a perfect civil constitution is dependent on the problem of a lawful external relation between the States and cannot be solved independently of the solution of the latter problem’.

The antithesis between Platonic and Hobbesian political philosophy, reduced to principle, is that the former orientates itself by speech and the latter from the outset refuses to do so. This refusal originally arises from what may be called natural valuations. While Plato goes back to the truth hidden in the natural valuations and thereof seeks to teach nothing new and unheard of, but to recall what is known to all but not understood, Hobbes, rejecting the natural valuations in principle, goes beyond, goes forward to a new a priori political philosophy, which is of the future and freely projected. Measured by Aristotle’s classical explanation of morals, Platonic moral philosophy is as paradoxical as Hobbes’. But whereas the paradoxical nature of Platonic moral philosophy is as irreversible as the  ‘cave’ existence of men bound to the body, Hobbes’ moral philosophy is destined sooner or later to change from paradox to an accepted form of public opinion. The paradoxical nature of Hobbes’ moral philosophy is the paradox of the surprisingly new, unheard of venture. Whereas Plato retraces natural morals and the orientation provided by them to their origin, Hobbes must attempt in sovereignty, and without this orientation, to discover the principles of morals. Hobbes travels the path, which leads to formal ethics and finally to relativist skepticism. The enormous extension of the claims made on political science leads at least to a denial of the very idea of political science and to the replacement of political science by sociology. Plato does not question the virtue character of courage, to which speech bears witness but simply opposes the over-estimation of courage, which underlies the popular opinion. Hobbes, because he renounced all orientation by speech, goes so far to deny the virtue character of courage. And just as disdain of speech finally leads to relativist skepticism, the negation of courage leads to the controversial position of courage, which becomes more and more acute on the way from Rousseau by Hegel to Nietzsche and is completed by the reabsorption of wisdom by courage, in the view that the ideal is not the object of wisdom, but the hazardous venture of the will.

Relinquishing orientation by speech does not mean that Hobbes ‘forgets’ the question of standards, but that he poses this question only as an afterthought, and, therefore, inadequately. Whereas Plato distinguishes between two kinds of reasons, the good and the necessary, Hobbes recognizes only one kind, the necessary. Since as a result of this he is obliged to take into account the inevitable difference between the good and the necessary within the necessary itself, the question of the standard, of the good, becomes for him the question of what is par excellence necessary, and he discovers the retreat from death as the necessary par excellence. For Hobbes, the denial of natural standards was irrefutably evident on the basis of his materialist metaphysics. Thus this metaphysics is the implicit pre-supposition even of his turning to Euclid, provided that the acceptance of the ‘mathematical’ method presupposes the negation of absolute standards. For the question arises; why did Hobbes decide in favour of materialism? On the ground of what primary conviction was materialism so vividly evident for him? The answer can be based on rough indications i.e. Hobbes’ turn to natural science is to be explained by his interest not so much in nature as in man, in self knowledge of man as he really is, i.e. by the interest that characterized him even in his humanist period. His scientific explanation of sense perception is characterized by the fact that it interprets perception of the higher senses by the sense of touch; and the preference for the sense of touch, which this presupposes is already implied in Hobbes’ original view of fundamental significance of the antithesis between vanity and fear. If Hobbes’ natural science is dependent on his ‘humanist’, that is moral, interests and convictions, on the other hand a particular conception of nature is the implicit basis of his views on moral and political philosophy. It is certain that the conception of nature, which is the presupposition of his political philosophy and the conception of nature, which he explains in his scientific writings, has a kinship and which in principle are to be kept separate. It is for these reasons that his scientific investigations could exert a powerful influence on the evolution of his political philosophy. He could not have maintained his thesis that death is the greatest and supreme evil but for the conviction vouched for by his natural science that the soul is not immortal. His criticism of aristocratic virtue and his denial of any gradation in mankind gains certainty only through his conception of nature, according to which there is no order, that is, no gradation in nature. From this standpoint we can understand the difference between Hobbes’ conception of Pride and the traditional conception. ‘Pride’ in the traditional sense means rebellion against the gradation of beings; it presupposes, therefore, the existence and the obligatory character of that gradation. Hobbes’ conception of ‘Pride’, on the other hand, presupposes the denial of natural gradation; this conception is, indeed, nothing other than a means of ‘explaining’, i.e. of denying that gradation: the allegedly natural gradation concerning the faculties of the mind proceeds from a ‘a vain concept of ones own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the Vulgar’. The idea of civilization achieves its telling effect solely by reason of the presupposition that the civilization of human nature can go on boundlessly, because what tradition in agreement with common sense had understood as given and immutable human nature is for the main part a mere ‘natural limit’, which may be over passed. Very little is innate in man; most of what is alleged to come to him from the nature is acquired and therefore mutable, as conditions change; the most important peculiarities of man; speech, reason, sociality are not gifts of nature, but the work of his will. This example creates a duality in his political philosophy. The idea of civilization presupposes that man, by virtue of his intelligence, can place himself outside nature, can rebel against nature. The antithesis of nature and human will is hidden by the monist (materialist-deterministic) metaphysic, which Hobbes found himself forced to adopt simply because he saw no other possibility of escaping the ‘Kingdom of darkness’. This signifies that the moral basis of his political philosophy becomes more and more disguised, the farther the evolution of his natural science progresses. In other words, with the progressive evolution of his natural sciences, vanity, which must of necessity be treated from the moral standpoint, is more and more replaced by the striving for power, which is neutral and therefore more amenable to scientific interpretation. But Hobbes took great care not to follow this path as he thought that consistent naturalism would ruin his political philosophy. To compare Spinoza with Hobbes, Spinoza was more naturalistic than Hobbes. Spinoza relinquished the distinction between ‘might’ and ‘right’ and taught the natural right of all passions. Hobbes, on the other hand, by virtue of the basis of his political philosophy asserted the natural right only of the fear of death. On the other hand, if we consider Montesquieu, who carried the naturalistic analysis of the passions to its logical conclusion, came forward with the result that the State of nature cannot be the war of all against all this clearly exemplifies that if inconsistent naturalism is compatible with Hobbes’ political philosophy, the consistent naturalism, which Hobbes displays in his scientific writings cannot be the foundation of his political philosophy. This foundation must be another conception of nature, which although being related to naturalism is by no means identical to it.

Therefore, the foundation of Hobbes’ political philosophy, which is the moral attitude to which it owes its existence, is objectively prior to the mathematical scientific founding and presentation of that philosophy. The mathematical method and the materialistic metaphysics each in their own way contributed to disguise the original motivation to undermine Hobbes’ political philosophy. Hence, Leviathan is by no means an adequate source for an understanding of Hobbes’ moral and political philosophy, although the presuppositions and conclusions dealing with moral attitude are clearly manifest in the Leviathan.

Genesis and Evaluation of Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Part 1.


The following five processes can broadly characterize the genesis of Hobbes’ political philosophy:

  1. The moving away from the idea of monarchy as the most natural form of State to the idea of monarchy as the most perfect artificial State.
  2. The moving away from the recognition of natural obligation as the basis of morality, law and the State to the deduction of morality, law and the State from a natural claim; thus denying every natural obligation.
  3. Moving away from the recognition of a superhuman authority; whether that being revelation based on Divine will or a natural order based on Divine reason, to the recognition of an exclusively human authority of the State.
  4. Moving away from the study of past and present States to the free construction of the future States.
  5. Moving away from honour as principle, to fear of violent death as principle.

 These movements have an inherent inner connection and the explanations of these connections are to be sought after for a proper analysis of Hobbes’ political philosophy. It becomes clear explicitly that the philosophy is rather an homogenous connection between the final stages of the movements mentioned. The unity of this connection is a derivative from the unity of Hobbes’ moral attitude.

The resulting political philosophy is the unfolding of the moral attitudes to its universal significance, thus bringing in, in its league the whole nexus comprising of its presuppositions and its consequences. Thus it seems that his moral attitude is not only objectively ‘prior’ to the argument and presentation of his political philosophy, but it precedes his pre-occupation with mathematics and exact sciences. However, there remains a fundamental question concerning the addition of ingredients thus furthering his political philosophy to take its final form.

Before Hobbes discovered Euclid, his belief lay in the Aristotelian moral and political philosophy. His investigation deals not so much with the essence of ‘virtue’ and avoiding ‘vice’. With the pre-supposition that reason is, in principle, impotent, the problem of application which took a back seat in the form of being secondary, itself became the central problem. Thus Hobbes turns to history. And in this, he is constantly taught by tradition about what man is, what man should be and what forces really determine him and in the end his endeavour to discover passions. Among the discovery of passions, the ones he pays strongest attention to are vanity and fear. According to him, vanity is the force, which makes man blind and fear, is the force, which makes him see. By emphasizing the antithesis of vanity and fear of violent death, Hobbes was already beyond the traditional horizon.

Apart from the historians and the poets that Hobbes had at disposal for the study of passions, he already knew of the passions in Aristotle’s ‘Rhetoric’, to which his political philosophy owed so much. Hobbes had an early scientific ambition whereby he would perhaps write on passions, in concomitance with the style of the ‘Rhetoric’ to further the theory of the application of the moral precepts. Hobbes’ approach to passions was divergent from that of Aristotle’s. For Aristotle, honourable and estimable passions are emphasized as base and culpable ones, Hobbes from the very beginning held ‘dissembled passions’ in condemnation. Aristotle was concerned with passions which ‘carry the greatest sway with men in their public conversation’, but for him the positive connection of a passion with public life does not mean a criticism of that passion, since passions in public life can be both estimable and despicable. Hobbes, on the other hand, finds from the beginning that the passions which counsels men well is hardly or at times not at all displayed in public. Such characteristic deviations from the rhetoric are found in the few sentences of the introduction to the translation of Thucydides, which touch upon themes of the Rhetoric. Some of the changes that Hobbes makes in Aristotle’s assertions cannot be explained by the influence of mathematics and natural sciences; these divergences may be taken as original reservations on Hobbes’ part against Aristotle.

A large part of the changes which Hobbes makes in his model stems from his fundamental opinion that fear of death, is the force, which makes men blind. This change in the estimation of fear is shown by the fact that Hobbes in his enumeration of good things mentions life as the first good in the first place, whereas on the other hand Aristotle mentions happiness in the first place and life only in the penultimate place. Hobbes speaks of good things as good because they serve as the protection of life, whereas Aristotle stresses good things which produce good, rather than good things, which preserve good. Hobbes declares the regaining of a lost good to be better than the undisturbed possession of that good; the memory that, that good was once imperiled is the condition of a sound estimation of it, just as the frightfulness of death rather than the sweetness of life reveals the value of living. The change in the estimation of vanity is shown by the fact that Hobbes in his discussion of emulation and envy makes no mention of the difference in the value of these two passions, according to which emulation is more nobler than envy. Besides, he traces the pleasure of victory to vanity, whereas Aristotle characterizes the reason for this pleasure as a conception of superiority. According to Aristotle, shame is no virtue, but a passion, but, nevertheless, it is that passion which holds noble youth in check, whereas according to Hobbes, shame, as confusion arising from disgrace endured, is only the opposite of satisfied vanity. According to Aristotle, the typical example of what is pleasant is the ease which constitutes a customary state; thus everything which one can do with ease and convenience, counts as pleasant, like, freedom from care, idleness, sleep, play, laughter etc. In his enumeration of pleasant things, Hobbes names in the first place progress; ease of any kind, in his opinion a state neither desirable nor attainable: ‘continual delight consisteth not in having prospered, but in prospering’, not in possession and enjoyment, but in successful striving and desiring. Thus, diverging from Aristotle, Hobbes names in his enumeration of pleasant things, work or occupation. According to Hobbes, the pleasant is not so much what is naturally pleasant, as the ‘pleasant’ movement from one pleasant thing to another pleasant thing.

Hobbes’ break with tradition was doubtless the result of his turning to mathematics and natural sciences. Precisely for this reason he became conscious of the antagonism of the new moral attitude of the whole tradition. Before turning to Galileo and Euclid, he in principle kept to the traditional political philosophy. It wasn’t the idea of political science, but its method that became a problem through the study of Euclid. This however, shows that the might of the scientific tradition is the reason why the need for a reform in political philosophy comes into being primarily as the need for a new reform in the spheres of political philosophy. This explicit break, which the whole tradition of political philosophy makes, thus becomes possible only after ‘Euclid’. Hobbes himself admits in his own view that the application of mathematical method to political philosophy elevates it for the first time to the rank of a science, a branch of rational knowledge the reason for this is that in politics up to that time, it was not reason but passions that held sway. The only completely passionless, purely rational science, and therefore the only science, which is already in existence, is mathematics; thus only by orienting oneself by mathematics, i.e. by progressing as mathematicians do from self evident principles by means of evident conclusions, can politics be reduced ‘to the rules and infallibility of reason’. Exact passionless mathematics is indifferent to passions; exact passionless political philosophy is in conflict with the passions. The need for exact political philosophy is justified by no means less only in reference to the failure of the old and traditional political philosophy, but especially in reference to the wrongness of opinions, which is betrayed first by the fact that most opinions are wrong. Now, since all opinion is as such wrong, the true knowledge of the good must be opposed to all opinion, must have exact knowledge and must be completely free of the character of opinion. Thus Hobbes’ political philosophy is against every system of morals, which is popular and pre-scientific. The ideal of exact scientific philosophy is thus asserting the fact that only science discloses to man the obligatory aims of his volition and action. One must try to define the philosophical meaning of turning to ‘Euclid’ on the basis of what that turning means to political philosophy.

During his humanist period, wherein Hobbes tried to remedy Aristotelian moral philosophy by studying history. Hobbes moved towards an exact moral and political philosophy. The confusion with regard to the good, the just, and the beautiful, which caused Aristotle to acknowledge and maintain the peculiar lack of definiteness of these subjects, which explain these confusions; this for Plato was a reason for transcending the whole field in which such confusion was possible. Whereas, Aristotle’s political philosophy is and means to be in harmony with the opinion as to the just, the beautiful and the good, and with political experience Plato’s political philosophy is in principle with full readiness to make demands, which cannot be fully justified by political experience. Thus, when Hobbes, stimulated by mathematics, demands an exact political philosophy, he is departing from Aristotle and going back to Plato. The most profound expression, which Hobbes finds for the difference between Aristotle and Plato, is that Plato’s philosophy starts from ideas, and Aristotle’s from words. But as for the difference between Plato and Aristotle, which develop in the course of an approach, which was common to them both, it consists rather in this, that Plato, much more than Aristotle, orientates himself by speech. When Hobbes says that Plato philosophizes not from ‘words’, but from ‘ideas’, he fundamentally misunderstands him. However, as Plato turns away from things, not to speech in itself, but to speech in its contradictoriness, it is certain that it is just the apparently pedantic allegiance to speech, which he observes, that brings him in opposition to what men usually say and believe. And, thus Hobbes’ conception of Plato is to a certain extent, justified. Let us first recall the significance of Plato’s moral philosophy to the antithesis between true and pseudo-virtue. True virtue has as its basis a complete change of objective, whereas pseudo-virtue is based entirely on ordinary human aims and interests. True virtue is essentially wisdom. True virtue differs from pseudo-virtue in its reason. Pseudo-virtue is pseudo virtue because its aim is not virtue itself, but the appearance of virtue, reputation for virtue, and the honour, which results from that reputation. In other words, it can be said that pseudo virtue seeks what is imposing and great, while true virtue seeks what is fitting and right. Thus, according to Plato, courage, the virtue of the warrior, is inseparable from military glory. No virtue seems more brilliant, more worthy even of reverence than courage; for courage is the standard ideal of the Lacedaemonian and Cretan laws. And yet it is the lowest virtue. Its problematic nature expounds itself in full clearness only when one considers it not in its archaic form, in which its sense is, narrowed and limited by obedience to law, and in which, for that very reason, it is hidden wisdom, but only when one considers it apart from its limitations, in itself. Courage, as it is usually understood, is the virtue of the man, his capacity, without fear or effeminacy, to help himself, to protect himself from injustice or injury, to assert and save himself. If we take this ideal, then the perfect man is the tyrant, who disposes of the greatest possible power to do what he will. In limitless self-love, in frenzied arrogance, the tyrant seeks to rule not merely over men, but even over Gods. It is not courage, which is the highest virtue; self-mastery stands higher, and higher still than self-mastery stand wisdom and justice. In itself wisdom stands supreme. Aristotle teaches that the ethical virtues, headed by justice, are available to men, whereas his true happiness, which to a certain extent transcends human limitations, consists in philosophy. Plato denies that the philosopher has a right to seek its own happiness, without a thought for the unphilosophic many. The law of the ideal State compels the philosophers to take thought for other men and to watch over them and not ‘to turn whither each will’.  Since the pursuit of philosophy as a human undertaking is under a higher order, justice, with regard to men, stands higher than wisdom. Whereas Aristotle, by unreservedly setting theoretic life higher than ethical virtue, unconditionally oversteps the limits of the State and thus indirectly attains the possibility of recognizing virtues, which are not really political virtues, but virtues of private life, for Plato there are only political virtues, i.e. to characterize popular virtue.

Aristotelian Influence on Hobbes

Let us begin by surveying the forces, which exercised a decisive influence on Hobbes before he turned to Mathematics and Natural Sciences. From 1603 to 1608 he studied at Oxford. During this time, dissatisfied with academic teaching, he turned to classical texts, which he had already read. He read them with the interpretations of grammarians. His purpose in this study was to develop a clear Latin style. The continuation and conclusion of this study was the English translation of Thucydides, which was gradually published in 1628.

At Oxford Hobbes was introduced to scholastic philosophy. He himself recounts that he studied Aristotle’s logic and physics. He makes no mention of studying Aristotle’s morals and politics. According to the traditional curriculum, the formal disciplines viz., grammar, rhetoric, and logic were in the foreground. We may therefore assume that scholastic studies were for Hobbes in the main formal training, and that he acquired the more detailed knowledge of scholasticism, which he afterwards needed for the polemical defence of his own theories. Later on, he did not take up the studies of scholastic studies as he defected to the studies of humanities.

There were four major influences on Hobbes viz., humanism, scholasticism, Puritanism, and aristocracy. But humanism in Hobbes’ youth was the most prominent of all the influences. Hobbes after the end of his university studies read not only classical poets and historians but also classical philosophers. Which philosophers? In a foreword to his translation of Thucydides he say:

It hath been noted by divers, that Homer in poesy, Aristotle in philosophy, Demosthenes in eloquence, and others of the ancients in other knowledge, do still maintain their privacy: none of them exceeded, some not approached, by any in these later ages. And in the number of these is justly ranked also our Thucydides; a workman no less perfect in his work, than any of the former.

Hobbes later considered Plato to be the best philosopher, not the best philosopher of all, but the best philosopher of antiquity. But at the end of his humanist period he repeats without raising any objection the ruling opinion according to which Aristotle is the highest authority in philosophy. The break with Aristotle was completed only when Hobbes took to the studies of mathematics and natural sciences. The polemic against Aristotle is definitely not as violent as it is in Hobbes’ Leviathan and De Cive. In the Elements of Law, in his definition of the State, Hobbes asserts the aim of the State to be, along with peace and defence, common benefit. With this he tacitly admits Aristotle’s distinction between the reason of the genesis of the State and the reason of its being. In the later stages, Hobbes rejects the common benefit and thus defects from the above mentioned Aristotelian distinction. The linkage of Aristotle with Homer, Demosthenes, and Thucydides provides the answer i.e. Aristotle seen from the humanist point of view. Fundamentally it means the shifting of interests from Aristotle’s physics and metaphysics to his morals and politics. It also means the replacement of theory with the primacy of practice. Only if one assumes a fundamental change of this kind does Hobbes’ turning away from scholasticism to poetry and history cease to be a biographical and a historical peculiarity. Even after natural science had become Hobbes’ favourite subject of investigation, he still acknowledged the precedence of practice over theory and of political philosophy over natural science. The joys of knowledge for him was not the justification of philosophy, but rather the justification only in relation of being beneficial to man, i.e. the safeguarding of man’s life and the increase of human power. Where Hobbes develops his own view connectedly, he manifestly subordinates theory to practice. He did not, like Aristotle, attribute prudence to practice and wisdom to theory. He says: ‘Prudence is to wisdom what experience is to knowledge; wisdom is the knowledge ‘of what is right and wrong and what is good and hurtful to the being and the well-being of mankind… For generally, not he that hath skill in geometry, or any other science speculative, but only he that understandeth what conduceth to the good and Government of the people, is called a wise man’. The contrast with Aristotle has its ultimate reason in Hobbes’ conception of the place of man in the universe, which is diametrically opposed to that of Aristotle. Aristotle justified his placing of the theoretical sciences above moral and political philosophy by the argument that man is not the highest being in the universe. This ultimate assumption of the primacy of theory is rejected by Hobbes; in his contention man is ‘the most excellent work of nature’. In this strict sense Hobbes always remained a humanist, and only with the essential limitation which this brings could he recognize Aristotle’s authority in his humanist period.

Even when Hobbes had come to the conclusion that Aristotle was ‘the worst teacher that ever was’, he excepted two works from his condemnation: ‘but his rhetorique and discourse of animals were rare’. It would be difficult to find other classical work whose importance for Hobbes’ political philosophy can be compared with that of the Rhetoric. The central chapters of Hobbes’ anthropology, those chapters on which, more than on anything else he wrote, his fame as a stylist and as one who knows men rests for all time, betray in style and contents that their author was a zealous reader of the Rhetoric. In the 10th chapter of Leviathan, Hobbes treats under the heading ‘Honourable’ with what Aristotle in the Rhetoric discusses. Aristotle says ‘And honourable are the works of virtue. And the sign of virtue. And the reward whereof is rather honour. And those things are honourable which, good of themselves, are not so to the owner…And bestowing of benefits…And honourable are…victory…And things that excel. And what none can do but we. And possessions we reap no profit by. And those things which are had in honour…And the signs of praise’. In reply to this Hobbes comments ‘…victory is honourable…Magnanimity, Liberality, Hope, Courage, Confidence, are Honourable…Actions proceeding from Equity, joyned with losse, are Honourable’.

Let us try to chart out a dependence of Hobbes’ theory of the passions on the Rhetoric. In the Rhetoric, Anger is desire of revenge, joined with grief, for that he, or some of his, is, or seems to be neglected. While in the Elements of Hobbes, Anger hath been commonly defined to be grief proceeding from an opinion of contempt. To kill is the aim of them that hate, revenge aimeth at triumph. In the Rhetoric Pity is a perturbation of the mind, arising from the apprehension of hurt or trouble to another that doth not deserve it, and which he thinks may happen to himself or his. And because it appertains to pity to think that he, or his, may fall into the misery he pities in others; it follows that they may be most compassionate: who have passed through misery. And such as think there be honest men…Less compassionate are they that think no man honest and who are in great prosperity. In Hobbes’ Elements, Pity is imagination or fiction of future calamity to ourselves, proceeding from the sense of another man’s present calamity; but when it lighteth on such as we think does not deserve the same, the compassion is the greater, because then there appeareth the more probability that the same may happen to us. The contrary of pity is the hardness of heart, proceeding from extreme great opinion of their of their own exemption of the like calamity, or from hatred of all, or most men.

In Rhetoric, indignation is the grief for the prosperity of a man unworthy. In the Rhetoric, envy is grief is for the prosperity of such as ourselves, arising not from any hurt that we, but from the good that they receive. Emulation is grief arising from that our equals possess such goods as are had in honour, and whereof we are capable, but have them not; not because they have them, but because not also we. No man therefore emulates another in things whereof himself is not capable. In the Elements, Emulation is grief arising from seeing one’s self exceeded or excelled by his concurrent, together with hope to equal or exceed him in time to come.

Hobbes in his later writings uses passages from the Rhetoric, of which he had made no use of in his earlier writings, it follows that when composing all his systematic expositions of anthropology he studied Aristotle’s Rhetoric afresh each time. Hobbes’ pre-occupation with the Rhetoric can be traced back as far as about 1635. in 1635, Hobbes had considered the writing of personal exposition of the theory of the passions and as just seen, his earliest treatment of the theory of the passions was clearly influenced by Aristotle’s Rhetoric. In addition, he himself recounts that he instructed the third Earl of Devonshire in rhetoric.

Hobbes’ closer study of Aristotle’s Rhetoric may be proved with certainty only for the 1630s, i.e. in the time in which he had overtly completed the break with Aristotelianism. Moreover, one gathers from his introduction to the translation of Thucydides that the phenomenon of eloquence on the one hand, and of the passions on the other, occupied his mind even in the humanist period of his. On the whole, it seems to us more correct to assume that the use and appreciation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which may be traced in Hobbes’ mature writings, are the last remnants of the Aristotelianism of his youth. Hobbes after exclusive pre-occupation with poets and historians