Utopia as Emergence Initiating a Truth. Thought of the Day 104.0


It is true that, in our contemporary world, traditional utopian models have withered, but today a new utopia of canonical majority has taken over the space of any action transformative of current social relations. Instead of radicalness, conformity has become the main expression of solidarity for the subject abandoned to her consecrated individuality. Where past utopias inscribed a collective vision to be fulfilled for future generations, the present utopia confiscates the future of the individual, unless she registers in a collective, popularized expression of the norm that reaps culture, politics, morality, and the like. The ideological outcome of the canonical utopia is the belief that the majority constitutes a safety net for individuality. If the future of the individual is bleak, at least there is some hope in saving his/her present.

This condition reiterates Ernst Bloch’s distinction between anticipatory and compensatory utopia, with the latter gaining ground today (Ruth Levitas). By discarding the myth of a better future for all, the subject succumbs to the immobilizing myth of a safe present for herself (the ultimate transmutation of individuality to individualism). The world can surmount Difference, simply by taking away its painful radicalness, replacing it with a non-violent, pluralistic, and multi-cultural present, as Žižek harshly criticized it for its anti-rational status. In line with Badiou and Jameson, Žižek discerns behind the multitude of identities and lifestyles in our world the dominance of the One and the eradication of Difference (the void of antagonism). It would have been ideal, if pluralism were not translated to populism and the non-violent to a sanctimonious respect of Otherness.

Badiou also points to the nihilism that permeates modern ethicology that puts forward the “recognition of the other”, the respect of “differences”, and “multi-culturalism”. Such ethics is supposed to protect the subject from discriminatory behaviours on the basis of sex, race, culture, religion, and so on, as one must display “tolerance” towards others who maintain different thinking and behaviour patterns. For Badiou, this ethical discourse is far from effective and truthful, as is revealed by the competing axes it forges (e.g., opposition between “tolerance” and “fanaticism”, “recognition of the other” and “identitarian fixity”).

Badiou denounces the decomposed religiosity of current ethical discourse, in the face of the pharisaic advocates of the right to difference who are “clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference”. The pharisaism of this respect for difference lies in the fact that it suggests the acceptance of the other, in so far as s/he is a “good other”; in other words, in so far as s/he is the same as everyone else. Such an ethical attitude ironically affirms the hegemonic identity of those who opt for integration of the different other, which is to say, the other is requested to suppress his/her difference, so that he partakes in the “Western identity”.

Rather than equating being with the One, the law of being is the multiple “without one”, that is, every multiple being is a multiple of multiples, stretching alterity into infinity; alterity is simply “what there is” and our experience is “the infinite deployment of infinite differences”. Only the void can discontinue this multiplicity of being, through the event that “breaks” with the existing order and calls for a “new way of being”. Thus, a radical utopian gesture needs to emerge from the perspective of the event, initiating a truth process.

Why the Political needs the Pervert? Thought of the Day 102.1


Thus perverts’ desire does not have the opportunity to be organized around finding a fantasmatic solution to the real of sexual difference. The classical scenario of Oedipal dynamics, with its share of lies, make believe, and sexual theories, is not accessible to them. This is why they will search desperately to access symbolic castration that could bring solace to their misery. — Judith Feher-Gurewich (Jean-Michel Rabaté – The Cambridge Companion to Lacan)

Nonetheless, it is contradictory to see the extra-ordinary’s goal as the reinsertion of castration, when in fact there is nothing in his perverse scenarios that incarcerates him in misery. It is more a fantasmatic solution to the deciphering of the enigma of sexual difference, precisely by veiling difference. The extra-ordinary wishes to maintain this veiling, in as much as his jouissance is derived this way. Even if the extra-ordinary efforts to infinitize jouissance are eventually sealed by castration, this is more a side effect of the “perverse” act. At the end, desire always reinscribes itself. Symbolic guilt is inserted in the extra-ordinary’s world through castration, not because the latter relieves him, but because his fantasy has failed. This failure is what creates the misery of the pervert, as in any other subject.

His main target is centred in filling the Other with jouissance. However, it is not something he produces, but more something he unlocks. The pervert unleashes a jouissance, already present in the Other, by eradicating the primacy of the phallic signifier and revealing the Other’s jouissance (the emptiness, the feminine). The neurotic’s anxiety concerns the preservation of desire through the duplication of castration, whereas the pervert’s anxiety emerges from the reverse condition. This is the question of how to extract jouissance from the object without it falling. He does not want to let the object fall, not for fear of castration, but because of the wish to retain jouissance. Inexorably, the nagging question of how to obstruct desire from returning to its initial place grips the pervert because, together with desire, the lack in the Other returns, restoring and maintaining his desiring status, instead of his enjoying status. Without doubt, these are fantasmatic relations that sustain “perverse” desire for jouissance and, at the same time, impose a safe distance from the horror of the Thing’s return.

Anxiety intervenes as the mediating term between desire and jouissance. The desiring subject seeks jouissance, but not in its pure form. Jouissance has to be related to the Other, to occupy a space within the Other of signification, to be put into words. This is what phallic jouissance, the jouissance of the idiot, aims at. The idiocy of it lies in its vain and limited character, since jouissance always fails signification and only a residue is left behind. The remainder is the object a, which perpetuates the desire of the subject. But the object is desired as absent. Coming too close to it, one finds this absence occupied by a real presence. In that case, the object has to fall, like the phallus in its exhausted stage, in order to maintain the desiring status of the subject. The moment desire returns, the object falls, or, better, the moment the object falls, desire returns.

While the subject is engaged in an impossible task (that of inscribing jouissance in the place of the Other) she draws closer to the object. The closer she gets, the more anxiety surfaces, alerting the subject about the presence of a real Other, a primitive pre- symbolic being. In the case of the pervert, things are somehow different. It is not so much the inscription of jouissance in the Other that troubles him, but more the erasure of desire from the field of the Other and its return to a state of unconstrained enjoyment. So, for the pervert, it is essential that the object maintains its potency, not in the service of desire but in the service of jouissance. The anxiety of the extra-ordinary becomes an erotic signal that calls the Other to abandon the locus of desire and indulge in jouissance. But, eventually, desire puts an end to it.

It is not the extra-ordinary that aims at castration, so that he lets loose some of his anxiety. As an integral part of sexual jouissance, the extra-ordinary does not want to give up anxiety, which is what the neurotic does with his symptom, in the reverse way. The Other’s anxiety, the exposition of its truth, requests the confinement of the jouissance operating in perversion. Castration has to be imposed because of the contaminating nature of the object’s jouissance. The more it maintains its omnipotent character, the more it threatens the Other’s consistency, as provided by desire. The extra-ordinary dramatizes the staging of castration. It is not an actual event, as the phallus does not belong to the order of the cosmic world. None the less, politics and power locate the phallus in the imaginary realm. Emblems of patriarchal power are handed from one authority figure to the next, propelling the replication of the same power mechanism and concealing the absence of the phallus.

The social and the political world needs the “pervert” in order to redefine and reinscribe the imaginary boundaries of its morality and, hence, since the patriarchal orientation of the majority is taken as a gnomon, enhance the existing moral code. This reflects the underlying imaginary dynamics of what social constructionism has long now described: the exception of the pervert makes the rule for the “normality” of the present moral, social, political, and cultural organization of the world. As long as the pervert remains outside of this world, the safety from the perilous obscenity and odiousness of real jouissance is ensured. Concomitantly, this is translated to further distance from desire and its permanent endurance, something that nourishes guilt, as was previously argued. As if guilt suggested a privileged moral state, power uses it as an essential demagogic tool, in order to secure its good and further vilify the “pervert”, who also experiences guilt for “betraying” desire, not in the sense of staying away from jouissance, but failing to fully consummate it.

Licence to Violence. Thought of the Day 101.0


Every form of violence against fellow human beings is a problematic proposition for the overwhelming majority of people. With the exception of small minorities of individuals who are either morally indifferent to violence or categorically opposed to it, whatever the circumstances, the rest of the population operates in a context of ‘cognitive dissonance’ .

This state of mind is determined by fundamental conflicts between what is psychologically desirable, practically feasible, pragmatically expedient and morally justifiable. Violence against ‘contestant others’ may be (or may have become, depending on the circumstances) desirable to a number of people. Yet, the desirability of a life without others is usually offset by the much more profound notion of moral inadmissibility of the violent action per se, by a belief that such a prospect is impossible, by a fear of the consequences of such an action or by a combination of all these concerns.

With regard to the desirability of a violent encounter with ‘others’, nationalism, nation-statism and racialism had already made a significant contribution, accentuating the psychological distance between the national community and its particular ‘others’, often dehumanizing or delegitimizing them and fermenting negative passion against them. An act of physical elimination, however, requires much more than the mere desirability of violence or its outcomes. It is not just linked to a result but also to the action itself that involves a particular repugnant (violent) method. Therefore, authorization of violence and participation in its discharge require a negotiation of the state of cognitive dissonance, whereby desirability and expediency outweigh (even marginally or in ad hoc circumstances) the moral, legal and political impediments to violence or trivialize the problematic nature of the means used to achieve the desired goal.

The leap from abstract intention or desire to strong targeted passion and finally to concrete violent action presupposes a convincing resolution of the inner personal tension underpinning the state of cognitive dissonance. For genocide to take place, and for ordinary individuals to become active participants, this dissonance has to be first escalated by rendering the option of elimination more desirable or accessible. Then it has to be resolved one way or another by making the individual feel their actions are broadly consistent with their overall worldview. Cognitive dissonance may result either in the abandonment of the proposed action as irreconcilable with one’s ethical outlook or in the endorsement of the action through a process of changing the parameters of the dissonance itself-by endorsing new definitions of what is acceptable in the given circumstances, by ‘relativizing’ the problematic nature of the action in the light of expected outcomes or by altogether evading the dissonant mindset.

Cognitive dissonance, therefore, revolves around a tension between three main considerations: the psychological desirability, practical feasibility and moral admissibility of the action. Only a very small minority of people do not experience such tensions – either because they axiomatically reject any form of violence or because they do not see violence itself as problematic.

The majority usually find themselves pulled in different directions by each of these three considerations. They may distrust, fear or even despise ‘others’, but have fatalistically accepted the condition of coexistence, unable to conceive of a different scenario. They may long for a life without particular (or all) ‘others’, but perceive this condition as utopian, choosing instead to adapt to the awkward realities of living side by side. Alternatively, they may strongly desire the prospect of somehow ridding themselves of ‘others’, but nevertheless refrain from any violent action against them, either because they fear sanctions/reprisals or because they consider this course of action inadmissible in spite of the ostensible desirability of its effects.

In negotiating such tensions, the notion of external, authoritative licence is crucial in turning dissonance from an impediment into an incentive to unbound freedom of passion, behaviour and action. Licence is not a positive, normative freedom to act, but an ‘authorized transgression’, a special dispensation that creates a new, temporary and exceptional domain of diminished accountability. Its element of permissibility refers to particular circumstances of time and space, as well as goals and limits. Every licence redefines what is permissible in an expanded way, but it does not do so irreversibly or without caveats – conventional or new. Every new domain of licence constitutes a new moral order that is synonymous with the removal of sanctions and of accountability.

Whether authorized from above or claimed spontaneously in the absence of authority, licence makes sense only because of the awareness of the taboo nature of what it entails. However, its nature, scope and targets are determined by the authorization or by the circumstances that generated it. Like violence, it is not blind but is linked to predispositions and specific opportunities – there and then. As a form of special dispensation – exceptional in its devices, goals and particular targets – licence involved the conditional suspension of those hindrances that usually kept the exercise of sovereign violence at bay and prevented full decontestation. By removing, cancelling out or weakening constraints, it enables individuals and groups to accept the desirability of a violent scenario – even if the latter contradicts generic cultural understandings of defensible or just behaviour.

Licence may facilitate the acceptance of a particular course of violent action against a particular ‘other’ in a particular setting by strengthening the scenario’s relative desirability and/or by reducing the force of inhibiting factors and, little by little, through precedent and repetition, it may also redefine the moral universe of an individual or community by rendering previously taboo feelings and actions less troubling and more admissible. Thus, licence can be both an ad hoc dispensation and a long-term strategy for preparing a group for a new form of moral conduct they would previously consider unacceptable or problematic.

Solitude: Thought of the Day 18.0


A reason Nietzsche ponders solitude is that his is largely a philosophy of the future. There is heavy emphasis in Beyond Good and Evil on the temporal nature of the human condition. He posits that “the taste of the time and the virtue of the time weakens and thins down the will.” In order to surpass current modes and fashions in thinking, one must become removed from the present. The new philosopher is necessarily a man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and so he is solitary and in contradiction to the ideals of today. Fundamentally, Nietzsche sees current Europe (and especially Germany) as not yet prepared for an overturning of present morality. Although he does predict the time is approaching, there is the overarching sense throughout Beyond Good and Evil that Nietzsche expects (and even embraces) the fact that his philosophy needs a significant passage of time to be understood. His work is lonely. He labors to lay groundwork for the philosophers of the future who will continue on this path someday.

The life of the free spirit is solitary because it requires the recognition of the untruth of life in order to be beyond good and evil. Religion and democratic enlightenment in Europe have forged a herd mentality of mediocrity which has rejected such a possibility. In this society, everyone’s thoughts and morality are given equal merit. Nietzsche despises this because it forces us to reject our nature; both the ugliness and the beauty of it. He tells us that religion is able to teach even the lowliest of people how to place themselves in an illusory higher order of things so they may have the impression that they are content. This herd mentality protects the pack and also makes life palatable. It is also the first enemy of anyone looking to discover their own truths. Nietzsche concludes his book by reflecting on the wonders of solitude. For the free spirit, solitude is life-affirming because the absence of the stifling dogmas of the herd allows for the greatest expansion of one’s sense of self. To be truly beyond good and evil one must be removed from grappling with the order and morality imposed by democratic enlightenment and religion. Only when one stands alone vis-à-vis the herd is greatness and nobleness possible. Upon being removed from the seething torrent of austere and rigid thinking now strangling Europe, the free spirit foments his own morality and thrives.

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.

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.

History and Historicity in the Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes


Hobbes’ early moral and political views may be traced back to the Aristotelian tradition. If this is the case, then it can be said that these views are definitely the materials for his political philosophy but not the seeds for his political philosophy. But his later views are in direct contrast to Aristotelianism. If it may be contended that Hobbes’ taking of considerable elements from Aristotle paved the way for a later break with Aristotle, then a sense of fundamental defect with the Aristotelian philosophy was a must for this break. Hobbes later elaborated these modifications and presented them as systematic objections. This deep dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy must have forced Hobbes for turning to history and thus citing his case in his humanist period. His turning to history is revealed in his revolutionary early thought. His turning to history was definitely intentional with philosophical contentions.

According to Hobbes, philosophy and history are fundamentally different. Philosophy lays down precepts for the right behaviour of men, but then again precepts don’t prove their practical aspects efficaciously. History, not philosophy, gives man prudence.

‘…the principal and proper work of history (is) to instruct and enable men, by the knowledge of actions past, to bear themselves prudently in the present and providently towards the future…’ ‘…the nature of history is merely narrative…look how much a man of understanding might have added to his experience, if he had then lived a beholder of their proceedings, and familiar with the men and business of the time: so much almost may he profit now, by attentive reading of the same here written. He may from the narrations draw out lessons to himself’.

History widens men’s experiences by making men capable of applying the precepts in the individual cases. Hobbes takes it for granted that this philosophy rightly lays down the norms for human actions. He asserts that practical wisdom is at least the sine qua non for moral virtue and this wisdom is gained only through experience. The study of history widens the experience from service to the acquisition of wisdom and thus from service to moral education. Aristotle believes in rational precepts having no influence on most men. But according to Aristotle’s view, what is true of most men is not by any means true of free and noble minded characters who love honour; they obey precepts. As Hobbes doubts the effects of precepts altogether, does he not assert the impotence of reason with reference to all men; can we not say that the dicta of impotence of reason was thoroughly established in his mind, before his engagement with natural science?

The question, by which history originally breaks with philosophy, is the question of effectiveness of rational precept. It purely becomes a matter of application of precepts. These precepts were handed down by Aristotelian ethics. Since Aristotle satisfactorily explicated these precepts, the fundamental problem of philosophy was solved; this gave Hobbes the leisure and ample opportunity to give thought to the secondary problem of the application of precepts. In reference to this application the assertion is made that the precepts are not effective in themselves that they are not followed for their own sake, but under all circumstances it may be made plausible by making use of other measures to ensure their being followed. Hobbes of course does not question the necessity and effectiveness of laws. But now the teachings to be drawn from history slip in as it were midway between the precepts of philosophy and the laws.

‘…(history) doth things with more grace and modestie then the civill lawes and ordinances do: because it is more grace for a man to teach and instruct, then to chastise or punish’.

The teaching to be drawn from history has from now on to fulfill the function for noble natures which, according to Aristotle, was the task of philosophical precepts. The teachings of history replace the precepts of philosophy in the education of the aristocracy.

The opposition of philosophical precept and the historical example based on the doubt of the efficacy of the precept is punctuated in the literature of the sixteenth century. It need only mean, we must attribute to a regrettable shortcoming on the part of the majority of men that they do not obey the precepts of philosophy, that they do not love virtue for itself, but for all its reward, which is praise. This doubt also means that the true motive of virtue is honour and glory. It essentially implies aristocratic virtue. As a result of the close connection between history and honour or glory, the more virtue is envisaged as aristocratic virtue, the keener will be the interest in history. Hobbes often quotes Lipsius as an authority for his views on history. Through Lipsius’ political philosophy, Hobbes successfully accomplished turning to history. What is felt as a lack is not so much the scientific writing of history; it is recognized that from all time histories have been written which are adequate for every possible demand; not even directions for the writing of history, but above all methodical readings of the histories already in existence. With a view to the teaching of history by methodically reading it is to be gained for the right ordering of human actions. The only clear knowledge of the application of the norms, which obtain for human actions, which have taken place in the past. History seeks the application and realization of precepts, the conditions and results of that realization. Unlike poetry, whose main objective is to give pleasure, history and philosophy derives its objectivity in seriousness. Hobbes names history and philosophy as the two fundamental branches of human knowledge.

If the main emphasis of history is to instruct and enable men, to bear themselves prudently in the present and providently in the future, undertaking a methodic utilization of history implies that a methodic education for prudence is aimed at. This education of prudence is to be sought by placing the whole available experience of mankind at our disposal, there has to be no room for any elements of chance. To the question, ‘How is one to behave in an individual case?’, one is no longer to receive the Aristotelian answer of how a sensible man would behave, but one receives for the particular case concrete maxims gained from the study of history. In this education, words and actions are important only in reference to aims. It is only through history that the reader is to be taught which kinds of aims are salutary and destructive. The systematic transformation to history, finds its most complete expression in Bacon’s philosophy.

According to Bacon, moral philosophy as the study of virtue and duty has been perfectly worked out in classical philosophy. But he opines that the fundamental shortcoming of ancient philosophy is the limiting factor that imposes itself on the description of nature of good versus the heroical descriptions of virtue, duty and felicity. As Bacon expressly says of a particular desideratum; a doctrine of the vices peculiar to the individual vocations; but as he thinks in all cases, they will seek what men sought to do, but what men really do. Traditional philosophy is blind to these materials; but the real solace comes about in the study of history. So if the neglect of history is surmounted, one of the weightiest reasons for the inadequacy and uselessness of scholasticism is given way to. Bacon makes a plea for history of literature; which he thinks has been neglected and going into this study makes him sure of making men wise.

‘History is natural, civil, ecclesiastical, and literary; whereof the first three I allow as extant, the fourth I note as deficient. For no man hath propounded to himself the general state of learning to be described and represented from age to age…without which the history of the world seemeth to me to be as the statua of Polyphemus with his eyes out; that part being wanting which doth most shew the spirit and life of the person…The use and end of which work I do not so much design for curiosity and satisfaction of those that are the lovers of learning, but chiefly for a more serious and grave purpose; which is this in few words, that it will make learned men wise in the use and administration of learning. For it is not St. Augustine’s not St. Ambrose’s works that will make so wise a divine, as ecclesiastical history, thoroughly read and observed; and the same reason is of learning’.

Bacon’s interest in history is its applicative tendencies. Bacon vehemently advocated the philosophy’s turning to history. But why? is the question? The primary reason for such a turn augments the most important material for philosophy because philosophic intent is shifting from physics and metaphysics to morals and politics.

According to Aristotle’s assertion, this change of interest takes place as soon as man becomes the consideration of being the highest being in the world. If, however, one looks back to Plato, to whom moral and political problems are of incomparably greater importance than to Aristotle, and who yet no less than Aristotle raised his gaze away from man to the eternal order, one must hold that it is not the conviction man’s superiority to all existing creatures but the conviction of the transcendence of good over all being, which is the reason why philosophic investigation begins with the ethical and political problems, with the question of the right life and the right society. This turn is caused not by the enhanced interest in the question of the good and the best form of State; but by the enhanced interest in man. The division of philosophy into natural philosophy and human philosophy is based on the systematic distinction between man and the world, which Bacon makes in express controversy against ancient philosophy.

‘…the works of God…show the omnipotency and the wisdom of the Maker, but not his image: and therefore therein the heathen opinion differeth from the sacred truth; for they supposed the world to be the image of God, and man to be exact or compendious image of the world, but the Scriptures never vouchsafe to attribute to the world that honour, as to be the image of God, but only the work of His hands; neither do they speak of any other image of God, but man…’

When the man is considered as the most excellent work of nature; then man instead of eternal order which transcends man becomes the central theme of philosophy. The ideal of contemplative life when substituted with moral virtues still ends up in a fiasco for explaining of the turn of philosophy to history. It is not the substitution of the contemplative ideal by moral virtue, in particular by the Biblical demands for justice and charity, but the systematic doubt of the efficacy of precept, which is added to this substitution, is the reason why philosophy turns to history. Bacon doubts the efficacy of rational precepts. The ancient philosophers, he says, ‘fortified and entrenched virtue and duty, as much as discourse can do, against popular and corrupt opinions’.

The reason for the turning of philosophy to history is thus the conviction of the impotence of reason, added to the enhanced interest in man. The impotence of reason is not the incapacity to establish or justify norms. It is not the way in which precepts are given to men, whether by reason or by revelation, the difficulty, which leads to the study of history, would still remain. The fact is that man does not obey the transcendent norm, whether it be rational or revealed, which is the reason of the study of history. History is studied to remedy man’s disobedience. In the sixteenth century, the reason why philosophy turned to history is the repression of the morality of obedience. As long as the distinction between philosophic knowledge on the one hand and the applicative techniques on the other hand is retained; there is at least implicitly and in principle a recognition of the pre-eminence of obedience over every other motive for action. Induction from history teaches one to distinguish between aims which justify themselves and lead to success, and aims which come to grief. The receipts to be gained from history bear only on success and failure. According to Bodin, he says in his Works, history is the easiest and the most obscure of sciences and is independent of every other science. Its subject is the study of aims and projects. By the distinction between good and bad aims, it makes possible knowledge of the norms for human actions.

Hobbes’ political philosophy, which from this time was gradually maturing precisely, had the function of replacing history, as history was understood in Bodin’s words. Hobbes’ political philosophy in its fundamental parts aimed at distinguishing between the good and the bad and thus leading to the discovery of the norms. Thus from the time of the formation of the new political philosophy, history sinks back into its philosophic insignificance; with the important difference being; in the new political philosophy, in contrast to the traditional, history is taken up and conserved. From this point of view one can appreciate the fact that Hobbes, who was particularly preoccupied with history up to the time of his return to philosophy, gives less and less thought to history as his political philosophy develops. As late as the Elements of Law, it is emphasized in a special paragraph that

‘belief…in many cases is no less free from doubt, than perfect and manifest knowledge…there be many things which we receive from report of others, of which it is impossible to imagine any cause of doubt: for what can be opposed against the consent of all men, in things they can know, and have no cause to report otherwise than they are, unless a man would say that all the world had conspired to deceive him’.

The more Hobbes learns to distinguish sharply between what is and what should be, the more the ideal character of the Leviathan becomes clear in his mind, the less significance has history for him. As a result, the distinctions between history, which is serious and seeks truth, and poetry, and the superiority of history over poetry, lose their former justification. History is thrust into the background in the measure that the new political philosophy gains clarity. For the new political philosophy fulfils the function, which had to be fulfilled by history, as, long as traditional political philosophy was acknowledged as valid. The necessity of political philosophy is shown because most men do not obey precepts. And the same presupposition, which caused the turn to history, is the basis of Hobbes’ political philosophy: the replacement of the morality of obedience by the morality of prudence.

‘All that is required, both in faith and manners, for man’s salvation, is, I confess, set down in Scriptures as plainly as can be. “Children, obey your parents in all things…Let all men be subject to the higher powers…” are words of the Scripture, which are well enough understood; but neither children, nor the greatest part of men, do understand why it is their duty to do so. They see not that the safety of the commonwealth, and consequently their own, depends upon their doing it. Every man by nature, without discipline, does in all his actions look upon, as far as he can see, the benefit that shall redound to himself from his obedience….the Scripture says one thing, and they think another, weighing the commodities or incommodities of this present life only, which are in their sight, never putting into the scales the good and evil of the life to come, which they see not’.

Bacon’s criticism of the Aristotelian morals that it does not teach the realization of virtues therefore becomes an element also in Hobbes’ criticism of Aristotle. For the turn to history had taken place precisely because traditional philosophy showed no way to the application of norms. This failure is remedied by the new political philosophy, whose boast it is, that it, in contrast to traditional philosophy, teaches an applicable morality. Hobbes allows the validity of the aristocratic virtue, completing it by a morality, which is systematically applicable and which appeals to the greatest part of men. Hobbes acknowledges the binding force of the Ten Commandments and only denies that they are applicable without more detailed interpretation by the secular power. In the same way, Hobbes admits the natural inequality, and only contests that this inequality is of any practical importance. Hobbes also concedes that the Civil Government be ordained as a means to bring us to a spiritual felicity, and thus that all earthly things are means to eternal bliss. But he denies that from this hierarchy of things earthly and things eternal, anything can be deduced as to the relative position of the holder of secular power and the holder of spiritual power. With this, Hobbes lets us see that even if there were an eternal order, he would take into consideration only the actual behaviour of men, and that his whole interest is centered on man, on application, on the use of means.

The shifting of interest from the eternal order to man found its expression in turning of philosophy to history. Hobbes doesn’t have the intention justifying the traditional norms in a way more practicable for application than was the way of traditional philosophy; he altogether denies the applicability of traditional morals; whether of ancient philosophy or of Biblical Christianity.  He not only showed that Aristotle did not show the way to a way of realization of the norms, but also that he did not even rightly define the norms. Hobbes wishes to play the passions one against the other, in order to show the way for the realization of already established norms, he wishes to draw up a political philosophy which will be in harmony with the passions from the outset. And after Hobbes found in the fear of the violent death, a truly applicable principle of political philosophy, it is again in accordance with the interest in the application that he progresses from this foundation to the establishment of the law of nature. The right to defend life, which man has from nature by the reason of the inescapable fear of death, becomes a right to all things and all actions; since a right to the end is invalid without a right to the necessary means. In order to avoid the arbitrariness, the uncertainty of what a wise man would decide under unforeseen circumstances, he rules that each man has a right to all things and all actions, since anyone under some circumstances may consider that anything or action is a necessary means for the defence of his life. The express premise of this finding is the equality of all men. Since there is no natural order, the difference between the wise minority and the unwise majority loses the fundamental importance it had for traditional political philosophy. Hobbes’ political philosophy first pushes history back into its old insignificance for philosophy. To this extent, it is true to say that Hobbes’ political philosophy is unhistorical. To make this judgment cognizant is however, not so much that Hobbes took no interest in history as that he made incorrect assertions as to history being the basis of his political philosophy. Hobbes’ fundamental error was his assumption that man’s primitive condition was the war of everyone against everyone. Hobbes cannot rest content with findings as to the historical origin States, for they give no answer to the only important question, which concerns the right order of society. So in the criticism that Hobbes’ political philosophy is ‘unhistorical’, the only statement that is justified is that Hobbes considered the philosophic grounding of the principles of all judgment on political subjects more fundamental, incomparably more important than the most thoroughly founded historical knowledge.

Hobbes considers the State of nature not as an historical fact, but a necessary construction. It is essential to his political philosophy that it should begin with the description of the State of nature, and that it should let the State emerge from the State of nature.  But he acknowledges that the subject of his political philosophy, is a history, a genesis, and not an order, which is static and perfect. To clarify this point, one has to compare Hobbes’ ‘compositive’ method with Aristotle’s ‘genetic’ method. When Aristotle depicts the genesis of the city as the perfect community out of primitive communities, the understanding of perfect organism is the main presupposition for the understanding of its constituent parts, the more primitive communities. For Hobbes, the imperfection of the primitive condition, or the State of nature, is perceived not by looking to the already, even if only cursorily clarified, idea of the State as the perfect community, but by fully understanding the experience of the State of nature. As for Hobbes the primitive condition is irrational, so for Hegel

‘knowing as it is found at the start, mind in its immediate and primitive stages, is without the essential nature of mind, is sense-conciousness’.

Hobbes has no intention of measuring the imperfect by a standard that transcends it, but as they simply look on, while the imperfect by its own movement annuls itself, tests itself. This is the meaning of Hobbes’ argument that the man who wishes to remain in the State of nature contradicts himself, that the mutual fear that characterizes the State of nature is the motive for abolishing the State of nature. The premise for an immanent testing, which necessarily finds its expression within the framework of a typical history is for Hobbes, the rejection for the morality of obedience. For Hobbes, at all events, history finally becomes superfluous, because for him political philosophy itself becomes a typical history. His political philosophy becomes historical because for him order is not immutable, eternal, in existence from the beginning, but is produced only at the end of a process; because for him order is not independent of human volition, but is borne up by a human volition alone. For this, political philosophy no longer has the function, as it had in classical antiquity, of reminding political life of the eternally immutable prototype of the perfect State, but the peculiarly modern task of delineating for the first time the programme of the essentially future perfect State. The repression of history in favour of philosophy means in reality the repression of the past; of the ancient, which is an image of the eternal; in favour of the future.

If the order of man’s world springs from man’s will alone, there is no philosophical or theological security for that order. Man then can convince himself of his capacity to order his world only by the fact of his ordering activity. Therefore according to Hobbes’ assumptions, one must turn to real history. Thus, the State of nature, which at first was intended as merely typical, again takes on an historical significance; not, indeed, as a condition of absolute lack of order, but as a condition of extremely defective order. The real history has as its function to vouch for the possibility of further progress by perception of progress already made. After that; historically, perhaps even earlier; its function is to free man from the might of the past, from the authority of antiquity, from prejudices. Authority loses its prestige when its historical origin and evolution are traced; as a result of historical criticism man’s limitations show themselves as limits set by himself, and therefore to be over passed. It is by the doubt of the transcendent eternal order by which man’s reason was assumed to be guided and hence by the conviction of the impotence of reason, that first of all the turning of philosophy to history is caused, and then the process of historicizing philosophy itself.

Could Complexity Rehabilitate Mo/PoMo Ethics?

A well known passage from Marie Fleming could be invoked here to acquit complexity from the charges and accusation pertaining to relativism. He says,

Anyone who argues against reason is necessarily caught up in a contradiction: she asserts at the locutionary level that reason does not exist, while demonstrating by way of her performance in argumentative processes that such reason does in fact exist.

Such an absolute statement about complexity would similarly be eaten along its way.


Taking the locutionary from the above quote, it could be used to adequately distinguish from performative, or logic versus rhetoric. Such a distinction gains credibility, if one is able to locate an Archimedean point to share discourse/s, which, from the point of view of complexity theory would be a space outside the autopoietic system, or, in other words, would be a meta-theoretical framework. Such a framework is skeptically looked upon/at by complexity, which has no qualms in exhibiting an acknowledgement towards performative tensions at work. Such tensions are generative of ethical choices and consequences, since any accessibility to the finality of knowledge is built upon the denial of critical perspective/s, thus shrouding the entire exercise in either a veil of ignorance, or a hubristic pride, or illusory at best.

Morality gains significance, since its formulations is often ruptured for want of secure, and certain knowledge, and both of which are not provided for by complexity theory and French theory, according to the accusations labeled against them. Even if, in making choices that are normative in nature, a clear formulation of the ethical is obligated. Lyotard’s underlining conditions of knowledge is often considered unethical, as he admits to the desire for justice to be shrouded in an unknown intellectual territory. Lyotard has Habermas in mind in dealing with this, since for the latter’s communication therapy, what is mandated is clearly consensual agreement on the part of the public to seek out these metaprescriptions as universally valid and as spanning all language games. Habermas is targeted here for deliberately ignoring the diversity inherent in the post-modern society. For Lyotard,

It is the monster formed by the interweaving of various networks of heteromorphous classes of utterances (denotative, prescriptive, performative, technical, evaluative, etc.). there is no reason to think that it could be possible to determine metaprescriptive common to all of these language games or like the revisable consensus like the one in force at a given moment in the scientific community could embrace the totality of metaprescriptions regulating the totality of statements circulating in the social collectivity. As a matter of fact, the contemporary decline of narratives of legitimization – be they traditional or ‘modern’ (the emancipation of humanity, the realization of the idea) – is tied to the abandonment of this belief.

The fight over consensus, if it could be achieved at all, is contentious between Lyotard and Habermas. Obviously, it could be attained, but only locally and should not even vie for universal validity. Lyotard scores a point over Habermas here, because of his emphasis on the permeability of discursive practices dressed with paralogy. Justice, as a subset of ethics in the post-modern society, in order to overcome its status as a problematic, must recognize the heteromorphous nature of language games or phase regimens on the one hand, and consensus as reached must have a local space-time valuation contingently subject to refutation or nullification on the other. Such a diagnosis goes against the crux of modernism’s idea of ethics as founded upon foundational and universal set of rules, and maybe imperatives. Modernism’s idea of ethics is no different, at least in the formative structure from the rule-based analysis, since both demand a strict adherence to the dictates of rules and guidelines. A liberation comes in the form of post-modernism. Bauman sees the post-modern society as not only setting us free, but also pushing us towards a paradoxical situation, where agents have the fullness of moral choice and responsibility, while simultaneously depriving them of the comfort of the universal guidance as promised by modernism. Moral responsibility comes with the loneliness of moral choice. Such paradoxical events or situations facing man in the post-modern society only reinvests faith in agonistics of the network. At the same time, such an aporetic position is too paradoxical to satisfy many. Taking cues from the field of jurisprudence, the works of Druscilla Cornell could help clear the muddy waters here to an extent of a satisfactory resolution. Cornell aims to establish the relationship of the philosophy of the limit, or what she calls the post-structural theory of Derrida in principle, to questions of ethics, law and justice. Cornell shows no inhibitions towards accepting the complexity of relationships governing humans, and in the process accepts Hegel as the vantage point. Hegel criticizes Kant for his abstract idealism, and admits to our constitution within a social structure, which is teleologically headed for perfection. In short, the dialectical process is convergent for Hegel, since it is operative within a social/historical system aiming towards organization. Adorno differs here, since, for him dialectics is always divergent, with stress laid upon differences that characterize between humans as always irreducible to a totalizing organized system. This position of Adorno with its sympathy for difference is much closer to complexity, that at first would seem. Cornell carries further on from there and introduces the work of Luhmann, who is a towering figure in sociology, when it comes to bringing in autopoiesis within the fold. Humans are never allowed to stand outside the system that Luhmann thinks is not only complex, but autopoietic as well. Therefore, on an individual level, the choice element has no role to play, except, accepting the system that would undergo an organization to best suit its survival through a process of evolution, and not transformation. Luhmann’s understanding still prioritizes the present, and has no place for the past or the uncertain future. Cornell considers this a drawback, and makes past as an ingredient in understanding the meaning of an event, on the one hand, and following Derrida, wants to take up responsibility for the future, even if it is unknown. With a structure like this in place, it is possible to evade the rigidity of modernist claims on ethics on the one hand, and fluidity of evasive tendencies towards responsibility on the other. Instead, what Cornell calls for is an acceptance of the present ethical principles in all seriousness. That is to be resistant to change, and awareness of applications of the principles is what is called for. Ethics involves calculation in a responsible manner. In a similar vein, complexity entails irreducibility to calculation, in the sense of coming out with novelistic tendencies involving creativity that is not simply a flight of fancy, but an imagination laden with responsibility. Only, in this regard, could ethics mean not subjecting to any normativity. And, one of the ways to achieve this to obviously shy away from intellectual arrogance.