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Hobbes Notes

by John S Moore


97 Much of the philosophical attitude of Hobbes reminds me of the way I thought at age 14 or 15. I suppose I had absorbed a lot of the presuppositions of my culture.

101 Hobbes answer to the disagreement between the reason of different men, the agreement to set up an authority. So his political thought grows naturally and inevitably out of his general philosophy

113 "The names of such things as affect us, that is, which please and displease us, because all men be not alike affected with the same thing, nor the same man at all times, are in the common discourse of men of inconstant signification….And therefore such names can never be true grounds of any ratiocination".

117 Hobbes, I think a key figure in understanding modern civilisation, Hobbes versus Machiavelli. Hobbes was a thinker of surpassing logical ability, vastly superior to his pupil Rousseau. But what he has invented is a myth and it inculcates dishonesty. Referral of all moral rightness to obedience, this may be convenient from some viewpoints, but it is hardly necessary. Any political system is at best merely expedient. There grows up the insane idea that duty to the state and the law is some kind of natural imperative overriding all personal will. The myth of democracies as well as dictatorships.

American myth of 'legitimate power' at Nuremberg. Soviet Marxism. Cannabis prohibition.

185 Conformity of belief like military discipline. Without this alternative order to attach yourself to you feel lost, alone. Stifle independence of thought, united we may act. The loss of personal freedom is compensated by a gain in status.

Hobbes theology is of considerable interest and further proof of the admirable ingenuity of his mind.

240 Hobbes left and right. Dr Johnson, the necessity for subordination. Unbridled individualism, understood as the extreme left, women's liberation and the like, is idiotic, the stronger must to an extent exert mental domination over the weaker. But his need not lead to Hobbes and his theory of absolute sovereignty. We are not to move to a rigid hierarchy of subordination and surrender of the right to private judgement. Natural power, Strength should be of the kind that grows naturally out of intellectual and moral qualities. Those who possess it should endeavour to exercise it. …. It is interesting to make the parallels. Britain at the time of the civil wars which Hobbes had in mind, and the moral individualism of Britain in the 1960s which was largely free of the moralism and political dogmatism to be found in some other places. It is stupid to accuse that of political irresponsibility, just as it is bad to insist that an artist be political. That is like arguing against democracy…..

242& Hobbes' hierarchies seem in danger of becoming urizenic. It is better to be able to change them. Perhaps Hobbes had to great a fear of chaos, the confusion consequent on too much self will. Being a rationalist he could find no way in which the different self-wills of men could be harmonised short of absolute subordination to a supreme arbiter. Each will appeared as an independent thing, the war of all against all.

Perhaps there is a natural system of subordination which may be controlled by such means as propaganda to which the subordinates have right. The people need to feel that the system which governs them is not arbitrary, but legitimate, the government must make effective use of propaganda, to give a sense of naturalness of the system. Hobbes leaves power too naked. The principle of egoism does not necessarily entail individualism.

Hobbes was good as a legal apologist for the coming age of absolutism. A rational man, conscious of his ability to replace the government could maintain his self -respect as a Hobbesian while under an absolutist government. He need not feel thwarted and crushed.


189 Hobbes state of nature, not in fact total moral chaos, as one might understand it. He takes egoism and self seeking as fundamental. A Hobbesian system of government ought to rule out the possibility of a communist tyranny.

Communism is another possible end product of moral chaos, one of whose resultants is civil war. The dissemination of false moral and political philosophy, resulting in a state that is founded upon unenlightened principles. Hobbes system does not presuppose moral chaos, meaning. a system or condition where any idea, however base and superstitious might emerge supreme. It presupposes a form of enlightenment which does not depend on the suppression of supposed heresy. Essential to Hobbes analysis of political power is the concept of a disseminated political wisdom. Now, he says, that the nature of political states has been scientifically explained, we can set about understanding them properly, and as we do so social life will improve. That is despite what to many people is the pessimistic view that human nature is egoistic, power seeking and individualistic. Communism contains the view that human nature can be made to serve an end which is not egoistic, This is a moral end which does violence to human nature. On the Hobbesian view it is based on a false view of human nature, forcing an intolerable constraint upon it.

Because of the total ruthlessness with which it sets about its end it is perhaps the quintessence of all evil. But even this gives it a certain fascination in its extreme or Russian form,

320, Think of a crowd anywhere, from Red Square to Times Square, Connaught Circus to Khartoum. You see a large crowd of people whom you imagine to be mostly hostile to you. Each one of them has desires which stand in your way. Each one of them takes up more or less as much space as you, and as Hobbes says the natural differences between human beings are not so great as to make for the absolute superiority of one over the other, There are strong assertive people who might push me out of the way with aggressive carelessness. Yet there is an art whereby I could unite all those people in a common aim, and get them to do what I want. Hold them spellbound, alter the whole direction of their lives. Give them symbols which can concentrate their minds.


58 In politics one must be a Hobbesian. I do not quite agree with him about the succession. But that moral criteria are not applicable to the judging of a sovereign power is a point of the first importance. A sovereign power has complete freedom of action, morally speaking, anything else is not to be thought. Morality makes sense as a means of facilitating social life, to pretend that war, for example, is a moral act is sheer hypocrisy. One needs at least the conception of complete freedom at some point. To tie up our options with moral prohibitions is suicidal.

101 The idea that the 'good' for the individual consists in Confucian or Christian morality. On another view it does not consist in these things at all. Both Mencius and Han Fei Tsu presume that he beast in man is bad and ought to be tamed. Another view is that it ought to be encouraged to feel a good conscience about itself. That man is naturally evil, but evil is good.

Hobbes' view was not too far different from this. Hobbes view of the state of nature is a view of man as 'evil' which is obviously not concerned to pass any extraneous moral judgement on this. Hobbes is thus essentially anti-Christian. He is deeply unwilling to pass judgement on the beast in man, and in being such he inevitably approves, if he is able to live at all. He must accept man as he is because he has no ground to condemn him.


95 When murder is moral. Orthodox morality links itself up to the law of the land, in a way that only makes sense on Hobbesian principles. War. There is nothing wrong in professional soldiers killing each other in war, there is a kind of contract that permits them to do so, Conscript soldiers have the excuse of self defence. But they do not have to get into that position, at least not in England. 'My country's enemies'. I put the responsibility on my leaders. But if that is right, why is it not right to kill my own personal enemies? Why should the individual accept the moral supremacy of the state? The idea is patently ridiculous and almost casuistic,

Other ideas, such as that lusts after strange women are to cease after marriage. Such ideas are all social conventions imposing restrictions on the will.

Take murder, Random murder may well be morally acceptable on the basis of there being no wrong and no right, but right and wrong are often useful ideas and in some actions one wishes to appear particularly justified, and the killing of one's enemies is one of them. To hand over all morality to the state, on Hobbesian principles, makes for moral enfeeblement of the race.

What is also bad is when people can no longer contemplate their own moral premises. They act morally but have no theory to back it up, only habit. It is all right to live by ideas when they are willingly chosen, but we cannot expect that people's choices will conform to each other.

220& Heroic action is something valued in itself, not just for the ends it serves, it is then that the human faculties become most finely stretched and great issues can become identified in the individual who has the power to solve them.

Apart from revolution, heroic action on this scale is overwhelmingly regarded as criminal, that is the overwhelming moral value it has, and it is hard to escape it. The Hobbesian view affects most of us. Nietzsche's Of the Pale Criminal. But the criminal who relates to his crime as an issue, a value and a fact in itself, turns it potentially into something heroic. Thus the fascination of many kinds of murder. Stirner's praise of crime, his absolute opposition to all ideal constraints. The criminal himself can make himself a hero.

We all hate crime when it is directed against ourselves, but we may admire Dick Turpin, Ronnie Biggs, even Jack the Ripper.

Hamlet, Hobbes and freedom, there is a strong tradition to the effect that cultural decline is attributable to loss of freedom. The Hobbes description of the state of nature . We give up our freedom for the sake of security. Obviously, taken from an extreme standpoint, freedom is a worthwhile sacrifice, why should we require the freedom to punish and so on? Why the freedom to revenge etc if a central authority can do it better for us? Why should we value the moral conflict that comes with freedom, surely it is better to hand over responsibility to some centrally operating system of law as at the end of the Eumenides, or Njal's Saga? This is certainly true when the situation gets as bad as it did in those stories or in the English civil war.

But somehow, to handle responsibility oneself, rather than delegating it seems what is most fulfilling for human beings. The personal exercise of certain necessary social functions, necessary power, is one of the most important keys to happiness and fulfilment. The progressive loss of this freedom with the strengthening of central government is gradually demoralising. England was once freer than it now is, The existence of an aristocracy is an important symbol of freedom, of value to a whole society. It is important that a powerful image of what is true freedom and fulfilment should exist. This from the point of view of art and culture generally. Freedom declines as the traditional image of a free man fades.


118 Dostoyevsky's admiration for crime, if it is to go all the way, must include the biggest of all taboo breakers, the Hitlers, Stalins Eichmanns Bradys and Kurtens. Only if he would be prepared in some circumstances to approve the holocaust, would he be sincere. Yet the passage is not to sin, Christ, repentance and redemption, as the way of making social life possible. That is the Russian way, and indeed the Soviet way with Lenin become Christ - strange paradox- Dostoyevsky and Chernyshevsky reconciled in the latter's pupil, Lenin. The Soviet system sustained by sin, and all forgiven in the love of Lenin.

The higher way is via Hobbes. Admit your far flung lusts and desires, but admit that they are ultimately restrained by force, which it is only comfortable to admit as a moral rule of life. I do not commit crime, because I am afraid of punishment. That seems to me a sound enough reason. On that basis I can form a social contract. I acquiesce in the limitations on my will formed by membership of a civil society. I do not need to commit crimes to prove my freedom, that would be a dangerous perversity, if I find it in myself I should check it and put safer principles in its stead.


121 Sabine's book A History of Political Thought.. Is it misunderstanding to see Hobbes as advocating some startlingly original form of individualism? Or to see him as a utilitarian? As if he makes a radical departure from Aristotle's idea of man as a political animal.

His idea of universal egoism is only analysis.

Mediaeval man had his loyalties. But they could be analysed in terms of self interest. The whole idea of living collectively is just utter nonsense. So you fulfil yourself in society, you don’t need to be engaged purely in a war of all against all. There is some benevolence.

How some people interpret Aristotle's idea of man as a political animal . As if there is no problem with obligation no need to justify it. This I would say is a misunderstanding of Aristotle. Sabine regards the egoism of the 18th century as some kind of aberration.


261 Nazism as reversion to the Hobbesian state of nature. Later critics of Hobbes lived in more settled and peaceful times, where morality presented a different aspect. The state of nature, total war, undesirable and self defeating. History of ethics. Moral judgement is indeed a habit. It needs to be justified rather than prescribed, in a manner against the will. Hobbes is good, Butler is good. If Butler does not identify morality with egoistic self interest, at least he has not led it astray, like later utilitarianism. After Hobbes people wrote in a time of settled peace. The judgement of and condemnation of natural impulse seemed to come it with the utilitarians. The unhealthy exaltation of benevolence in condemnation of impulse and instinct.


95 TV play last night about a Britain defeated in war, dominated by Germany. Underground resistance. Delators. What do we think about terrorists? Terrorism and nationalism are subjects on which Hobbes' views have relevance today. I think that Hobbes was not so much trying to set up an argument for unconditional obedience as to argue against those who maintain that there is a moral obligation to be disobedient. We all have our own lives to lead, each pursues his own ends.. We are not morally forced to support some ideal of national independence. There is a perfectly sound justification for recognising whatever de facto government exists, though that reason loses its force when the government can no longer protect us.

Apart from the Palestinians, I have no especial sympathy for nationalist movements around the world. … Hobbes an attack on proto Hegelianism. If we are to have moral principles, he says, let us have these. There is no value in an ineffective idealism, and it is a multiplicity of ineffective idealisms that eventually give rise to revolutions. The ineffective idealism. Martyrdom. We can assign no value to it, for it is anti-egoistic. Such idealism leads to no-compromise civil war. Obedience is rational insofar as it springs from egoism, it is also moral, rational moral. It is in the context of a definite government that we pursue our interests. If we feel morally obliged to live as revolutionaries, our interests must suffer. Also we probably delude ourselves that our lives have special worth. We could become revolutionaries for egoistic motives, Stirnerites but it is not rational to persuade ourselves of our moral nobility.

The state of nature, war of all against all. This is not an irrational picture, it is the necessary presumption of the absence of all forms of society.

Nationalism, to say that it is wrong to serve the so called oppressor, the resistance. On what ground? On some egoistic dream. Because what is being suppressed? The individual will? That is always and inevitably suppressed. Hobbes is against the Rousseauite dream that the individual can be liberated and fulfilled while social and virtuous. Nationalism is a temptation, it seems to offer the prospect of an increasing power. Hobbes suggests we think further…. The idea of total individual liberation is a foolish error, It is not in the interests of the individual, in general, to take up some revolutionary stand. Hobbes argues that it cannot be morally compelling. Itself founded on an egoistic motive, it puts its trust n the state of nature in the hope of victory. Why is one egoistic motive to be preferred over another? Why should my immediate interests yield before some hypothetical? The only escape from this state of nature is an agreed authority and that is moral because it asks for the subordination of private egoistic motives. What is 'moral' in the sense demanded is a reason for giving up an immediate egoistic interest. Hobbes 'moral principle' is designed to avoid the prospect of civil war, with all it entails in loss of liberty. Morality, as for Socrates, is a tool to increase our liberty.

If government can enforce its will it is obviously in my interest to obey it. Revolutionary ideas sap its ability to enforce its will, ideas which do not present themselves frankly as will to power, but pretend to rational infallibility. Often they are ideas which go directly against the grain of self interest, promoting civil strife and irreconcilability.

The only ground for giving up a self interest is a higher self interest, a more important one.

Hobbes, too, is laying spooks, like Stirner, like Wittgenstein. Ghosts of moral compulsions. If everyone is selfish, he is saying, society is more likely to cohere. People will not be led astray by fanatical enthusiasms.

162 Toynbee on civilisation, on 'second order religions'…..

Question what is life about? Paganism attempts to answer this by its myths, Revealed religions introduce an extra complication in the moral dimension. For them the good has to be mediated by a moral dimension, whose sole significance is to enable the underdog classes to participate in whatever good is available.

How can we say that this is false, or that all morality is rooted in a falsehood? I think we have to be circumspect about this. Morality certainly knows how to speak up for itself. Truths of human nature. From a certain viewpoint we see how falsification becomes possible. The truths that are distorted are truths for the best handling of life. Yet is not even master morality a distortion? They force an individual to live in a society, they involve some restrictions on his behaviour, Let us say that it is not too far removed form the ultimate Sadian truth Transition form Machiavelli to Hobbes, even from the sophists to Socrates, is not too bad.

All second order religions are a stage removed from the truth, for they are concerned with getting rather than with enjoying.


275 John Cowper Powys, his book  Dostoievsky. English justice and decency are not as JCP sees them, a sign of mere moderation of character, they are an achievement of civilisation. I would say that we are all Hobbesian at heart. Hobbes s our profoundest social philosopher. ie. justice and decency are positive social achievements, which may all presuppose the general commitment to the most ruthless elf interest. ie. it is the conflict and clash of alien self interests that force the need for a medium of reconciliation and compromise. The establishment of such a medium (justice and decency) is a social achievement of a high order, giving greater scope to self interest than ever.


24 Influence of Hobbes on Spinoza.

Avoiding civil war, relativising all your concerns. As if in general you can have nor reason for expecting other people to share your attitudes, interests or opinions. It is against such an opinion that Nietzsche argues will to power as an objective fact. His ideal bears some similarity to Spinoza's only it is less bloodless. Objective sanction for interests and ambitions.

To claim superiority not, like Spinoza, on the basis that I am free from passions, but actually on the basis of all my feelings and passions.


309Rousseau is a conjuror, twister and perverter of Hobbes. The Social Contract is obviously a subversive work. Hobbes finds a justification for authority, Rousseau uses similar sounding concepts to justify an order of things that does not exist. The whole danger of his position, Verbal charlatanry. He creates a philosophical foundation for a state, something insubstantial, as if it were real. His philosophy fools and misleads, it is arbitrary dogma presented as scientific analysis, ingenious intellectual construction proposed as the foundation of society.


147 "If I had read as much as other men I should know no more than other men" (Thomas Hobbes)


Different aims of philosophy. Scientific, anti scientific, religious. Bradley, Russell, Descartes, Bacon, Wittgenstein. Scientifically orientated philosophies, following seventeenth century manifestos, all the way down to modern scientific philosophies, such as those concerned to incorporate the latest ideas in physics into philosophy.

Discourse on Method. Deference in matters of religion, partly prudential, though partly congenial. Descartes' orthodoxy not in dispute. But one presupposes a lot of people in France must have liked orthodoxy, or the Reformation would have been successful. But there is a connection between Descartes and Hobbes in delegating the disputes of religion to an authority to decide.


120 "Justice is the interest of the stronger'. Justice is part of a language game that takes place in the context of a particular culture. Some kind of reference to a sovereign power is needed. The refutation of nazism was defeat in war, accompanying shame guilt and humiliation. Not to be thought around. No intellectual vacuum. Hobbes here. Ultimate ethical questions to be referred to he sovereign.


80 Some people do not think that what they are doing is directed towards their own happiness or fulfilment. This is like 'moral ' behaviour. A lot of people, including Marx, might say that this 'morality' is mere hypocrisy, or a cloak for self interest.

Some people, would say, in profound disagreement with the English eighteenth century, that this moral interpretation gives the true significance of all action. That it is the egoism from Hobbes onwards that is distorted. A key text would I suppose be Kant's Critique of Practical Reason

122 passage from Leviathan" Ignorance of the causes, and original constitution of right, equity, law, and justice, disposeth a man to make custom and example the rule of his actions; in such manner as to think that unjust which it hath been the custom to punish; and that just, of the impunity and approbation whereof they can produce an example or (as the lawyers which only use this false measure of justice barbarously call it) a precedent; like little children that have no other rule of good and evil manners but the correction they receive from their parents and masters; save that children are constant to their rule, whereas men are not so; because grown strong and stubborn, they appeal from custom to reason, and from reason to custom, as it serves their turn, receding from custom when their interest requires it, and setting themselves against reason as oft as reason is against them: which is the cause that the doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually disputed, both by the pen and the sword: whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so; because men care not, in that subject, what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man's ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able." (Leviathan)

I think this is very relevant to Hegel's rejection of 'the understanding consciousness".


4 (Hobbes) was to launch furious attacks on the universities as hotbeds of sedition planted by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to perpetuate the challenge to secular power (Peters)


129 Notes on Hooker. An admirable writer I would not call him simply a conservative like Burke, or someone of that sort. Hooker is particularly interesting and of relevance to all times in the way he attacks fanaticism. I can see how a very similar attack could be made on modern feminism, or the extremer forms of democracy, or socialism.

Essentially he is against moral totalitarianism. In no sense is he a reactionary, he is far from being a papist. It would be hard to accuse him of narrowness, even though it is a religious position he is defending, because it is clear what his main passion is, a strong distaste for sectarian narrowness.

This he has in common with Hobbes. The questions which are so supremely important to the religious ideologue, both want to put our of court as it were, and in doing so they would each appear to concede much.

Give the reformers what they have so far obtained, Keep the state religion as it is, but interpret this state of affairs quite differently from the way in which the enthusiasts do. If the rules have to be changed, so be it, but then let us have a fair fight on the basis of those rules.

I may agree to your conditions of play, but there is no compulsion on me to accept your values or share your objectives.



173 Hobbes Studies, Leo Strauss and where I would say he goes wrong. 'Hobbes in fact admitted that there exists an insoluble conflict between the right of the government and the natural right of the individual to self preservation... The only solution which preserves the spirit of Hobbes' political philosophy is the outlawing of war or the establishment of a world state".

The conflict of rights may be because 'rights' are differently conceived from the way Hobbes conceives them

The state from its own viewpoint has the right to demand your own death because you have given it that power,. You have not given it the right to require your assent to that.

Nor is there a reason why rights as a concept should be extended to resolve that conflict.

The Taylor thesis of 1938. Far worse. We see here the English Christianity of the 1930s, the refusal to se any other than its own misunderstanding of amorality to make any sense.


177 Thoughts on the liberal establishment. Body of doctrine that brings and confirms power. Tact usually required. when tact is dispensed with the viciousness emerges.

A E Taylor Christian orthodoxy. The puzzle is not seventeenth century Christianity but The modern versions of people like Taylor  The political intent. Seeing how wrong people can be about Hobbes, consider how they may be about other things. Demonstrably.


182 Idea of 'right' a coercive idea. claim of a moral fact. What else can right be? There can be, as Hobbes argues, a deferring of your own desire. You can make a mutual agreement to behave morally. To avoid a mere clash of wills. This is like giving up sovereignty, accepting e.g. the law.

Politics is about desire, not about right. Right is at best a way of reconciling desires. As such there is no right or wrong desire.

So in arguing about right it is senseless to argue about what ought to be desired. Right is a way of reconciling conflicting desires.

Hobbes, what the was and what he was not trying to do. If we can speak of a problem about moral obligation, it is not the problem some commentators seem to have tho9ugth it was. The problem is not how obligation can oblige. It obliges to the extent that we want it to. The only problem is how we can want it to, what can lead us to suspend with honour our particular objectives, to adopt a moral perspective. We are only moral as long as we want to be.

Idea of a complete transformation of political theory in the west. Like transvaluation.. The elimination of all quarrelling about right.

195       The French libertines regarded their scepticism as a luxury for gentlemen.  Some people see this as Nietzsche's position. Leo Strauss sees it as traditional wisdom. Nietzsche wanted to diffuse such wisdom, as did Hobbes. He was for enlightenment, a better enlightenment, he would say, than that which followed the Reformation.

284 Points of disagreement with Winch's later thoughts. I think he is wrong to go any way with Rousseau in departing from Hobbes.

ax 85 Erdmann sees Bacon and Hobbes as the final figures of mediaeval philosophy. He sees them as still living according to the old division of sacred and secular, though they put all their interest in the secular.

Nevertheless it is interesting that the period concludes, is bought to and by English protestants. The English historical mission.

128 Spinoza and his atheism. The absence of moral commandments. Fusing Descartes and Hobbes. Like a universal will to power.

132 Cudworth on the atheism of Hobbes, and suspicions of it in Descartes. Platonists vigorous defence of theism.




159.Leo Strauss on Hobbes, Carneades and Epicurus. The scepticism and egoism. Originality in making  political philosophy out of this.

Strauss has some objection to Hobbes. Hobbes - origin of the invisible hand. Doing away with teleology, with duty. As Aristotle was got rid of in science, so in moral and political thought.

the invisible hand. Nietzsche's thesis. If it is wrong, and morals are necessary, let it at least be recognised what is being rejected, let it not be travestied and misrepresented.

The idea that we can do without the Christian morality of restraint. As with Hobbes, let egoism run freely.

Leo Strauss on Hobbes Idea that he is moral, for the moral value of self preservation against pride and vanity.  He emphasises how Hobbes' morality is bourgeois and expresses a bourgeois revolution.

Seeing him as a moral thinker. Something wrong here. Where he suggests a weakness or limitation in Hobbes in that the gives no reason why we should submit to capital punishment. But there is no reason for such a moral idea, it is intrinsically odious. Like the pastor in the film The White Ribbon getting his children to agree that their caning was just and deserved. It is a twisted moral obsession that would want to tie up so called loose ends in this way.


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