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Jun. 12th, 2008

myrhineatrocity

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An interesting lecture on Hobbes

Jun. 7th, 2008

myrhineatrocity

A quote from Heath and Potter on Hobbes

"Freud's overall view, therefore, is one in which all if the violence that exists in a state of nature is a direct expression of our aggressive and destructive instincts.  These instincts cannot be eliminated; they can only be sublimated or repressed. So the level of violence never changes. It is simply redirected--given an inward, rather than an outward, expression . . . This is why, in Freud's view, the state of nature can be said to reveal a deep fact about humanity--the over violence tells something about our underlying instinctual nature.

For Hobbes, on the other hand, the crucial feature of the violence that exists in the state of nature is that it does not reveal anything deep about human nature. In Hobbes's view, the violence is produced by superficial features of our social interactions. Freud assumes that because we have a common interest in cooperating with one another, "reason" must tell us to do so. Hobbes, however, sees that in the absence of rules, the fact we have a common interest in cooperating does not necessarily translate into an individual incentive to do so. . . Reason, in other words, leads us into collective action problems. . . In Hobbes's terms, people invade one another not only for gain, but also for safety.

There is therefore no need to assume, in Hobbes's view, that men are governed by any deep-seated love of violence or aggression.  Hobbes insists that even though the state of nature is violent, this is not because human beings are fundamentally aggressive. The problem in a state of nature is simply that we cannot trust one another"
--Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, Nation of Rebels, page 82-83

"From this Freudian perspective, an arms race reveals something deep about human nature. The fact that human beings feel the need to build 100-megaton bombs shows just how scary our instincts are. It shows that, deep down, we must be extraordinarily violent creates.

The Hobbesian analysis, on the other hand, denies that the arms race reveal any such deep tendencies. It is possible for two countries to get into an arm race even though neither of them has any serious plans to attack the other one; they only need to believe that the other one intends to attack them. It is precisely this lack of trust that triggers the race to the bottom.  One country starts stockpiling weapons in order to deter a perceived threat. The other regards this as a threat, and so increases its own level of expenditure" (page 87).


I think Heath and Potter are on to something putting Hobbes in line with what things like modern games theory and the prisoner's dilemma.  The point is that even though most people reject Hobbes because of what they say as a cynical view of "human nature"--Hobbes does not really have nearly as cynical a view of human nature as most Freudians and Romantics do.  You combine  Rousseau and Freud and you have people trying to justify a total lack of social rules without seeing the problems created by conflict of individual wills or the benefits of giving into a few social mores or delaying gratification in order to increase the likelihood that ALL parties involved will benefit.

Jan. 9th, 2008

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prefer_owls

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Nov. 17th, 2007

twisted_apples

hobbes and early speech acts

“In the late twentieth-century, one of the principal debates in the philosophy of language was whether words or sentences were the basic unit of language. The argument for sentences is that the most basic function of language is to express a thought, and the smallest linguistic unit that can express a complete thought is a sentence. The argument for words is that sentences depend on words because they are made up of words, and the meaning of a sentence is a function of the meanings of its words. To some extent, Hobbes appreciated both positions. When he talks about language itself, he begins with the meanings of individual words. However, when he talks about how language is used for communication, he presents an inchoate theory of speech acts, which takes the actions performed using complete sentences as the primary linguistic unit...

Hobbes was more insightful about the use of language than almost any other philosopher prior to the twentieth century. His distinction between a sentence used to counsel someone and a sentence (sometimes the very same sentence) used to command someone is put to good use in Leviathan when he explains what a law is. A law is a command; it is to be followed because the speaker wants it to be followed. A counsel gives advice and need not be followed by the person who gets it. A command expresses what is or appears to be good for the speaker, while a counsel expresses what it supposed to be good for addressee... At least as impressive is his recognition that religious language ought to be used to honor God, not to describe him. This difference between two uses of language supports his sharp distinction between faith and reason [i.e., fideism]. The language of reason is descriptive; the language of faith is honorific. The two cannot contradict each other precisely because language used honorifically is neither true nor false, but either appropriate or inappropriate...” A.P. Martinich, Hobbes (137-138, 146)

Nov. 11th, 2007

twisted_apples

fish on hobbes 1

Sorry I haven't been posting regularly. This semester is a killer.

"The bottom line is that it is no contradiction at all to assert the firm existence of fact, truth and reality and yet maintain that they can only be known within the human, limited vocabularies we have built in the endless effort to get things right. Truth claims are universal, but their justification and elaboration take place in time and within revisable, contingent discursive structures.

This is hardly a new insight. Thomas Hobbes put it this way in his Leviathan: 'True and False are attributes of Speech, not of Things. And where Speech is not, there is neither Truth nor Falsehood.' That is to say, our judgment as to whether an assertion is true or false will be made by seeing how it fits in (or doesn’t fit in) with other assertions the truth of which are, at least for the time being, warranted. We do not compare the assertion with the world, but with currently authoritative statements about the world. The world itself – unmediated by any system of statements – is forever removed from us. As Richard Rorty says, in an update of Hobbes, “The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.” The world, Rorty adds, does not have its own language, does not make propositions about itself. We do that, and it is the propositions we hazard, not the world as it exists apart from propositions, that we affirm, reject, argue about and believe in.

If that is so, propositions – assertions that this or that is or is not the case – are the vehicle of thought and Hobbes can be emended to say, 'where Speech is not, there is no Thought.' Words come first and make thought – propositions – possible. This is what I [meant] when I said we can’t think without [words]."
- Stanley Fish, from "Another Spin of the Wheel"

Oct. 5th, 2007

twisted_apples

force and fraud

"Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues." - Thomas Hobbes ("War" does not mean what you think it means.)

Sep. 26th, 2007

twisted_apples

two arguments from leviathan

In the "Review and Conclusions" chapter of Leviathan, Hobbes makes two arguments in an attempt to persuade royalists to submit to the new government of England. After the illegal execution of Charles I by the remnants of the Long Parliament, Charles II (the "rightful" King of England) fled. The new government, called the Commonwealth, required royalists to swear an oath of loyalty by signing a document called the Engagement. Many royalists were reluctant to do so, because they still felt bound by their oaths of loyalty to Charles II.

"Besides, if a man consider that they who submit, assist the Enemy but with part of their estates, whereas they that refuse, assist him with the whole, there is no reason to call their Submission, or Composition an Assistance; but rather a Detriment to the Enemy" (Hobbes, Leviathan, from "Review and Conclusions").

In brief, Hobbes makes the following argument: Royalists who resist the Commonwealth, by refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to it, will lose all of their property (and possibly also their lives). The Commonwealth would appropriate that property, which of course would be of benefit to it. On the other hand, royalists who swear the oath of loyalty to the Commonwealth would be allowed to live and also to keep most of their property, thus preventing the Commonwealth from accruing the benefits of taking all of the royalists' land and wealth. Therefore, in order to uphold their oaths of loyalty to Charles II, royalists must swear an oath of loyalty to the Commonwealth.

This seems like a contradictory recommendation, but it actually illustrates two important aspects of Hobbes as a thinker. First, it shows his preference for pragmatic action over principled action. (This is not for me to elaborate upon here, but principled action is merely pragmatic action.) Second, it illustrates his attitude toward words and, more specifically, toward rhetoric. What matters is not the oath of loyalty someone swears, or to whom, but the intention behind the swearing of that oath (the words they speak are arbitrary to the beliefs they hold, or their true loyalty).

Hobbes was no fool, however, and he was fully aware of how this argument would be perceived by many royalists (amongst others). That is why he, in the Review and Conclusions section of Leviathan gives another argument against (violently) resisting the Commonwealth (which would have resulted in nothing more than a mass slaughter of the rebels).

"And because I find by divers English books lately printed, that the Civill warres have not yet sufficiently taught men, in what point of time it is, that a Subject becomes obliged to the Conquerour; not what is Conquest; nor how it comes about, that it obliges men to obey his Laws: Therefore for farther satisfaction of men therein, I say, the point of time, wherein a man becomes subject to a Conqueror [sic], is that point, wherein having liberty to submit to him, he consenteth, either by expresse words, or by other sufficient sign, to be his Subject" (Hobbes, Leviathan, from "Review and Conclusions").

That is, "a royalist could [swear the oath of loyalty to the Commonwealth] because a citizen's obligation to a sovereign ends when the sovereign can no longer protect him. And the exiled Charles II could not protect people in England. The fact that the Commonwealth was generated by an illegal act does not change the fact that it was now the legitimate government of England because many English subjects had joined it and it had the power to protect them" (Martinich, Hobbes, p. 16).

In short, Hobbes is telling the royalists what they can do "in good conscience," without forsaking their principles. This is a particularly shrewd appeal, because Hobbes doesn't actually believe in principles, as such, (as is illustrated by the previous argument). So Hobbes presents two reasons to forswear Charles II and swear loyalty to the new government. The first (actually the second in the text of Leviathan) appeals to the nakedly pragmatic individual; the second appeals to those who believe in the principled stance.

twisted_apples

pragmatism versus reference theory in the 1600s

"[In his correspondence with Descartes] Hobbes suggests what he would later assert, namely, that "reasoning is simply the joining together and linking of names." Further, since names are arbitrary labels that humans attach to things, the inferences of reasoning say nothing about things but [only] about the labels applied to them: 'Now, what shall we say if it turns out that reasoning is simply the joining together and linking of names or labels by means of the word "is"? It would follow that the inferences in our reasoning tell us nothing at all about the nature of things, but merely tell us about the labels applied to them; that is, all we can infer is whether or not we are combining the names of things in accordance with the arbitrary conventions which we have laid down in respect of their meaning' (Hobbes). Descartes [replied] that there is no need to focus exclusively on the origin of names. When people reason, they don't link names but the 'things that are signified by the names'." - A. P. Martinich, Hobbes, pp. 9-10

Sep. 24th, 2007

twisted_apples

rhetorical strategy: a summary

"That [The Elements of Law] was a polemically pro-royalist work was obvious; as Hobbes plainly stated in one of its final chapters, the idea that subjects could maintain rights of private property against the sovereign was a claim that he had 'confuted, by proving the absoluteness of the sovereignty.' But The Elements of Law was no mere polemical pamphlet. In it Hobbes had attempted to base his political principles on an account of human psychology that was compatible with (although not necessarily dependent on) his mechanistic physics. The reduction of 'reason' to instrumental reasoning was an important part of this psychological picture. Reason, on this view of things, did not intuit values, but found the means to ends that were posited by desire; desires might be various, but reason could also discover general truths about how to achieve the conditions (above all, the absence of anarchic violence) in which desires were least liable to be frustrated. By defining that which is 'not against reason' as 'right,' Hobbes also made the transition to a different type of general truths: definitional truths about rights and obligations, which would make the claims of the anti-royalist politicians as necessarily false as those of incompetent geometers. For sovereignty to exist at all, Hobbes argued, it was necessary for all the rights of the subjects to be yielded to it; what he tried to show was that the reasons that made sovereignty necessary also made it absolute..."
- Noel Malcolm, "A summary biography of Hobbes," from The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes, pp. 28-29, (emphases my own)

Malcolm doesn't get it quite right. He claims that Hobbes's The Elements of Law was "no mere polemical pamphlet." The right approach would be to say that "It is and it isn't." It is because he uses exclusionary definitions to define his opponents right out of existence (that's why he wrote it). And it isn't because, yes, it also provided a venue for Hobbes to explore his own theories about psychology and the state as founded on his (anti)metaphysical position. In short, by establishing his definitions on the basis of an uncontested "fact" (namely, that sovereignty should exist, something that no politico in the 1600s would've contested), Hobbes concludes that the natural conclusion to accepting that "fact" is his (pro-royalist) conclusion. It would be misleading for me to claim that Hobbes is doing anything new here because he's just walking down old rhetorical highways. It's perhaps summed up best by Edward Markham's old poem "Outwitted": "He drew a circle that shut me out / Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout / But love and I had the wit to win; / We drew a circle that took him in."

If I have time I'll find the passage from The Elements of Law and explicate it at length.

Sep. 21st, 2007

twisted_apples

from "Hobbes on rhetoric"

"Geometry impressed Hobbes not because its truth was self-evident, for he began by rejecting what the theorem before him asserted; rather, he was moved by the experience of being compelled to admit the very thing he had denied in first glancing at the text. Here was a speech that could inexorably oblige us to see things a given way, in the face of no little resistance; and it was a revelation to him. One might therefore speculate that his putting himself to the task of mastering geometry was also to figure out how he himself might produce a similar effect elsewhere. Yet another facet to Hobbes's attachment to geometry has often been remarked: his recognition that Euclidean geometry persuaded him as it did because it constituted its own artificial truth. That is, once one enters the system of proof, its sheer internal coherence fashions the sense of a proposition's demonstrativeness. So the criterion of knowledge in Hobbes arguably comes down to a particular idea of verbal persuasion that has to do less with the sensation of belief than with a certain force and clarity of understanding that enables us to see for ourselves that something must be the case."
- Victoria Silver, from "Hobbes on rhetoric," from The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes, pp. 332-333