Thomas Hobbes is one of the old dead philosophers I wish I’d had an opportunity to sit down and have an ale with. His Leviathan state is scary, as were the times in which he concocted it-a time of deep social division, civil war, economic inequality and collapse, political partisanship, general chaos (sounds a little too familiar); but he himself seems to have been a delightful character nonetheless.  “He was marvellous happy and ready in his replies, and that without rancour (except provoked),” wrote a contemporary.

They talked about him on BBC 4’s “In Our Time.” [Hobbes timeline]

He didn’t really have a monochromatic view of human nature as rotten to the core. A recent biographer makes the point.

It is ironic that he should be criticized for holding that all people are completely selfish, because he held that one could not make any universal empirical claims about the motivation of all people. He does hold that the nature of the passions is the same in all people, e.g., fear and hope, but not the object of these passions.

And of course I like his position on the possibility of being good without god.

He realizes the importance of distinguishing morality from religion, and establishes a foundation for morality completely independent of religion. However, because he is aware of the impossibility of eliminating religious belief, he devotes an enormous amount of time and effort trying to show that Christianity, properly interpreted, supports his account of morality.

That’s still the safe and prudent position to take, in my time and place. And Hobbes is all about safety and prudence, and security, and staying alive. 91!

Plus, his naturalistic materialism makes way more sense than Cartesian dualism. “The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real.” That may sound reductionist, but it sets a manageable research agenda for the neuroscientist/philosopher.

But what I’d ask him about first is that inkwell in his walking stick. I want one!


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