Volume 15, 1990
Reflections on Hobbes
Recent Work on his Moral and Political Philosophy
In this article I attempt to survey work on Hobbes within the period from 1975 to 1989. The text is restricted almost exclusively to work in English on topics in moral and political philosophy. The bibliography is more comprehensive, including work on other aspects of Hobbes’ philosophy and work written in a variety of other languages.
The central questions on which the text focuses are these: what psychological assumptions underlie Hobbes’ moral and political conclusions? in particular, what roles do egoism, the striving for self-preservation, and the desire for glory play in his system? to what extent is Hobbes committcd to the claim that the state of nature is a war or all against all? does that war stem from human rationality or from human irrationality? does Hobbes view morality as entirely a human invention, a creation of the state? if people had the psychology Hobbes assumes in justifying the institution of a sovereign, would they be able to institute one? to what extent does Hobbes regard rebellion as justifiable?
I devote an attention some people may find excessive to recent works by Greg Kavka and Jean Hampton. I share Gautier’s view that they will prove landmarks in Hobbes scholarship. But I do try also to pay attention to other interesting work by authors like Richard Tuck, Tom Sorell, and David Johnston, and I have many criticisms to make of Kavka and Hampton.