- Paperback: 168 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 29, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192802550
- ISBN-13: 978-0192802552
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.4 x 4.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction
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"Review from previous edition "lucid introduction to the first great English political philosopher."--The Times
About the Author
Richard Tuck is Professor of Government at Harvard University. He is the author of Natural Rights Theories (1979) and Philosophy and Government 1572-1651 (1993), and has produced editions of Hobbes's Leviathan and (with Michael Silverthorne) De Cive.
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What Richard Tuck does well in this book is to locate Hobbes within a larger philosophical context which explores in intricate detail Hobbes's biography. Attention is given to Hobbes's metaphysics, a point often overlooked in introductory remarks on Hobbes's theory. All in all this makes the book very informative.
The drawback here is that Tuck has written the book with so much thorough attention given to background and context that it feels as though the meat of Hobbes's philosophy gets lost in translation. Sure, Tuck offers up plenty of reflection on philosophy, but it feels like Hobbes's philosophy isn't the focal point of the book, which makes this read a bit unusual.
That said, the good nevertheless outweighs the bad, and I'd recommend this little book to anyone looking to learn more about this important figure.
The key to Tuck's interpretation is the role of skepticism in Hobbes's thought. For example, Hobbes's appropriation of skepticism and op position to it had a scientific side. Tuck sketches the importance of his second Grand Tour, his friendship with Mersenne and Gassendi, his meeting with Galileo in 1636, and his reading of Descartes' "Discourse". Hobbes sought to develop a Galilean science in response to skepticism and the Cartesian elaboration of metaphysical doubt. Sensory appearances are the subjective outcomes of external motions, and motion, not color, is in the object itself. All sensation, thought, and speech yield systems of symbols, but such systems are sets of changing images, and Hobbes asks how this change can occur (pp. 51-52). Relying on the principle of sufficient reason, Hobbes concluded that something must cause the images to change and that this cause must be a body in space, since movement just means alteration in
spatial position. Hence, Hobbes responded to skepticism with an a priori commitment to materialism. "Just as Hobbes' philosophy of science is an attempt to validate and explain the traditional [skeptical] view that our observation of the world is radically contaminated by illusion, so his philosophy of ethics was intended to underwrite the traditional skeptic's moral relativism" (p. 60). Hobbes began by acknowledging the relativity of good and bad, much as he had done, say, with color terms. Then he showed how human conduct leads to moral conflict, the resolution of which is the task of politics.
How can political unity arise out of a situation of moral conflict? First, Hobbes shifted to a language of rights and added a "new skeptical doubt" (p. 68). In the state of nature all have a right to defend themselves, and all must judge how and when to do so. Hence, even though people share and acknowledge a common right to self-preservation, they still must fear and mistrust each other, and there will be "radical instability in the state of nature" (p. 69). If we are rational, then our rights will be determined or directed by the laws of nature, by what reason tells us we ought to do to find peace. But as long as each of us decides for himself and is not perfectly rational, conflict will be the outcome, the war of all against all. For ethics independent of politics, this is all one can expect.
As Tuck sees it, however, Hobbes overcomes this moral relativism with a political solution, and this is his real novelty. Men in the state of nature realize that reason, the laws of nature, requires the renunciation of private judgment about what is dangerous and the acceptance of a common authority. But Tuck finds himself bound to admit that Hobbes's social contract is problematic. Reason may teach that once the promise to keep the laws of nature is made, it is rational to comply. But Hobbes can offer no reason why people in the state of nature should initiate the contract.
Tuck does a nice job of describing what he calls Hobbes's deism. Unlike the Aristotelians, philosophers like Hobbes doubted the competency of reason to "deliver a full theology." But Hobbes differed from the fideists, too, who believed that a conception of the Christian God had to rest on faith. Hobbes accepted the Scriptural account of Christianity as authoritative and useful, but he had to wrestle with its apparent immaterialism. The issue became especially acute in the "Leviathan". In that work, in order to salvage consistency, Hobbes gave the sovereign the role of ultimate and authoritative interpreter of Scripture. This radical move had significant historical and practical consequences, one of which was that Hobbes's Erastianism encouraged an advocacy of toleration; another was that it led to his treating all religions as civil religion and dismissing all distinctive religious dogma. Most importantly, however, it forced Hobbes to acknowledge the civil religion of 17th-century England, a Christianity based on Scripture, and hence to try to show how it was compatible with his materialism.
Hobbes's "Leviathan" was written in English and published in 1651. The work's novelty, its attack on the Anglican ecclesiastical order and its defense of "Independency", takes up parts 3 and 4, the least read sections of the work. As Tuck very effectively shows, Hobbes's defense of Cromwell and congregational independence rightly shocked old Royalists, who branded Hobbes an atheist and heretic. Moreover, as Tuck shows, they might have wondered why Hobbes' own defense of sovereignty would not undermine his own materialism.
Tuck does an excellent job of situating Hobbes in the historical context of the 16th century, thereby identifying just those areas where philosophical analysis ought to pursue Hobbes. The result is not only an excellent introduction for students but a stimulating and novel interpretation that scholars will certainly want to study.