Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Ryan McKinnell (Concordia University)
Cartesian Means to Hobbesian Ends: Competing Early Modern Solutions to the Problem of Social Discord: Tyler Chamberlain (Trinity Western University) Abstract: The problem of religiously-motivated violence occupied an important role in early modern political thought. This paper will draw out and highlight differences between the solutions to this problem offered by Thomas Hobbes and his contemporary, Rene Descartes. Hobbes’ interest in the problem of religious violence is well-recognized, while reading Descartes with this problem in mind allows us to see the oft-missed social and political implications of his epistemological program. I will argue that Descartes’ strict methodological approach to knowing was, at least in part, an attempt to solve the problem of religious violence, specifically by removing grounds for insoluble religious and metaphysical disagreement. The main divergence from Hobbes is that whereas Hobbes proposed using the coercive power of the state to keep the peace, Descartes hoped to bypass the need for coercive measures by fostering an organic consensus on potentially volatile questions.
Hobbes on Magic: Travis Smith (Concordia University) Abstract: This paper examines the role of magic in the argument of Hobbes’s Leviathan. It takes as its starting point Francis Bacon’s assertion that modern technological science will in some ways be indistinguishable from true magic. Hobbes pretends to be the first true scientist of politics. His arguments contain several references to magic, maintaining, for instance, that witches are justly punished for their intentions even if their rituals have no real affect; claiming that Pharaoh’s sorcerers in the Book of Exodus are frauds; comparing revolutionaries to Medea; and insisting that demons are not real. Throughout the text of Leviathan, Hobbes decries the abusive use of words, in politics and religion alike, but on the basis of a deep appreciation of the formative power of words. Combining a textual analysis of Leviathan with a contextual consideration of early modern conceptions and criticisms of magic, both natural and ceremonial, this paper aims to ascertain Hobbes’s overall position regarding the meaning and status of magic—which, I believe, is not all what it seems—as is fitting, given the subject matter.
The Lutheran Origins of Hobbes: Serbulent Turan (University of British Columbia) Abstract: Considering the tremendous amount of work on Hobbes it is remarkable that there is very little produced on the parallels between Hobbes and Luther, and only a handful on the Lutheran inheritance in Hobbes. Joshua Mitchell timidly notes that “notwithstanding his indebtedness to reason, Hobbes’s thought is within the protestant orb” (1991: 676). Jurgen Overhoff notes: “a comprehensive assessment of the ideological reasons, authenticity and role of Hobbes’s explicit adherence to Luther’s teachings is missing up to this day” (1997: 607).
Combining an analysis of Luther’s thought as it transforms throughout the Revolution of the Common Man (1525-1526), and Hobbes’s self-admitted adherence to Lutheran principles, I work with Hobbes’s texts to demonstrate that the Lutheran influence on the Englishman is much stronger than previously posited in the literature. In fact, I point to numerous places in Hobbes’s works where he effectively secularizes Luther’s arguments for unconditional obedience to the sovereign, almost identically using the Reformer’s ideas sans the spirituality, a fact explicitly recognized by theologians of his age. Indeed, when attacked by his peers over the ‘atheistic’ nature of his arguments, Hobbes consistently falls back to Luther to justify his positions. Though political theory has either disregarded or dismissed these as opportunistic attempts by the famously polemical Hobbes to defend himself, from Elements of Law (1640) to the Behemoth (1661), and most notably also in Leviathan, Hobbes’s arguments read effortlessly like secularized versions of Lutheran arguments on various essential political concepts such as man’s agency, ‘natural behavior’, and authoritarianism.
Contending Views of Human Sociability in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: Phil Triadafilopoulos (University of Toronto) Abstract: Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road encourages us to reconsider the sources of human social and political relationships. What draws us together in a world in which nature is dying and no longer offers up any bounty? Can there be a social contract in which nature is in a state of irreversible decay? And how can virtue be cultivated in a world in which the only significant social relationships seem to be based on hunting other human beings for food? Through the character of the boy/son, McCarthy suggests that the Aristotelian drive for sociability can endure in even the most brutal situations; conversely, the character of the man/father is driven by fear. Yet unlike men in a Hobbesian state of nature, fear in a dying world does not lead to a desire for social interaction but rather to a rejection of social bonds altogether. McCarthy suggests that sociability in a Hobbesian or Lockean world requires a natural order that can be exploited – sovereign power is created to enable us to escape a war of all against all and pursue our material self-interest. But where such pursuits are no longer possible (because the world is dying and there is nothing left to exploit), the only grounds for sociability lie in our more basic need to be with others – a need that carries risks but cannot be extinguished.