Mutual Containment

Class notes for 01 December

Another obsolete usage

Following hot on the heels of my discoveries about “consequently”, I turn to “actually.”

We use “actually” to mean “in fact” and contrast it with what is not true or what is only possibly true. But there was a time when it also could mean “in a way that is characterized by doing; with deeds; practically, actively” (oh praise the noble OED).

Could the time when the second usage was common be, say, the 17th century?

Right you are! And guess who is cited to illustrate the obsolete usage?

the kingdom of God is a civil kingdom; which consisted, first in the obligation of the people of Israel to those laws, which Moses should bring unto them from Mount Sinai; … and which kingdom having been cast off, in the election of Saul, the prophets foretold, should be restored by Christ … hereafter, when Christ shall come in majesty to judge the world, and actually to govern his own people, which is called the kingdom of glory. (Leviathan, ch. 35, par. 13; see also ch. 38, par.5)

So what?

As we know, Hobbes held that the natural and civil laws “mutually contain” one another, but it’s hard to understand what he could have meant. Here’s the problematic passage. (I split it into two paragraphs that, on the face of it, contradict one another).

The law of nature, and the civil law, contain each other, and are of equal extent. For the laws of nature, which consist in equity, justice, gratitude, and other moral virtues on these depending, in the condition of mere nature (as I have said before in the end of the 15th chapter,) are not properly laws, but qualities that dispose men to peace and to obedience. When a commonwealth is once settled, then are they actually laws, and not before; as being then the commands of the commonwealth; and therefore also civil laws: for it is the sovereign power that obliges men to obey them. For in the differences of private men, to declare, what is equity, what is justice, and what is moral virtue, and to make them binding, there is need of the ordinances of sovereign power, and punishments to be ordained for such as shall break them; which ordinances are therefore part of the civil law. The law of nature therefore is a part of the civil law in all commonwealths of the world.

Reciprocally also, the civil law is a part of the dictates of nature. For justice, that is to say, performance of covenant, and giving to every man his own, is a dictate of the law of nature. But every subject in a commonwealth, hath covenanted to obey the civil law, (either one with another, as when they assemble to make a common representative, or with the representative it self one by one, when subdued by the sword they promise obedience, that they may receive life;) and therefore obedience to the civil law is part also of the law of nature. Civil, and natural law are not different kinds, but different parts of law; whereof one part being written, is called civil, the other unwritten, natural. But the right of nature, that is, the natural liberty of man, may by the civil law be abridged, and restrained: nay, the end of making laws, is no other, but such restraint; without the which there cannot possibly be any peace. And law was brought into the world for nothing else, but to limit the natural liberty of particular men, in such manner, as they might not hurt, but assist one another, and join together against a common enemy. (Leviathan ch. 26, par. 8)

The first paragraph seems to say that the laws of nature aren’t laws outside of the commonwealth; laws, we were told earlier, are commands issued to those who are obliged to obey the person who issues them. So where did this obligation come from? The social contract. And why is a contract obligatory? That’s what the laws of nature say.

So the laws of nature depend on the sovereign and the sovereign depends on the laws of nature. Or so it seems.

Let’s take another look at the chief negative phrase of the first paragraph: “the laws of nature … in the condition of mere nature … are not properly laws … When a commonwealth is once settled, then are they actually laws, and not before.”

That’s right “actually.” If we take that to mean “in fact,” “really,” or “genuinely,” then we’ve got our problem. But what if it’s the obsolete usage? Then it means that the laws of nature are not actively interpreted and enforced outside of the commonwealth. And that’s not only true, it’s compatible with their being laws, in some sense.

Of course, spelling out that sense is no easy task. But at least that paragraph looks a little less paradoxical.