Class notes for 14 November

What this is

Here are secondary sources for three main interpretations of Hobbes’s conception of “reason.”


Reason identifies the means to satisfying one’s desires. That is how the laws of nature could be “dictates of reason.”

Sometimes, “instrumental reasoning” is thought to concern the evaluation of action: an action is good or bad to the extent that it involves taking more or less effective means to achieving one’s goals. But Hobbes interpreters generally stick to saying that his conception of reason only covers the relationship between means and ends. It seems to me to be a good question whether instrumental reason, on that limited way of understanding it, could issue “dictates” such as it is said to do. But that’s another story.


Reason involves the logical relationships among defined terms. That is what Hobbes said in chapter five. Note also that there are no examples of practical reasoning, reasoning that concludes in action or a desire for action.

For critical discussion of Deigh’s article, see:


Reason is identified by its output. Someone who desires self-preservation is rational; someone who doesn’t is not.