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.
- Darwall, Stephen. The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’: 1640-1740. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
- Hampton, Jean. Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
- See also: Hoekstra and Murphy, cited below.
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.
- Deigh, John. Deigh, John. “Reason and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 34, no. 1 (1996): 33-60. This essay is reprinted in a collection of Deigh’s essays: The Sources of Moral Agency : Essays in Moral Psychology, 198-225. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
For critical discussion of Deigh’s article, see:
- Murphy, Mark C. “Desire and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan: A Response to Professor Deigh.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 38, no. 2 (2000): 259-68. [Muse]
- Deigh, John. “Reply to Mark Murphy.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 41, no. 1 (2003): 97-109. [Muse]
- Hoekstra, Kinch. “Hobbes on Law, Nature, and Reason.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 41, no. 1 (2003): 111-20. [Muse]
Reason is identified by its output. Someone who desires self-preservation is rational; someone who doesn’t is not.
- Gert, Bernard. “Hobbes on Reason.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2001): 243-57. [Ingenta]