More complex psychology

Notes for February 6

Main points

I started with pointing out that chapter 47 is addressed at Protestants: the thrust of what he’s saying is that some Protestant churches are as bad as the Catholic church.

Then we turned to power, worth, dignity, honor, worthiness, and the ‘difference of manners.’ We spent a fair amount of time talking about how Hobbes used his discussion of honor in chapter 10 to give an account of how to worship God (in chapter 31).

Looking ahead to chapter 13

I’m always impressed by chapters 10-11 even though I’m not quite sure what to make of them. Hobbes tried to explain quite a lot of our social behavior as shaped by power: our behavior towards others depends on the balance of power between us and what we hope to gain (or fear losing) from those who are more powerful than we are. My observation about that was that these explanations only make sense if there is a lot of cooperative behavior: the powerful can be induced to help others and people will join together to augment the power of others. That all seems right to me. But it’s not obvious how to square it with chapter 13, which describes people without a state as being quite uncooperative.

One other thing that strikes me about this material is that Hobbes was willing to point out the negative uses of morality. For example, he points out how fraught the relationship between benefactors and beneficiaries can be: it’s burdensome to receive benefits you cannot reciprocate (¶7). And the remark about how those who have wronged others can hate their victims could have come right out of Nietzsche.

To have done more hurt to a man than he [the doer] can, or is willing to expiate [make amends for], inclineth the doer to hate the sufferer. For he must expect revenge or forgiveness, both of which are hateful. (¶8)

In fact, given the emphasis on power in Hobbes’s account of social life, quite a lot of this could have come from Nietzsche. Or, perhaps we should say, quite a lot in Nietzsche could have come from Hobbes!

Chapter 11

It’s not easy to say why Hobbes thought all the material in chapter 11 belonged together in one chapter. He did tell us that the chapter was about “those qualities of mankind that concern their living together in peace and unity” (11.1). These qualities include:

  1. passions (¶¶2-8)
  2. opinions (aka beliefs) (¶¶9-16)I’m not confident about where pusillanimity (¶14), frugality (¶15), and eloquence (¶16) go.
  3. failures of understanding (¶¶17–23)
  4. the ‘seeds of religion’ (curiosity about causes and anxiety about the future) (¶¶24-27)

Some of these qualities are uniform while others are not. So, for instance, everyone pursues power (¶2), but some people’s desires are best satisfied by conflict while others are best satisfied by submission to a higher power (¶¶3–5). There’s a similar pattern at the end of the chapter: there is a ‘seed’ of religion that is found in everyone, but different societies develop different religious practices based on the various imaginations of their members (¶¶24–27).

This page was written by Michael Green for Hobbes Seminar, Philosophy 185s, Spring 2013. It was posted February 7, 2013.
Hobbes Seminar