Natural religion

Notes for February 11

Main points

We discussed chapter 12, “Of Religion.” The main questions were:

Why is it here?

Why does chapter 12 come between chapters 11 and 13? And no, the number isn’t the answer. Chapter 11 is a combination of individual and social psychology. So is chapter 13, only applied to a special case: life in anarchy. Chapter 12 presents the intertwined development of the state and religion. It sticks out and interrupts what looked like it should be a smooth progression of ever more complex psychological and social theories leading, in the end, to the state.

My guess is that chapter 12 is there to make a point about existing states. They are all inadequate because they all rely on religion. But religion will let you down: when the plagues come despite your prayers, you fail to perform miracles, or your priests turn out to be corrupt, your people will reject you as a fraud. And these things will all happen.

So what we need is a better foundation for the state. Like Hobbes’s social contract.

That’s my guess. But he sure could have helped us out by telling us what he was up to there.

What’s the internal structure of the chapter?

That big long chapter boils down to three main points. It sure didn’t feel that way while I was reading it. But there it is. It’s spelled out in the handout.

Christianity and the religion of the Gentiles

Hobbes’s attempt to portray Christianity as the product of reasoned thinking and the religion of the Gentiles as the product of fear looks really suspicious (12.6). It’s so suspicious that I can see why people wondered about whether he was a true believer.

I’m reluctant to draw a hasty conclusion here, though. It could have been a perfectly conventional, even boring kind of distinction that people in his time regarded as respectable. If so, maybe he was just like his unquestionably sincere peers. Drawing a judgment here requires a better feel for religious thought at the time than I have.

But it sure looks fishy.

What’s the most reformed church?

Clarendon thought it was the Anglican Church (a.k.a. the Church of England). Curley thinks it was the Presbyterian church (see his note).

Clarendon’s interpretation fits the context: political collapse caused by unpopular church leaders. Curley’s fits their respective doctrines: the Presbyterians were much more “reformed” (i.e. distant from Catholic practices) than the Anglicans.

I think we could add one thing in Curley’s favor. The Presbyterians were purged from Parliament in 1648. That means taking the last sentence to refer to them fits both context and doctrine.

But … Clarendon was there, with Hobbes in Paris when he wrote Leviathan. (However, he had an axe to grind: after the Restoration, he was ultimately exiled while Hobbes got to stay in England. Clarendon was a very sharp reader of Hobbes. But his resentment over how things turned out for each of them is palpable.)

This page was written by Michael Green for Hobbes Seminar, Philosophy 185s, Spring 2013. It was posted February 13, 2013.
Hobbes Seminar