Notes for May 8

How Hobbes saw it

Hobbes thought that Leviathan should be taught in the universities. Would he have been pleased by this course?

To conclude, there is nothing in this whole discourse, nor in that I writ before of the same subject in Latin, as far as I can perceive, contrary either to the Word of God, or to good manners; or to the disturbance of the public tranquillity. Therefore I think it may be profitably printed, and more profitably taught in the Universities, in case they also think so, to whom the judgment of the same belongeth. For seeing the Universities are the fountains of civil, and moral doctrine, from whence the preachers, and the gentry, drawing such water as they find, use to sprinkle the same (both from the pulpit, and in their conversation) upon the people, there ought certainly to be great care taken, to have it pure, both from the venom of heathen politicians, and from the incantation of deceiving spirits. And by that means the most men, knowing their duties, will be the less subject to serve the ambition of a few discontented persons, in their purposes against the state; and be the less grieved with the contributions necessary for their peace, and defence; and the governors themselves have the less cause, to maintain at the common charge any greater army, than is necessary to make good the public liberty, against the invasions and encroachments of foreign enemies.

And thus I have brought to an end my Discourse of Civil and Ecclesiastical Government, occasioned by the disorders of the present time, without partiality, without application, and without other design, than to set before men's eyes the mutual relation between protection and obedience; of which the condition of human nature, and the laws divine, (both natural and positive) require an inviolable observation. And though in the revolution of states, there can be no very good constellation for truths of this nature to be born under, (as having an angry aspect from the dissolvers of an old government, and seeing but the backs of them that erect a new,) yet I cannot think it will be condemned at this time, either by the public judge of doctrine, or by any that desires the continuance of public peace. And in this hope I return to my interrupted speculation of bodies natural; wherein, (if God give me health to finish it,) I hope the novelty will as much please, as in the doctrine of this artificial body it useth to offend. For such truth, as opposeth no man's profit, nor pleasure, is to all men welcome. (Leviathan, Review and Conclusion, ¶¶16–17)

But the universities weren’t so keen

Leviathan was a hit: it sold well and made Hobbes’s name. And while it was clearly popular in the universities, it was highly controversial as well.

For instance, Thomas Hearne complained that the librarian of Magdalen College had included Leviathan in the College’s collection.

“Mr. Crane … being a man of vile Principles himself, and one who, when Librarian, put most vile scandalous books, such as Hobb’s Leviathan, &c. into the Undergraduate’s Library of Magd. Coll[ege] on purpose to seduce and pervert young men.”Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, v. X, 322. Quoted in Hobbes Une Chronique, ed. K. Schuhmann (Paris: Librarie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1998), p. 215.

More seriously, Daniel Scargill, a scholar at Cambridge, was forced to issue a recantation of his “Hobbism.”

“Dan Scargill, fellow of C[orpus] C[hristi] C[ollege] in Camb[ridge] being ejected out of the university, for professing himself a Hobbist, made his recantation in these words: that his Hobism, or theeism, is the accursed root of all that abounding wickedness, perjury, sacrilege, debaucher and uncleanness, in this present age.”Robert Boyle, Works, v. IV, 452. Quoted in Hobbes Une Chronique, p. 204.

And in 1683 the University of Oxford passed a decree against “Certaine pernicious books and damnable doctrines, destructive to the sacred persons of princes, their state and government, and all humane society.” The decree required the books to be burned and Hobbes’s works were very much on the list.

So getting Leviathan into the university curriculum took a while. But I hope you found it worth the effort!

This page was written by Michael Green for Hobbes Seminar, Philosophy 185s, Spring 2013. It was posted May 8, 2013.
Hobbes Seminar