Satan's Trouble With Eve

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Reading Hobbes in our Course

In our opening lecturing I recommended that we read Hobbes’ Leviathan as literature. My justification for this was that, by and large, this is how Leviathan was read by Hobbes’ contemporaries. Well into the nineteenth century (wherein for the general literary public Origin of the Species was drawing-room and bed-time reading) books that are now categorised as philosophy texts were simply read. There is this caveat, of course, that Hobbes and Darwin had the (lately rare) ability – genius, even – to write in an engaging and accessible style which invited wide lay readership.

It is, morevoer, still the case today that diverse students read such books in their different ways. Students of philosophy read Leviathan for its ideas; of politics for its prescription for Commonwealth; of theology for what is in effect atheism; of psychology for its view of the mind; of literature for …. well, for its many literary qualities.

Read as literature, Leviathan is a superbly engaging book. For a start, one does not need to minutely analyse the detailed argumentation in order to receive literary benefit. All Hobbes' ideas pertinent to our course will be highlighted and explained in lecture and discussed in seminar. So, again, let me encourage you to read Leviathan for fun and profit.
  • Look for his characterisations: how his inventive portrait of "man" anticipates modern science fiction conceptions of a human machine; how Hobbes creates an idealised character of the person of ..... Thomas Hobbes, author; how, indeed, he draws the awesome titular monster, "Leviathan."
  • Study his rhetorical strategy closely. My statement in lecture that "Hobbes is a cunning bastard" was significantly meant. I have outlined in seminar some important rhetorical concepts helpful for reading Leviathan. Since Hobbes has obviously structured a dialectic on a recognisable form and styled an immediate rhetoric of logos, you will enjoy noting how he makes pathos work by disguise, and how his dialectic is a blind designed to effectively launch polemical strikes. Note, for instance, how incessantly he uses "nothing but" when defining his concepts
  • Enjoy the conflicts and the proto-Gothic in the book. Note how dark, deadly and disturbing is the setting that Hobbes creates in his story, and how tragic -- and Poe-esque -- is the tale's ending.
  • Look for paradoxes and riddles: for example, how man is both the measure of everything and everything's helpless victim.

I will continue to give examples and make suggestions week-to-week in lecture; and as the term progresses, I have every hope that you will quickly develop a literary taste & a fascination for the Leviatian.


  • I have to concur with you on this one. Much of Hobbes doesn't penetrate my brain, but rather than get frustrated and stress over figuring out every detail, I just read it for fun, and find myself laughing at some of his premises, rolling my eyes at others.

    For me, he is a bastard because I want to write like him!

    By Blogger Sarah, at 11:40 AM  

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