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Reason and Self-Interest in Hobbes’ Reply to the Fool

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By JOSEPH CARLSMITH

ABSTRACT: The Fool offers a famous objection to Hobbesian ethics: if practical rationality is rooted in self-interest, then isn’t it rational to abandon ethical reasoning when doing so “conduces to one’s benefit”? In this paper, I examine Hobbes’ reply to the Fool as it reveals the limitations of the moral theory presented in Leviathan. I begin by sketching out the reply and two traditional ways of interpreting it – the “case-by-case” interpretation and the “rule-commitment” interpretation. I argue that for empirical reasons both these interpretations fail to answer the Fool’s challenge. I then turn to an interpretation that I think a more promising answer to the Fool: Gauthier’s theory of conventional reason. This theory, I argue, contains a crucial insight that the first two interpretations lack: what Hobbes really needs to do to reply to the Fool is not to reconcile covenant-keeping with self-interest, but rather to show how constraints on the pursuit of self-interest can be rationally justified. Gauthier’s attempt to do so within Hobbes’ framework fails, but this failure illuminates a fundamental problem with Hobbes’ moral theory: that moral constraints on the pursuit of self-interest cannot provide reasons to a Hobbesian agent.

At the beginning of Chapter XV of Leviathan, Hobbes introduces an ethical antagonist now famous in the literature on early modern philosophy: the Fool. The Fool says in his heart, “there is no such thing as justice,” and alleges that it is rational to break covenants when doing so “conduces to one’s benefit” (90). That a character who reasons in this manner makes an appearance in Hobbes’ treatise follows in a long tradition; like Plato’s Thrasymachus, Grotius’ Carneades, and Hume’s Sensible Knave, the Fool allows his creator to confront the threat of ethical skepticism head on.

In what follows, I examine Hobbes’ reply to the Fool as it reveals the limitations of the moral theory presented in Leviathan. I begin by sketching out the reply and two traditional ways of interpreting it – the “case-by-case” interpretation and the “rule- commitment” interpretation. I argue that for empirical reasons both these interpretations fail to answer the Fool’s challenge. I then turn to an interpretation that I think a more promising answer to the Fool – Gauthier’s theory of conventional reason. This theory, I argue, contains a crucial insight that the first two interpretations lack: what Hobbes really needs to do to reply to the Fool is not to reconcile covenant-keeping with self-interest, but rather to show how constraints on the pursuit of self-interest can be rationally justified. Gauthier’s attempt to do so within Hobbes’ framework fails, but this failure illuminates a fundamental problem with Hobbes’ moral theory: that moral constraints on the pursuit of self-interest cannot provide reasons to a Hobbesian agent.

The Fool makes two claims, which, when combined, yield a conclusion hostile to the authority of Hobbes’ laws of nature. The first is a claim about practical reason: “every man’s conservation and contentment being committed to his own care, there could be no reason why every man might not do what he thought conduced thereunto” (Hobbes 90). On this view, practical reason is a purely selfish endeavor. The reason you have to do X is determined by the expected utility of X to your interests. This conception is recognizably Hobbesian. As Hobbes explains in Chapter XV, “of the voluntary acts of every man the object is some good to himself” (82), and what is “against benefit” is “against reason” (91). This egoistic theory of practical reason saturates Hobbes’ discussion throughout the Leviathan; he makes use of it especially prominently in his discussion of covenant (82), gratitude (95), and the nature of law (100). On the Fool’s first claim, then, he and Hobbes seem to agree.

The Fool’s second claim is an empirical one: that sometimes violating a covenant is in an agent’s interest. Combining this claim with the egoistic theory of practical reason, the Fool reaches the conclusion that “to make or not make, keep or not keep, covenants was not against reason, when it conduced to one’s benefit” (90). Indeed, as Kavka (1995) points out, the Fool’s reasoning applies not just to the keeping of covenants, but to all of Hobbes’ laws of nature – Gratitude, Complaisance, Equity, and the all the rest (Kavka 3). If the Fool is right, then whenever one of these laws compels an agent to act in a manner contrary to her interests, it is rational for the agent to violate the law.

For Hobbes to refute this reasoning, he needs to show that a rational agent should not break a covenant purely out of unilateral considerations of self-interest. He does not have to show that a rational agent should never break a covenant, period. It is plausible that, at times, other laws of nature will compel a rational agent to break a covenant, or that the spirit of Hobbes’ “easy sum” of all the natural laws – “Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thyself” (Hobbes 99) – will run contrary to covenant keeping. Indeed, as Kavka points out, Hobbes deems acceptable a particular type of violation of the laws of nature – what Kavka calls a defensive violation (4). A defensive violation occurs in response to a violation undertaken by another party, and it works to protect an agent from being taken advantage of by other violators. An offensive violation, by contrast, is chosen simply because an agent has calculated that violating will be to her advantage. It is this second type of violation that Hobbes is trying to prove irrational.

It is possible to interpret Hobbes’ goal differently: perhaps he accepts the rationality of such offensive violations but simply wants to modify the Fool’s (and the reader’s) calculation of how often a good chance to offensively violate occurs. The problem with this interpretation is that it has Hobbes introducing an antagonist with whom he is in fundamental agreement – a view that clashes strongly with the manner in which the Fool is presented. Hobbes does not say to the Fool, “you’re right, but it happens less than you think,” but rather, “this specious reasoning is nevertheless false” (91). It seems that Hobbes takes the issue to be one of principle, not quantity of cases. In addition, Hobbes’ linguistic choices – naming his interlocutor “The Fool,” referring to the Fool’s reasoning as “successful wickedness” (90) – suggest that he does not consider the Fool an intellectual bedfellow. These texts present prima facie evidence that Hobbes does not want to show the reader merely that the Fool has overestimated a fundamentally sound conclusion, but rather that the Fool’s reasoning itself is misguided.

How does Hobbes attempt to do so? His answer consists of two parts. First, Hobbes provides a clarification about what it means to make a rational decision. This clarification does not contest the Fool’s view that ultimately, practical reason derives from considerations of self interest, but it does introduce an important distinction: “When a man doth a thing which…. tendeth to his own destruction (howsoever some accidence which he could not expect, arriving, may turn it to his benefit), yet such events do not make it reasonable or wisely done” (91). On this view, the reasonableness of an action is not determined by its actual outcome, but rather by the outcome that could be reasonably expected from an agent’s deliberative standpoint. An example makes this distinction clear: imagine a man who, in exchange for 500 dollars, jumps out of an airplane with no parachute. Unbeknownst to him, the plane just happens to be passing over the world’s largest pile of pillows, on which he lands safely. He walks away 500 dollars richer, but the choice he made was not rational, because he could not have reasonably expected to benefit from it (even though, in fact, he did).

The second step in Hobbes’ reply is this: because of the way the state of nature works, violating covenant is the equivalent of jumping out of a plane with no parachute, in that 1) it tends toward the destruction of the person who does it, and 2) the person cannot reasonably expect to avoid this destruction. Hobbes derives 1 from the necessity of cooperation: “In a condition of war wherein every man to every man … is an enemy, no man can hope by his own strength or wit to defend himself from destruction without the help of confederates” (91). But no one will cooperate with someone who breaks his covenants, particularly not in the kind of iterated collective action problems entailed by a confederacy. Therefore, a covenant-breaker can only be received into society “by the error of them that receive him,” an error that “he could not foresee nor reckon upon” (92). Such an error is Hobbes’ version of landing on the world’s largest pile of pillows; it cannot be rationally expected.

Important to this reasoning is the notion of decision under uncertainty. When a choice is being made under conditions of uncertainty, a rational agent must take into account not only the value and probability of different possible outcomes, but also the reliability of her calculations. The evidence she is using might be faulty, or incomplete, or she might be biased, ignorant or deceived in a way that is leading her to misinterpret the situation. These possibilities introduce a degree of uncertainty to the decision-making process that must itself be factored into evaluating a decision’s rationality. Hobbes seems to think that the decision to keep or violate a covenant is made under this type of uncertainty, and that even if all of an agent’s evidence suggests that violation of covenant will be beneficial, the reliability of that conclusion will be uncertain to such an extent that it will not be rational to risk the drastic consequences – in Hobbes’ view, certain destruction – of getting it wrong.

I will examine two interpretations to which this reply has given rise, though there are many others[1]. One is called the case-by-case interpretation[2]. On this view, Hobbes is arguing that, given the uncertainty inherent to decision-making and the dire consequences misjudgment, there will be no cases in which you can reasonably expect to benefit from covenant violation. This interpretation is close to traditional readings of Hobbes, and it follows easily from the text of the reply, which is framed in terms of individual decisions. If the reasoning is sound, then Hobbes has successfully answered the Fool’s challenge.

However, one of the reasons this answer has drawn so much attention is that there seem, on the surface, to be obvious problems with it. Are there really no cases in which it is possible to reasonably expect that violating a covenant will be more beneficial than keeping it? They do not seem difficult to imagine. For example, suppose that, while on a trip around the world, your one-person plane breaks down in Egypt, and you hire a nameless, friendless, deaf mute orphan boy to help you fix it, promising him $2,000 in exchange. He does his work beautifully, and once he finishes and you have tested everything to make sure it works, you load yourself into the cockpit. You are about to close the window when the orphan boy holds out his hand, expecting to receive his money. In this situation, it seems reasonable for you to expect to benefit from closing the window, revving the engine, and flying away. No one else knows about your covenant with the boy, and he won’t be able to tell anyone. Even if he could, you would be long gone, and whatever bad reputation you develop in that particular Egyptian town would not touch you in America. Of course, there is some uncertainty (what if you break down in that town again? what if the orphan boy grows up to wield great power and to use it expressly to revenge this offense?), but the uncertainty is not sufficient to undermine the reasonableness of your expectation. Why would it be irrational simply to fly away?

Cases like this seem to be what the Fool is talking about, and they are more common than the strangeness of the example might suggest. All that is necessary is a situation in which, even after considerations of consequence, probability, and uncertainty are taken into account, the risks of covenant-violation are calculably low, and the benefits calculably high, such that it is reasonable for an agent to expect violation to work to her advantage. The frequency of such cases can be disputed; that they do, sometimes, occur cannot. And, on the case-by-case interpretation of Hobbes’ reply, this seems to be all that the Fool needs.

The force of this objection has led some interpreters[3] to abandon the case-by-case interpretation and present instead a “rule-commitment” reading. On this view, Hobbes is arguing not just against a particular decision – to break covenant – but against an entire paradigm of decision-making – namely, case-by-case reasoning – when applied to covenant-keeping. On this view, Hobbes thinks it irrational to attempt to calculate, in each new situation, whether violating a core moral rule like covenant-keeping will be in your interest. Rather, the best thing to do is to commit to a rule or cultivate a disposition that will govern your behavior in all cases. If this interpretation of Hobbes is correct, then the real disagreement between him and the Fool is about what type of decision-making process is most rational. The Fool implicitly accepts case-by-case decision-making, while Hobbes argues that if you commit to a rule such as “never break covenants,” you will ultimately benefit more.

Why would commitment to this rule yield such a benefit? Interpreters give different arguments. Gauthier focuses on the social benefits: if an agent’s commitment to never break covenants is adequately discernable by potential confederates, then those confederates will have reason to choose partnerships with that agent rather than with others who are suspected of case-by-case reasoning. Indeed, because it is in the interests of potential confederates to become as skilled at such discernment as possible, the easiest way for an agent to withstand their scrutiny will be to actually commit to the rules beneficial to confederacy. This advantage means that rule-committed reasoners will be offered better opportunities for cooperation than case-by-case reasoners, and will therefore do better in the long term, even though they will pass up chances to violate that would have worked to their short-term advantage.[4]

In addition to these social benefits, committing to rules solves technical problems often encountered during deliberation. Kavka argues that trying, in the face of each opportunity to violate covenant, to systematically anticipate all of the advantages and disadvantages of various possible outcomes, calculate the probabilities of those outcomes, and reckon with the uncertainty of your calculations is a taxing process, and the energy saved by committing to a simple rule can be put to much more beneficial use elsewhere (Kavka 21). What’s more, rule commitment avoids recognized problems in the psychology of human decision making, such as the tendency to succumb to the temptation of short-term reward without adequate recognition of the potential long-term costs. It therefore reduces, in the long term, the number of mistakes that an agent makes, and ultimately yields a net gain (Kavka 21).[5]

Such considerations may begin to build an argument for committing to rules rather than reasoning case by case. But is it, in fact, the argument that Hobbes makes against the Fool? On the surface, the text of the reply itself suggests otherwise. Hobbes frames his discussion with the Fool as an analysis of which individual actions are most reasonable, not which type of practical rationality. Nowhere does Hobbes mention the notion of rule commitment, nor does he explain why such commitment would be more beneficial in the long term than reasoning case by case – an explanation presumably necessary for showing why the Fool’s approach is wrong. If Hobbes’ real intention in his reply to the Fool is to prove the fallacy of case-by-case practical reasoning, then he is doing so in a manner both singularly indirect and contrary to his usual, geometric style of explanation. Of course, it is possible that Hobbes explains the value of rule commitment elsewhere in Leviathan, or that he simply takes it for granted. Kavka seems to take the former view, and he cites as his evidence the passage in Chapter 15 in which Hobbes explains that the laws of nature are both prudentially grounded and, in Kavka’s language, “general prescriptive rules of conduct” (Kavka 1986, 360). Such textual evidence, however, is far from decisive, as the passages are perfectly compatible with the case-by- case interpretation as well; Hobbes could believe that what makes the rules general and prescriptive is that adhering to them will be more prudent in each particular case.

Nevertheless, a rule-commitment interpretation of Hobbesian practical reason does have a few theoretical advantages to recommend it. For one, it helps explain some of Hobbes’ political doctrines that a case-by-case theory has trouble with, such as the absolute authority of the sovereign and the reasonableness of remaining in the social contract even when it seems against your interest.[6] It also allows Hobbes both to disagree substantively with the Fool and, at least in Kavka’s view, to defeat him, thus saving Hobbes from the embarrassing choice of having introduced either an opponent he fundamentally agrees with or an objection he fails to meet. For these reasons and others, scholarly debate about the rule-commitment interpretation remains vigorous.

Even if this is the correct interpretation of Hobbes’ reply, however, I believe that, like the case-by-case interpretation, it ultimately fails to refute the Fool. Even if we grant Kavka’s/Gauthier’s empirical claims about the long-term advantages of rule commitment (many of which are open to objection), there will remain situations in which the long- term benefits of breaking a rule are calculably greater than the long-term benefits of keeping it. In such situations, a rule-committed reasoner will be voluntarily doing something that she can see quite clearly is not to her benefit. There are two arguments against accepting this scenario. One, given by Hampton, is that Hobbes’ egoistic theory of motivation renders it impossible.[7] This first argument, though, may be surmountable by appeal to the agent’s belief that her policy of rule commitment is ultimately in her interest, so I will focus on the second: even if such an action is possible, it is nevertheless irrational, because a much better approach is available. Rather than following the rules rigidly, even when doing so is obviously disadvantageous, an agent will reap much greater rewards by following the rules generally – thus reaping the benefits of rule- commitment – and also remaining able to identify and take advantage of opportunities in which breaking the rules is calculably beneficial. Kavka argues against this conclusion by citing the uncertainty inherent in trying to identify such opportunities (Kavka 1995, 22- 23), but he ends his paper with a question that undermines his argument: “is uncertainty really so widespread, and benefit so unlikely, that we cannot reliably determine of potential rule violations ahead of time when they ‘conduced to one’s benefit’?” (30). The obvious answer seems to be no. Imagine, again, your plane’s break-down in Egypt. While you are watching the orphan boy repair your plane, you have quite a bit of time to calculate whether this would be a good time to break your general rule of keeping covenants. Such situations are common – so common, in fact, that, it may be to your substantial disadvantage to adopt of a mode of practical reasoning that leaves them unexploited.

I conclude, therefore, that both a case-by-case interpretation and a rule- commitment interpretation fail to answer the Fool’s challenge. Case-by-case reasoning leads to the violation of covenant in cases like the breakdown in Egypt, and rigid rule- commitment seems irrational compared to general rule-following and occasional rule- breaking – a policy that also compels leaving the orphan boy empty handed. Either way, the Fool has triumphed, and the boy goes hungry.

In what remains of the paper, I will explore one more interpretation of Hobbes’ reply – Gauthier’s theory of conventional reason. This interpretation has at its core an insight that the other two lack. Both case-by-case and rule-commitment interpretations have Hobbes playing an empirical game with a Fool – a game, I have argued, that the philosopher loses. Gauthier, by contrast, wastes no time with empirical speculation; rather, he focuses on a much more central feature of the Fool’s argument – the egoistic conception of practical rationality. Both case-by-case and rule-commitment interpretations take this conception for granted, and they are thus stuck forever on the Fool’s turf. Recognizing this, Gauthier rightly searches for a new playing field. His failure to find one also compatible with Hobbes’ thought illuminates a fundamental barrier to Leviathan’s moral project – Hobbes’ inability to rationally constrain the pursuit of self-interest.

Gauthier’s move is to attempt to develop a conventional standard of rationality that allows Hobbes a way around the egoistic notion of practical reason that grounds the Fool’s argument. He does so through appeal to Hobbes’ notion of right reason: “when there is a controversy in an account, the parties must by their own accord set up for right reason the reason of some arbitrator or judge to whose sentence they will both stand” (Hobbes 23). According to Gauthier, this notion contains the “germ” of an adequate reply to the Fool – albeit, a reply that Hobbes does not make explicit (Gauthier 1979, 557). It is this: only in the state of nature do people reason solely for the sake of personal advantage – a type of practical reason that Gauthier calls “natural reason.” Once they come to understand that this manner of reasoning leads to a war of all against all, they agree to renounce it and set up a conventional standard of reason that compels each person to seek something everyone wants – peace. This renouncement, according to Gauthier, is inextricably tied to the limiting of natural right: “if one lays down some portion of one’s right to do whatever seems conducive to one’s preservation and well-being, so that one may find peace, then one renounces preservation as the standard of reason, in favor of peace” (Gauthier 577). This “conventional reason” functions in a manner similar to the judge Hobbes advocates erecting to settle disputes, in that it unites previously subjective, competing “reasons” under a shared standard. On this view, the Fool errs because he appeals to an egoistic standard of reason that the social contract renders obsolete. Once an agent has laid down part of her natural right, she will no longer accept arguments of the Fool’s form: “X is irrational because it doesn’t conduce to an agent’s interests.” Rather, she will only respond to arguments like, “X is irrational because it does not conduce towards peace.”

Gauthier does not claim that Hobbes actually makes this argument against the Fool. He does claim, however, that Hobbes could make it using resources in the text already available to him, and that doing so would be consistent with everything else in Leviathan (Gauthier 548). This latter claim, I will argue, is incorrect; central points of Hobbes’ system cause serious problems for Gauthier’s theory. One is the role of covenants in the state of nature.[8] According to Hobbes, the capacity to make covenants for the sake of temporary safety and mutual defense is extremely necessary in the state of nature. As Hobbes makes clear in the reply to the Fool, no man can hope to survive without the confederacies that covenants make possible. Granted, such covenants are easily voided by “any reasonable suspicion” (84) that one party will violate, but they are nevertheless valid provided conditions of mutual trust (84). Indeed, covenants had better be possible in the state of nature, because at least one is required to get out of it – namely, the covenant to establish a mutual sovereign. But Gauthier’s “conventional reason” applies as a standard only after agents have left the state of nature. How, then, can he answer Fool-like reasoning about covenants prior to the social contract – in particular, the covenant to establish the contract itself? He cannot appeal to “natural reason,” because that would simply leave us back where we started, and he cannot appeal to “conventional reason,” because such a convention has not been erected. This poses an obstacle to Gauthier’s ability to answer the Fool on Hobbes’ terms.

A bigger obstacle, though, is Gauthier’s need to transition social contractors from natural reason to conventional reason – a transition which seems incompatible with Hobbes’ psychology. For Gauthier’s theory to work, participants in the social contract must actually replace their natural pursuit of preservation and advantage with a new, conventional pursuit of peace. But Hobbes does not present the natural pursuit of advantage as a merely contingent feature of human life that can be discarded at will, like a hat that goes out style. Rather, he presents natural reason as fundamental to human nature – so much so, in fact, that he tries to ground a political system on it. It is therefore difficult to see how the transition Gauthier needs could take place. Man’s fundamental selfishness cannot be simply willed away by the social contract. Indeed, Hobbes’ psychological picture of reason makes this clear. According to Hobbes, reason is simply the “scout and spy” (41) of human desires, which in turn are the result of mechanistic processes in human physiology. Entering into a social contract does not fundamentally alter the physiology of people’s desires, so it cannot fundamentally alter their reason. This suggests the conclusion that Hobbes seems to take for granted throughout his discussion: that people within the social contract retain the same fundamental (selfish) nature that they had outside of it. Unless Gauthier proposes that participants in the social contract undergo some kind of physiological restructuring, then, he faces a serious barrier in explaining how conventional reason can actually replace natural reason.

In response to this objection, Gauthier could argue that the conditions of the social contract, including the mutual acceptance of conventional reason, enable natural desires normally stifled by the state of nature – such as the desire for peace – to take hold over the human will, such that reason will be the scout and spy for a new master. On this view, the peace-seeking standard of conventional reason will retain natural, psychological endorsement so long as the social contract remains intact.[9] But this view seems to render Gauthier’s whole theory unnecessary. If the social contract is sufficient to create conditions such that the desire for peace holds sway naturally over human psychology, then there is no need to erect a convention. Natural reason will be perfectly sufficient on its own. And then we are simply back where we started with the Fool’s original objection.

Indeed, the persistence of natural reason thus puts Gauthier in a serious and, I think, decisive bind. If the acceptance of conventional reason is perfectly continuous with natural reason, then such a convention is simply the extension of the natural pursuit of advantage. In that case, it does none of the work that Gauthier needed it to do – namely, allowing him to rebuff the Fool’s appeal to the natural pursuit of advantage. But if the dictates of conventional reason actually diverge from natural reason in a manner that would constrain the pursuit of advantage, then natural reason alone cannot compel obedience to them. The Fool would put it thus: if participants in the social contract accept conventional reason only for the sake of their individual advantage, then when such acceptance runs contrary to individual advantage, what reason does an agent have to continue with it? Hobbes’ assumptions about human nature give Gauthier no resources with which to answer.

I conclude, therefore, that because Gauthier cannot escape the fundamental selfishness of Hobbesian natural reason, his innovative approach to the Fool’s challenge ultimately fails. Nevertheless, his insight is keen. Gauthier sees that in order to answer the Fool, what Hobbes really needs to do is not to justify obedience to natural law in terms of self-interest, but rather to justify natural law as a constraint on the pursuit of self-interest. Such a constraint would take Hobbes’ theory beyond the realm of simple prudence and into the realm of actual morality,[10] thus allowing him to answer the Fool with considerations other than advantage and disadvantage. Gauthier’s conventional reason attempts to ground such a constraint, but Hobbes’ fundamental assumptions about human nature do not allow it traction. Gauthier’s failure is thus illuminating: the text keeps dragging Gauthier back to the Fool’s egoistic arena because, at bottom, it is Hobbes’ arena too.

In a sense, then, the reason Gauthier fails is the same reason that any attempt to constrain the self-interest of Hobbesian agents will fail: the practical rationality of a Hobbesian agent is fundamentally selfish. This assumption cuts down any possibility of a rational constraint on the pursuit of self-interest. If morality dictates something that is not to the long-term advantage of a Hobbesian agent, it will not be rational for a Hobbesian agent to do it. Indeed, even theorists who interpret Hobbes’ morality in non-prudential terms are forced to limit their concept of obligation such that it only applies to acts that can be adequately motivated in Hobbes’ world – that is, only to acts that can be done for the sake of personal advantage.[11] As Nagel and Plamenatz convincingly argue, such interpretations fail to present a system of moral obligation as it is normally conceived.[12] Plamenatz puts its forcefully: “when someone is morally obliged, there is something he ought to do, whether it is to his advantage or not” (3). This is precisely the type of rational constraint Hobbes needs in order to answer the Fool, and precisely the kind he cannot have. He is left with only an empirical appeal to prudence – an appeal my discussion of case-by-case and rule-commitment reasoning has tried to show insufficient.

Those of us who regularly get our planes fixed in foreign countries, however, need not worry too much that we are acting irrationally when we choose to pay the orphan boys who help us. Hobbes’ assumptions about practical rationality are deeply suspect. Surely it is possible to act both rationally and contrary to your expected long- term interest. Indeed, any substantive notion of morality will require that we do so, and in some cases will render considerations of self-interest in some sense beside the point. To answer Fool-like challenges to other injunctions of morality – do not murder, do not rape – in terms of prudence is both implausible and almost offensive. The reason you should not rape someone has nothing to do with whether or not doing so would be to your long- term advantage. If we seek a plausible account of the ethical rationality, Hobbes’ reply to the Fool is not the place to look.

Work Cited

Darwall, Stephen. Philosophical Ethics. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998).

Gauthier, David. The Logic of Leviathan. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969).

Gauthier, David. Morals by Agreement. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987) 162-182.

Gauthier, David. “Thomas Hobbes: Moral Theorist,” Journal of Philosophy 76 (1989): 547-559.

Hampton, Jean. Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986).

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. Edwin Curley. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994). Originally published 1668.

Kavka, Gregory. Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986).

Kavka, Gregory. “The Rationality of Rule-Following: Hobbes’ Dispute with the Foole.” Law and Philosophy 14 (1995): 5-34.

Nagel, Thomas. “Hobbes’s Concept of Obligation,” The Philosophical Review, Vol. 69, No. 1 (1959): 68-83

Plamenatz, John. “Mr. Warrender’s Hobbes,” Political Studies Vol. 5, No. 3 (1957): 295-308Warrender, Howard. The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: His Theory of

Obligation. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957).

End Notes


[1] As with any text as famous as Leviathan, interpretations abound, and the variation between them ranges from subtle to extreme. I choose these two because many interpretations amount to some variation on one of them, and because a full review of the manifold readings that have been offered is outside the scope of the paper.

[2] Hampton, for example, takes this view in Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986) 92-94.

[3] See Kavka, “The Rationality of Rule-Following: Hobbes’ Dispute with the Foole,” Law and Philosophy 14 (1995): 17-30. Also Gauthier, Morals by Agreement, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987) 162-182.

[4] For a more detailed explanation of this analysis, see Gauthier, Morals by Agreement, 162-64

[5] Kavka fails to note the potential disadvantages of rigid rule commitment, such as the inability to adapt to new situations, respond flexibly to nuance and detail, or test out new maxims of action in low-risk situations.

[6] See Kavka, “The Rationality of Rule Following,” 19

[7] See Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition, 93

[8] This point was suggested to me Stephen Darwall, who elaborates on it in Philosophical Ethics (Westview Press: Bounder, 1998) 103-104.

[9] I am grateful to Stephen Darwall for suggesting that I consider an objection of this sort.

[10] Of course, more work has to be done to build a rich moral system than simply justifying constraints on self-interest. As Darwall points out, real morality constrains not just the pursuit of your own good, but also the pursuit of any good, and such constraints implicate distinctly moral notions of blame and censure. Hobbes may be helping himself to such notions in places in Leviathan, but he has not earned them, and they clash both with his psychology and his deterministic metaphysics.

[11] See Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, 212 and Taylor, “The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes,” 408.

[12] See Nagel, “Hobbes’s Concept of Obligation,” 68-83 and Plamenatz, “Mr. Warrender’s Hobbes,” 295-308. Indeed, Warrender’s thesis sometimes seems to have given rise to a whole generation of criticism. Gauthier even claims to have been inspired to study Hobbes by its inaccuracy (see Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan, p. v).

Joseph Carlsmith (’12) is a Philosophy and Humanities Major at Yale University

Image taken from DeviantArt.com

(http://wangblad.deviantart.com/art/Selfish-Black-and-White-66265848?q=boost%3Apopular%20in%3Aphotography%20selfish&qo=57)


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