Hobbes's Laws of Nature in Leviathan as a Synthetic Demonstration: Thought Experiments and Knowing the Causes

Philosophers' Imprint 19 (2019)
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The status of the laws of nature in Hobbes’s Leviathan has been a continual point of disagreement among scholars. Many agree that since Hobbes claims that civil philosophy is a science, the answer lies in an understanding of the nature of Hobbesian science more generally. In this paper, I argue that Hobbes’s view of the construction of geometrical figures sheds light upon the status of the laws of nature. In short, I claim that the laws play the same role as the component parts – what Hobbes calls the “cause” – of geometrical figures. To make this argument, I show that in both geometry and civil philosophy, Hobbes proceeds by a method of synthetic demonstration as follows: 1) offering a thought experiment by privation; 2) providing definitions by explication of “simple conceptions” within the thought experiment; and 3) formulating generative definitions by making use of those definitions by explication. In just the same way that Hobbes says that the geometer should “put together” the parts of a square to learn its cause, I argue that the laws of nature are the cause of peace.

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Marcus P. Adams
State University of New York, Albany


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