The Fate of Nebuchadnezzar: Curiosity and Human Nature in Hobbes

Hobbes Studies 27 (1):13-34 (2014)
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This paper makes a case for the centrality of the passion of curiosity to Hobbes’s account of human nature. Hobbes describes curiosity as one of only a few capacities differentiating human beings from animals, and I argue that it is in fact the fundamen- tal cause of humanity’s uniqueness, generating other important difference-makers such as language, science and politics. I qualify Philip Pettit’s (2008) claim that Hobbes believes language to be the essence of human difference, contending that Pettit grants language too central a place in Hobbes’s psychology. Language is, for Hobbes, a tech- nology adopted on account of curiosity. Further, curiosity is necessary not only for linguistic but also for scientific activity. Only after what he calls original knowledge has been gathered are names employed to generate the conditional propositions that con- stitute science. Finally, curiosity can resolve another puzzle of Hobbesian psychology that Pettit leaves unanswered: our tendency towards strife. Hobbes believes that inso- far as human beings have an implacable hunger for knowledge of the future, we are unable to rest content with present gains and must always aspire to secure the best possible outcome for ourselves.

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Kathryn Tabb
Bard College


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