History of Modern Ethics
Stephen Darwall
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Hobbes Lecture 3

I. Last time we interpreted Hobbes as advancing a projectivist theory of value on explicit analogy with a projectivist theory of color. (side note regarding the usual interpretation of 6.7: note the title of Chapter 6 (``Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions, Commonly Called the PASSIONS, and the Speeches by Which They Are Expressed.'' By calling something good we express our desire; we do not say that we desire it.)

II. Now it seems a consequence of Hobbes's projectivism that ethical judgments are literally false. Is this so, and is it a problem.

III. Consider the connections Hobbes draws in 6.49 ff. between value, desire, and deliberation.

  1. Deliberation is simply a series of desires until action.
  2. We have desires, and therefore deliberate, so long as we are alive.
  3. The will is the last desire before action.
  4. (Because of A), when we deliberate ``divers good and evil consequences of the doing, or omitting the thing propounded, come successively into our thoughts.'' (6.49)

IV. Return now to our question about the normativity of the laws of nature. We can agree with the orthodox interpretation that Hobbes is assuming that everyone wants self-preservation. According to that interpretation, the reasoning involves in laws of nature is something like this (we will have to add some wrinkles to this later):

  1. I want to preserve myself.
  2. I can preserve myself only if, say, I keep covenants (the 3rd law of nature)
  3. Therefore, I should keep covenant.

The problem with this analysis, as we saw, is that we seem to be getting an `ought' out of an `is'. As I interpret him, Hobbes is indeed assuming that everyone desires self-preservation, but his view is that when we desire something we accept an evaluative (or normative) premise.

  1. '  Preserving myself is good.
  2. '  I can preserve myself only if, say, I keep covenant
  3. '  Therefore, I should keep covenant.

V. We will return to the question of the normative status of the laws of nature in a moment. Notice, however, that there is a problem lurking here. Hobbes says that ``appetites, and aversions, are raised by foresight of the good and evil consequences.'' (6.57) But if projectivism is true, isn't this backwards? To see the consequences as good, must I not already have the relevant desire? Similarly, a pattern of deliberation, such as 1', 2', 3', is supposed to explain how a person can acquire a desire to perform some specific action, say, keep some covenant. And it looks as though it does so by getting me to judge 3' (that I should keep covenant). But how can I judge that unless I already desire to keep covenant? Practical deliberative reasoning seems to create new desires through accepting practical conclusions, but the idea can't be that I literally desire to keep covenant because I judge that I should keep it if judging that I should keep covenant (keeping covenant would be good) is itself a consequence of the desire.

Presumably, Hobbes is assuming that when I have the desire I express in 1' and the belief expressed in 2', and see the connection between them, then I will have the desire I express in 3'. But what is the status of whatever mechanism that assures this?

VI. I want now to begin to work toward Hobbes's claim that there are ``laws of nature'' that

  1. codify common-sense morality (he tells us that they can be summarized as ``Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done to thyself.'' (15.35)),
  2. are authoritative norms (``precepts'' or ``general rules''),
  3. are found out by ``reason''
  4. are theorems about what conduces to our self-preservation,
  5. the science of which, is the ``true and only moral philosophy'' (15.40)

VII. To do so we need to begin with Hobbes's views about reason and science. Recall that Hobbes thinks that to avoid ``insignificant speech'' it is necessary to begin with definitions (4.12) And recall also that he conceives of reason as ``nothing but reckoning, that is adding and subtracting, of the consequences of general names agreed upon for the marking and signifying of our thoughts.'' (5.2) Putting these two together gives us the major elements of Hobbes's philosophy of science. We begin first with precise definitions, and then, through observation, we can generalize about how the things we have named and defined with our definitions are actually connected in our experience. We make, as he says, ``assertions … by connexion of one of them to another'' (5.17). And from these assertions we may draw further consequences or conclusions, using our reason. Thus: ``he can by words reduce the consequences he [the scientist] finds to general rules, called theorems, or aphorisms; that is, he can reason, or reckon, not only in number, but in all other things, whereof one may be added unto, or subtracted from another.'' (5.6) Thus, ``Science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another…'' (5.17)

VIII. Hobbes diagrams all of science (9.4), and includes both ethics and ``the science of just and unjust'' within it. Note that he takes both of these as following from ``the qualities of men in special''; ethics concerns the consequences of the passions of men, and ``the science of just and unjust'' concerns the consequences from speech, specifically, ``in contracting''.

IX. Now, finally, we can turn to trying to grasp what Hobbes's overall project in Leviathan actually is. We can begin with The Introduction: ``Nature, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal…Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE.'' Thus, Hobbes aims in his book to provide an account both of human nature (as an elaborate automaton) and of political authority and relations. And the two will have to be related, since the very existence of the state depends on the obligation of contracts, and that obligation will itself have to be explained as part of ethics.

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