Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory

By Gabriella Slomp | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Dilemma of Fear and Hope

Introduction

The portrait that can be pieced together from the Correspondence shows Hobbes as a man of remarkable intellectual courage, but quite timorous as far as physical danger is concerned.

Hobbes shows no hesitation in defending his proof of the squaring of the circle against the best mathematical minds of his times, even at the risk of endangering his reputation. On the other hand, when what was at stake was not his reputation, but his physical integrity, Hobbes was totally risk-averse. He not only went into exile 'fearing for his safety' ( Prose Life, 247) when he perceived as dangerous his staying in England, but he cancelled and postponed many a trip abroad, whenever he felt that the passage was unsafe. The early letters of his surviving correspondence are peppered with remarks on the restrictions on his freedom of travel imposed by the wars and plagues of his times.

His greatest fear was physical violence. Whereas he shows despise for those who are afraid of debate, or disagreement, or disapproval, and defines them as weak, he shows respect for those who fear physical injury, seeing this as sign of rationality.

According to Hobbes, in fact, reason teaches abhorrence of pain and of violent death. This assumptions is not as innocuous as Hobbes thought — Leibniz, for example, recognised that Hobbes was asking much of his readers in saying that reason abhors death.

Hobbes was aware of his physical timidity and with self-irony in his Verse Life says that

And hereupon it was my Mother Dear
Did bring forth Twins at once, both Me, and Fear ( Verse
Life
, 254).

As many Hobbesian scholars have pointed out, the passion of fear threads a constant theme in all Hobbes's political works and plays a fundamental part in his theory. The aim of this chapter is to try to outline the significance and relevance of fear and hope in Hobbes's

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