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Feminist Interpretations of Thomas Hobbes

NANCY J. HIRSCHMANN
JOANNE H. WRIGHT
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt32b9xx
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  • Book Info
    Feminist Interpretations of Thomas Hobbes
    Book Description:

    Feminist Interpretations of Thomas Hobbes features the work of feminist scholars who are centrally engaged with Hobbes’s ideas and texts and who view Hobbes as an important touchstone in modern political thought. Bringing together scholars from the disciplines of philosophy, history, political theory, and English literature who embrace diverse theoretical and philosophical approaches and a range of feminist perspectives, this interdisciplinary collection aims to appeal to an audience of Hobbes scholars and nonspecialists alike._x000B_As a theorist whose trademark is a compelling argument for absolute sovereignty, Hobbes may seem initially to have little to offer twenty-first-century feminist thought. Yet, as the contributors to this collection demonstrate, Hobbesian political thought provides fertile ground for feminist inquiry. Indeed, in engaging Hobbes, feminist theory engages with what is perhaps the clearest and most influential articulation of the foundational concepts and ideas associated with modernity: freedom, equality, human nature, authority, consent, coercion, political obligation, and citizenship._x000B_Aside from the editors, the contributors are Joanne Boucher, Karen Detlefsen, Karen Green, Wendy Gunther-Canada, Jane S. Jaquette, S. A. Lloyd, Su Fang Ng, Carole Pateman, Gordon Schochet, Quentin Skinner, and Susanne Sreedhar._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-271-06131-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Nancy Tuana
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: The Many Faces of “Mr. Hobs”
    (pp. 1-17)
    Joanne H. Wright and Nancy J. Hirschmann

    The very idea of a volume of feminist essays on Hobbes may seem at first glance to be puzzling, if not futile.¹ As a theorist whose trademark is a relentlessly logical argument for absolute sovereignty, Hobbes may seem initially to have little to offer twenty-first-century feminist thought. Hobbes makes few references to women throughout his corpus, being explicitly concerned with political power, which—in seventeenth-century England, a period in which Elizabeth’s recent reign was fodder for a burgeoning literature on patriarchal theories of politics—for the most part excluded women from its concerns. Unlike Locke, who explicitly recognized women’s entitlement...

  6. 1 Hobbes, History, Politics, and Gender: A Conversation with Carole Pateman and Quentin Skinner
    (pp. 18-44)
    Carole Pateman and Quentin Skinner

    NH: Each of you is a leading representative, perhaps even the founding figure, of a different school of Hobbes scholarship and criticism: the Cambridge school and feminism. So it might be a helpful place to start if each of you could talk about your respective orientation, your view of the school, as well as your own individual approach within that larger framework. What is its and your primary orientation in thinking about Hobbes, what kinds of questions do you think the approach helps uncover, what sorts of puzzles does it help resolve? How, in your opinion, have your respective approaches...

  7. Part One: Classic Questions, New Approaches
    • 2 Power and Sexual Subordination in Hobbes’s Political Theory
      (pp. 47-62)
      S. A. Lloyd

      Hobbes famously describes the individuals inhabiting the state of nature as sufficiently equal in bodily strength and mental intelligence that every one of them is vulnerable to aggression by others. Within this normal range of adult human capabilities, the weaker can kill the stronger while the latter sleeps, or through stealth methods like poisoning, or in concert with others. Although Hobbes uses the term “men” to refer to individuals, women also fall under the term, as Hobbes writes of the sexes that “the inequality of their naturall forces is not so great, that the man could get the Dominion over...

    • 3 Defending Liberal Feminism: Insights from Hobbes
      (pp. 63-82)
      Jane S. Jaquette

      Conventional interpretations of Hobbes—that his pessimistic view of men as selfish and violent required an absolute sovereign to keep them in line—make him an ideal foil for feminist critics. Although Hobbes is the one canonical political theorist who asserts that women are equal to men in strength and faculties of mind, Hobbes has been used by influential feminist theorists to argue that liberalism based on social contract theory is fundamentally patriarchal.¹ They see in Hobbes a host of masculine biases, including his view of human nature as violent and competitive, his “abstract individualism,” his depiction of the state...

    • 4 Hobbes and the Bestial Body of Sovereignty
      (pp. 83-102)
      Su Fang Ng

      Leviathanopens with an unforgettable image of the body of the commonwealth. But instead of picturing the natural body from the familiar body-state analogy, Hobbes offers a body that he terms “an Artificiall Man,” that is, a machine; and for Hobbes, machines are “Automata(Engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch).” This body is artificial in that it is artful, a man-made thing (introduction, 9).¹ InDe Cive,Hobbes compares the workings of a state to “an automatic Clock or other fairly complex device” (preface, 10).² As mechanical clockwork, Hobbes’s state resists gendering. On the...

  8. Part Two: The Gendered Politics of Gratitude, Contract, and the Family
    • 5 Thomas Hobbes on the Family and the State of Nature (1967)
      (pp. 105-124)
      Gordon J. Schochet

      Among the most celebrated passages in the literature of political philosophy is Thomas Hobbes’ classic description of the incommodious, barren, and uncertain life in the state of nature: “no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” Seventeenth-century critics, assuming that even the most rudimentary social unit, the family, was excluded from the Hobbesian state of nature, often opposed this view of “thenaturall conditionof Mankind” with the patriarchally governed household and insisted that the natural “warre of...

    • 6 Gordon Schochet on Hobbes, Gratitude, and Women
      (pp. 125-146)
      Nancy J. Hirschmann

      It is oddly fitting that the first contemporary “feminist” essay on Thomas Hobbes was written by a man. Gordon Schochet’s “Thomas Hobbes on the Family and the State of Nature,” published in 1967—and reprinted with some modifications inPatriarchalism in Political Thought: The Authoritarian Family and Political Attitudes in Seventeenth-Century England,published by Basil Blackwell in 1975¹—took up the central issue of feminist political thought before “feminist political thought” was really a term. His essay preceded by several years the very earliest feminist analyses of historical canonical figures by such feminists as Susan Okin, Molly Shanley, and Julia...

  9. Part Three: Hobbes and His(torical) Women
    • 7 Margaret Cavendish and Thomas Hobbes on Freedom, Education, and Women
      (pp. 149-168)
      Karen Detlefsen

      Thomas Hobbes exerted one of the most significant contemporary influences on the thought of Margaret Cavendish. Hobbes’s influence was both positive and negative. Cavendish shares many important doctrines with him, some of which put them in a very small minority in the seventeenth century. Both are materialists with respect to the natural world.¹ Both explicitly distinguish between the sphere of inquiry concerned with the natural and human (moral and civic) world on the one hand, and the sphere of inquiry concerned with God on the other hand.² Both take the maintenance of peace and stability, and concomitantly the avoidance of...

    • 8 When Is a Contract Theorist Not a Contract Theorist? Mary Astell and Catharine Macaulay as Critics of Thomas Hobbes
      (pp. 169-189)
      Karen Green

      Thomas Hobbes’s version of social contract theory has played an important part in twentieth-century feminist critiques of liberalism. Despite the clear historical roots of contemporary feminism in eighteenth-century republicanism, and in those tendencies that led to the rise of liberal democratic institutions, feminist philosophers, since the 1980s, have developed a critique of liberalism based on a reading of its origins that accepts that commitment to social contract theory implies commitment to a Hobbesian, egoistic, instrumental rationality. Alison Jaggar, for instance, asserted in her influential overview of feminist political theory, published in 1983, that “liberal theorists assume that all individuals tend...

    • 9 Catharine Macaulay’s “Loose Remarks” on Hobbesian Politics
      (pp. 190-216)
      Wendy Gunther-Canada

      Revisions of the canon of political philosophy by feminist theorists such as Susan Moller Okin, Carole Pateman, and Nancy Hirschmann have drawn attention to a paradox in the political thought of Thomas Hobbes: while Hobbes rejected paternal power in his challenge to the theory of the divine right of kings, he promoted patriarchy in forming a social compact that excluded women from political subjectivity.¹ Yet there was a much earlier challenge to Hobbesian patriarchal politics found in a pamphlet by eighteenth-century England’s most famous female historian, Catharine Macaulay.Loose Remarks on Certain Positions to Be Found in Mr. Hobbes’s “Philosophical...

  10. Part Four: Hobbes in the Twenty-First Century, or What Has Hobbes Done for You Lately?
    • 10 Thomas Hobbes and the Problem of Fetal Personhood
      (pp. 219-239)
      Joanne Boucher

      Abortion has been central to feminist aspirations and campaigns to win full reproductive rights for women since the earliest days of the Second Wave of the women’s movement of the 1960s in North America. Abortion offers a dramatic illustration of the feminist insight that the “personal is political,” given that women require access to safe, legal, affordable (and/or state-funded) abortion to fully control their bodies and the trajectory of their lives. Moreover, the criminalization or unavailability of abortion often forces women to resort to illegal abortions, frequently resulting in medical complications or even death. Further, abortion has been overwhelmingly understood...

    • 11 Choice Talk, Breast Implants, and Feminist Consent Theory: Hobbes’s Legacy in Choice Feminism
      (pp. 240-259)
      Joanne H. Wright

      In an era of abundant “choice talk,” the proliferation of individual choice is equated with freedom and liberation. A variety of feminist thinking that we might call “choice feminism” subscribes to the widely held societal perspective that the provision of more choices for women is feminism’s primary goal and that, regardless of the circumstances in which a woman finds herself, if we can state “she chose it,” then her consent to her actions ought to be taken at face value. Underlying the rhetoric of choice is the presumption that consent is unproblematic, that a woman’s consent to her own actions...

    • 12 Toward a Hobbesian Theory of Sexuality
      (pp. 260-280)
      Susanne Sreedhar

      The field of sexual ethics is a surprising place to encounter a discussion of Thomas Hobbes. After all, this field is concerned with debates about the moral status of various sexual desires, behaviors, relationships, and practices, and, at first glance, Hobbes appears to have little or nothing to say on these matters. He does not provide an explicit theory of human sexuality, and his writings contain very little discussion on the topic of sex. Yet his views are far from irrelevant to these debates. If we pay close attention to his broader philosophical commitments, to those few remarks that he...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 281-284)
  12. Index
    (pp. 285-297)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 298-298)