Mortal Gods

Mortal Gods: Science, Politics, and the Humanist Ambitions of Thomas Hobbes

TED H. MILLER
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v40g
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  • Book Info
    Mortal Gods
    Book Description:

    According to the commonly accepted view, Thomas Hobbes began his intellectual career as a humanist, but his discovery, in midlife, of the wonders of geometry initiated a critical transition from humanism to the scientific study of politics. In Mortal Gods, Ted Miller radically revises this view, arguing that Hobbes never ceased to be a humanist. While previous scholars have made the case for Hobbes as humanist by looking to his use of rhetoric, Miller rejects the humanism/mathematics dichotomy altogether and shows us the humanist face of Hobbes’s affinity for mathematical learning and practice. He thus reconnects Hobbes with the humanists who admired and cultivated mathematical learning—and with the material fruits of Great Britain’s mathematical practitioners. The result is a fundamental recasting of Hobbes’s project, a recontextualization of his thought within early modern humanist pedagogy and the court culture of the Stuart regimes. Mortal Gods stands as a new challenge to contemporary political theory and its settled narratives concerning politics, rationality, and violence.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05546-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-8)

    Alexis de Tocqueville is not, perhaps, the first name readers of an interpretation of Thomas Hobbes would expect to see. For some, it will correctly stand as a marker of the eclecticism of North American political theory. Nevertheless, every interpretation must have an origin, and this one is no exception. It emerges from within the broad, relatively fragmented and freewheeling constellation of curiosities of political theory as it is primarily practiced in departments of political science in the United States and Canada. These departments are staffed by a community of practitioners long interested in Hobbes, but often resistant to those...

  5. 2 THE HUMANIST FACE OF HOBBES’S MATHEMATICS, PART 1
    (pp. 9-34)

    In this chapter I intend to start picking up the stakes that mark a false boundary within our understanding of Hobbes. This boundary is between Hobbes’s alleged humanist “phase” and subsequent “phases” in which Hobbes is said to have (at least for a time) abandoned humanism for mathematical reasoning for more modern scientific endeavors. As regards mathematics and humanism, Hobbes had a single phase. He never ceased to be a humanist. Having not ceased to be a humanist, Hobbes did not make a return journey. I do not deny that his thought changed over time, or that he became increasingly...

  6. 3 CONSTRAINTS THAT ENABLE THE IMITATION OF GOD
    (pp. 35-54)

    Hobbes greets readers ofDe Corporewith a bold claim. His philosophy can teach one how to imitate God:

    Philosophy, therefore, the child of the world and your own mind, is within yourself; perhaps not fashioned yet, but like the world its father, as it was in the beginning, a thing confused. Do, therefore, as the statuaries do, who, by hewing off that which is superfluous, do not make but find the image. Or imitate the creation: if you will be a philosopher in good earnest, let your reason move upon the deep of your own cogitations and experience; those...

  7. 4 KING OF THE CHILDREN OF PRIDE: THE IMITATION OF GOD IN CONTEXT
    (pp. 55-80)

    I have argued that Hobbes cultivated useful learning as a kind of possession. It was a possession that could help establish and constitute the possessor’s identity. A person could be known by the practices and talents made possible by it. Attentiveness to these connections and a claim to be able to cultivate these talents in others were a part of what it meant to be a humanist. This aspect of humanism carried over into Hobbes’s approach to philosophy, and to mathematics in particular. In Chapter 3 I described the prized possession Hobbes promised to the students of his philosophy: they...

  8. 5 ARCHITECTONIC AMBITIONS: MATHEMATICS AND THE DEMOTION OF PHYSICS
    (pp. 81-114)

    In Chapters 3 and 4 I stressed several points. First, Hobbes did not pursue either descriptive or predictive accounts of natural phenomena. His use for physics was merely to re-create the effects observed in nature. Second, Hobbes assigned a lower rank to physics because it re-creates rather than creates originally. He assigned a higher rank to sciences such as geometry and the science of politics. Hobbes claimed that we know the products of these superior sciences with a greater degree of certainty because we create (or could create) their objects ourselves.

    The purpose of this chapter is to show that...

  9. 6 ELOQUENCE AND THE AUDIENCE THESIS
    (pp. 115-136)

    Why is it that Hobbes’s first two presentations of his political philosophy,Elements of LawandDe Cive, are relatively devoid of rhetoric andLeviathan, his masterwork, shows such great and deliberate eloquence? We know that Hobbes said that rhetoric should be no part of philosophy.¹ Perhaps the most elegant solution to this problem would be to declare thatElements of LawandDe Civeare works of philosophy andLeviathanis not. One could also argue that Hobbes wroteLeviathanas a gift to a sovereign, not as a philosophical work for the consumption of either students or fellow...

  10. 7 ALL OTHER DOCTRINES EXPLODED: HOBBES, HISTORY, AND THE STRUGGLE OVER TEACHING
    (pp. 137-160)

    I have argued that Hobbes should be understood as having never departed from a humanist tradition in which teaching political skills through history played a prominent role. For those who have seen Hobbes’s intellectual development otherwise, namely, as phased, his utilization of history could be taken as evidence of the existence of three phases. The author who began with a translation of Thucydides (and authored smaller anonymous historical works) in his early career might be said to have abandoned this first, humanist, phase for a more purely scientific phase when he wrote theElements of Law. His return to history...

  11. 8 THE HUMANIST FACE OF HOBBES’S MATHEMATICS, PART 2: LEVIATHAN AND THE MAKING OF A MASQUE-TEXT
    (pp. 161-200)

    Thus far, I have discussed Hobbes’s enthusiasm for mathematics largely in terms of his relationships to humanist educators and fellow mathematicians. I also noted that Hobbes’s thoroughgoing materialism was central to his positions in these debates. What I have not done is show how Hobbes’s humanism and his materialism, in the broadest sense, come together. This chapter will be focused on various aspects of what I have called the “high culture” of mathematics in the seventeenth century.

    Among Hobbes’s papers at Chatsworth there are sketch plans for two gardens (figs. 2 and 3) and a fortress (fig. 4).¹ These designs...

  12. 9 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 201-220)

    My intention throughout this book has been to pull Hobbes away from his scientific admirers and to move him too close for comfort to the antifoundational critics who disparage the aspirations attributed to him by his scientific admirers. Thoughtful antifoundational political theory is mindful not only of the unexamined presuppositions that guide and inform others, but acknowledges its own. Bringing Hobbes a bit closer will help with the latter, and so I will conclude by indicating where I think his example could inspire introspection. Along the way, I will also locate my reading of Hobbes in relation to the tradition...

  13. APPENDIX WHO IS A GEOMETER? WALLIS, ALGEBRA, AND A HUMANIST DEFENSE OF MATHEMATICAL PRACTICE
    (pp. 221-238)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 239-302)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 303-332)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 333-338)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)