Rhodes 2020

Title: "Hobbesian Equality, Baumrin, and Egoist Interpretations"

Rosamond Rhodes


Hobbes scholar, Bernard Baumrin, died on September 19th, 2018. Baumrin was a founding member of the International Hobbes Association, a frequent reviewer for IHA program submissions, and an occasional moderator at our sessions. Stefan, as he was known to his friends, published relatively little over his long career. He did produce the 1964 edition of the Selby-Bigge volume, British Moralists, and he edited a 1969 collection, Hobbes’s Leviathan. The introductions to both of these volumes provides his overview of how authors since the publication of Leviathan have focused their work on refuting what they took to be Hobbesian theses.

Stefan did publish at least one remarkably important Hobbes article, “Hobbes’s Egalitarianism: The Laws of Natural Equality.” It was included in a 1989 collection of papers from the Nantes colloquium, Thomas Hobbes: De La Metaphysique a la Politique, which included some papers in English and some in French. Although that paper provides important insight into Hobbes’s theory and fatal criticism of the egoist interpretations of Hobbes expounded by authors including Gauthier, Hampton, and Kavka in the reigning view in Hobbes scholarship during the last quarter of the twentieth century, as far as I can tell, Baumrin's paper received very little attention. In this presentation, I will recount Baumrin’s argument, explain its implications for moral and political philosophy, and describe how it amounts to a devastating refutation of egoist interpretations.

In his paper Baumrin argued for the centrality of Hobbes’s concept of equality. Stefan begins the paper with a typically authoritative and audacious claim, “that modern moral and political theory begins with Hobbes, and that beginning springs from his theory of equality.” Baumrin derives his position on the role of equality in Hobbes primarily from the 9th-14th Laws of Nature. I will build upon his account to show how Baumrin’s claim can be extended to additional Laws of Nature and how the concept permeates Leviathan. This part of my discussion will focus on the “easie sum” passage, “the Foole” passage, and Hobbes’s repeated use of the positive and negative Golden Rules. I will also expand upon a point that Baumrin makes about Kavka to show that egoist interpretations of Hobbes are incompatible with the text and reflect a radically distorted view of Hobbes based on an out of context cherry-picked selection of passages.

Draft Paper

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