Thoreau and the Tax-Collector

There’s a side of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” that I believe is often misunderstood – or maybe just misremembered. We remember his refusal to pay the Massachusetts poll tax, even at the cost of going to jail.  But what is it that he hopes this act will accomplish, practically speaking?     Perhaps that question seems […]

Laws of Nature in De Cive and Leviathan

Fourth in a series. The first two posts in this series sketched my proposal for reading Hobbes’s moral theory in Leviathan, together with some remarks on the bearing of that theory on the book’s political argument.  In the third, I pointed out some discreet, but decisive differences between Leviathan‘s Laws of Nature and their antecedents in De Cive, […]

Hobbes’s Swerve: From De Cive to Leviathan

Third in a series. 1. The preceding posts in this series have proposed reading Hobbes’s moral philosophy in Leviathan as a theory of peace.   Departing from the widely-held view that Hobbes’s theory is addressed to singular agents’ prudential or strategic interests, I have argued that Hobbes means to do no more (and no less) than identify appropriate norms for peaceable social intercourse, suitable […]

Surveying the Whale

Second in an ongoing series. In last week’s post, I sketched a proposal for reading Hobbes’s venture in moral philosophy in Leviathan. Today I would like to develop that proposal further, opening a broader perspective on the argument of Leviathan as a whole. My proposal — to recapitulate in brief — is that the various moral […]

Hobbes’s Moral Philosophy: A Proposal

(First in a series.) 1.  What is the point of Thomas Hobbes’s moral philosophy? What question or questions  of moral theory did he think he had settled?  In writing Leviathan, Hobbes evidently took great pride in his would-be achievement, in that field specifically.  Near the end of the book’s First Part, “Of Man,” he claims to provide “the true and only moral philosophy.”  He […]

“Ex Machina” and Philosophy: Some Notes after Wittgenstein

1. In Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, the reclusive computer genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has called his next-generation internet search-engine Blue Book, after Wittgenstein’s notebook of that name.  Hanging on a wall in Nathan’s secluded mountainside retreat is Gustave Klimt’s portrait of Wittgenstein’s sister, Margarethe.  And that retreat is in Norway, where Wittgenstein had himself sought refuge […]

Coriolanus Before Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s chief source for his great Roman plays — Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus — was the writings of Plutarch, a Greek of the second century A.D. In the case of Coriolanus, Shakespeare drew solely, or nearly so, from Plutarch’s “Life of Caius Martius Coriolanus.”  (He may also have taken a detail or two from the […]

“Democracy” by Henry Adams

Henry Adams’s Democracy: An American Novel, was first published anonymously in 1880.  Its author never publicly acknowledged it as his work.  (It goes unmentioned in Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, published after his death in 1918).  One hundred thirty-five years later, it retains its hold on readers’  imagination, a classic of U.S. political fiction.  Just a few years ago, it was chosen […]