Benjamin Tucker: The Ethics of Memory in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan


The Ethics of Memory in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan

Benjamin Tucker

Many commentators on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan have sought to explain Hobbes’ ethical theory and the implications that his ethical theory has on the whole of Leviathan. Much of this commentary places fear and absolute submission to the sovereign at the center of Hobbes’ ethical theory. The rationale for such a sovereign-centric reading of Leviathan is not altogether inaccurate, but based on my reading, none of these accounts adequately explain why Hobbes believed that a sovereign-centric ethic was the only way to peace. It is my view that memory, a key concept in Hobbes’ philosophy that could add a great deal to the current scholarly discussion, has been unjustly left out of a majority, if not all, of the commentaries on Hobbes’ ethical theory. In response to what I see as scholarly neglect of a key concept in Hobbes‘ philosophy, I intend to produce a memory-centric reading of the ethical theory that Hobbes develops in Leviathan.

I want to suggest that viewing memory, a concept that Hobbesian scholarship has pushed into the margins of Leviathan, as a foundational concept of Leviathan can produce new, exciting, and important interpretations of Hobbes’ theories of sovereignty, ethics, epistemology, the state of nature, the state of war, the social contract, nominalism, and psychological egoism. The primary focus of this paper and my guiding question will be: Is there an ethics and/or morality of memory in Leviathan and, if so, how substantial of role does Hobbes’ ethics and/or morality of memory occupy in regards to the main claims Leviathan?

The first concept that Hobbes creates and explains in Leviathan is imagination. The second concept that Hobbes creates is memory. Hobbes was a stout logician and, I will argue that as most logicians do, Hobbes begins his work by creating and explaining the most basic, foundational concepts of his complex argument. If this claim is true, the failure of Hobbesian scholars to consider memory and imagination as central concepts of Hobbes’ ethical theory is quite a serious error.

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