Historical examples in Hobbes’s political science

Odile Tourneux

ENS Lyon – Laboratoire Triangle UMR 5206




Abstract: Hobbes never has a rest to criticize speech that is full of imagery, and to blame the resort to metaphorical discourse. Words have to be unambiguous in order to reach real scientific knowledge. The project of the Elements of Philosophy relies on clear language. Nevertheless, the reader discovers many examples in the Elements, in On the Citizen and in both Leviathans. Hobbes finds in historical literature especially many stories he adds to his argumentation. If those examples simply illustrate his analysis, this rhetorical process runs the risk of disturbing the reader’s attention. Because they suggest images, the examples could affect the strictly rational thought. From then on, how can we understand this use of historical examples in Hobbes’s political science? I would like to show here that, far from disturbing the reader’s attention, historical examples play a decisive role in the construction of a new demonstrative science. One can see history, and especially ancient history as a source of examples that allows everyone to obtain scientific knowledge by themselves. The problem of examples in the Hobbesian corpus invites us to think more generally about how we learn, and what History is.

Keywords:Hobbes; Examples; History; Actors; Political Science.

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