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Leaving the garden of eden: linguistic and political authority in Thomas Hobbes

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An account of the transition from the Edenic to the state of nature discourse in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries has yet to be written. The contention of this paper is that Hobbes's work is a useful place to begin an investigation of this process of change. Though not the initiator of this transformation, Hobbes must take much of the credit for the eventual eclipse of one discourse by the other. An exposition of the Edenic discourse, kept alive in the theological tracts of English divines, sets the proper context for an appreciation of Hobbes's state-of-nature scheme. As is made evident in a number of his Latin publications, Hobbes came to realize that the viability of his own narrative of political creation required the subversion of traditional glosses on Genesis. By attending to two particular features of the Edenic discourse that Hobbes sought to negate -- the language Adam spoke and the knowledge he possessed and transmitted to his posterity -- important connections are made with Hobbes's general theory of signs and his absolutist theory of sovereignty.

Keywords: Adam; Edenic discourse; English divines; Genesis; Hobbes; absolutist theory of sovereignty; state of nature; theory of signs

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Victoria University of Wellington.

Publication date: January 1, 1997


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