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Scepticism and pluralism in Thomas Hobbes's political thought

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Richard Tuck has argued that important elements of Hobbes's thought grew out of a confrontation with scepticism; seen in this context, rather than through the lens of post-Kantian philosophy, Hobbes’s moral science takes on a ‘negotiatory’ and fundamentally pluralist character, Tuck alleges. In this paper, I offer an alternative account of Hobbes's relationship with scepticism, while defending Tuck's position against critics who see no role at all for scepticism in Hobbes's intellectual development. Even if his primary purpose was not to defeat the sceptics. Hobbes may have been deeply influenced by sceptical ideas, in particular the sceptic's awareness of the great diversity that exists in human perceptions, tastes, customs and opinions. Hobbes put an epistemological twist on the sceptical recognition of diversity, however, allowing him to justify a moral theory that was reductive in character. Moreover, Hobbes's epistemology and political theory were closely connected; in the hands of the sovereign, his moral theory was to serve as a tool for the reform of popular discourse, in the interest of peace. While certainly no fanatic, Hobbes feared that any significant diversity of opinion within a single commonwealth would inevitably lead to strife

Keywords: Hobbes; foundationalism; pluralism; scepticism; toleration

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept of Political Science, UCLA.

Publication date: January 1, 1998


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