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Rehabilitating Hobbes: obligation, anti-fascism and the myth of a ‘Taylor thesis’

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A.E. Taylor's 1938 essay, ‘The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes’, was widely and for a long time thought to provide the basis of a deontological interpretation of Hobbes that was so distinctive and compelling (even to those who disagreed with it) that it came to constitute the basis of a ‘Taylor thesis’, an analytical construct long prominent in Hobbes Studies. But, the ‘Taylor thesis’ was a myth. First, Taylor's essay(s) of 1938 were, in reality thin, and not well-argued; neither did they stimulate any contemporary response at all from Hobbes scholars, even though they criticized the whole of Hobbes interpretation. Second, it seeming unlikely that so ineffectual a critique could have come from serious scholarly motives, an interesting way of accounting for Taylor's attempt to paint Hobbes morally is to locate that effort in the context of a general reaction against world Facism and against attempts to link Hobbes with totalitarian ideologies. Third, in the final analysis, however, Taylor's essay of 1938 was of such doubtful quality that it is difficult to think that it was ever seriously meant to be taken as scholarly research. Close analysis reveals weaknesses, lapses, and an arbitrariness which cast further doubt on the uncritically received opinion of a ‘Taylor thesis’.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, SUNY, Albany, NY 12222, USA.

Publication date: March 1, 1998


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