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'STRANGE AND DEFORMED BIRTHS' IN HOBBES'S CIVIL SCIENCE

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Deformed births have troubled philosophers, judges and clerics for millennia. But beyond the medical, philosophical and theological concerns with monsters lurks a deeper political question: what human power can be entrusted to define the very word 'human'? Perhaps no thinker understood this challenge better, or earlier, than Thomas Hobbes. Setting Hobbes's treatment of 'monstrous' births in the context of intellectual history, I aim to highlight its significance for his whole civil philosophy. Repudiating both 'Aristotle and the philosophers' and the sensational accounts of monsters that circulated in his own day, Hobbes incorporated monstrous births into his argument for the Sovereign: an authority charged not only with ruling men, but defining them.
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Keywords: Aristotle; England; English civil war; Hobbes; Leviathan; canon law; civil philosophy; coke; deformity; human rights; law; monsters; political thought; slavery

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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