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Book: Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

"This is an outstanding book, one of the best books on early modern philosophy in the past 10 years. It exemplifies how history of philosophy should be done these days, combining mastery of Hobbes’s works and a sophisticated use of the conceptual apparatus of contemporary work on metaethics... No serious scholar of Hobbes and early modern moral philosophy can ignore this book and it should become an instant classic." -- Canadian Philosophical Association 2019 Biennial Book Prize Jury citation

"Probably the most rigorous and philosophically sophisticated treatment of Hobbes's work in existence." -- Hobbes Studies

Abstract: Reading Hobbes in light of both the history of ethics and the conceptual apparatus developed in recent work on normativity, this book challenges received interpretations of Hobbes and his historical significance, but also demonstrates his relevance to current debates about reasons, normativity, and responsibility. Abizadeh uncovers the fundamental distinction underwriting Hobbes’s ethics, between prudential reasons of the good—for which we are merely attribution-responsible—and reasons of the right or justice—for which we are accountable to others. We are liable to criticism for acting imprudently, but liable to second-personal censure only for acting against the justice we owe others. Reasons of the good are articulated via natural laws prescribing the means of self-preservation; reasons of the right consist in contractual obligations. Hobbes’s distinction between two dimensions of normativity marks a watershed in the transition from the ancient Greek to modern conception of ethics: the former dimension corresponds to the eudaimonistic notion of obligation Hobbes retained from classical natural-law theory, the latter to the juridical notion of obligation that emerged in the seventeenth century. In metaethics, moreover, Hobbes was not a naturalist reductionist, error theorist, or noncognitivist: despite his naturalism, he posited the irreducible normativity of reasons and obligations.




Part I: The Metaethics of Reasons

Chapter 1: Naturalism

Chapter 2: Mind, Action, and Reasoning

Part II: Reasons of the Good

Chapter 3: Subjectivism, Instrumentalism, and Prudentialism about Reasons

Chapter 4: A Theory of the Good: Felicity by Anticipatory Pleasure

Part III: Reasons of the Right

Chapter 5: Accountability and Obligations

Chapter 6: The Laws of Nature, Morality, and Justice

Chapter 7: Rational Agency and Personhood

Conclusion: Naturalism and Normativity

Published reviews:

* Online Colloquium of the European Hobbes Society, 2018-2019: reviews by Sandra Field, Michael LeBuffe, & Daniel Eggers

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