"Acquired wit" and Hobbesian education
Solecki, Daniel Joseph
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis analyzes and evaluates the scheme for civil education discussed in Thomas Hobbes’ political works. Hobbes argues in The Elements of Law, De Cive, and Leviathan that the preservation of political order requires that all subjects learn the rationally grounded principles of political theory. Some contemporary scholarship on this aspect of Hobbes’ political philosophy has confined its understanding of “Hobbesian education” to this: the sovereign’s system of true civil doctrines and the means for their dissemination. I argue that for the system of Hobbesian civil doctrines to function as it is intended, a public must also receive instruction in formal argumentation, a skill Hobbes calls “acquired wit” (L viii.13). I will show that the subjects’ cultivation of their individual reasoning abilities is required so the subjects are able to (1) understand the philosophical foundations of the sovereign’s power, (2) sufficiently resist the allure of obfuscating eloquence and other falsehoods, and (3) conduct themselves in accordance with Hobbes’ natural laws. Civil peace in a Hobbesian system requires that the public be able to tell the difference between sound and unsound inferences. If Hobbes did intend for the sovereign to instruct the public in “acquired wit,” contemporary scholars who have offered sympathetic appraisals of Hobbesian education are further vindicated.