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The Leviathan as Teacher: Thomas Hobbes' Educational Philosophy

Sat, November 9, 3:45 to 5:15pm, Wyndham Philadelphia Hotel, Floor: Lobby Level, Betsy Ross II


Thomas Hobbes is best known as the philosopher of sovereignty and the modern nation-state -- fear of violent death makes people flee from the state of nature into civil society made possible by an all-powerful Leviathan, etc. Much Hobbes’ teaching, though, depends not only on the mere power of the state but also on its ability to make people into citizens who accept their place within it. This happened through an underappreciated aspect of his teaching: civic education. This essay examines Hobbes’ Leviathan and other books in historical context and considers what it meant for the standard liberal education of his day. Though not comprehensively explained in any single book, I argue that Hobbes did have an educational philosophy that was central to his political thought: for him, the liberal education of the human had to yield to the civic education of the citizen of the state was to survive. The strength of the Leviathan depended on the people's ability to see the truth about themselves which only the Leviathan could provide. Studying Hobbes this way offers us greater discernment about the relationship between education and politics, and what is helpful or destructive to human flourishing and the common good.