Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Edward McClennen


Fool, Greatness of Soul, Hobbes, Leviathan, Magnanimity, Thomas Hobbes

Subject Categories



I focus on Thomas Hobbes' response to the moral skeptic - the Fool - who claims it is sometimes reasonable to break valid covenants (contracts). The Fool maintains that, in some circumstances, violating a covenant will be in a person's best self-interest, and it will be reasonable to violate when it is. I interpret Hobbes to respond that it will never be reasonable for anyone to break a valid covenant, even in the state of nature (prior to society). In fact, everyone is obliged to keep all of his valid covenants, and it is always both reasonable and in each person's best interest to keep them.

Individuals who deliberately break their valid covenants for the sake of personal benefit run the risk of acquiring the vice of injustice. Such a vice would prove disadvantageous to them, and possibly even put their lives at risk. Further, people can only acquire the virtue of justice if they consistently endeavor to keep their valid covenants. Finally, it is incredibly advantageous to any person to acquire this virtue, because only those who possess it can achieve the greatest possible felicity (happiness), which every person greatly desires. Because everyone loves felicity and justice is necessary for it, justice is always in anyone's self-interest, and thus, for Hobbes, reasonable as well.

I focus on passages suggesting that it is always reasonable and beneficial to perform on valid covenants (i.e., L: 15.5), and I consider Hobbes' suggestion that only a genuinely just person, who endeavors to keep all of his valid covenants, could ever be perfectly reasonable (L: 15.10). I also examine Hobbes' claim that we are obliged to the laws of nature in foro interno even in the state of nature (i.e, DC: 3.27, L: 15.36, and L: 30.30). According to Hobbes, if a person possesses the vice of injustice, his peers will eventually discover it and treat him terribly, potentially killing him.

I then change tracks and focus attention on Hobbes' conception of magnanimity (i.e., L: 6.27 and EL: 9.20). By discussing the relations between magnanimity, justice, and felicity, I explain why, according to Hobbes, the virtue of justice is necessary for anyone to achieve the greatest possible felicity. Since everyone highly prizes this great felicity, it must be reasonable for anyone to pursue the virtue of justice, and it is always unreasonable and contrary to benefit for anyone to endeavor to violate a valid covenant.


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