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Freedom in Hobbes's Ontology and Semantics: A Comment on Quentin Skinner

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 73, Number 1, January 2012
pp. 111-126 | 10.1353/jhi.2012.0008



The development of Hobbes's thinking about freedom illustrates a general thesis: that the conceptual shifts tracked in contextualist analysis may sometimes be 'semantic' rather than 'ontological' in character; they may be changes in how thinkers apply certain words and concepts to the social world, as they conceive of it, rather than changes in their conception of that world. Quentin Skinner has provided an illuminating account of the shifts in Hobbes's thinking about freedom, thereby illustrating his own contextualist approach, but under minor, albeit independently interesting revisions, the account bears out this claim about semantics and ontology.

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