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Samuel Pufendorf: Obligation as the Basis of the State MICHAEL NUTKIEWICZ HOBBES'S AND SPINOZA'S well-articulated philosophic and scientific worldviews permeated their concept of natural law and its relationship to the state; their political theories provided formidable challenges to theorists of natural law. Hobbes and Spinoza injected a mechanistic natural philosophy into their political thought, introducing a vocabulary unlike that found in the political theories of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance. Classical and medieval political thought was shaped by an anthropomorphic vision of the state. The metaphors used by classical thinkers, unlike the mechanistic metaphors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were heuristic and idealized. The image of the state as a biological body permeated medieval and Renaissance political theory. To some extent seventeenth -century thinkers retained this powerful metaphor. The frontispiece of Hobbes's Leviathan pictorially depicts the commonwealth as a man; nevertheless , early modern political theorists do not employ an anthropomorphic language to describe the state. The new mechanical science, which serves as the background for political theorists, suggested an alternative meaning for the idea of a body: a body is not a biological entity but an artifical mechanism, an artifact. This novel view of the state was facilitated by the growing interest in scientific method as exemplified by Descartes and Galileo. The most profound insight that early modern political thinkers took from natural science was the assumption that knowledge entails the ability to reconstruct (either actually or theoretically) the object of enquiry. This methodological principle of natural science was carried into early modern political theory, offering new analogies to political thinkers. Just as the laws of inertia, for example, [15] t6 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY are "discovered" in a hypothetical vacuum, men are studied in an imaginary state of nature. The subject matter of the political philosopher becomes the ontology of the state: the political thinker's task is to explain rather than to describe the mechanism of the state. The emphasis on reconstructing political society and the attempt to discover the mechanism by which men generate or "make" their institutions turned the state into an artifact, a product of man's labor. The political theory of Hobbes (and Spinoza) is the first attempt to wed the new natural science to political theory. Abraham Cowley's mocking tribute serves Hobbes well: "Thou great Columbus of the Golden Lands of New Philosophies."' Hobbes's attempt to conjoin the new science to political theory, with its implication that the state is an artifact, must be viewed as the decisive force in the development of early modern political theory. The notion that the state is an artifact is pervasive in early modern political theory. ~ Most troublesome to the political theorists, however, was Hobbes's claim that the state evolved out of mechanical principles, s They could accept Hobbes's general (and implicit) conclusion but rejected his mechanical account of the state's formation. In the figure of Samuel Pufendorf (163~-94), born in the same year as Spinoza, we have a decidedly nonmechanistic political philosophy, For Hobbes and Spinoza, mechanistic principles provided scientific, self-evident laws for the construction of a rational political theory. Pufendorf, by contrast , finds these self-evident principles neither in the mechanistic theory of nature nor in traditional divine theories of law but, as we shall see, in the working legal system itself. Pufendorf agrees with Hobbes regarding the "inclinations of human character" and, like Hobbes, argues that "it is discipline, not nature," that ' "Mr. Cowley's Verses in Praiseof Mr. Hobbes, Oppo'd" (London, 168o), p. 7Spinoza , like Hobbes, formulates his principles of political science from his natural science . But his use of science is more than metaphorical, and it is not merely methodological. For Spinoza, the physical body and the political body amount to the same thing: one needs only the laws of nature to understand both their mechanisms. The axioms and lemmata between propositions 13 and 14 in part ~ of Spinoza's Ethics (where he discusses the physics of the body) and the Political Treatise must be read together: Spinoza involves the observer's own body and compels him to view it as a balance of motion and rest. The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 15-29
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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