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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Fall 2009

GOV 382M • Hobbes: Origs Mod Natural Right

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39380 TH
6:30 PM-9:30 PM
GAR 1.134
Stauffer, Devin

Course Description

This course will examine the foundations of modern political philosophy through an intensive study of Thomas Hobbes. In particular, we will focus on Hobbes's break with the classical tradition and his reformulation of the task and character of political philosophy, a reformulation that played a crucial role in the early modern transformation of the notion of "natural right." Although we will spend a great deal of time on Hobbes’s most famous work, the Leviathan, we will compare the Leviathan with Hobbes’s earlier expressions of his political philosophy in De Cive and Elements of Law. These three works offer overlapping but importantly different formulations of the arguments at the center of Hobbes’s thought. Throughout the course, we will consider why Hobbes thought it was necessary to put political philosophy on a radically new footing; why he tried to adapt methods discovered in the natural sciences and mathematics to the study of politics; and why he thought it was necessary to establish a new moral doctrine rooted in the right of individuals to seek their self-preservation. Although this course focuses on Hobbes’s thought, it is not meant to be only a study in the history of ideas. Hobbes’s work played an important role in preparing the way for the rise of modern liberalism, a doctrine whose current political dominance is not matched by confidence among theorists in its theoretical soundness. One of the aims of this course is to help students think seriously about the health of liberalism today by reexamining its origins in the foundational works of early modern political philosophy.

Grading Policy

Short essays: approx. 20% Class participation: approx. 20% Seminar Paper: approx. 60%


Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen Thomas Hobbes, Human Nature and De Copore Politico


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