Hobbes and the Law of Nature

Princeton University Press

This is the first major work in English to explore at length the meaning, context, aims, and vital importance of Thomas Hobbes's concepts of the law of nature and the right of nature. Hobbes remains one of the most challenging and controversial of early modern philosophers, and debates persist about the interpretation of many of his ideas, particularly his views about natural law and natural right. In this book, Perez Zagorin argues that these two concepts are the twin foundations of the entire structure of Hobbes's moral and political thought.

Zagorin clears up numerous misconceptions about Hobbes and his relation to earlier natural law thinkers, in particular Hugo Grotius, and he reasserts the often overlooked role of the Hobbesian law of nature as a moral standard from which even sovereign power is not immune. Because Hobbes is commonly thought to be primarily a theorist of sovereignty, political absolutism, and unitary state power, the significance of his moral philosophy is often underestimated and widely assumed to depend entirely on individual self-interest. Zagorin reveals Hobbes's originality as a moral philosopher and his importance as a thinker who subverted and transformed the idea of natural law.

Hobbes and the Law of Nature is a major contribution to our understanding of Hobbes's moral, legal, and political philosophy, and a book rich in interpretive and critical insights into Hobbes's writing and thought.

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About the author

Perez Zagorin was the Joseph C. Wilson Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Rochester. His books include Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader and How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (both Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 6, 2009
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Pages
177
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ISBN
9780691139807
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Social History
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / History & Surveys / General
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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This book is a concise, readable introduction to the Greek author Thucydides, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost historians of all time.

Why does Thucydides continue to matter today? Perez Zagorin answers this question by examining Thucydides' landmark History of the Peloponnesian War, one of the great classics of Western civilization. This history, Zagorin explains, is far more than a mere chronicle of the conflict between Athens and Sparta, the two superpowers of Greece in the fifth century BCE. It is also a remarkable story of politics, decision-making, the uses of power, and the human and communal experience of war. Zagorin maintains that the work remains of permanent interest because of the exceptional intellect that Thucydides brought to the writing of history, and to the originality, penetration, and the breadth and intensity of vision that inform his narrative.

The first half of Zagorin's book discusses the intellectual and historical background to Thucydides' work and its method, structure, and view of the causes of the war. The following chapters deal with Thucydides' portrayal of the Athenian leader Pericles and his account of some of the main episodes of the war, such as the revolution in Corcyra and the Athenian invasion of Sicily. The book concludes with an insightful discussion of Thucydides as a thinker and philosophic historian.

Designed to introduce both students and general readers to a work that is an essential part of a liberal education, this book seeks to encourage readers to explore Thucydides--one of the world's greatest historians--for themselves.

Religious intolerance, so terrible and deadly in its recent manifestations, is nothing new. In fact, until after the eighteenth century, Christianity was perhaps the most intolerant of all the great world religions. How Christian Europe and the West went from this extreme to their present universal belief in religious toleration is the momentous story fully told for the first time in this timely and important book by a leading historian of early modern Europe.

Perez Zagorin takes readers to a time when both the Catholic Church and the main new Protestant denominations embraced a policy of endorsing religious persecution, coercing unity, and, with the state's help, mercilessly crushing dissent and heresy. This position had its roots in certain intellectual and religious traditions, which Zagorin traces before showing how out of the same traditions came the beginnings of pluralism in the West. Here we see how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers--writing from religious, theological, and philosophical perspectives--contributed far more than did political expediency or the growth of religious skepticism to advance the cause of toleration. Reading these thinkers--from Erasmus and Sir Thomas More to John Milton and John Locke, among others--Zagorin brings to light a common, if unexpected, thread: concern for the spiritual welfare of religion itself weighed more in the defense of toleration than did any secular or pragmatic arguments. His book--which ranges from England through the Netherlands, the post-1685 Huguenot Diaspora, and the American Colonies--also exposes a close connection between toleration and religious freedom.

A far-reaching and incisive discussion of the major writers, thinkers, and controversies responsible for the emergence of religious tolerance in Western society--from the Enlightenment through the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights--this original and richly nuanced work constitutes an essential chapter in the intellectual history of the modern world.

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