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History of Modern Philosophy Group Talk (Brian Bitar, Toronto)

Friday September 15, 2023, 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

The History of Philosophy Group is pleased to welcome as speaker Brian Bitar, a part-time assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Brian Bitar’s research concentrates on moral and political philosophy with consideration of their metaphysical basis, specializing in early modern. He is currently working on a book, Hobbes’s Psychology and the Origins of the Modern Concept of Power, a critical study of Hobbes’s development of the idea of power as a psychological principle.


Talk Title

Hobbes’s Transformation of the Conscience

Talk Abstract

Hobbes, I argue, authors a transformational critique and reconception of the conscience. His opening definition of conscience as mere opinion, taken within his whole naturalistic psychology of selfish passions, undermines the foundations and content of conscience as previously understood. Yet Hobbes reconceives the conscience according to his own philosophic principles. The distinctness of this account, what may be called the Hobbesian conscience, tends to be underappreciated. Hobbes radically modifies specific elements of the conscience from its prior (broadly Augustinian, Scholastic, and Protestant) forms. Hobbes’s reconceived natural conscience, far from peripheral or merely rhetorical, comes to light as necessary to natural right and law as interior witness-judge. Hobbes’s theorised rational conscience attempts to unify the psyche by overcoming divisions between demands of Christian conscience and justified natural desire, between conscience and political authority. 

I reconstruct Hobbes’s argument on conscience in negative-critical and positive-constructive phases. Hobbes cuts away false or exaggerated (mainly Christian) ideas of conscience to reground its genuine hard core. I elucidate the moral psychology of Hobbesian natural private conscience in its strictly natural and civil-political modes. I argue that even in the state of nature-war, Hobbes affirms the conscience by extreme emphasis on inner intention reinterpreted as desire, principally in the morally reduced form of desire for self-preservation through peace. He closely identifies conscience with reason in a reduced reconfiguration of (especially Scholastic) rationality of conscience. I evaluate the coherence and plausibility of Hobbes’s account by focusing on cases of cruelty and pride. The Hobbesian conscience is shown to open up tensions or divisions between moral intention and act; subjective judgement of conscience and objective basis in natural right and law; rationality of conscience and its epistemic basis in passions. Hobbes’s political resolution of the problem of conscience compels his further division between private conscience and public or what could be called representative conscience, which shares or replaces its authority—if by a continually self-effacing dictate of private conscience. I explore in what sense public conscience remains conscience, and what kind of dual conscience or consciousness is left to the Hobbesian self.  

About the History of Philosophy Group

One of six departmental Research Interest Groups, the History of Philosophy Group is home to the History of Modern Philosophy Research Group, which focuses on the period, roughly, from Descartes to Kant.



Friday September 15, 2023
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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History of Philosophy Research Interest Group
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