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6 - Hobbes on the Theology and Politics of Time

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2023

John Robertson
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Quentin Skinner offers a powerful new interpretation of Hobbes’ understanding of time, and its implications for Christian belief and for politics. For Hobbes time is merely a subjective experience of continual succession. It follows that the Christian view of eternity as a state of timelessness must be a mistake, since there can be no such state. A further consequence is that the orthodox view of the Last Judgement must likewise be mistaken. It makes no sense to think of the saved living timelessly in heaven after the Second Coming; the only possibility is that they will live endlessly on earth. Hobbes also explores two political implications of his understanding of time. One is that, if time is mere succession, it cannot have any normative significance. The Common Law view that custom can make law is thus put in question. Hobbes also discounts the political significance of learning how to act with timeliness, offering instead a view of statecraft as a matter of following rules. The chapter ends by asking whether Hobbes succeeds in presenting a coherent criticism of the view – prominent in classical and Renaissance thought – that in politics it is essential to learn how to seize opportunities.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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