17 January 2010

Calvin & Hobbes

Presumably the names of the little boy and his stuffed tiger in the classic comic strip by Bill Watterson, come from the fiery Reformer on the one hand, and the gloomy philosopher of the Leviathan state on the other.

Aside from the background they provide for Watterson's imagination, though, do John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes have much in common? I suspect that they do, in that Calvin's notion of predestination on a spiritual level did help set the stage for the Hobbesian materialistic notion of determinism.

Calvin maintained, after all, that the damned can not really be said to be damned by any free act of their own, because God must have known forever that Hell would be their fate. He wrote, "Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He hath determined in Himself what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others."

Hobbes also rejected the notion of free will. Freedom to him is simply the ability to do whatever you want. But your own will, or wants, are themselves determined by material/biological facts. Furthermore, freedom generally leads to trouble, the war of all against all, and is best abandoned.

So perhaps Calvin did help set the preconditions philosophically for Hobbes, though whether the creator of the cartoon had that in mind ... I have no idea.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.