“The Nutrition of a Commonwealth:” On Hobbes’s Economic Thought

  • Laurens van ApeldoornEmail author
Part of the Ethical Economy book series (SEEP, volume 54)


Hobbes has an equivocal legacy as economic thinker. On the one hand commentators point out that there is hardly any place for the economy in his political philosophy. We find in his work no sustained effort to provide an account of the economic institutions needed for a flourishing state. On the other hand Hobbes has continued to fascinate those aiming to understand the development of economic thought in the early modern period. In this chapter I aim to trace these seemingly incongruent assessments of Hobbes’s philosophy to the nature and application of his scientific method. I argue that his scientific method is characterised by methodological individualism and that his study of the motivations and dispositions of individuals bears more than a passing resemblance to the homo economicus that populates much of modern microeconomics. Nevertheless, he does not bring to bear these methodological commitments to a study of the economy. For Hobbes economic questions always have political answers. While Hobbes in later work comes to realise that he must provide an account of the ‘art of government’ related to the material conditions of the commonwealth, and makes some attempts to offer a guide to government policy in the domain of the economy, he fails to properly integrate these observations into his political science.


Human Nature Political Science Material Condition Political Association Methodological Individualism 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leiden UniversityThe HagueThe Netherlands

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