Thomas Hobbes and Liberty of Conscience: The Unity of Interpretation and Critique

Johan Tralau

This project has two aims. First, it will offer a radically new understanding of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), one of the most important philosophers in the history of political thought. I will examine his defence of liberty of conscience, i.e., the possibility for citizens to hold dissenting views without the state punishing them. Liberty of conscience is enshrined in many legal systems, yet its implications are still a vexed problem. The project will explore Hobbes’s theory by three different approaches – normative political theory, contextualism and hermeneutics – in three different studies, each of them developing a novel thesis.

Second, the project will develop a greater theoretical and methodological thesis about the affinity of these three approaches. It is generally held that normative theory, contextualism and hermeneutics are very different intellectual ventures. The second aim of the project is, however, to try the idea that they all operate on the basis of what is sometimes labelled ‘internal critique’ – the Platonic project of assessing a certain argument on the basis of its own premisses, thus identifying and coming to terms with incoherences in the argument. The thesis is thus that different kinds of approaches and methods have a principle in common. This insight is arguably important, especially in an age of reluctance to understand other people and their arguments.


Principal Investigator: Johan Tralau (Department of Government)

Funding: SEK 2 700 000 from the Swedish Research Council

For further information contact:
Johan Tralau
Email: Johan.Tralau@statsvet.uu.se