Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

Hobbesian Choices? Why Not?

Jacob Levy takes umbrage at the use of the term “Hobbesian choice” in a recent news article.

I agree that if the mistake came out of carelessness by either the speaker or the reporter, it can rightly be criticized. But is “Hobbesian choice” a per se error? I have actually used the term myself, and done so intentionally. I thought it was a clever pun for situations where the subject has more than one choice, but they all reflect a Hobbesian viewpoint. (To grossly oversimplify, the Hobbesian viewpoint is that people either struggle in a barbaric world of anarchy, or they submit to tyrants who provide order. I only have a minute to blog, and can’t find a quick Hobbes summary on Google, but one imperfect resource is in these “Reviews” at Amazon).

The quote in question can certainly be read as saying that budget cuts will result in chaos, like the pre-government world of Hobbes:

”The budget meetings are extremely depressing,” Michigan’s new Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, told me during a recent visit to Washington. ”We’ve got to contemplate cutting burial services for indigents, or cutting after-school programs for at-risk kids, or cutting programs even for talented and gifted children. These are Hobbesian choices.”

So, while I commend Jacob Levy for his vigilant policing of language usage, I think he has not proven guilt beyond reasonable doubt (or even, I would say, a preponderance of the evidence) in this instance.


June 9, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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