Nominalism and Conceptualism in Hobbes's Political Theory


  • Kerry H. Whiteside



Hobbes developed two theories of language, each with peculiar implications for his views on reason and truth, and each applied throughout his political philosophy. As a nominalist, Hobbes argues that individuals subsume particular things under general names by an act of will. Nominalism supports his view of the moral anarchy of the state of nature, and helps justify an arbitrary sovereign. Conceptualism allows Hobbes to picture the sovereign as a rational rule-creator and his subjects as rule-followers. Either theory, however, taken alone, contradicts important parts of Hobbes's political project. The contradictions between the two theories result from difficulties inherent in the attempt to reconcile reason and passion in politics.