Say What? Thomas Hobbes on Reason and the Nature of Evil

Panthéon, Temple of Reason, Paris, France

‘[T]he passions [affectus animi] which arise from animal nature are not themselves evil, though the actions that proceed from them sometimes are, namely, when they are harmful and contrary to duty. Unless you give infants everything they want, they cry and get angry, they even beat their own parents, and nature prompts them to do so. But they are not to blame, and are not evil, first, because they cannot do any harm, and then because, not having the use of reason, they are totally exempt from duties. If they continue to do the same things when they are grown up and have acquired the strength to do harm, then they begin to be evil and to be called so. Thus an evil man is rather like a sturdy boy, or a man of childish mind, and evil is simply want of reason at an age when it normally accrues to men by nature governed by discipline and experience of harm.’

~ Thomas Hobbes, from On the Citizen: ‘Preface to the readers’, 1642

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Remembering Margaret Cavendish

Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, was a rare and singular intelligence, a memorable and outrageous personality, and a prolific thinker and writer. Born on an unknown date in 1623, she was not given much of a formal education beyond the basics of reading and writing. As is so often the case for such independent and active minds, she obtained a higher education on her own. She sought out the company and conversation of learned people, including her brother John, a lawyer, scholar, and founding member of the Royal Society, and otherwise gobbled up learning wherever she could find it.

She married William Cavendish, Marquis and then Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the spring of 1645. Though he was thirty years her senior, they had much in common, including a deep love of literature. Like Margaret, he was an unusual and independent personality, and he encouraged her in her intellectual pursuits, helping her to get her works published when she ran into obstacles doing it on her own. She wrote in a wide variety of genres, including philosophy, poetry, and plays; she wrote essays, a utopia, a biography of her husband, and an autobiography. She hung out with Thomas Hobbes, Kenelm Digby, René Descartes, Marin Mersenne and Pierre Gassendi at her husband’s salons; unfortunately, they would not engage her in serious conversation. So, she engaged with their ideas on her own within her philosophical writings. She designed her own outrageous clothing, was reputed to sprinkle her speech with obscenities, and as far as she could, did as she liked. However much it was due to her connections or to her own accomplishments, she was the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society. Though she was so much younger than her husband, she died two years before him on December 15, 1673, at age fifty. William outlived her by two years, proud of his ‘Mad Madge’ to the end.

Learn more about this amazing woman at:

Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne (c. 1623-1673) ~ for the Manuscripts and Special Collections pages of the University of Nottingham website

Duchess of Newcastle Margaret Cavendish ~  at the Poetry Foundation

“Mad Madge” – Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle ~ by Lauren Gilbert for English Historical Fiction Authors blog

Mad Madge: Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Royalist, Writer and Romantic ~ Min Wild’s review of Katie Whitaker’s biography for the Independent

Margaret Cavendish (1623—1673) ~ by Eugene Marshall for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

Margaret Lucas Cavendish ~ by David Cumming for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!