Why Political Theory and Science Fiction?


If you would indulge my short personal introduction . . .  I originally started this site as a way to train myself to write better while I was in school; I thought my writing was a bit of a weak point.  The idea was that the best way to learn to write well is to write often and to do it in a form that you think others might actually read.  Whether this worked is a bit debatable I think, though I did manage to graduate!  I’ve kept it up afterwards for two reasons.  First is the enjoyment I get out of reading both Political Theory and Science Fiction.  The opportunity to write about what I read forces me to take it seriously, it allows an engagement with the works that is difficult to find otherwise.  The second reason is that this allows me to stay engaged with Political Theory and Science Fiction academically (sort of).  I found that it is really difficult to be involved with a field like Political Theory if you are not actively working in it.  Thinking about the questions that Political Theory addresses is a skill, one that benefits both from time spent thinking and reading about the subject and well as time spent interacting with others.  Both of these are really hard to do if you are not a teacher of some kind or are lucky enough to be able to make a living thinking and writing.  Unlike Machiavelli, I’ve found that Political Theory (as well as Science Fiction) is best enjoyed with others!

Since it makes sense to write about what you know and enjoy this site will undoubtedly reflect my interests, which are Political Theory from the 18th Century to today (ex., Rousseau, Mills, Rawls and such) as well as popular Science Fiction from the 1950’s onward (particularly as seen on TV and in films).  This is not a hard and fast rule however, there will be time to wonder. 🙂


Why is this place called Read Thy Self?


Why does this site take it’s name from a notoriously difficult to understand text from the 17th century? Because I believe it embodies a way of thinking that will save us from an all to possible fate of barbarism and despair! Really. So you might ask, what kind of magical thinking is this?  It would help to understand that Hobbs lived during the English Civil War, a time even more dysfunctional than own!  Hobbs was no friend of democracy (though this aspect of him may be overstated), but at the same time he did not look down on others as some might imagine.  In his forward to The Leviathan he has an opportunity to tell us how he views the world (as God created nature, and so Man; Man created the State) and why it is important for us to respect others (because the state is of vital importance to all of us and we all created and maintain the state together).  But how do we find the wisdom to respect each other when all of the political forces of the world seem to be determined to tear us apart?  By recognizing our shared humanity, to wit:

Wisedome is acquired, not by reading of Books, but of Men. Consequently whereunto, those persons, that for the most part can give no other proof of being wise, take great delight to shew what they think they have read in men, by uncharitable censures of one another behind their backs. But there is another saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; and that is, Nosce Teipsum, Read Thy Self: which was not meant, as it is now used, to countenance, either the barbarous state of men in power, towards their inferiors; or to encourage men of low degree, to a sawcie behaviour towards their betters; But to teach us, that for the similitude of the thoughts, and Passions of one man, to the thoughts, and Passions of another, whosoever looketh into himselfe, and considereth what he doth, when he does Think, Opine, Reason, Hope, Feare, &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and Passions of all other men, upon the like occasions.

Thomas Hobbes’ , The Leviathan 1651

Concerning the first topic, there is a saying that has recently become fashionable, that Wisdom is acquired not by reading books but by reading men.  On the basis of this, people who show few other signs of wisdom take pleasure in showing what they think they have ‘read in men’—by saying nasty things about them behind their backs.  But there is another saying—not properly understood in recent times—through which men might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the trouble.  The saying is Nosce teipsum [Latin for ‘know yourself’]—read yourself.  This has come to be used to excuse the barbarous conduct of men in power towards their inferiors, or to encourage men of low degree in disrespectful behavior towards their betters.  But that’s not what it was meant for. It was meant to teach us that if you are interested in the similarity of the thoughts and passions of one man to those of another, you should look into yourself, and consider what you do when you think, believe, reason, hope, fear, etc. and on what grounds you do so.  That will enable you to ‘read’ and know what the thoughts and passions of all other men are on similar occasions.  I say the similarity of passions, which are the same in all men—desire, fear, hope, etc.—not the similarity of the objects of the passions, which are the things desired, feared, hoped, etc.  There is less similarity among these·, because what a person wants, fears, etc. depends on his individual character and upbringing.  The objects of someone’s passions are also harder to know about, because they are easy for him to hide; so much so that the writing in a man’s heart (to continue with the ‘reading’ metaphor), so blotted and mixed up by dissembling, lying, faking and false beliefs, can be ‘read’ only by someone who can search hearts.  We can sometimes learn from men’s actions what they are up to; but to do this without comparing those actions with our own while taking into account all the relevant differences, is to decipher without a key, and to be for the most part deceived—by too much trust or too much distrust, depending on whether the ‘reader’ is himself a good man or a bad one.

Thomas Hobbes’ , The Leviathan 1651
Translation courtesy of Early Modern Philosophy

The Leviathan front piece:

The Leviathan Front piece

The Leviathan Front piece (Click on image for a better view)

On of the most best known images in Political Science, much has been written of what it means.

It seems that the grandfather of modern conservatism is as wok as Joe Biden and Hakeem Jeffries! 

First- A wish to understand others as they really are, not as we want them to be.

Second- Inclusiveness, at least as Hobbes understood it.

Third- Intellectual rigor, and as part of that the idea that man can be improved.