Hobbes on the Motives of Martyrs

Alexandra Chadwick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Hobbes acknowledges the threat to civil order posed by those who are prepared to sacrifice their bodily life for the sake of life eternal. Accordingly, his arguments aimed to restrict the circumstances in which it is necessary for Christians to choose martyrdom over obedience to a sovereign’s commands. Yet Hobbes’s consideration of the motives of would-be martyrs has often been thought to be in tension with his mechanistic-materialist psychology, in which all motivation is tied to the preservation of the body’s ‘vital motion’. This chapter shows that Hobbes’s psychology is able to account for the motives of martyrs. Reading Hobbes’s materialist model of motivation in the context of the Christian-Aristotelian account it was intended to replace, it argues that Hobbes’s psychology furthers his attempt to neutralize the danger religious motives pose to political order. For Hobbes, martyrs are not only mistaken about Scripture, but about their nature as human beings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHobbes on Politics and Religion
EditorsLaurens van Apeldoorn, Robin Douglass
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-880340-9
Publication statusPublished - 19-Jul-2018


  • Thomas Hobbes
  • martyrdom
  • mechanistic materialism
  • salvation
  • self- preservation
  • soul

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