Owen Phillips

Owen Phillips's picture
Graduate Student

I hail from Shelburne, Ontario, Canada. Before joining the department in the fall of 2018, I studied Classics and Anthropology at McMaster University (2009-2013; 2013-2015) and Classics at Princeton University (2015-2017). 

The aim of my dissertation is to provide a clear statement and assessment of the causes of violence in the state of nature, as described by Hobbesian political theory. I offer an analysis of three elements of this theory and their interrelations: explanations of conflict or disagreement, especially with respect to justice; explanations of violence; and the defining features of the state of nature (specifically: what induces this condition; what is absent in this condition; in what sense this is absent; and which contexts of interaction this condition approximates). More broadly, I delineate the web of concepts in terms of which Hobbes articulates his claims about violence. Inspired by recent attempts to make sense of these claims in view of moral, psychological, and game-theoretical considerations (namely, Abizadeh 2011, 2020), my exposition incorporates insights from history, social science, and philosophy. All these insights are required for elucidating the assumptions and the implications of Hobbesian arguments regarding the outbreak of violence in the state of nature. Further, these arguments can be found throughout Hobbes’ corpus and in the elaborations of Hobbes’ defenders. In this light, we see that a full account of these matters – an account that is synthetic in using diverse intellectual resources for its exposition and synoptic in addressing the whole of Hobbesian philosophy – is lacking. This is a problem, since we need such an account not only to understand Hobbesian political theory but also to determine the value of the Hobbesian state of nature for current theorizing. My dissertation will help redress this lack.

My secondary project concerns the methodology of intellectual history and the philosophy of history. The focus of my attention here is the complex relationship between what a past thinker meant and what the implications of their arguments are. This research, influenced in part by pragmatist philosophy, informs the analysis of my dissertation.

Dissertation committee: Prof. Ian Shapiro (supervisor, chair); Prof. Bryan Garsten; Prof. Stephen Darwall. 

Fields of Interest: 
Political Theory