>Hobbes and Kierkegaard on Bees, Humanity, Politics and Art

>Recently I noticed a passage  in Søren Kierkgaard, Either/Or I (1843), ‘The Insignificant Introduction’ to ‘The Immediate Erotic Stages of the Musical-Erotic’, which is is largely on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In the passage which caught my eye (Either/Or Part I, edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1987, page 50), Kierkegaard says that art of genius cannot purely be the product of the artist.  Kierkegaard’s explanation is that if art was purely the product of the producer, then art would be produced in the same way that the cells of a honeycomb are produced by bees.  As the cells are identical, and great works of art are not identical, there are is a strong reason for saying no art is the pure product of the individual artist.  This gives Kierkegaard the opportunity to introduce issues of accident and of the ideational content of art.

I was reminded of Hobbes comments about the difference between humans and other kinds of social animals like bees and ants in Leviathan(1651).  The passage can be found in ‘Part II: Of Commonwealth’, Chapter XVII ‘Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth’, ‘Why Certain Creatures Without Reason, or Speech, Do Nevertheless Live in Society Without Any Coercive Power’.  Hobbes argues that bees can live together without what can be described as a a sovereign power, an artificial man, a commonwealth, civil power, or what we would now call a state, because they do not have language.  Since they do not use words, they cannot deceive other bees.  Without deception, through the rhetorical misuse of words, bees have a community which exist without coercion.  According to Hobbes, the way that a political community arises from ethics in Aristotle, could not apply to humans and can only apply to bees, and similar creatures.

In Kierkegaard, if art came purely from within ourselves, we would not be capable of producing distinct works of art.  We could only produce in the way that bees produce.  Humans can only exercise choice in the creation of art, if what is from outside the individual is part of that creation

In Hobbes, bees are lacking in the manipulative possibility of words, so can only co-operate with each other fully.  They just cannot choose to live any other way.  Humans must create a state, in one of its possible forms .  They must exercise choice

We are not bees, because we have a state and we have works of art.

2 thoughts on “>Hobbes and Kierkegaard on Bees, Humanity, Politics and Art

  1. >I like something about Kierkegaard's bees/art idea (maybe just the fact that it's Kierkegaard is enough for me), but I'm troubled about the disanalgous aspect. Bees aren't trying to make their honeycomb cells individual or different (quite the opposite?). Artists usually are often striving to create something unlike, or non-identical-to other works of art. I don't see how the fact that works of art are different from one another shows anything other than that people have a particular sense of aesthetics. I don't see how either way of looking at it shows that art is anything other than the work of the artist. (Though I'd be ok with the argument that the artist is subject to a variety of influences which in turn influence the art.) It seems clear that if art is clearly the product of the producer, then art works would be different. And artworks are different, so it doesn't seem reasonable to rule out that art is the product of the artist.The Hobbes argument is neat. In light of current science, it doesn't seem at all clear that bees cannot deceive one another- but it sure is interesting that they don't seem to do so…

  2. >Hello JosephI think Kierkegaard's point is that artists would not produce differing works of art if art was a purely internal product. The suggestion is that the purely internal could only be instinctual. The sphere of human culture, including art, is necessarily one in which the individual is affect by the external. Kierkegaard certainly does not deny that an art work is the product of a particular artist, and has characteristics of that artist. I don't know anything about current science on bees unfortunately, but i think any capacity for deception they have must be very limited, and follow very predictable patterns. From Hobbes' point of view, that would still be far removed from the limitless capacity for deception through words possessed by humans.

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