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Chapter 6 - The Laws of Nature, Morality, and Justice

from Part III - Reasons of the Right

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2018

Arash Abizadeh
Affiliation:
McGill University, Montréal
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Summary

Did Hobbes have a genuinely moral philosophy? Contemporary philosophers typically use the term ‘moral’ for reasons either grounded in taking others’ interests impartially into account or for which we are accountable to others. But Hobbes used the term primarily in a social-interactionist sense, for precepts regulating social interaction affecting others’ interests (especially common interests). The prudential natural laws prescribing the social means of self-preservation, even though they articulate self-regarding reasons owed to no one, are therefore “moral” in Hobbes’s sense (but not ours). Yet Hobbesian juridical obligations are moral in the modern, accountability sense. This accountability dimension of normativity is neither derived from nor reducible to the first, attributability one: justice is also a natural law, but only because prudential reasons and juridical obligations coincide. Although foundationally distinct, prudential reasons help determine juridical obligations’ content, e.g. by grounding inalienable rights (to survival and a life worth living). This is because of Hobbes’s sign theory of consent, according to which consent is grounded in the will others reasonably impute to one. This why in developed legal systems the civil law inherently incorporates natural law: judges must interpret the sovereign’s will by imputing the prudential intention to conform to natural law.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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