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Chapter 4 - The Right of Nature and Political Disobedience: Hobbes’s Puzzling Thought Experiment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 November 2019

Robin Douglass
Affiliation:
King's College London
Johan Olsthoorn
Affiliation:
Universiteit van Amsterdam
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Summary

There are three distinct moments in the trajectory of natural right in On the Citizen. The first occurs when Hobbes makes the argument for the right of nature and then claims that it amounts to the “right to all things” in the state of nature. The second moment happens when Hobbes offers an account of how this expansive right is given up and an argument for why a person cannot be obligated by an agreement not to resist death. The third moment comes in where Hobbes takes up the question of the scope and limits of political obligation. In this last instance he extends the account of when people can disobey the sovereign to include disobedience to dishonorable commands, in particular a command to kill a parent, which a person need not obey. Over the course of On the Citizen, then, natural right expands, contracts, and expands again. This chapter demonstrates that this fluctuation in Hobbes’s articulation of natural right sets the stage for a particularly curious thought experiment that he offers in the guise of a parricide example. I argue that this thought experiment underscores a tension that remains unresolved in On the Citizen.

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Hobbes's On the Citizen
A Critical Guide
, pp. 71 - 88
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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