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The majoritarian conception of democracy implies that counter-majoritarian institutions such as federalism—and even representative institutions—are derogations from democracy. The majoritarian conception is mistaken for two reasons. First, it is incoherent: majoritarianism ultimately stands against one of democracy’s core normative commitments—namely, political equality. Second, majoritarianism is premised on a mistaken view of power, which fails to account for the power of numbers and thereby fails to explain the inequality faced by members of persistent minorities. Although strict majority rule serves the democratic values of political agency and equality as interpreted by a set of formal conditions, an adequate conception of power shows why in real-world conditions formal-procedural inequalities, instantiated by counter-majoritarian institutions such as federalism, are sometimes required to serve democratic equality.
The two traditional justifications for bicameralism are that a second legislative chamber serves a legislative-review function (enhancing the quality of legislation) and a balancing function (checking concentrated power and protecting minorities). I furnish here a third justification for bicameralism, with one elected chamber and the second selected by lot, as an institutional compromise between contradictory imperatives facing representative democracy: elections are a mechanism of people’s political agency and of accountability, but run counter to political equality and impartiality, and are insufficient for satisfactory responsiveness; sortition is a mechanism for equality and impartiality, and of enhancing responsiveness, but not of people’s political agency or of holding representatives accountable. Whereas the two traditional justifications initially grew out of anti-egalitarian premises (about the need for elite wisdom and to protect the elite few against the many), the justification advanced here is grounded in egalitarian premises about the need to protect state institutions from capture by the powerful few and to treat all subjects as political equals. Reflecting the “political” turn in political theory, I embed this general argument within the institutional context of Canadian parliamentary federalism, arguing that Canada’s Senate ought to be reconstituted as a randomly selected citizen assembly.
This chapter shows that Hobbes’s distinction between the two dimensions of normativity is premised on his distinction between rational agents and persons. Rational agents are those who, in virtue their capacity for reasoning, have normative reasons and hence are attribution-responsible for their intentional states and actions. But to be accountable-responsible to others, a rational agent must also be a person. A person—whether natural or artificial—is both a normative status and an artificial construct defined in terms of four roles: representer, representee, audience, and author or owner. To “be” a person is either to represent or to be represented by someone. To be a person, one must not only be duly authorized to be a person—which is a normative property—but also be considered a person—which is an artificial property dependent on rational agents’ intentional states. The point of Hobbes’s category of personhood is to show how the possibility of occupying the second-personal standpoint, in which one becomes accountable to others, depends on being recognized as a person by them. Accountability is intrinsically interpersonal: for Hobbes one cannot owe obligations or be accountable to oneself.
According to conative subjectivists, agents’ normative reasons are all grounded in their desires; according to cognitive subjectivists, normative reasons all derive from (or are relativized to) actual beliefs about what reasons they have. Hobbes was neither a conative nor cognitive subjectivist about normative reasons. He was committed to the irreducible normativity of at least two objective sets of precepts: (a) precepts of instrumental transmission that prescribe desiring and taking the relevant means to one’s normative ends; and (b) prudential precepts that prescribe caring for one’s ongoing good or felicity. The normativity of the prudential precepts implies that rational agents have reasons of the good; these precepts are the normative foundation of natural law. Affective and practical normative reasons, moreover, are relativized not to what agents think, nor to what actually turns out to be the case, but to the evidence epistemically accessible to them, i.e., to what they have a sufficient epistemic reason to believe. Thus when natural laws prescribe the means to self-preservation, they prescribe to agents the means they each can reasonably know or foresee will favour their self-preservation—where self-preservation denotes not bare survival, but the preservation of a life worth living.
Returning to the metaethical question of the nature of normativity, this chapter concludes that for Hobbes normative properties are not real properties—they do not have causal standing—but are nevertheless the object of truth-apt, epistemically objective propositions. Because foundationally normative principles do not specify real, causally efficacious properties, their truth cannot be discovered via perception; rather, they are self-evidently known insofar as humans could not conceive themselves as reasoning agents and persons without also conceiving themselves to have normative reasons of the kind specified by those normative precepts. If Hobbes is a founder of naturalism in ethics, then he must be seen as an especially sophisticated kind: one who acknowledged normative truths and properties irreducible to non-normative natural ones.
This chapter outlines Hobbes’s hedonist theory of the good: the ultimate good—felicity—consists in a life of ongoing net pleasure. But since one may derive pleasure from aiming at things other than felicity or pleasure, neither is the aim of all valuable action; nor is felicity the termination of desire. Hobbes took felicity primarily to consist, not in pleasures of satisfaction, but in ongoing mental pleasures of anticipation. Moreover, on Hobbes’s reforming, scientific definition of ‘good’, the term denotes the means one can reasonably expect will (rather than what will actually) enhance felicity. Because language use affects the world, some circumstances may be prescriptively subversive, i.e., calling something “good” may diminish felicity even though the thing itself normally enhances felicity; in deeply subversive circumstances, calling the thing “good” would make it itself noxious to felicity. Hobbes’s insight was that in the state of nature we face deeply subversive circumstances with respect to all social means of self-preservation save one: covenanting to enter a commonwealth. Political subjects, by contrast, face prescriptively self-fulfilling circumstances in which agreeing to call some things “good” makes them means for securing peace. What the sovereign declares “good” will often turn out to be good.
This chapter examines the metaethical positions often attributed to Hobbes that, in light of his materialism, deny irreducibly normative properties. First, some portray Hobbes as an error theorist according to whom normative judgements and propositions attribute irreducibly normative properties to objects, but are all erroneous. The problem is Hobbes deemed many of his own normative propositions true. Second, some see Hobbes as an ethical-naturalist reductionist, according to whom normative properties and facts can be reductively analyzed into non-normative natural ones: for example, normative propositions ultimately describe what we would do upon reasoning properly. The problem is Hobbes used normative language in an inherently prescriptive, not merely descriptive, way. Third, some impute to Hobbes a prescriptivist view according to which normative judgements and propositions are noncognitive: they do not represent the world, but solely express prescriptions. The problem is Hobbes took normative claims to be truth apt. Chapter 1 concludes that the most promising interpretation according to which Hobbes denied irreducibly normative properties is a hybrid one, according to which saying people ought to do something is to predict they would do so upon reasoning rightly, but also to express one’s desire that they do so in telling them to.
This chapter frames Hobbes’s ethics against the background of the history of ethics, on the one hand, and recent work on normativity and reasons, on the other. On the ancient Greek conception of ethics, all practical reasons derive from one’s own ultimate good. The modern conception, by contrast, took the form of a juridical code of laws and obligations that in principle could conflict with one’s own good. The basis for this shift had been laid by classical natural-law theory, rooted in the Stoics, Cicero, and Aquinas. But the decisive break occurred with the emergence of an intrinsically normative and juridical notion of obligation in Grotius and Hobbes—juridical in that the obligation is owed to others with standing to hold one accountable. Hobbes transformed obligation and natural law by taking the radical step of severing obligation from natural sociability and juridical obligation from natural law. He was also at the forefront of attempts to reconcile ethics with the emerging mechanistic sciences. This chapter establishes the book’s conceptual framework by showing how contemporary distinctions between normative, explanatory, and motivational reasons, reasoning, rationality as a source of precepts, and the balance of normative reasons map onto Hobbes’s vocabulary and thought.
The hybrid metaethical interpretation of Hobbes (with which chapter 1 ended) is undermined by his account of practical reasoning and counsel: it fails to integrate the reasoning-based and prescriptivist elements composing it. This chapter argues, against the dominant interpretation, that Hobbesian deliberation and action can be reflectively responsive to both practical reasoning and to judgements about reasons. When humans engage in practical reasoning or give counsel, they do not merely (a) assent to or assert the proposition that some fact furnishes a reason to do something combined with (b) a decision or prescription to do it. The two elements are intrinsically linked: one decides to do something or prescribes doing it on the basis of a putative fact furnishing a reason to do it. Linguistic reasoning for Hobbes consists in reflectively reasoning from premises—inferentially drawing conclusions on the basis of propositions one supposes or takes to provide a reason from which to draw conclusions. Similarly, good counsellors ground their advice in the reasons they cite. The hybrid interpretation severs this intrinsic connection between deciding or prescribing and reasons. Only an irreducibly normative interpretation of Hobbes’s metaethics properly accounts for Hobbes’s account of linguistic practical reasoning and counsel.
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.