Deconstructing and Reconstructing Hobbes

Author:Isaak I. Dore
Position:Professor of Law, Saint Louis University School of Law
Pages:815-871
SUMMARY

The political and legal philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is often misunderstood or oversimplified. The two most well-known aspects of his philosophy (the condition of man in the pre-political state of nature and his concept of sovereign power) are not properly connected to show the unity of his thought. However, systematic study shows that Hobbes’s political and legal philosophy has a sophisticated... (see full summary)

 
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Deconstructing and Reconstructing Hobbes
Isaak I. Dore*
ABSTRACT
The political and legal philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is often
misunderstood or oversimplified. The two most well-known aspects
of his philosophy (the condition of man in the pre-political state of
nature and his concept of sovereign power) are not properly
connected to show the unity of his thought. However, systematic
study shows that Hobbes’s political and legal philosophy has a
sophisticated underlying unity and coherence. At the heart of this
unity is Hobbes’s utilitarian consequentialist ethic, which
remarkably anticipates the major strands of contemporary
consequentialism. To explain the unity in Hobbes’s philosophy via
his consequentialist thought, the Article deconstructs and
reconstructs the principal elements of Hobbes’s concept of
sovereign obligation, his deism and theory of the divine covenant,
his conceptions of the state of nature, the duties of the sovereign in
civil society, and the rights and duties following from subject to
sovereign and sovereign to subject.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ..........................................................................816
I. Hobbes and Consequentialism .............................................817
A. Welfare Consequentialism/Utilitarianism ......................818
B. Rule Consequentialism ..................................................820
C. Act Consequentialism ....................................................821
II. The Genesis of Rationality: Hobbes and Contractarianism ...823
A. Legitimation through Rational Choice Theory ..............824
B. Legitimation through Game Theory ..............................826
C. Conclusion .....................................................................827
III. The Mode of Manifestation of Collective Rationality .........828
IV. The Utilitarian Scope of Sovereign Obligation....................832
Copyright 2012, by ISAAK I. DORE.
* Professor of Law, Sai nt Louis University School of Law.
816 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 72
V. The Consequentialist Necessity of the Divine Covenant .....834
VI. Consequentialism and Deism ...............................................841
VII. The Consequentialist Duties of the Sovereign .....................845
A. Security ..........................................................................846
B. Prosperity .......................................................................846
C. Equality of Treatment and Liberty .................................847
VIII. Consequentialism, the State of Nature and the
Law of Nature ......................................................................848
IX. Distinctive Characteristics of Right and Obligation
in Civil Society ....................................................................855
X. Natural Law and the Rights and Obligations of
Sovereign and Subject ..........................................................860
Conclusion ...........................................................................868
INTRODUCTION
The political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is often
misunderstood or oversimplified. The two most well-known
aspects of his philosophy (the condition of man in his pre-political
state of nature and the nature of sovereign power) are not properly
connected to show the unity of his thought. Instead, focus on
man’s life in the former as poor, nasty, brutish and short presents
an overly crude psychology of man;1 whereas focus in the latter on
the omnipotence of sovereign power creates the misleading
impression of the hapless citizen-subject caught in the grip of brute
power against which there is no recourse and no escape.2
However, systematic study shows that Hobbes’s political
philosophy has a sophisticated underlying unity and coherence. At
the heart of this unity is Hobbes’s utilitarian consequentialist ethic.
1. For such a view of Hobbes’s state of nature, see LINDA S. BISHAI,
FORGETTING OURSELVES: SECESSION AND THE (IM)POSSIBILITY OF TERR ITORIAL
IDENTITY 73 (2004).
2. For such a discussion of the notion of sovereign power, see James H.
Read, Thomas Hobbes: Power in the State of Nature, Power in Civil Society, 23
POLITY 505 (1991).
2012] DECONSTRUCTING HOBBES 817
Hobbes’s views on the following will be utilized to demonstrate
how consequentialism imbues and unifies his philosophy: the nature
of political society; the scope of sovereign obligation; the theory of
the divine covenant; the duties of the sovereign; the state of nature;
and rights and obligations of people and the sovereign in civil
society.
I. HOBBES AND CONSEQUENTIALISM
It is the consequentialist impulses of Hobbes’s political
philosophy that give it its underlying unity and coherence, and
which have been neglected all too often. In order to explain this it
will be necessary to reconstruct the principal elements of Hobbes’s
political philosophy in the ensuing sections.
Hobbes’s thought anticipates several strands of contemporary
consequentialism. Although this is not the focus of this Article, it is
helpful to describe these strands in order to understand how they
bring unity and coherence to Hobbes’s doctrine as a whole.
The cardinal postulate of consequentialism is that values exist
independently of morality. Although morality is largely focused on
evaluations of agents and of character, consequentialist evaluations
focus on situations and outcomes. Thus, if an action produces a
desirable result in a given situation, then the act is “good.”3 An
important feature of consequentialism is the idea that the value of a
particular course of action is determined from an agent-neutral
perspective.4 An agent-neutral perspective is derived from the
viewpoint of society as a whole, whereas an agent-relative
perspective is derived from the viewpoint of a particular individual.5
Since values are assessed purely in accordance with the
consequences of actions, they are essentially instrumental and non-
moral in character. 6
There are several distinct branches or “schools” of
consequentialism, such as welfare consequentialism,7 rule
consequentialism,8 act consequentialism,9 and utilitarianism.10
However, all consequentialist approaches are based on theories of
the intrinsic and incommensurable value of outcomes generated
3. TIM MULGAN, THE DEMANDS OF CONSEQUENTIALISM 3 (2001).
4. Stephen L. Darwall, Introduction, in CONSEQUENTIALISM 2 (Stephen L.
Darwall ed., 2003).
5. See id. at 1.
6. Id. at 2.
7. See infra Part I.A.
8. See infra Part I.B.
9. See infra Part I.C.
10. See infra Part I.A.

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