Hobbes: Premier Theorist of Authority

in Hobbes Studies
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Abstract

The argument of this paper is as follows: IF there is a single most perspicuous account or analysis of the concept of authority, and IF there is a single most compelling normative conception of authority, then that account and that conception find their origin and one of their most forceful articulations in the writings of Thomas Hobbes. Needless to say, the hesitations marked by my two "ifs" are yet larger and more difficult to overcome than my modest graphology can show them to be. If we approach questions about authority with the temperamental or dispositional (but not dogmatic) skepticism of Hobbes himself, we will be suspicious of the idea that there is or ever will be a "single most perspicuous" analysis or a "single most compelling" assessment of this - in the once popular jargon -"essentially contested" concept and idea. His skepticism notwithstanding, Hobbes himself wrote with great verve and self-confidence concerning this topic. We can, at least provisionally, follow him in putting our skepticism in abeyance and do our best to develop the arguments anticipated in the opening paragraph above.

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