Liberty and Contractual Obligation in Hobbes

in Hobbes Studies
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Abstract

The paper critically discusses the deontological interpretation of Hobbesian contractual obligation which has been advocated by commentators such as Brian Barry, D. D. Raphael and Bernd Ludwig. According to this interpretation, the obligation to comply with contracts and covenants is fundamentally different from the obligation to observe the laws of nature. While the latter is taken to be a prudential obligation that is logically dependent upon the individual aim of self-preservation, the former is viewed as an absolute or unconditional moral obligation that solely follows from the fact that the individual has bound himself to the performance or omission of certain actions. As can be shown, the deontological interpretation suffers from inherent problems and does not provide an appropriate interpretation of the Hobbesian texts. In particular, it can be demonstrated that the attempt to use Hobbes's concept of 'freedom as deliberation' in order to explain how obligations arise from contractual agreements faces serious difficulties.

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