The Problem of the Unity of the Representative Assembly in Hobbes’s Leviathan

In: Hobbes Studies
Douglas C. Wadle University of Southern California,

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In Leviathan, Hobbes embraces three seemingly inconsistent claims: (1) the unity of a multitude is secured only by the unity of its representer, (2) assemblies can represent other multitudes, and (3) assemblies are, or are constituted by, multitudes. Together these claims require that a representative assembly, itself, be represented. If that representer is another assembly, it too will need a unifying representer, and so on. To stop a regress, we will need an already unified representer (i.e., one that is not an assembly). But a multitude can only speak or act through its representer, and an assembly is a multitude, so any representing done by the assembly is actually done by this already unified, regress-stopping representer. That is, if (1) and (3) are true, (2) cannot be. I will argue that this inconsistency is only apparent and that we can resolve it without rejecting any of these three claims (and so without imputing error to Hobbes). We do this by appealing to a representer-as-decision-procedure meeting certain criteria. Such a procedural representer breaks the transitivity of representation such that the assembly it represents (and unifies) can properly represent (and unify) some further multitude. I proceed in my defense of the procedural representer view by addressing a series of problems it faces, the solutions to which give us a progressively clearer picture of the criteria this representer must meet.

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