Duty Without Obligation

In: Hobbes Studies

There is ongoing scholarly debate over the role that Hobbes’s laws of nature play in grounding the moral requirement that subjects obey the government under which they live. This essay demonstrates how the laws of nature, when understood as natural duties, may directly ground a moral duty to obey one’s sovereign without positing that subjects have undertaken any covenant of subjection. Such a grounding avoids the problems that attend accounts that depend on tacit covenant and coerced covenant. The essay describes the advantages of a natural duty account of the laws of nature over accounts that regard those laws as contractual obligations entered through voluntary acts, or as legal obligations to treat the natural laws as literal laws legislated by a sovereign God.