The Seat of Sovereignty: Hobbes on the Artificial Person of the Commonwealth or State

In: Hobbes Studies
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  • 1 Professor of Philosophy, Philosophisches Seminar der Universität Köln, Germany

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Is sovereignty in Hobbes the power of a person or of an office? This article defends the thesis that it is the latter. The interpretation is based on an analysis of Hobbes’s version of the social contract in Leviathan. Pace Quentin Skinner, it will be argued that the person whom Hobbes calls “sovereign” is not a person but the office of government.

  • 18

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 208.

  • 28

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 177–78.

  • 29

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Aritifical Person”, 190.

  • 32

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 199.

  • 33

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 201–2. Skinner criticizes David Runciman’s “What Kind of Person Is Hobbes’s State”, Journal of Political Philosophy 8 (2000), 268–78. Runciman argues that the abstract person of the commonwealth should be conceived as a purely ‘fictional’ person, like the character Madame Bovary in the novel. By contrast Skinner insists: “But the state is not a natural person; on the contrary, there is a sense in which it more closely resembles a ficticious person such as Agamemnon in Aeschylus’ play of that name. […] That is not to say that Hobbes regards the state as a persona ficta, as some commentators have maintained. As we have seen the defining characteristic of such personae is that, when someone represents them, the acts performed by their representatives will be attributable to such persons merely ‘by fiction’” (Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 201f.).

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  • 34

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 197; emphasis added.

  • 35

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 197.

  • 42

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 201.

  • 45

    Skinner, “Hobbes and the Purely Artificial Person,” 208.

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