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Natural Justice, Law, and Virtue in Hobbes’s Leviathan

In: Hobbes Studies
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Scholars debate whether Hobbes held to a command theory of law or to a natural law theory, and to what extent they are compatible. Curiously, however, Hobbes summarizes his own teachings by claiming that it is “natural justice” that sovereigns should study, an idea that recalls ancient virtue ethics and which is seemingly incompatible with both command and natural law theory. The purpose of this article is to explicate the general significance of natural justice in Leviathan. It is argued that below the formal and ideological claims regarding the law’s legitimacy, the effective ground of the legitimacy of both the civil and natural laws is sovereign virtue. In turn, it is argued that the model for this idea was found in Aristotle. As such, this article constitutes a general recasting of Hobbes’s legal philosophy with a focus on the natural person of the sovereign.

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