Hobbes on Property: Between Legal Certainty and Sovereign Discretion

In: Hobbes Studies
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Abstract

Hobbes treats individual property as regulated by stable law, yet dependent on the arbitrary will of the sovereign. In this paper I catalogue the different definitions of property present in his main political and legal works – The Elements of Law (1640), De Cive (1642, 2nd ed. 1647), Leviathan (1651) and A Dialogue between a philosopher and a student (1681) – with the aim of showing how he attempted to square those commitments. I record how the definitions of property affect his views about how sovereigns hold property, the nature of the liability of subjects to having their property confiscated by the sovereign, and the legal conflicts that may arise between subjects and their rulers regarding such confiscations.