Blinded by the Light of Hohfeld: Hobbes's Notion of Liberty

Jurisprudence 1 (1):85-104 (2010)
Recent work in Hobbes scholarship has raised again the subject of Hobbes's notion of liberty. In this paper, I examine Hobbes's use of the notion of liberty, particularly in his theory of rights. I argue that in describing the rights that individuals hold, Hobbes is employing "liberty" to cover more than the famously restrictive definition of the "absence of external impediments" and that this broader understanding of liberty should not be put down to simple inconsistency on Hobbes's part. In the second part of the paper, I look at the Hohfeldian analysis of rights and at the tendency to see the notion of a claim as foundational for rights, which for some, is a legacy of that analysis. I argue that there are disadvantages to this and suggest that the notion of liberty may be a more useful one than that of a claim to ground our understanding of rights
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