On Thomas Hobbes's Fallible Natural Law Theory

History of Philosophy Quarterly 28 (2):175-190 (2011)
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It is not clear, on the face of it, whether Thomas Hobbes's legal philosophy should be considered to be an early example of legal positivism or continuous with the natural-law tradition. On the one hand, Hobbes's command theory of law seems characteristically positivistic. On the other hand, his conception of the "law of nature," as binding on both sovereign and subject, seems to point more naturally toward a natural-law reading of his philosophy. Yet despite this seeming ambiguity, Hobbes scholars, for the most part, have placed him within the legal-positivist tradition. Indeed, Hobbes is usually regarded as the father of legal positivism. Recently, however, a growing number of commentators has begun to question this traditional classification. Although it is clear that Hobbes is not a natural lawyer of the same mold as Thomas Aquinas, it is, nevertheless, increasingly becoming evident that the traditional characterization of Hobbes as a positivist in the same vein as Jeremy Bentham or John Austin is also incorrect. There are important naturallaw aspects of Hobbes's view that one ignores only at the cost of a proper understanding of his theory of law.



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Michael Cuffaro
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

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