Hobbes's theory of rights – a modern interest theory

The Journal of Ethics 6 (1):63-86 (2002)
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The received view in Thomas Hobbes scholarship is that theindividual rights described by Hobbes in his political writings andspecifically in Leviathan are simple freedoms or libertyrights, that is, rights that are not correlated with duties orobligations on the part of others. In other words, it is usually arguedthat there are no claim rights for individuals in Hobbes''s politicaltheory. This paper argues, against that view, that Hobbes does describeclaim rights, that they come into being when individuals conform to thesecond law of nature and that they are genuine moral claim rights, thatis, rights that are the ground of the obligations of others to forebearfrom interfering with their exercise. This argument is defended againstboth Jean Hampton''s and Howard Warrender''s interpretations of rights inHobbes''s theory. The paper concludes that the theory of rightsunderlying Hobbes''s writing is not taken from Natural Law but isprobably closer to a modern interest theory of rights.



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Eleanor Curran
University of Kent at Canterbury

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