The Grounds of Right and Obligation in Leibniz and Hobbes

Review of Metaphysics 62 (3):551-574 (2009)
This paper maintains that Hobbes grounds right and obligation in self-interest, and opposes a recent argument that for Hobbes obligation is grounded in the agent’s practical deliberation. In addition, it maintains that for Leibniz right and obligation are grounded in the moral-rational capacity of persons, but not in self-interest. It proceeds by distinguishing among the various senses of jus or “right,” and contrasting Hobbes’s and Leibniz’s understanding of the term—though both see it as a kind of freedom they differ fundamentally as to its kind. The little explored treatment of “right” that appears in Leibniz’s New Method for the Learning and Teaching of Jurisprudence is discussed in the course of the article. In conclusion, the article finds that for Leibniz, obligations are grounded in one’s moral capacity. One ought not to harm others because one is a rational being among others who hold the same rights and obligations. For Hobbes, obligations are grounded in self-preservation and maintained by external coercion. For Leibniz, right is the possibility of doing what is just, maintaining the rights and obligations of others; while for Hobbes, right is a problem for doing what is just—a problem for self-interested agents that requires an external solution
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