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The validity of the definition of justice in leviathan by thomas hobbes

Hobbes claims three things that are difficult to reconcile. All references are to chapter and paragraph in Leviathan unless otherwise noted. There is no such thing as justice or injustice in the state of nature.

Law and Justice: A Brief Analysis of Hobbesian Thought

The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: Injustice is, by definition, breaking a valid covenant. And whatsoever is not unjust, is just. There are valid, obligatory covenants in the state of nature textual evidence below. But 2 and 3 together entail that there is such a thing as justice and injustice in the state of nature. What are we to make of this apparent contradiction?

Justice in Hobbes’ Leviathan

Green tries to resolve it through a process of impressive and subtle interpretation. Let me see if I can make this clear. So, again, we need to consider what follows from the existence of justice in the SN.

  • Justice therefore, that is to say, Keeping of Covenant, is a Rule of Reason, by which we are forbidden to do any thing destructive to our life; and consequently a Law of Nature;
  • The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place;
  • There is no such thing as justice or injustice in the state of nature.

If just agreements exist in the state of nature, it might be irrational for people to consent to an absolute sovereign. This, at least, seems to be an option. Without just agreements in the state of nature, nothing legitimates covenants as stated in the Third Law of Nature and, a fortiori, the original contract establishing the absolute sovereign.

Hobbes may have had another reason for claiming that there is a basis for just covenants in the state of nature. If there are no just agreements in the state of nature but only in a commonwealth, then the sovereign must make right and wrong by means of arbitrary judgments.

Hobbes seems committed to this when he says there is no justice outside a commonwealth. But without just agreements in the state of nature, there seems no way to argue from fact to value — from "is" to "ought". What do I mean by that? Imagine an ideal situation in which everyone who makes a promise keeps it. So how does one get from the empirical fact of what people actually do to the obligation, i.

Thus, there would seem to be no basis in the state of nature for claiming that keeping covenants is just and obligatory rather than simply prudential. But why is justice important for Hobbes? There is, of course, a long tradition of those who claim that might makes right. If you are going to argue for a political order based on a just agreement, as Hobbes attempts to do, you must have a way of accounting for justice and obligation. It has to come from somewhere.

  1. In such a case, justice, as defined by Hobbes, has been served without the explicit requirement of a law or an absolute sovereign. So how does one get from the empirical fact of what people actually do to the obligation, i.
  2. And I say it is not against reason. However, in order to establish the state of nature as being a perpetual war of every man against every man, he requires the natural equality of men assumption, which as shown earlier is not always possible.
  3. Commutative therefore, they place in the equality of value of the things contracted for; And Distributive, in the distribution of equall benefit, to men of equall merit. This appears to be a direct contradiction to the original concern that all men are in a state of perpetual and existential competition against each other, motivated by the innate desire to self-preserve and survive.

This is where things get difficult and messy. Since Hobbes is a strict empiricist, it may be hard to see how he can claim God is responsible for the laws of nature. But he does just that. At the end of his discussion of the laws of nature, he makes the following statement: These dictates of reason men used to call by the name of laws, but improperly: But yet if we consider the same theorems as delivered in the word of God that by right commandeth all things, then are they properly called laws.

An unjust act is defined as the breaking of a covenant. If an act is not unjust, he claims it is just. And the command to fulfill contractual obligations is the third law of nature. So again we confront the existence of justice in the state of nature and the question, "Why is it there? What justifies the rule of the conqueror in such situations?

Under what conditions would the conquered be obligated to obey the sovereign? Hobbes has a facile answer. War and the collapse of the commonwealth is a return to the state of nature. If in that state of nature the conqueror does not kill us, we are obligated to fulfill his demands.

He also claims that sovereignty by acquisition conquering a people; 17. Just agreements in the state of nature are required to justify the former recall the claim about robbery at 14. As Kain observes, without that justification derived in a purely theoretical scientific and deductive manner, Hobbes would have no basis for linking theory "ought" with fact "is"claiming that the two forms of sovereignty are equivalent, and that both are legitimate.

Thus, in his admirable attempt to move beyond the merely utopian exercise of deriving the necessity of the social contract in the state of nature and demonstrating how the abstract, scientific derivation which justifies absolute sovereignty can also legitimize historical reality — that historical fact is logically supported and justified — Hobbes is led to the contradiction discussed above.