Instituting the Hobbesian commonwealth

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In Hobbes' political theory, a commonwealth established by force is a commonwealth by acquisition, while a commonwealth established by the mutual agreement of individuals in a Hobbesian State of Nature is a commonwealth by institution. In this essay, I reconstruct Hobbes' account of commonwealth by institution and its role in justifying sovereignty, filling in gaps in the original account when necessary but remaining faithful to Hobbes' own premises. I argue that according to this Hobbesian reconstruction, commonwealth by institution can produce essentially the same result as result of commonwealth by acquisition. This is the conclusion Hobbes wants, but the Hobbesian reconstruction renders commonwealth by institution a weak tool for justification. However, I propose a modified reconstruction of commonwealth by institution that drops Hobbes' dubious premise that absolute monarchy is the best form of government. I suggest that with this modification, one can use commonwealth by institution as a tool for justifying a democratic commonwealth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-405
Number of pages23
JournalPacific Philosophical Quarterly
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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