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Blinded by the Light of Hohfeld: Hobbes's Notion of Liberty

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Abstract:

Recent work in Hobbes scholarship has raised again the subject of Hobbes's notion of liberty. In this paper, I examine Hobbes's use of the notion of liberty, particularly in his theory of rights. I argue that in describing the rights that individuals hold, Hobbes is employing "liberty" to cover more than the famously restrictive definition of the "absence of external impediments" and that this broader understanding of liberty should not be put down to simple inconsistency on Hobbes's part. In the second part of the paper, I look at the Hohfeldian analysis of rights and at the tendency to see the notion of a claim as foundational for rights, which for some, is a legacy of that analysis. I argue that there are disadvantages to this and suggest that the notion of liberty may be a more useful one than that of a claim to ground our understanding of rights.

Keywords: CLAIM; HOBBES; HOHFELD; LIBERTY; RIGHTS; SKINNER

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • Jurisprudence provides a forum for scholarly writing on the philosophy of law. While demanding the utmost intellectual honesty, clarity and scholarly rigour, its editorial policy is distinctively open-minded in relation to philosophical approach. A main purpose of the journal is to encourage scholarship which explores and transcends the categories and assumptions on which contemporary jurisprudential debates are conducted, and to stimulate reflection upon traditional questions concerning the nature of law, politics and society. The journal's unique reviews section will provide in-depth discussion and analysis of major developments in the field. Jurisprudence aims: " to encourage research exploring the relation between questions in the philosophy of law and debates in related branches of philosophy, including but not limited to political philosophy, moral philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of mind; " to support study of the intellectual history of the philosophy of law, both for its own sake and in order to shed light on contemporary jurisprudential questions; " to encourage careful research illuminating relations between jurisprudential questions and theoretical debates in anthropology, sociology, cultural and literary studies. Replies and correspondence pieces will be generally discouraged, although may be acceptable if the intention is to deepen and extend an original line of thought, and not merely to reiterate or amplify an earlier argument.

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