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In this article Hobbes’s view of the commonwealth, and of law and liberty within it, is discussed from the point of view of social ontology. The artificial character of the commonwealth and the constitutive function of the covenant is put in terms of the institutional world being constructed through collective intentionality, which is performative, self-referential, and collective, and which serves as truth-maker. Hobbes is used here to make the point that it is a mistake to argue, as for example Tuomela has done, that the construction of institutions require a joint commitment: we-attitudes held in the we-mode. Instead, institutions on a ‘Hobbesian’ model are constructed by we- attitudes held in the I-mode. This analysis is used in a discussion of law as an institution and law serving as a constraint on freedom. The constructive character of law means that the idea of law can serve as a constraint even in an area of life where in actual fact is unregulated. In order to assess whether liberty can be said to be infringed when that happens we need to go back to the notion of an external constraint, appreciating that what agents there are, what they can do and the powers they possess are functions of collective attitudes conveying meaning and status.
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Keywords: Hobbes; I-mode; agent; artificiality; collective attitudes; collective intentionality; external constraint; institutions; law; liberty; performative; self-referential; social construction; social ontology; we-attitudes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Global Political Studies, Malmö University, SE 20506 Malmö, Sweden, Email:

Publication date: 2007-01-01

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