UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Authority and justification : the case of Thomas Hobbes MacDonald, David Ross


This thesis reviews the concept of authority in general and critically examines the justification for authority offered by Hobbes. The first chapter aims to develop a particular conception of authority based on a distinction drawn by Joseph Raz between first and second order reasons for action. This conception construes the suspension of judgement that obedience to authority is typically said to entail in terms of binding second order reasons for action which serve to pre-empt individuals’ contrary first order reasons. On this view, authority consists in the right to issue and enforce such second order reasons, or laws. In the second chapter Hobbes’s justification for authority is considered. The theory is presented in its own right before Hobbes’ s’ conclusions are examined in light of the above mentioned conception of authority. This examination reveals an inconsistency in Hobbes’s theory with respect to the right to rule. Hobbes’ s understands this right as the unimpeded natural right of the sovereign, however, the argument is here submitted that insofar as it entails enforcement of a system of second order reasons, the right to rule is unlike any right that could exist in the state of nature. Insofar as it entails a right to enforce punitive sanctions for violations of authoritative second order reasons for action the right to rule is essentially a new right. In concluding, the theoretical implications of this inconsistency in Hobbes are considered and the suggestion is made that Hobbes’ s normative assumptions better support a “service conception” of government than his own right-based conception.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.