Leviathan leashed: The incoherence of absolute sovereign power


Early modern theorists linked the idea of sovereign power to a conception of absolute power developed during the medieval period. Ockham had reframed the already extant distinction between God's absolute and ordained powers in order to argue that God was free of moral constraint in ordaining natural law for human beings. Thus, the natural law could command the opposite of what God had ordained if He wished to make it so. Bodin extended Ockham's argument to earthly sovereigns, who do not (he argued) have to obey civil law. However, Bodin undermined his absolutism by maintaining that civil law has to be consistent with natural and divine law. Hobbes more consistently argued that while mortal sovereigns are accountable to God, the power of sovereigns to command is not subject to moral constraints. Underlying Ockham's view of God's sovereignty, and Bodin's and Hobbes's view of earthly sovereigns, is a notion of the will's unconstrained power. But this notion is self-referentially incoherent. This incoherence, in turn, infects the very notion of sovereignty

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References found in this work

Leviathan.Thomas Hobbes - 1651 - Harmondsworth, Penguin.
The Nature of Necessity.Alvin Plantinga - 1974 - Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Leviathan.Thomas Hobbes - 2006 - In Aloysius Martinich, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Early Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell.
.Eleonore Stump (ed.) - 1993 - Cornell Univ Pr.
Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition.Jean Hampton - 1986 - Cambridge University Press.

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