Leviathan Inc.: Hobbes on the nature and person of the state

History of European Ideas 47 (1):17-32 (2021)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT This article aspires to make two original contributions to the vast literature on Hobbes’s account of the nature and person of the commonwealth: (1) I provide the first systematic analysis of his changing conception of ‘person’; and (2) use it to show that those who claim that the Hobbesian commonwealth is created by personation by fiction misconstrue his theory of the state. Whereas Elements/de Cive advance a metaphysics-based distinction between individuals (‘natural persons’) and corporations (‘civil persons’), from Leviathan onwards Hobbes contrasts individuals acting in their own name (‘natural persons’) with representatives (‘artificial persons’). These changes notwithstanding, Hobbes retains the same corporate conception of the state throughout. On the prevailing ‘fictionalist’ interpretation, the sovereign brings the commonwealth into existence by representing it. I argue, rather, that as an incorporation of natural persons, the commonwealth becomes one person through the authorized (i.e. non-fictitious) representation of each constituent member singly by one common representative (‘the sovereign’).

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Johan Olsthoorn
University of Amsterdam

References found in this work

Hobbes and the purely artificial person of the state.Q. Skinner - 1999 - Journal of Political Philosophy 7 (1):1–29.
The Body Politic “is a fictitious body”.Robin Douglass - 2014 - Hobbes Studies 27 (2):126-147.
Hobbes on artificial persons and collective actions.David Copp - 1980 - Philosophical Review 89 (4):579-606.

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