Hobbes and normative egoism

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 97 (4):481-512 (2015)
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Is Hobbes a normative egoist? That is: does Hobbes think that an agent’s normative reasons are all grounded in her own good? A once-dominant tradition of Hobbes scholarship answers ‘yes’. In an important recent work, however, S.A. Lloyd has argued that the answer to the question is ‘no’, and built an alternative non-egoistic interpretation of Hobbes that stresses reciprocity and mutual justifiability. My aim in this paper is to articulate and defend an original ‘middle way’ interpretation of Hobbes which steers a course between an excessively egoistic and what we might call an excessively ‘moralistic’ interpretation. According to the interpretation I defend, our obligations have their source in self-interest in the sense that they are all self-assumed results of covenants, our reasons for making which are solely self-interested. But the obligations that result from such covenants can sometimes require us to act against our self-interest.

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Alex Worsnip
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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