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Title: The Master’s Eye: Hobbes on Commonwealths by Acquisition
Authors: Dumitru, Claudia
Advisors: Garber, Daniel
Contributors: Philosophy Department
Keywords: despotic dominion
parental dominion
political philosophy
Thomas Hobbes
Subjects: Philosophy
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Hobbes has two stories about the birth of political power. One is the commonwealth by institution, where people contract among themselves to jointly submit to a sovereign. The other is the commonwealth by acquisition, where a weaker party (children, the conquered) submit to a stronger one (parents, conquerors) in exchange for their lives. Commonwealths by acquisition seem to prima facie violate Hobbes’s claim that there can be no contract of mutual trust in the state of nature without an external enforcer. Moreover, to the extent that such a contract exists, it seems to conflict with the notion that the Hobbesian sovereign has absolute power in virtue of having acquired no contractual obligations to their subjects. This dissertation offers a unified reading of commonwealth by acquisition scenarios as a Hobbesian attempt to render private relationships of inequality political and contractual. I argue that under conditions of inequality, mutual recognition of the stronger party as an enforcer is enough for contract. The decisive factor, however, is not the weaker party’s consent or offer of submission, but the stronger party’s trust in that offer. This trust depends on the strong judging that the weak perceive the power inequality as significant and are not likely to challenge it. This judgment is crucial to the strong perceiving themselves in turn as capable of enforcing the contract. The grounds for trust are stronger where the power inequality is greater or where the strong have complete control over education, as is the case with parents, who are in the unique position of being able to shape their children’s capacity to consent. Appealing to the inalienability of the right to self-defense in Hobbes’s theory, the dissertation further argues that the sovereign by acquisition only promises to refrain from something that no sovereign could do qua sovereign to begin with: directly threatening the subject’s life. Thus, no serious limitation on sovereign power results from the acquisition contract. Areas of serious tension remain, however, around the relationship between the acquisition story and Hobbes’s full account of authorization.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Philosophy

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