Moral and Political Obligation in “Possessive Individualism”: The Problem of Manners


Usually, the interpreters of Hobbes and Locke have discussed the two systems of political philosophy from the perspective of liberal political doctrine, meaning the opposition between unliberal absolute monarchy, which Hobbes promotes, and liberal parliamentary democracy, asserted by Locke. However, some interpreters have pointed out that, beyond the political matter, the two philosophies are first grounded in the culture of the 17th century and in the structure of English society. From this point of view, even Hobbes would keep in his concept of state of nature certain schemes of social behavior, which will allow him to reinvent society. Therefore, Hobbes’s man is the representative of a special type of society that Macpherson calls „possessive market society”. I analyze the implications of this hypothesis on the problem of moral and political obligation in Hobbes, with respect to those conventions which are called social mores. The status of mores is ambiguous in Hobbes, since they depend to a great extent on conventions and they do not have any direct link to natural law; on the other hand, they can be seen as an expression of attitudes and natural interests (civilization being the sum of mechanisms and social rules by means of which people attain their natural purposes). In the absence of sociability, morals cannot be understood in other way.

Keywords: moral obligation, political obligation, state of nature, manners, Hobbes, Locke, law of nature, social mores

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