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By Clellan Stearns Ford

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Impediments prevent me from taking specific actions, but few impediments prevent me from taking all possible actions; they do not make me an unfree person. Law is consistent with freedom, then, because having law is in my interest. Because it is in my interest, then by definition I act freely when I obey it, according to Hobbesian logic. Hobbes reconciles this reasoning with the simultaneous assertion that law limits liberty by deploying the mechanism of consent. Perhaps it is testimony to the danger he sees in connection and relationship, but in the move from the state of nature to civil society Hobbes argues that consent is the only legitimate foundation for the sovereign’s authority.

The state does this, of course, by instituting laws, which spell out for individuals what they may not do. In the classic liberal formulation that Mill was to articulate explicitly two centuries later, what the law prohibits are actions that infringe on the liberty of others, thus in theory producing at least an even trade, if not a net gain, of liberty for the self. ”20 This makes the relation of law to liberty in Hobbes’s account somewhat ambiguous, as I mentioned in my introduction when discussing Pettit’s reading of Hobbes on this issue.

He also may seem to challenge my social constructivist thesis, for the naturalism that Hobbes deploys is an extreme form of biologism. C. B. Macpherson argues in his introduction to Leviathan that Hobbes conceptualized humans as appetitive machines who sought their perpetual motion; freedom was thereby defined in reference to this motion. That is, people are free to the extent that external barriers do not inhibit them from pursuing their desires, and hence interfere with or even cease their motion.

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A Comparative Study of Human Reproduction by Clellan Stearns Ford


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