Summaries of classes

Please note that these are summaries, not 'the notes' for the class. These have been prepared by students in the class, and I have posted them here, unchanged, as a ready reference for those who could use a quick idea of what topic(s) have been discussed. But there is no guarantee of accuracy (or even proper spelling)! Caveat lector!

January 24, 2011 / Katrina Gillis

    What is a right? Who has these rights and what are the limits of these rights? If not already covered in the answers to these questions, what is the source of these rights?
-    What is a right for Hobbes?   
o    A right is an obligation to the imposed law of nature to preserve one’s own life.
•    Is this really an obligation? Are we obligated to lead a healthy life? To eat healthy food and to exercise regularly?
•    Are we obligated to seek out property?
•    Hobbes says we have a natural desire for “power after power” which ceases only in death. Is this an obligation to gain this power, or just a drive towards it? Does desire have to be just for material goods?
-    On Page 32 of the Leviathan, Hobbes explains “The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus natural, is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature...” The fact that he uses the term liberty seems to imply that this is not an obligation.
o    What is meant by liberty?
•    Not being limited by external constraints (does not apply to internal constraints)
o    Is fear a limitation on your liberty? At first it might seem so because fear may force you to make a certain decision (ie, giving money to the man holding a gun to your head) where you may not have made that decision before.  However, Hobbes does not think fear is a constraint.
•    Page 37. “Covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere nature, are obligatory. For example, if I covenant to pay a ransom, or service for my life, to an enemy, I am bound to it.”
-    How are the laws of nature enforced? What is the essence of a law of nature?
o    Hobbes seems to argue it is based on human reason.
-    Do the laws of nature exist in the natural condition of mankind?
o    It appears not. Hobbes’ natural condition is without law, so the world is full of chaos specifically because there are no laws enforced to keep people from violating each others’ rights. It is contracts of law which allow us to escape the natural condition, therefore there is no law within the natural human state.
•    Laws are constructions of reason; not toward truth, but away from a world of war. They move toward peace.
o    A law is not a liberty, but a restriction of liberty for Hobbes. (though, admittedly, it is to our own benefit.)
-    Does Hobbes believe humans have free will?
o    See page 69. “Fear and liberty are consistent: as when a man throweth his goods into the sea for fear the ship should sink, he doth it nevertheless very willingly, and may refuse to do it if he will.”
o    Page 69. “Liberty and necessity are consistent; as in the water that hath not only liberty, but a necessity of descending by the channel; so, likewise in the actions men voluntarily do, which, because they proceed their will, proceed from liberty and yet because every act of man’s will and every desire an inclination proceedeth from some cause, and from another cause, in a continual chain (whose first link is the hand of God, the first of all causes), proceed from necessity.”
•    Causes go back to the hand of God. This means both good and bad things, and also means there is really no free will. We are meat in motion and nothing more – all actions are pre-determined but this does not mean we care not responsible or cannot be punished for our actions. The will is not a real thing because if it is real, intangible, invisible, immaterial, it cannot be constrained – and yet we can be restrained, so there is no such thing as this intangible, invisible, immaterial will.
-    Rules of reason only have effect insofar as there is someone to bind us to them. In Hobbes’ case, the Sovereign fits this role.
o    So do we really have a ‘natural’ right to life which we can never lay down and can never be taken from us?
•    The Sovereign can do whatever s/he so wishes. If s/he wishes to take your life from you, you have no right to flee. By entering into the social contract you give power to the Sovereign to do as s/he will when it comes to judgement in all cases.
•    But does the Sovereign take away your rights, or just that which you have rights to?

January 26 / Tristan Shaeen

    Soverign unites everyone and represents all of them as one body.
    Has civil jurisdiction.
    Cannot have 2 sovereigns in any capacity or else unity would not occur.
    What are rights?
    Hobbes – a right in the natural condition of humanity is a power – the power to do as you see fit for the preservation of your life and wellbeing.
    Fundamental right – right to life.
    Do I have the right to end my life?
    - Right to die with dignity? Right to die at all?
    Is the right to life a negative liberty or a positive liberty?
    What is a liberty?
    - the freedom from external contraints.
    - Hobbes would not say that intimidation and fear are constraints and are therefore not a violation of one’s liberty.
    What is good?
    Hobbes – something that is attractive. Bad? Something that is aversive.
    Therefore good and evil are subjective. What makes food good is that it is desired, not that its needed.
    What is a law?
    - What is the first law for Hobbes? P33 last para. Seek peace and follow it.
    If someone does not want peace then the sovereign, as non party to the contract, can get rid of that person.
    2 systems – before contract and after
    before contract – right to do whatever you want. After – this right is very restricted.
    Good and evil in post contract is decided by the sovereign, not desire.
    He judicates all issues of controversy and all issues of fact.
Who has rights? Short answer: persons. Are all humans persons? No. Corporations are persons also.
    Are fetuses persons in Canada? No. Women were only persons in 1929 but were humans before then.  Personhood = legal category. Humanity = biological category. A person has to be free, has to have a notion of the good.
    In contract are rights extend as far as the contract will allow them. Without it, as far as we want.
    Rights precede laws and society. The natural law is a product of reason. Civil law is similar according to Hobbes as it too is a product of reason. If law threatens my natural rights according to the conventional view, I can defy the law.
    The natural condition is a hypothesis. It does not matter whether or not it happened. It could happened and should be avoided.
    People do not follow laws because they are rational but out of fear of authority. Need a sovereign to enforce the natural rational law. Sovereign retains all of their natural rights as they are not part of the contract. Need the sovereign to unify the community to avoid chaos.
    The whole contract is based on consent. You do not have to consent. But you may be treated as a threat.
    No matter what your civil rights are, you always have the physical power to do whatever you want. Having physical power and ethically justified power are 2 different things.
    We have rights, liberties, good and evil, and law all before and after the contract in some manifestation.
Does the individual retain rights like they did before the contract? No in the moral ethical and legal way? Yes in the physical power. In society one cannot say they have the right to resist because the sovereign dictates the rights. Do you have the physical power? Yes.

If the sovereign annoys too many people he is vulnerable. So as long as he is able to properly walk that line he is powerful. He can judicate on all matters of fact.

Your rights in the state of nature come from your human nature – boils down to physical power.


If we don’t like what the ruler is doing we replace the ruler.

Distinguishes between liberty and license early on in the second treatise.
License is the power to do anything. Liberty presupposes law, not legislation. It lives within the context of the law of nature (divine law/law of god/law of reason). Liberty is restricted by natural law. All living beings are obligated to preserve ourselves. Because we are god’s property. We have no right to do with this property as we wish. We are obliged to protect our life, liberty, health, possessions.

Does not define what a right is. Makes a close connection with liberties however. Again there is 2 systems. Before and after the contract – very different from Hobbes. Their understanding of before and after is very different.

Is Nozick more like Locke or Hobbes or neither?

Conventional Law is Locke is democratic and Hobbes is authoritarian.
When there is a conflict between the ruler and the people Locke says you make an appeal to heaven. Both sides are partial so they cannot decide. Only god knows.

January 31, 2011  /  Amanda Daignault

Summary: Hobbes and Locke
What is a right? According to Hobbes and Locke, rights are liberties or freedoms; more specifically, freedom from constraint from the law or state.  Genuine freedom, for Locke, is also differentiated from absolute freedom, or license.  License is the freedom to do anything and everything within one’s power (like in Hobbes’ state of nature), and on the account of both Hobbes and Locke, leads inevitably to chaos, war, and destruction. Genuine freedom or liberty, argues Locke, is doing whatever you want to within the Natural Law, which is discoverable by Reason, and which prevents arbitrary, pointless, and destructive action.  Since action is constrained by reason, and not by the state, it is still freedom.
What rights are there? Hobbes and Locke mainly discuss negative rights, which are defined in terms of freedom from external limitations or interference.  Positive rights, by contrast, oblige others to provide you with something (resources, opportunity, etc), not merely to stay out of the way.
The rights described by Hobbes and Locke are natural in the sense that they do not come from the state or sovereign.  Each writer considers the possibility that a state of nature really existed, but it doesn’t really matter for their purposes.  Rights belong to a person because it is a person: they are part of the nature of a person (NB person ≠ human being). Usually, rights apply to people in the first instance as individuals.  By transfer, they can be applicable to organizations or collectivities.
Human nature, for Hobbes and Locke, includes several factors, all of which are important for establishing personhood.  These form the foundation for rights:
•    Freedom: The choice of and responsibility for action.
•    Rationality
•    Self-interest in action
•    Materiality of being
•    Setting our own (subjective) conception of the good, and pursuing it.  Note that this is not what is in our self-interest, but what we think is in our self-interest.
Hobbes and Locke, broadly speaking, are part of the Liberal-Individualist tradition of rights.  They emphasize the individual conceptions of the good, and the freedom to pursue it.  Rights are the means of pursuit of the good, and they entail an obligation to not prevent others from pursuing their good.  Rights are inviolable, except when a person violates another’s right, in which case the violator’s rights can be taken away, or by consent.  The Liberal-Individualist tradition, especially Lockeian influence, is quite apparent in the American Declaration of Independence, and the American conception of rights generally.  Other traditions of rights and of liberalism exist, including those articulated by Kant, Hegel, and Rousseau, all of which describe human nature quite differently than do Hobbes and Locke, emphasizing the social.  Also, there are numerous skeptics of liberal-individualism, including Burke, Bentham, Mills, and Marx, who, generally, find the idea of “natural rights” to be suspect, if not outright nonsense.  On stilts.

Robert Nozick
Nozick was writing in reaction to certain moral theories circulated during his career, and advocated going back to a moral theory more reflective of Hobbes’ and Locke’s views on rights, although not their positions on sovereignty or the state.  He wrote mainly in the 1970s, in a climate of major civil and minority rights movements, especially in the States.  The rights being fought for or advocated by these movements were usually/typically gained through transfer of resources or means from some to others.
During this period, utilitarianism became the dominant moral view, at least in English-speaking countries.  The utilitarian moral view promotes or aims for the greatest happiness for the greatest number; there is a certain ‘end state’ as a goal to work towards, using ‘happiness’ as the ultimate good.  Nozick argued strongly against utilitarianism.  In pursuing a utilitarian end state, with happiness for the greatest number, it is certain that some will remain or be made unhappy; some people’s rights are necessarily violated in bringing about others’ happiness.  Nozick held rights to be absolutely inviolable, even when a supposedly larger benefit would arise by the given violation.
Nozick was also reacting against the Rawlsian idea of the social contract, which is the argument that people will agree to a social contract that they believe will benefit their community or society, even if it entails forcible redistribution of property.  This is another example of an end-state moral theory, where certain property rights are violated for an ideally greater societal good.  Nozick, being an egoist, believed that at the base of any community were mere individuals.  For individuals, not inherently linked to any other individuals, it is not only a right but a moral obligation to work in one’s own self-interest, doing nothing that they do not think is in their self-interest. This is a form of radical individualism (NB again the distinction between objective self-interest and perceived self-interest)
Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia
Nozick’s book Anarchy, State and Utopia is more or less a manifesto for his brand of radical individualism.  From the first sentence, it makes clear Nozick’s position that individuals have rights, and that these rights may not be violated by any other person or group.
Nozick terms rights ‘side constraints,’ absolute limitations on the actions of others.  Rights are thus others’ obligations to not interfere with me, and to maintain my personal ‘moral space.’ Nozick only barely deals with the origin or basis for these rights.  The first, simple account for his idea of the basis of rights is simply that we have them, by virtue of what we are.  Nozick rejects the idea that we have rights based on our capacity for reason, pain, free will, sentience, or any other particular ability, arguing that none of these capacities by themselves logically entail the rights claimed.  (There arises also the problem of differentiating our capacities from those of animals: Nozick asks whether we can be “Kantian for humans and utilitarian for animals” at the same time without contradiction.) Nozick does briefly discuss the possibility of our rights being based in our capacity or ability to imagine and pursue a ‘meaningful life,’ although he does not really examine this possibility, or the terms inherent to it, in any detail.
The one explanation of a foundation for rights that Nozick rejects completely is one based on an idea of the common good, or societal good.  Nozick argues that the rights of an individual cannot be explained by or founded in the rights or the good of others: “there is no such thing as society,” only individuals. While individuals can act together in certain ways for certain periods, such association has no existence outside those individuals or that period.