This is predicated on the ‘silence of

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essay will argue that, although Hobbes says we are responsible for our actions,
his reasoning is flawed, or at least his interpretation of responsibility is
skewed to such an extent that when he talks of responsibility he is talking of
a completely different concept that that which we understand


and his naturalistic account attempted to explain how moral value statements
are simultaneously practical and rational with relation to his mechanistic view
of the universe. He wanted to provide an ethical theory that was coherent with what
would become the enlightenment’s value of an emphasis on scientific rationalism
which stated that everything is made up entirely of physical matter (ie atoms)
(chapter six). Hobbes was convinced that everything in the universe can be
reduced to this materialistic framework (reductionism) and thus can be
explained in terms of rational scientific language. It follows then that human
nature is fixed and determined because everything in the universe is linked in
causal chains, including the psychological/physiological processes which
precede human action/thought. The will is determined in pursuit of the
appetites (Van Mill, 1995, 456) and this lead
Hobbes to assert that the only real good is pleasure as it is the only think we
pursue for its sake and not for any other reason .


despite this seemingly hard determinist stance, Hobbes maintains that some
human action is free. For this reason he is often labelled a (classical) compatibilist,
a position which holds that determinism and free will can coexist. In order to
maintain this position, Hobbes writes that liberty in his eyes, rather than
being the radical freedom that is posited in libertarian free will theories, is
simply the absence of any exterior factors which would impede the agent in
acting in accordance with their will. For this reason, Hobbes’ concept of freedom is sometimes called ‘negative
freedom’ in that is predicated on the ‘silence of the laws’ and the lack of impediments
from the external world. (Van Mill, 1995, pp444). Essentially this means that every event or action is
determined but one can nevertheless call an action free if one is motivated to
perform it because of something internal to them. Only the internal processes of
one’s mind can determine our actions and therefore they are responsible for
them. Consequently, Hobbes’ conception of liberty is what leads many scholars
to call him a soft-determinist (reference).

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While an analysis of Hobbes work leaves
us in no doubt as to whether he believed we were free or not (reference), his
soft determinism stance raises the question of how meaningful the notion of moral
responsibility really is in this sense. It seems that, despite the causes of
our actions coming from within, we are still determined in that the chain of materialistic
(psychological/physiological) causes leading up to our action is in no way
under our control, in what sense then are we ‘morally’ responsible for it? Hobbes
conception of liberty does not seem to allow for any real kind of moral
responsibility in that it makes no distinction between moral and non-moral
agents. We would tend to look at people suffering from mental illnesses such as
schizophrenia who have performed would-be morally reprehensible acts and assume
that they have at least some form of diminished responsibility for their
actions as they stem from something internal but beyond their control.


If one cannot derive an account of moral
responsibility from Hobbes’ account of individual liberty then it is perhaps
best that one look to his ethical treatise surrounding, not the individual, but
society at large. An analysis of punishment in Hobbes’ society shows us that
all moral agents should be subject to punishment, therefore the criteria which
determine whether we should be subject to punishment must also be how we
discern if we are indeed responsible for our actions.


However, in accordance with Hobbes’
contractarianism, a moral agent can only be subject to punishment if they have
freely assented to giving up their natural rights (reference). Therefore, one
is only responsible for their actions if they have assented to the law they are
transgressing. In the state of nature therefore there is no such thing as moral
responsibility in this hypothetical state, similarly those who are incapable of
freely assenting to give up their natural rights (such as the mentally ill,
children, animals etc) cannot be held morally responsible in this normative framework.
This reformulation establishes a place for morality as a “conventional
constraint on our natural behaviour” (Gauthier, 1979,
pp547) and thereby avoids some of the problems of Hobbes’ definition of
liberty as being a result of internal processes as it states that in order to
be held responsible for ones actions one must assent to the moral law. Although
both normal human adults (those who we assume or moral agents) and the mentally
ill/children etc (those who we assume are not moral agents) have liberty, only
the former can assent and therefore be held responsible


However, the introduction of moral law
which the morally responsible individual must assent to brings about problems
of its own. The materialistic laws which, in Hobbes soft determinism theory,
govern all events in the universe, must also surely dictate whether or not an
agent acts in accordance with the newly introduced moral law.


Therefore it follows that if someone is
to be responsible for their actions, they cannot simelatenously adhere to the
materialistic and moral laws as the concept of reward and punishment in this
scenario is nonsensical and unjust. If we are determined by the materialistic
law then how can we be praised or blamed for following/disobeying the moral
one? In order to be coherent as concepts, reward and punishment rely on a more
radical concept of liberty, one which goes beyond merely assenting to a
conventional moral law and is not bound by materialistic conditions.


Hobbes seems to be trying to marry two
logicaslly inconsistent concepts with one another. He wants to argue that by
assesnting to a social contract we are morally obliged to follow conventional
moral law and are therefore responsible for our actions if we do not but this
departs from his theory of determinism which states that all we do is respond
in a determined manner to external stimuli. How can someone be determined
“in pursuit of the appetites” but also have the capacity for moral
agency when agreeing to a contract?












Hobbe leaves us with tensions between his
moral and political philosophy. One could argue that Hobbes’ theory of negative
freedom means that his conception of freedom is nothing more than the will for
the action coming within and the absence of external impediments and that responsibility
in this view is to be understood in less of an ethical and more in a
naturalistic and arguably nihilistic way.



However, this is itself called in to
doubt because of inconsistencies within Hobbes discussion of his so called science
of motion which is dependent on determinism and freedom being compatible.
Hobbes at first argued that there is no contradiction between the two
aforementioned states because internal processes of the moving object are not
relevant to the discussion of liberty and therefore we cannot say that the
movement was unfree, on this reading freedom is not concerned with the thing
itself but rather with external impediments/lack of


But after considering internal factors
which seemingly affect freedom such as fear and moral obligation, surely he can
no longer claim that his concept of freedom and determinism are compatible. Our
actions are not solely dictated by external factors but are also subject to the
internal processes of a thinking mind. Hobbes deterministic view of the world
is gradually eroded as his own arguments of freedom in a society show that
freedom and therefore moral responsibility must inextricably linked to choice.


Therefore Hobbes had to adapt his theory
from one which choice has no role to play at all to one which is a theory of
“action rather than movement” which incorporates choice,
neccessetating a deprature from the strict determination of human actions.



This view of freedom also differntiates
between coerced and what Hobbes calls authoratative acts, authoritative acts
are those acts previously mentioned that legitimise his social contract. We
cannot be morally obligated except through 
anything other than a voluntary act of the will “for no man is
obliged by a Coveneant. wherof he is not the Author”


Hobbes, in defining contracts in society
in terms of authority rather than coercion, is inconsistent because legitimate
authority needs the agent to be morally responsible for their action, as
opposed to being forced into by someone else


Authority then depends on being able to
pick out those who have moral responsibility. This is only possible if Hobbes
draws a distinction between movements: i.e. appetites/aversions and voluntary


The extended theory of freedom
interpretation, in conrtrast to the hard determinism and soft determinism
stances that have been discussed, argues that Hobbes opts for an interpretation
of the self as being able to make rational and free choices.


However, in addition to forcing hobbes to
abandoning his strict determinist view, Hobbes view that one is morally
obligated to adhere to the conditions of a societal contract is also
threatened. Only voluntary contracts are authoritative and legitamate but
contracts made through fear and intimidation, like the one Hobbes was proposing
in Leviathan limit freedom and therefore are not obligatory.


Hobbes’ theory
of morality and responsibility are undermined by this as it means that
contracts made in the state of nature through fear are not mandatory as they
weren’t created in a way which conforms to Hobbes’ definition of authoritative
contracts. Hobbes then is left with “a more coherent theory of contract and
consent” but which no longer supplies “the obligation he demands” (Van Mill, 1995, pp458). Therefore the notion of
responsibility cannot be defined in only in terms of promise keeping.

Although Hobbes
tries to create a promise keeping framework in which we could be held
responsible for our actions, if one takes into account his previously stated
determinism then at best his theory of responsibility is something necessary for
social utility and cohesion

Throughout Leviathan, Hobbes has to make adjustments in his
theory of freedom in order to show that in a society we have less freedom than
we would in the state of nature but that this limiting of freedom is very much
beneficial to us. However he cannot do so while maintaining his negative
freedom position which holds that only external object limit our freedom.
Consequently Hobbes is “forced into a duality” (Van Mill, 1995, pp458) in which
‘freedom’ has a different meaning in society and nature respectively.  


conclude, in trying to maintain a position of determinism while retaining
responsibility for our actions, Hobbes has makes errors which undermine other
aspects of his argument and therefore although he believes that we should be
held responsible for our actions, he is unable to demonstrate why this is.
Although Hobbes 

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