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The grounds of right and obligation in Leibniz and Hobbes.

RIGHT AND OBLIGATION are concepts central to moral philosophy. Whether one is a utilitarian, deontologist, contractarian, natural lawyer, theist, or virtue theorist, one must give some account of these concepts, if only to explain them away. Examining Leibniz's and Hobbes's grounds for these concepts is illuminating for several reasons. Not only did these concepts undergo their most influential and dramatic development during the 17th century, but these philosophers differed on them in striking and informative ways. Furthermore, while Hobbes's views are rather well-known, Leibniz's are not. My basic argument is that Hobbes grounds right and obligation in self-interest, and while that should not be a surprise, my argument opposes a recent counter-argument that obligation is grounded in the agent's practical deliberation. I also argue that for Leibniz right and obligation are grounded in the moral-rational capacity of persons, but not in self-interest. This latter claim should come as a surprise to those who have long thought that Leibniz grounds normative claims in God's will, perfection, happiness, universal love, or in the motive of pleasure. Attention to an early, neglected, but important text will show otherwise. I also claim that Leibniz's account fulfills a condition for these concepts that I take to be essential, namely that they cannot be grounded properly in self-interest. Since one is already inclined to act according to one's self-interest, it makes little sense to speak of having an obligation for it. Neither can they be externally grounded, such as by the will of God or a sovereign. By "ground" I mean that which answers the question, what makes it that persons have rights and obligations? In sum, I suggest that Leibniz's account of obligation is closer to a Kantian intuition about obligation, namely that autonomous moral agency requires that obligations be freely imposed, that is, imposed by the agent's own rational capacities.

More specifically, my argument is this: Both Leibniz and Hobbes conceive of "right" (Latin, jus) as a kind of freedom, but they differ fundamentally on what kind. For Leibniz, right is fundamentally a moral concept, that is, the subjective freedom a person possesses to act according to an objectively just order of things, and that order is public utility. Thus right is a moral freedom, which Leibniz calls the "moral power" (potentia moralis) of a person (rational substance). Corresponding to right is obligation, which Leibniz calls "moral necessity," entailing restrictions in regard to the right of others. (1) Psychological motives, however, such as self-interest or pleasure, are not what make actions morally permissible or obligatory; rather, one's internal capacity to be a moral-rational agent does. Moreover, public utility consists of the maintenance of the material rights and obligations of all rational beings, but rights and obligations themselves are not grounded in the requirements of public utility. In this way, moral concepts such as right, obligation, just, and justice may be established a priori, that is, a priori by the rational nature of persons, not by their empirical/psychological nature; nor is the normative force of these concepts grounded in the coercive power of a sovereign, State, or God, as it is for Hobbes. For Hobbes, "right" contains no moral implications; it refers simply to one's subjective liberty to do what one will to preserve oneself. In this "right of nature" (jus naturale) obligations to others have no meaning or possibility. Obligations arise only by means of "the dictates of reason" (lex naturalis), which are laws of self-preservation--the most important of which is the laying down of one's right in the state of nature. (2) Thus the ground of right and obligation resides in the motive of self-preservation, not (as for Leibniz) in one's capability to be a moral person, that is, in one's capability to recognize that one's own right, one's potentia moralis, entails the preservation of the rights of others.


Distinguishing three senses of "right." To make sense at all of what is at stake between Hobbes and Leibniz, it is important to distinguish different senses of the Latin jus, since this term is translated in English, often ambiguously, as both right and law. It is also important to distinguish the objective and subjective senses of jus. First, the objective sense denotes a range of actions or conditions considered fair, right, just, equal, or equitable. For example, mathematically equal relations of exchange, or distributions of goods proportioned to need or merit are considered objectively right, fair, or just. This sense may be found in Aristotle's discussion of dikaion (the just) in Nicomachean Ethics Book 5. Rights theorists call this sense "objective" because it denotes an abstract, persisting order of conditions considered just independently of subjective and contingent conditions. This sense is also found in St. Thomas as "the just thing itself," (3) and in Grotius (1625) as that action which serves "a society of reasonable creatures." (4) For Leibniz, as will be seen, the objectively just action is that which promotes public utility, by which he meant nothing like utilitarian happiness, but rather Aristotelian eudaimonia, a condition that is fulfilled (or perfected), not simply in the individual's possession of the virtues, but in the eudaimonia of the community. (5) For Leibniz this condition minimally includes the preservation of the rights and obligations of the community of individuals.

Second, there is a subjective sense of right--a sense that arguably did not exist prior to Aquinas, but which, for a number historical reasons, Leibniz and Hobbes were able to utilize and amplify. It is called subjective right because it denotes a property (of some sort) belonging exclusively to the acting subject or person. The notion of subjective right had been developing since the 12th Century, but did not fully materialize until the early 17th in Suarez and Grotius. (6) Prior to then, what we call "having a right" (jus) would have referred to an incorporeal property of the law--whether natural, positive, or divine--and a person "had" certain rights (jura) by virtue of the law. However, by the 17th Century, "right" (jus) also came to be conceived as a subjective quality inhering in persons by virtue of their humanity, in some sense. As I will show, for Leibniz this subjective quality consists of the "moral power" (potentia moralis) of a person to do what is just in the objective sense; for Hobbes, subjective right is the natural, physical power (or liberty) of a person to do what he will, free of external impediments. Hobbes has no use for right in the objective sense; nevertheless, both Hobbes and Leibniz depend fundamentally on the concept of right (jus) in its subjective sense as a type of freedom.

Third and last, it should be noted that jus, as in jus naturale, is often translated as natural law. But this translation can confuse matters, because "natural law" can refer to quite different things: for example, the natural law of reason, the natural law of sensual instinct, laws of nature, or divine law. Furthermore, sometimes the term lex naturalis is used as an equivalent of jus naturale--although Hobbes correctly makes the point of distinguishing lex from jus, referring to the former as "precepts" or "dictates of reason," and using the latter as right in the subjective sense (jus naturale). (7)

In sum, to be clear on what Leibniz and Hobbes are doing, we must distinguish senses of right (jus) in the following way:

(1) as objective right, meaning a just action or condition;

(2) as subjective right, meaning a quality of a person enabling him to act freely, either in accord with what is just, or in accord with one's desires;

(3) as distinct from law, where "law" refers to a precept of reason, positive law, sovereign law, or divine law.

It should also be noted that "obligation" typically means that which binds with a certain necessity, either to what is right, or to what is lawful. A question of central concern in this paper is what determines the necessity of an obligation, and this question is answered differently by Leibniz and Hobbes. For Leibniz, obligation is a moral necessity entailed by right, and right is understood to be a "moral possibility." For Hobbes, the necessity of obligation lies in self-preservation.


Leibniz on Right and Obligation. Leibniz first defined "right" and "obligation" in part II of his 1667 New Method for the Learning and Teaching of Jurisprudence. (8) This work has been largely neglected by commentators, yet it contains Leibniz's first attempt to construct a "science" of jurisprudence, that is, an a priori, geometric systematization of the theoretical grounds of positive law. This is an important methodological point. The Roman corpus of jus consists of volumes of various laws, principles, and statements, set out in a rather unsystematic manner. Leibniz thought that this corpus must be systematized, if the law (in a legal sense) were to have absolutely solid and certain grounds. (9) This could be done in the geometric manner, by abstracting from the corpus a few basic axioms, definitions, and then deriving the laws. Natural lawyers, such as Hobbes and Pufendorf, also attempted to systematize their premises geometrically. However, Leibniz held their attempts to depend on contingent "matters of fact," on historical precedent, on empirical observations about human nature, or on an untenable voluntarist dependence on God's will at the expense of reason. (10) Therefore, jus must be established on a priori definitions. Furthermore, it should not be thought that for Leibniz jurisprudence concerns only legal matters, since it forms the conceptual basis of his theology and moral philosophy. As he says, "theology is a species of jurisprudence, in a universal sense," (11) meaning that jurisprudence determines (or expresses) the right (jus) of God. Since God was rational, we may know God's will by discovering a system of rational, universal jurisprudence. Leibniz first attempted to establish such a system (or "science") in the Nova Methodus. (12)

Keeping in mind these methodological points, we may turn to this "science of jurisprudence" (or science of jus), which begins appropriately with a series of definitions, the first of which is of "jurisprudence."
 Jurisprudence is the science of actions, insofar as they are called
 just or unjust. Just and unjust are what is useful or harmful to
 the public. (13)

This passage should be understood as expressing right in the objective sense, similar to Aquinas's and Grotius's conception of objective right, mentioned above. Jurisprudence is the science of an external order of just actions, that is, those which promote public utility. Now, what is public utility, and what makes it objective? In this text Leibniz does not explicitly say; however, as I will show, public utility implicitly consists of actions consistent with the maintenance of the rights and obligations of individuals. This condition is considered objective, however, because its objectivity does not depend on the desires of individuals, nor on the coercive force of a sovereign. Leibniz simply holds that public utility is the objective end of a collection of individuals, and this definition simply designates jurisprudence as the science concerned with that objective end.

In the passage immediately following the above, Leibniz defines the subjective sense of right, as the "moral quality" of a person. This passage is extremely important, since it defines the terms "right" and "obligation."
 The morality, however, that is, the Justice or Injustice of the act
 of the person, springs from the quality of the person in view of
 the order of the action, stemming from preceding actions, and is
 called moral Quality. Since, however, the real quality in the order
 of the action is duplex, namely, the power to act, and the
 necessity to act; therefore, moral power is called Right, and moral
 necessity is called Obligation. (14)

For my purposes, the passage can be rephrased more simply:
 The morality (or the justice) of the act of a person originates in
 the moral quality of the person. This moral quality has a two-fold
 character: Right (jus), which is the power (potentia) to act; and
 Obligation, which is the necessity to act. Thus the morality of an
 action is grounded in the moral qualities of right and obligation,
 which together comprise the moral quality of a person.

Leibniz goes on to define "person" as "a rational substance." (15) In general, this passage defines the subjective sense of right (jus), that is, the moral quality of a person enabling him to act justly, in contrast to the objective sense of right (public utility). Leibniz is thus following Grotius's distinction between subjective and objective senses of jus in On the Rights of War and Peace. (16) What subjective right shows is that the actions of a person have a moral quality. While actions themselves are called just or unjust, persons act with justice or injustice due to their possession of the moral qualities of right and obligation, which are qualities inherent to rational beings. It should also be noted that (contrary to Hobbes) right is fundamentally a moral concept. But to grasp the meaning of this passage more clearly, several notions need to be explained, namely, the notion of moral quality; the notion of right as a moral power (potentia moralis); and the "duplex" connection between right and obligation.

First, for a person to have moral qualities means that a person has a kind of freedom, that is, the freedom to pursue moral ends. To explain, one of Leibniz's sources for the notion of moral quality is his mathematics professor, Erhard Weigel, who distinguished three highest genera of entities: natural, notional, and moral. Under this scheme, since moral qualities are generically distinct from natural entities, they function as teleological causes independently of efficient (physical or mechanical) causes. (17) Thus, the moral qualities denote the capacity of a person to act in view of value-laden ends, independently of natural desires and causes. This capacity must involve, in part, cognition, that is, the ability to recognize actions as objectively just, and such recognition must be a decisive factor in the person's resulting action. (18) This notion of a capability for moral-teleological causation (or final causation) is fundamental to Leibniz's much later accounts of freedom. (19)

While Leibniz does not explicitly make these claims, it is reasonable to suppose he holds that the moral qualities in some way enable a person to act in a rational-moral manner, that is, in a manner excluding any "value-free mechanism." (20) A rational being must have moral qualities if it is going to act not only according to what is best, but according to what is morally required or necessitated. Just how such teleological causes are indeed free of efficient causes is a problem for Leibniz to explain, but one which does not need to be addressed here. Nevertheless, it appears certain enough that the moral qualities must be constitutive of freedom of action--not, that is, simply as a freedom to do as one wants (as Hobbes would say), but rather a freedom to do what one wants as long as it is morally possible. This means that for Leibniz right (jus) is a permissive power, that is, the power of doing whatever is consistent with public utility. That persons are endowed with moral qualities distinct in nature from their physical qualities complies with Leibniz's methodological requirement that the science of jurisprudence be built upon a wholly a priori foundation, exclusive of empirical causes and facts.

The notion that the moral qualities constitute moral freedom can be further substantiated by considering the meaning of potentia. Typically, this term is translated as "power," yet this translation loses the sense in which Leibniz conceives of potentia as possibility. In a late revision note to [section]14a, above, Leibniz writes, "Power and necessity, that is, to be able and not to be able not." (21) In other words, potentia moralis denotes the possibility of a person to act according to moral necessity: ought implies can. Furthermore, as Leibniz explains in a much later text, within a discussion on free will, potentia explicitly refers to the power, capacity, or possibility of a thing to change. (22) Thus a potentia moralis would be the capacity of a person to change from a state of moral possibility to moral action This again implies the freedom of a rational substance to deliberate and perform moral actions. Relevant to comparison with Hobbes, Leibniz is showing how it is possible for a rational substance to be internally motivated by moral reasons, as opposed to being motivated by fear of harm or death. A person possessing moral qualities is moved to act through the recognition of objectively just principles that are accessible to all rational beings. Leibniz does not say that right is the power or possibility of self-preservation, or that we are moved to perform obligations by psychological instincts, pleasure, or the threat of external sanctions.

The next point focuses on the connection between right and obligation. Leibniz had said in the above passage ([section] 14a) that the real quality of an act is "duplex," although he did not explain what this means. By "real quality," he must mean the intentional, as opposed to the accidental, quality of an action. A better indication of what he means appears in a much later text: "Right and obligation are not to be treated separately. They constitute one relation composed from both." (23) In other words, they constitute a relation of entailment between having a right and having obligations or duties. While "right" denotes the permissive power to do what is just (and not to do what is unjust), "obligation" denotes the duty to render to each other person his right. That is, my right generates the obligation not to violate your right, and reciprocally, your right generates an obligation owed to me. (24) In this sense, one's internal moral power is a moral freedom, in part because it entails obligations to all others. For this reason the duplex quality of right and obligation may be called the self-limiting freedom of a rational substance, since the obliging limitation on freedom (moral necessity) is conceptually entailed by the moral possibility of the person.

This entailment is better demonstrated in the way Leibniz goes on to derive certain material rights from potentia moralis. As he outlines in [section]16, since moral power implies freedom, it follows that the first material right is that of freedom over one's own body, that is, the right of self-preservation, called libertas. Consequently, since one's body requires certain things for its preservation, it follows that one has the right of possession of things that belong to no one, called facultas. It then follows that one has the right of force or coercion, called potestas, against violations of rights to one's body and rightfully acquired things. (25) Now then, due to the entailment relation between right and obligation: "Obligation means not to obstruct the liberty, faculty, and potestas of another, the obstruction of which is called injury." (26) Injury literally means to un-right another. In sum, based on the moral qualities of right and obligation, each person possesses certain rights entailing corresponding obligations to every other person.

From this it follows by definition ([section]14a) that justice means to maintain the rights of persons, while injustice means to violate (injure) another's rights. The result of this deduction, rather striking, although Leibniz does not make it explicit, is that the content of "public utility" derives from the moral qualities of persons. Since injury is unjust (the violation of right), and "just" and "unjust" are defined as public utility (what is useful or harmful to the public), public utility must consist in the maintenance of the rights and obligations of individual persons. Thus, objective right has been determined by the subjective right of individuals. Based on their capacity for moral freedom, individuals have rights themselves and obligations to all other rights holders. Public utility is the condition in which the moral qualities of persons are maintained or actualized.

This point about public utility is further evidenced by the establishment of covenant (or convention), which is grounded in the possibility of injury. As Leibniz puts it, "injury is the source of punishable offenses." (27) As established, if I am harmed in the state of nature I have the right of coercion, "the right of war" (to use Hobbes's terminology) to defend myself and punish another. However, since such unregulated coercion tends to be destructive, individuals must contract to allow the state to provide "equitable" compensations to injury. (28) Thus, public utility is best served under a contract, but the grounding principle of the contract is the possibility of injury, that is, the violation of an individual's right to self-preservation.

This point should be noted for its similarity and difference from Hobbes: on one hand, both Leibniz and Hobbes recognize the right of war in the natural state and the civil state as the proper resolution for the dangers inherent to the natural state. On the other hand, for Leibniz, obligations are built into the moral nature of rational substance and serve as the ground of obligations under the contract; while for Hobbes, as we shall see, obligations are possible only when one's right to self-defense is given up. In other words, Leibniz does not speak of obligations as deriving from a law, as either a dictate of reason, a law of instinct, of a sovereign, or of God. They derive from one's moral-rational capacity, that is, from the moral possibility of a rational substance to perform just actions. Thus, a person's moral power is distinguished from his physical power to do whatever he will and can. Potentia moralis is a power by which the agent actualizes objective moral ends without being coerced "externally" by the State or internally by self-preservation. Moral ends are actualized through, in part, the agent's recognition of actions as free and objectively just. In sum, Leibniz's formulations depend on the historical notion of subjective right, according to which right is the power of a person to do what is just. His distinct contribution is to ground this notion in the very nature of a moral-rational substance.


Hobbes on right and obligation. One notable feature of Hobbes's well-known opening passages of Chapter 14 of Leviathan (1651) is that Hobbes, like Leibniz, sets out a series of definitions in a quasi-demonstrative way. The first two definitions establish a conceptual distinction between right (jus naturale) and law (lex naturalis). This distinction is important because it clearly shows that for Hobbes right includes the concept of Liberty, as it does for Leibniz, but does not include any moral restrictions on that liberty, let alone obligations.
 The RIGHT OF NATURE, which Writers commonly call Jus Naturale, is
 the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will
 himself, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of
 his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his
 own Judgement, and Reason, hee shall conceive to be the aptest
 means thereunto. (29)

This right to use one's own power (that is, physical and mental power) is not limited to self-preservation, but includes the liberty to do whatever one can--since "liberty" is defined as "the absence of externall Impediments: which Impediments, may oft take away part of a roans power to do what bee would." (30) Further down he says that in the state of nature "every man has a Right to every thing; even to one another's body." (31) Such a right is not at all given by Leibniz, since one's right entails the obligation not to harm others. Also notable is that Hobbes does not speak of any objective sense of "the just." The right of nature is not that which serves public utility, nor that which is conducive to man's natural social instinct (Grotius), nor anything of the sort. There is simply no objective sense of right, for Hobbes. Right has only a subjective sense as a natural, physical power of the person, with no implicit restriction on that right. Hobbes is clear that restrictions on jus naturale are imposed only by the law of nature:
 A LAW OF NATURE, (Lex Naturalis,) is a Precept, or generall Rule,
 found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which
 is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving
 the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best
 preserved. For though they that speak of this subject, use to
 confound Jus, and Lex, Right and Law, yet they ought to be
 distinguished; because RIGHT, consisteth in liberty to do, or to
 forbeare; Whereas LAW, determineth, and bindeth to one of them: so
 that Law, and Right, differ as much, as Obligation, and Liberty;
 which in one and the same matter are inconsistent. (32)

Notably, Hobbes in fact strictly denies what Leibniz allows, namely that right conceptually entails restrictions or obligations to others. For Hobbes obligation contradicts the very concept of right; only a law of nature imposes restrictions on right. Right is simply a freedom in the negative sense, the freedom to act without external restriction. Obligation would be a limitation on that right.

Now, here is where matters get difficult. At exactly what point does an obligation arise, for Hobbes; to whom are we obligated; and why? (33) For Leibniz, as we saw, obligations derive from right as an immediate conceptual entailment. However, since Hobbes strictly separates them, he needs a way to explain how they arise. A natural assumption would be that the law of nature imposes obligations, but that would be premature. If we understand "obligation" to mean a restriction on our relations to others, the law of nature, at least initially, does not impose any obligation, but only a practical restriction required for self-preservation. As Hobbes goes on to explain, jus naturale, being a condition in which everyone has a right to everything, is a condition of "Warre of every one against every one," and in such a state no one is secure. (34) As a consequence of this condition, there is "a general rule of Reason" having two "branches": (a) the first fundamental law of nature, "to seek peace, and follow it;" and (b) the right of nature: "by all means we can, to defend our selves." (35) It should be noted that with this two-branch formulation Hobbes appears to conflate the distinction between jus and lex he had just sought to maintain, since both the law of nature (seek peace) and the right of nature (to defend oneself by all means necessary) are contained within this one "general rule of reason." Hobbes must mean that reason tells us that in order to preserve oneself (a right) it is necessary to find the means of peace and take them (the law). Alternatively, he means that right is always restricted by this law, this dictate of reason, to seek peace. (36) In any case, this restriction imposes no obligation we owe to others, but only clarifies a practical necessity for ourselves, given that the state of natural right is dangerous. We have to go further to discover when an obligation, properly speaking, arises.

Based on this practical necessity, Hobbes then derives the second law of nature, which clearly states the means by which the first law of nature may be fulfilled. Since the right of nature (jus naturale) generates a state of war, and the first law of nature says "seek peace," the second law of nature (lex naturalis) tells us to give up that very right:
 From this Fundamental Law of Nature, by which men are commanded to
 endeavour Peace, is derived this second Law; That a man be willing,
 when others are so too, as farre-forth, as for Peace, and defence
 of himselfe he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to
 all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other
 men, as he would allow other men against himself. For as long as
 every man holdeth this Right, of doing any thing he liketh; so long
 are all men in the condition of Warre. (37)

Hobbes is about to tell us that only when one gives up one's natural right does an obligation, properly speaking, arise. I will come back to this point. This passage, however, raises several problems regarding the grounds of lex naturalis. Hobbes holds that due to the condition of equality, it is not possible to seek peace by overpowering everyone else. (38) Therefore, the only alternative is for everyone to give up one's right to everything. This means, however, that giving up one's natural right turns out to be contingent upon everyone else doing the same. Otherwise, if anyone retains his right, everyone remains in danger of being harmed, and thus the state of nature would persist. The problem with this, as Leibniz could point out, is that if obligations depend on lex naturalis, then obligations would be contingent upon the will of others to perform them. Therefore it is not possible to be obliged solely by virtue of one's own will; and if one is not obliged by virtue of one's own will, then one is not obliged freely. For Leibniz I have an obligation not to harm others unjustly, whether or not they harm me unjustly. This obligation holds, not because others are obliged not to harm me (although they are), but because I recognize the same right in others that I have in myself, namely, not to be harmed unjustly. Thus, to be obligated freely, I must already have a conception of unjust harm by virtue of which I act rightly. Hobbes has no such conception, since such a conception arises (as will be seen) only in the act of giving up my right. For Hobbes, I lay down my right to everything, not because it is just, but only if it is safe for me to do so, which means only if everyone else does so as well. While this is certainly a prudent plan of action, it shows that for Hobbes the ground of lex naturalis, the natural law, and the obligations it subtends is ultimately self-interest.

Another problem in the above passage is that Hobbes appears to conceive of the laws of nature as "commands," suggesting that they have an obligatory force of some kind, beyond that of prudential means for seeking peace. Indeed, in a passage concluding Chapter 15 ("Of Other Laws of Nature"), Hobbes clarifies the difference between a mere dictate of prudential reason and a law properly speaking.
 These dictates of Reason, men use to call by the name of Lawes; but
 improperly: for they are but Conclusions, or Theoremes concerning
 what conduceth to the conservation and defence of themselves;
 wheras Law, properly is the word of him, that by right hath command
 over others. But yet if we consider the same Theoremes, as
 delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things;
 then are they properly called Lawes. (39)

That is to say that the laws of nature are properly speaking laws, only because God's right (power, jus) over everything provides the force sufficient to make them binding or obligatory. However, as some commentators have noted, it is not altogether clear what Hobbes is really committed to in this passage. As LeBuffe writes: "This is an obscure claim, both for its hypothetical character (well, do we consider them as delivered in the word of God?) and also because it makes God the author of words rather than of nature." (40) But if Hobbes is in fact claiming that the lex naturalis is grounded in God's right, then once again obligations are not freely imposed. Hobbes is a voluntarist. On the other hand, if he maintains that the lex naturalis merely provides "conclusions" about what is conducive to peace, then it and any obligations following from it would be grounded in self-preservation. Either way, since God's law is also the law of self-preservation, the ground of lex naturalis lies in the motive of self-preservation.

To return to Chapter 14, Hobbes is quite clear that obligations properly speaking arise in the act of renouncing or transferring one's right to everything, as the second law of nature tells us to do.
 [T]hen is he said to be OBLIGED, or BOUND not to hinder those, to
 whom such Right is granted, or abandoned, from the benefit of it:
 and that he Ought, and it is his DUTY, not to make voyd that
 voluntary act of his own: and that such hindrance is INJUSTICE, and
 INJURY, as being Sine Jure; the Right being before renounced, or
 transferred. (41)

This is a rather striking passage. Suddenly, all of those normative concepts, such as obligation, duty, justice, and injury--that Leibniz had derived from subjective and objective right, prior to any contractual agreement--arise for Hobbes only in the contractual act of renouncing one's right in the state of nature. In other words, obligations to others arise for the first time, exactly when one renounces one's right to harm others. More precisely, the obligation is given by the third law of nature, that "men performe their Covenants made." (42) While Leibniz holds that injury occurs when your rights to your body, property, and coercion are violated, Hobbes holds that injury occurs only when one has renounced the very right one has just agreed to renounce.

What, however, is the ground of this obligation to keep one's covenants? It would be natural to suppose it is self-interest. However, what Hobbes says next (and, what some commentators have said) suggests otherwise. It appears that this obligation to keep one's covenants is grounded in the nature of reason itself, in the nature of rational deliberation, such that one is obliged, on penalty of rational absurdity, to be consistent in one's volitions.
 So that injury, or injustice, in the controversies of the world, is
 somewhat like to that, which in the disputations of Scholers is
 called Absurdity. For as it is there called an Absurdity, to
 contradict what one maintained in the beginning: so in the world,
 it is called Injustice, and Injury, voluntarily to undo that, which
 from the beginning he had voluntarily done. (43)

Thus an analogy holds between disputational absurdity and injustice. Just as in disputation a contradiction is an absurdity of thought, so in practical reason, an injustice is an absurdity in willing. An absurd will is one that wills to violate the very obligation that one has willed to put oneself under. Hobbes seems to be suggesting that the ground of the obligation to keep one's covenants is not self-preservation, but rather the consistency of the practical will.

I am not convinced that this is what Hobbes really means; but one commentator, Michael LeBuffe, thinks that Hobbes gets something right here.
 As theoretical reason dictates that self-contradiction is always
 absurd, so practical reason, for Hobbes, dictates that two opposing
 wills sufficient for action at a single time is always injustice.
 This account of obligation in Leviathan holds, alike, for
 particular obligations, such as covenants, which bind one or more
 particular agents and for the universal laws of nature. (44)

On this account, however, it is not clear how self-contradictions result in injustice, nor how they are supposed to obligate one not to commit injustice. Nevertheless, LeBuffe claims that commentators have not paid sufficient attention to Hobbes's account of the role of deliberation. In order for an act to be voluntary, an agent must not merely desire to perform the act; he must also will it, but to will something means to have deliberated over it, and deliberation naturally involves reason. The upshot is that rational deliberation provides the sufficient normative and motive force of an obligation:
 Reason produces a kind of demand on the reasoning agent which
 pushes her to perform the action she wills. This force is distinct
 from the influence of desire (since desire can push an agent to
 perform actions other than the actions she wills, as when she
 violates covenant), and it is defeasible by desire. But it is
 nevertheless potent, and it is precisely coextensive with
 obligation. The conviction arising from the process of practical
 reasoning supplies the normative force peculiar to morality in
 Hobbes. (45)

LeBuffe is claiming that for Hobbes the motive force of reason provides the obligatory or binding ground of morality. One is obliged to keep one's covenants, then, because the conviction that arises in practical reasoning is that breaking them contradicts one's own will, and such conviction is sufficient for action (or refraining from action). The reasoning agent typically considers a number of factors, including prudential desires, as part of the deliberative/willing process (Hobbes in fact defines the will as "the last appetite in deliberation" (46)); but the rationality of one's actions is ultimately decisive for an agent. If the agent deliberates sufficiently such as to discover his action would not be rational, then he refrains from taking it. Since it would not be rational to break one's covenants (absurd, as Hobbes says), one is obliged not to break them. In this way LeBuffe claims that his account closes a gap in Watkins's account (which is based on self-interest) and in Gauthier's account, which is that obligations arise precisely in the act of renouncing one's right. (47) Rather, for Hobbes, the sufficient normative force of obligation lies ultimately in the rationality of one's practical deliberations.

While I think LeBuffe's claim about the role that reason can play in moral deliberation is correct--that is, that reason is sufficiently motivational and normative (indeed, I think his view is supported by Leibniz's), I do not think that it is Hobbes's view. One should consider, as I think Hobbes clearly does, why we ought not be absurd in our willing, and thus, why, ultimately, we are obliged to keep our agreements--and the answer seems rather clear: since undoing an agreement just made is equivalent to not making an agreement at all, and since self-preservation tells us to keep agreements, then the reason we should not be absurd in our willing is self-preservation. In other words, the analogy that Hobbes has in mind is this: one should not contradict oneself in disputation because contradictions do not say anything. Similarly, one should not contradict oneself in practical action, because one is not really saying or doing anything. To make a promise or agreement and then to break it amounts to having never made it in the first place--which is not simply absurd, but does not accomplish what you need. It may be true, as LeBuffe claims above, that for Hobbes "reason is potent." It is not, however, "coextensive with obligation." The potency of reason lies primarily in its efficacy for self-preservation. Reason tells us to keep agreements, not because our will would be absurd, or because an injustice will be committed against others, but because it is conducive to peace.

This last point becomes even more convincing in consideration of what Hobbes goes on to say, shortly after the passage above: renouncing or transferring one's right is performed by means of signs (words and actions)--also called "bonds." Such bonds, however, "have their strength, not from their own nature (for nothing is more easily broken than a mans word) but from Feare of some evill consequence upon the rupture." (48) Moreover, he states that the object of voluntary acts (such as renouncing one's right) is "some good to Himself." In other words,
 the motive, and end for which this renouncing, and transferring of
 Right is introduced, is nothing else but the security of a mans
 person, in his life, and in the means of so preserving life, as not
 to be weary of it. (49)

Hobbes concludes the thought by noting that if someone "despoils" himself by means of signs, we should take him to be "ignorant of how such words and actions were to be interpreted." (50) Presumably, then, if one contradicts oneself in making agreements, we are to take that person to be misunderstanding what he is really saying. All this seems to me sufficient to show that for Hobbes, while rational deliberation is certainly part of willing, the proper ground of obligation is nothing other than the motive of self-preservation.

The last point I wish to make recalls an earlier one; namely, that some obligations may be externally imposed, for Hobbes. As we saw, renouncing one's right is possible, only if everyone else agrees to do the same. Notoriously, however, contractors do not always willingly maintain their agreements. Since (apparently) reason is insufficient to motivate compliance, agreements can be maintained only if "there be a common power set over them both [both parties to the contract], with right and force sufficient to compel performance [of the contract]." (51) Thus if one is not sufficiently motivated by rational self-interest to maintain one's agreements, one may be forced to do so. This is a significant point for two reasons: (1) It indicates that obligations must be externally imposed, rather than generated by the moral capacity of the agent, and (2) unlike Leibniz's a priori notions of objective right (just, justice, and public utility), these notions make sense for Hobbes only in the presence of a coercive power.
 Therefore before the names of Just, and Unjust can have place,
 there must be some coercive power, to compel men equally to the
 performance of their Covenants, by the terrour of some punishment,
 greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their
 Covenant. (52)

This holds for property possession, as well, since the possession is possible only where a civil power is sufficient to keep covenants. (53) In contrast, for Leibniz the very concept of right, which includes the right to one's own body, entails the obligation not to injure another person. You do not have the moral right to whatever you will in the state of nature, but you do have the right of self-defense, in case of violation to your body or property. More importantly, persons retain these rights whether or not a sovereign exists to protect them. They cannot be given up or taken away because they are inherent to one's nature as a moral-rational substance. One's right is not grounded in self-interest, but in one's capacity for acting in a manner consistent with the innate right of all rational beings.


To conclude, Leibniz's and Hobbes's accounts of the grounds of right and obligation can be summarized this way: For Leibniz, subjective right consists of a person's capacity to recognize and act upon an objectively just order of rights and obligations, independently of self-interested motives and independently of the force of external coercion. Subjective right may be called the self-limiting power of an agent to act in a manner consistent with the right of others. For Hobbes, subjective right is the unrestricted freedom to act as one can, a right restricted by the practical necessity to avoid an intolerable state of nature. For Leibniz, obligations are grounded in one's moral capacity. One ought not to harm others because one is a rational being among others who hold the same rights and obligations. For Hobbes, obligations are grounded in self-preservation and maintained by external coercion. For Leibniz, right is the possibility of doing what is just, maintaining the rights and obligations of others; while for Hobbes, right is a problem for doing what is just--a problem for self-interested agents that requires an external solution. Obligations are not grounded in one's relationship to others as rational agents, but rather in one's best interest in relation to potentially antagonistic others.

It is often argued that Hobbes's account is more realistic: agents are typically and powerfully motivated by rational self-interest, and "having a right" is a useless notion, lacking the motive force sufficient for action. This may be true, but it is arguably beside the point, since we can still be under an obligation, even when we lack the motivation to undertake it. Hobbes seems not to notice some important requirements of the concept of obligation that Leibniz understands rather well: It makes little sense to say that one is bound to do that which one is already inclined to do, that is, to preserve oneself. To be sure, one has a duty to preserve oneself; however, the duty is not grounded in the inclination to preserve oneself, but rather in the rational capacities of persons. Furthermore, on Hobbes's account it seems possible for obligations to come and go according to inclination, making it insensible to say that one is really bound by anything, except the strongest one, self-preservation. On the contrary, it must be possible for an obligation to oppose one's inclinations, and furthermore, for one to be able to resist inclinations oneself. If the resistance must come from an external source (fear of death and punishment), then obligation is not really a matter of free rational deliberation and self-rule (autonomy). Leibniz, on the other hand, claims that obligations are built into the very moral capacity of rational beings. Such a capacity can provide the kind of resistance to inclination required to make obligation a necessity independent of self-interest--a moral necessity, as Leibniz calls it--which is nevertheless freely willed. What is interesting is that moral necessity is grounded in the agent's own right, that is, in his moral possibility. While no doubt agents are typically more powerfully motivated by rational self-interest, it is rather the mark of moral strength (virtue) to be motivated by the force of right.

Saint Xavier University, Chicago

(1) Nova Methodus Discendae Docendaeque Jurisprudentiae, in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Samtliche Schriften und Briefe, ed. Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Darmstadt: Otto Reichl Verlag, 1930), series six, vol. 1, p. 301, [section]14[a]. The Akademie edition is cited hereafter by A (Akademie), series number, volume, page, and section (for example, A.6.1.301[section]14). English translations are mine. Emphases are Leibniz's own.

(2) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson (London: Pelican, 1977), 14.189. Cited by chapter and page.

(3) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 57, a.1 (Leonina, online, "ius primo impositum est ad significandum ipsam rem iustam."

(4) In this sense right signifies merely that which is just; and "the just" is defined as what is conducive to "a Society of reasonable creatures." Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace, ed. Richard Tuck (Liberty Fund, Inc., 2005), bk. 1, section 1, para. 3, p. 136. De Iure Belli ac Pacis, Libri Tres, 1.1.3: "Nam ius hic nihil aliud quam quod iustum est significant.... Est autem injustum quod naturae societatis ratione vtentium repugnat. Sic alteri detrahere sui commodi causa contra naturam esse dicis Cicero, idque ita probat, quia si id fiat societas hominum & communitas euertatur necesse fit."

(5) See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1.2.1094b10.

(6) See Brian Tierney, The Idea of Natural Rights (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001). Tierney argues that the notion of subjective right developed out of 12th century canonists' glosses on Gratian's Decretum: "[F]rom the beginning, the subjective idea of natural right was not derived specifically from Christian revelation or from some all-embracing natural-law theory of cosmic harmony, but from an understanding of human nature itself as rational, self-aware, and morally responsible" (76). The concept developed further via Occam and Gerson, but really took hold in the 17th Century with Suarez. In his De Legibus ac Deo Legislatore (1612), Tierney quotes Suarez as recognizing ius as "a certain moral faculty that anyone has concerning his own property or something due to him; and so the owner of a thing is said to have a right in the thing (ius in re) and a workman is said to have a right to his wages (ius ad rem)" (Tierney's translation, p. 303, of Suarez, De Legibus, 1:1.2.5,24). Tierney adds that Suarez was working with Aquinas's objective sense of right, and that "by associating the juridical language of ius in re and ius ad rem with Aquinas's definitions, Suarez arrived at a subjective understanding of ius as a moral faculty inhering in a rights-holder," thinking that this is what Aquinas meant all along (303). Suarez's De Legibus was likely Grotius's source, and Grotius was clearly Leibniz's.

(7) Hobbes, Leviathan, 14.189.

(8) See Leibniz, Nova Methodus, A.6.1.293-394.

(9) Ibid., A.6.1.298-300. Also see Leibniz's letter of July 1670 to Hobbes, in Die Philosophischen Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. Carl Gerhardt (Berlin: Weidman 1875-90), vol. 7, p. 572; also, in translation: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, 2nd ed., trans. and ed. Leroy Loemker (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989), 106.

(10) See Leibniz, "Meditation on the Common Concept of Justice" (1702) and "On The Prinicples of Pufendorf" (1706) in Leibniz, Political Writings, ed. Patrick Riley (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(11) Leibniz, Nova Methodus, A.6.1.294.[section]5: "Nec mirum est, quod in Jurisprudentia, idem et in Theologia usu venire, quia Theologia species quaedam est Jurisprudientiae universim sumtae, agit enim de Jure et Legibus obtinentibus in Republica ant potius regno DEI super homines."

(12) See Patrick Riley, "Leibniz's Meditation sur la notion commune de la justice," The Leibniz Review, 15 (December, 2005): 203. Riley claims there that Leibniz was a voluntarist in the Nova Methodus, but I think Riley is mistaken. While it is true that Leibniz calls the third degree of right "the will of a Superior," and this superior is God, he is also clear that God's will and power consist in "the confirmation and execution of pure right and equity" (Nova Methodus, A.6.1.344.[section]75: "Nam Deus, quia omniscius et sapiens est, Jus merum et aequitatem confirmat; quia omnipotens, exequitur. Hinc coincidit utilitas generis humani, imo decor et harmonia mundi, cum voluntate divina"). Nor does Riley's claim square with Leibniz's explicit and central effort in the Nova Methodus to establish an a priori science of jurisprudence based on definitions.

(13) Leibniz, Nova Methodus, A.6.1.300-1.[section]14: "Jurisprudentia est scientia acitonum [sic] quatenus justae vel injustae dicuntur. Justum autem atque injustum est, quicquid publice utile vel damnosum est."

(14) Ibid., A.6.1.301.[section]14[a]: "Moralitas autem, seu Justitia, vel Injustitia actionis oritur, ex qualitate personae agentis in ordine ad actionem, ex actionibus praecedentibus orta, quae dicitur: Qualitas moralis. Ut autem Qualitas realis in ordine ad actionem duplex est: Potentia agendi, et necessitas agendi; ita potentia moralis dicitur Jus, necessitas moralis dicitur Obligatio."

(15) Ibid., A.6.1.301.[section]15: "Persona est substantia rationalis." For Leibniz, God is classified as a person as well. This may raise the objection that God could be subject to obligations; but Leibniz explicitly denies this: "God is the subject of the highest of all right and not of any real obligation." Likely, Leibniz means that a being can be obligated, only insofar as there can be a discrepancy between what that being does and what it ought to do. However, since God always acts in the way God ought, no discrepancy is possible, thus no real obligation is possible. Nevertheless, God is obligated in a sense, that is, by his own rational nature, by means of which God always does what is right and best.

(16) As noted above Grotius, Rights of War and Peace, "There is another Signification of the word Right different from this, but yet arising from it, which relates directly to the Person: In which sense Right is a moral Quality annexed to the Person, enabling him to have, or do, something justly." Grotius, De Belli ac Pacis, 1.1.4: "Ab hac iuris singificatione diversa est altera, sed, ab hac ipsa veniens, quae ad personam refertur; quo sensu ius est Qualitas moralis personae competens ad aliquid iuste habendum vel agendum."

(17) See Leibniz, Specimen Quaestionum Philosophicarum (1664), A.6.1.94: "Jura ista H. Grot. J.B. et P. 1.1.4. appellat Qualitates morales tanquam si naturalibus contradistingueret. Et Clmus Weigelius, Prof. Mathematum Jenensis, Praeceptor, Fautorque meus colendus tria summa genera Entium constituit: Naturale, Morale, et Notionale.... Jura igitur ad qualitates morales reducit, et uti actioni naturali seu motui Spatium substratum sit, spatium quoddam morale esse Statum, in quo quasi motus moralis exerceatur." ("Rights thus reduce to moral qualities, such that, as the natural act or movement is spread out in Space, the space being a certain moral State, in which a sort of moral motion is exercised").

(18) This view can be compared with Leibniz's later accounts of willing and acting, such as in Theodicy: "The truth is that the soul, or the thinking substance, understands the reasons and feels the inclinations, and decides according to the predominance of the representations modifying its active force, in order to shape the action"; Theodicy, ed., Austin Farrar, trans., E.M. Huggard (Chicago: Open Court, 1990), 421. Thus, one of those modifying representations would be the cognition of one's fights and obligations. The degree to which a substance is modified according to moral reasons rather than passions and other factors would be the degree to which that substance has moral virtue and thus exercises free will.

(19) For example, as Leibniz says in Principles of Nature and Grace (1714): "And the perceptions in the monad arise from one another by the laws of appetites, or by the laws of the final causes of good and evil, which consist in notable perceptions, ordered or disordered. Similarly, changes in bodies and external phenomena arise from one another by the laws of efficient causes, that is, the laws governing motions"; G. W. Leibniz: Philosophical Essays, trans, and ed. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989), 207, para. 3. I also refer to Leibniz's attempts in Theodicy, to distinguish "moral necessity" from "metaphysical necessity." Some have argued that his later use of "moral necessity" is distinct from its "juridical" use in the Nova Methodus. See Michael Murray, "Intellect, Will, and Freedom: Leibniz and His Precursors." Leibniz Society Review 6 (1996): 25-60; and Robert Merrihew Adams, "Moral Necessity" in Leibniz: Nature and Freedom, ed. Donald Rutherford and J.A. Cover (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 182. However, some passages in Theodicy suggest that the early and late usages are very similar. For example: "This necessity is called moral, because for the wise what is necessary and what is owing [du] are equivalent things" (387).

(20) I borrow this phrase from Adams (ibid., 188), although he uses it in reference to final causes, not to moral entities or qualities.

(21) Leibniz, Nova Methodus, A.6.1.301.Z.8-9: "Potentia et necessitas, id est posse et non posse non." See also his 1671 Elementa Juris Naturalis, A.6.1.465: "Ius est potentia viri boni, qvas Grotius vocat Qvalitates Morales, nihil sunt aliud qvam qvalitates viri boni. Iustum, Licitum est qvicqvid possibile est fieri a viro bono."

(22) In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in book 2, chapter 21, "On Power and Freedom," Locke offers an explanation for how the mind acquires the idea of power. In the Nouveaux Essais, Leibniz responds: "Si la puissance repond au Latin potentia, elle est l'oppose a l'Acte, et le passage de la puissance a l'Acte est le changement. C'est ce qu' Aristote entend par le mot de mouvement, quand il dit que c'est l'Acte ou peut estre l'Actuation de ce qui est en puissance. On peut donc dire que la puissance en general est la possibilite du changement"; A.6.6.169.

(23) "Notae in Tabulam Jurisprudentiae," (1696?), G. W. Leibniz, Textes Inedits, ed., Gaston Grua (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948), 802: "Jus et obligatio non sunt separanda in tractando. Constituunt unam relationem ex utroque compositam."

(24) In [section]20 of the Nova Methodus, Leibniz states that the causes of right in one person are a kind of loss of right in another, in the form of the obligation that the other person has to the first. Conversely, acquiring obligations are the causes of recuperation of right, that is, of Liberation. In other words, that others have obligations to me implies a kind of freedom for me.

(25) Leibniz, Nova Methodus, A.6.1.302.[section]16: "Jus in corpus meum tanquam subjecti dicitur Libertas. Jus in rem dicitur Facultas.... Jus in personam dicitur Potestas." Note that potentia is distinct from potestas, the latter usually denoting the right of physical force or an authorization for legal force; although, sometimes Leibniz uses these terms interchangeably.

(26) Ibid., A.6.1.302.[section]16: "Obligatio est, ne alterius Libertas, Facultas, Potestasque impediatur. Quae impeditio dicitur Injuria."

(27) Ibid., A.6.1.303.[section]17: "Injuria igitur fons est delictorum et quasi delictorum."

(28) Ibid., [section]17: "Injuria in statu mere naturali dat laeso jus libertatis, facultatis potestatisque omnimodae, seu Jus belli in laedentem societatis ruptorem. Sed in rebuspublicis, imo et aequitate duce ita restricta est haec licentia, ut laesus aestimatione debeat esse contentus, reservata Reipublicae poena si damnum consulto datum est."

(29) Hobbes, Leviathan, 14.189.

(30) Ibid., 14.189.

(31) Ibid., 14.190. Some commentators dispute that for Hobbes right is the liberty to do anything whatsoever. See Bernard Gert's introduction to Hobbes, Man and Citizen, ed. Bernard Gert (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991), 19: "The right of nature is not the right to do anything one feels like doing; it is the right to do anything compatible with the dictates of reason."

(32) Ibid., 14.189.

(33) A useful discussion of these questions can be found in Michael LeBuffe, "Hobbes on the Origin of Obligation," in British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11(1) (2003): 15-39. I have more to say about LeBuffe's article below.

(34) Hobbes, Leviathan, 14.189-90.

(35) Ibid., 14.190.

(36) This implies that right is not an absolute liberty to do whatever one wants, and so Gert may be correct.

(37) Ibid., 14.190.

(38) Ibid., 13.183

(39) Ibid., 15.216-17

(40) LeBuffe, Hobbes, 17. LeBuffe goes on to note that this passage provides "some evidence" for Warrender's claim that Hobbes is an externalist about obligation, rather than an internalist. See Howard Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (London: Clarendon Press, 1957).

(41) Hobbes, Leviathan, 14.191.

(42) Ibid., 15.201.

(43) Ibid., 14.191

(44) LeBuffe, Hobbes, 36.

(45) Ibid., 28.

(46) Hobbes, Leviathan, 6.127.

(47) LeBuffe, Hobbes, 19-27. See also John W. N. Watkins, Hobbes's System of Ideas (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1973), 50-61 and Daniel Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 40-4, 57-61.

(48) Hobbes, Leviathan, 14.192.

(49) Ibid.

(50) Ibid.

(51) Ibid., 14.196: "For he that performeth first, has no asurance the other will performe after; because the bonds of words are too weak to bridle mens ambition, avarice, anger, and other Passions, without the feare of some coercive Power.... But in a civill estate, where there is a Power set up to constrain those that would otherwise violate their faith, that feare is no more reasonable; and for that cause, he which by the Covenant is to perform first, is obliged to do so."

(52) Ibid., 15.202.

(53) Ibid., 15.203.

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Title Annotation:Gottfried Leibniz and Thomas Hobbes
Author:Johns, Christopher
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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