Hobbes’s third jurisprudence: legal pragmatism and the dualist menace

Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 33 (1) (2020)
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Abstract

This paper explores the possibility that Hobbesian jurisprudence is best understood as a ‘third way’ in legal theory, irreducible to classical natural law or legal positivism. I sketch two potential ‘third theories’ of law -- legal pragmatism and legal dualism -- and argue that, when considered in its broadest sense, Leviathan is best viewed as an example of legal pragmatism. I consider whether this legal pragmatist interpretation can be sustained in the examination of Leviathan’s treatment of civil law, and argue that the pragmatic interpretation can only be successful if we can resolve two textual issues in that chapter. First, while Hobbes argues that law entails the existence of public (sharable) reasons, he does not adequately defend the view that the sovereign is the unique authority over such reasons in all cases, especially as far as they concern known collective emergencies. Second, Hobbes both affirms and denies that a sovereign can fail to do justice, which is paradoxical. Both problems are best resolved by legal pragmatism, though the second problem resists a fully satisfying resolution. The upshot is that, although Leviathan ought to be regarded as an episode of legal pragmatism, there are trade-offs on every reading.

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