, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 515-538
Date: 03 Nov 2012

An Immodest Proposal: Hobbes Rather than Locke Provides a Forerunner for Modern Rights Theory

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In this paper I argue that we should look to Hobbes rather than to Locke as providing a philosophical forerunner of modern and current rights theories and further, that Hobbes’s theory has relevance to and ‘speaks to’ current philosophical and jurisprudential analysis of the foundations of rights, in a way that Locke’s theory cannot. First, I summarise the argument that Hobbes does have a substantive theory of individual rights. Second, I argue that the project undertaken by A. J. Simmons, to ‘reconstruct’ Locke’s theory of rights without the theological premises, cannot succeed. Locke’s theory of natural rights is thoroughly dependent on its theological premises. Third, I argue that Hobbes’s theory of rights is not dependent on theological premises. Finally, I try to illustrate the ways in which Hobbes’s theory is still relevant and useful for current debates within rights theory.