Hobbes writes that ‘The question is often asked whether agreements extorted by fear are obligatory or not.’1 As we have already seen in the previous chapter,2 he argues that promises and contracts made under coercion are morally binding.3 Hobbes develops three different arguments to ground this claim. First, he writes that the idea that contracts and promises made under coercion may be considered non-binding entails the anarchistic conclusion that no subject would have political obligations because no existing government would be legitimate. Hobbes seems to believe that this counts as a reductio ad absurdum , and so he considers it sufficient to ground the opposite claim: promises and contracts made under coercion are morally binding. Second, Hobbes argues that there are consequentialist reasons for the claim that promises and contracts made under coercion are morally binding. For instance, he states that otherwise prisoners of war would be killed rather than trusted to seek their ransom, and he also argues that there would be no condition of peace between enemies. Third, Hobbes grounds the claim that promises and contracts made under coercion are morally binding usinga distinctive account of voluntariness. According to Hobbes, promises and contracts made under coercion are fully voluntary. Promises and contracts made under coercion are entered into because of fear and, as long as this does not prevent deliberation, Hobbes argues that such actions then are fully voluntary and so morally binding.4
- Moral Obligation
- Rational Decision
- Normative Sense
- Legal Authority
- Psychological Sense
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Moreover, G. A. Cohen argues that if an agent is forced to do something, she is free to do that thing. See G. A. Cohen, History, Labour, and Freedom: Themes from Marx ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988 ), pp. 241–3.
Finkelstein, ‘A Puzzle about Hobbes on Self-Defense’, pp. 340–1, italics in the original; see also C. O. Finkelstein, ‘Duress: A Philosophical Account of the Defense in Law’, Arizona Law Review , 37(1) (1995), p. 272.
To account for this difference in meaning, Gregory S. Kavka distinguishes between two sorts of duress: coercion and force. See G. S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), p. 396.
See also E. Chwang, ‘On Coerced Promises’, in H. Sheinman (ed.), Promises and Agreements: Philosophical Essays ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011 ), p. 161.
F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition, R. Hamowy (ed.) (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011 ), p. 71.
H. G. Frankfurt, The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 26, quoted in Wertheimer, Coercion , p. 181.
© 2015 Luciano Venezia
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Venezia, L. (2015). The Hobbesian Analysis of Contracts under Coercion: A Critique. In: Hobbes on Legal Authority and Political Obligation. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137490254_6
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
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