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Hobbes and the Law of Nature
Perez Zagorin

Hardcover | 2009 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691139807
192 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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This is the first major work in English to explore at length the meaning, context, aims, and vital importance of Thomas Hobbes's concepts of the law of nature and the right of nature. Hobbes remains one of the most challenging and controversial of early modern philosophers, and debates persist about the interpretation of many of his ideas, particularly his views about natural law and natural right. In this book, Perez Zagorin argues that these two concepts are the twin foundations of the entire structure of Hobbes's moral and political thought.

Zagorin clears up numerous misconceptions about Hobbes and his relation to earlier natural law thinkers, in particular Hugo Grotius, and he reasserts the often overlooked role of the Hobbesian law of nature as a moral standard from which even sovereign power is not immune. Because Hobbes is commonly thought to be primarily a theorist of sovereignty, political absolutism, and unitary state power, the significance of his moral philosophy is often underestimated and widely assumed to depend entirely on individual self-interest. Zagorin reveals Hobbes's originality as a moral philosopher and his importance as a thinker who subverted and transformed the idea of natural law.

Hobbes and the Law of Nature is a major contribution to our understanding of Hobbes's moral, legal, and political philosophy, and a book rich in interpretive and critical insights into Hobbes's writing and thought.


"Zagorin's study is erudite, insightful and especially commendable for analyzing both the philosophical import and historical context of the ideas discussed."--Robin Douglass, Political Studies Review

"Zagorin's book is a helpful introduction into the basics of Hobbesian politics, the prominent secondary debates, and the broader historical context of natural law theory, which will inspire many of its readers with a positive awareness of the potentially moral dimensions in Hobbes' political writings."--Ester Bertrand, Political Science Journal

"Zagorin's book . . . serves as a good introduction to Hobbes and the history of Hobbes scholarship as well as to the history of political philosophy more generally. It would be a suitable text for an upper-level undergraduate course on Hobbes as well as a graduate course."--Michael P. Krom, Historian


"I read this book with genuine pleasure and profit. Hobbes and the Law of Nature is a work of great intellectual power by a scholar of enormous breadth and depth. Zagorin rescues Hobbes from misguided and hostile interpreters, and his book will certainly elicit some strong, even angry feelings. This will be all to the good."--Richard Flathman, professor emeritus, Johns Hopkins University

"Hobbes and the Law of Nature is a significant contribution. Zagorin brings almost the entire Hobbesian corpus to bear, as well as a great deal of the scholarly literature on Hobbes of the past several decades. He also deploys his considerable knowledge of the seventeenth-century context of Hobbes's thinking. The result is that he helps us see Hobbes's thought much more clearly."--Michael P. Zuckert, University of Notre Dame

Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Abbreviations xi

Chapter 1: S ome Basic Hobbesian Concepts 1
The Law of Nature 5
Hobbes's Critique of the Natural Law Tradition 11
Natural Rights 20

Chapter 2: Enter the Law of Nature 30
Human Nature 32
The State of Nature or Man's Natural Condition 36
The Precepts of the Law of Nature 42
Natural Rights and the Creation of the Commonwealth 54
Consent, Fear, Obligation, and Populism 60

Chapter 3: The Sovereign and the Law of Nature 66
The Theory of Sovereignty 66
The Liberty of Subjects 75
Hobbes's Very Moral Sovereign 84

Chapter 4: Hobbes, the Moral Philosopher 99
Self and Others 99
Obligation 106
Is and Ought 112
Religion and Toleration 117

Conclusion 127
Notes 129
Index 171

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Perez Zagorin:

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