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Hobbes on Politics and Religion$
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Laurens van Apeldoorn and Robin Douglass

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198803409

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198803409.001.0001

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Hobbes on the Duty Not to Act on Conscience

Hobbes on the Duty Not to Act on Conscience

Chapter:
(p.256) 15 Hobbes on the Duty Not to Act on Conscience
Source:
Hobbes on Politics and Religion
Author(s):

S. A. Lloyd

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198803409.003.0016

Hobbes argued that when subjects conscientiously judge that they should disobey a civil law or sovereign command, they morally ought not to act on their conscience. They should instead obey their sovereign’s command, even though they think the commanded action is wrong or sinful. This is a striking position, which seems to imply a principle repudiated at Nuremberg. This chapter discusses how Hobbes arrives at this suspect principle, and its importance to his larger political project. It offers a limited defence of Hobbes’s principle. The chapter considers whether Hobbes’s argument for the duty not to act on conscience relies on ineliminable theological premises. If so, then considering the centrality of that argument to his political theory, we would be left with the surprising result that Hobbes’s political theory will not be defensible on purely secular assumptions.

Keywords:   conscience, responsibility, morality, sin, duty, hierarchy of responsibility, transcendent interests, Nuremberg defence

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