Rights and authorization Notes for February 25

Main points

Today’s session was about how rights are used to authorize people to act on our behalf. This is a general phenomenon that Hobbes explains in Chapter 16. It is also an important part of the social contract.

We’ll see how he used authorization next time, when we talk about Hobbes’s reasons for saying that the sovereign cannot treat the subjects unjustly.


In a way, the past two sessions have been about rights. We have isolated at least two ways that Hobbes departs from his official definition of rights as liberties (the absence of obligation). Proprietary rights imply that others have obligations; “rights” in this sense are what we call claim rights. And there are a variety of ways that rights can involve what I called powers.

Today’s session was about powers, the ability to change rights and obligations. I claimed that powers are not the same thing as liberties and that they appear in at least two places in Hobbes.

  1. “Laying rights down”, the general category that includes gifts, contracts, covenants, and justice.
  2. Authorization and appointing “artificial” persons.
This page was written by Michael Green for Social & Political Philosophy, Philosophy 33, Spring 2009. It was posted February 25, 2009.
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