Suppose we enter a social contract to bring about some power

Social contract arguments typically are that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order

And we permit certain acts from it, but there is a higher power: must I also permit it from that?

the sovereign is the final arbiter on all matters ethical, religious, and political. One of the “diseases of a commonwealth,” Hobbes says, is the opinion that “every private man is Judge of Good and Evil actions” (L 365). In the state of nature, as we have seen, individuals possess the natural right to determine what is good for themselves, i.e., what is necessary for their own conservation. As long as individuals make such determinations, Hobbes believes, there will be a state of war.

I think Hobbes is suggesting we allow anything of the sovereign: that's what is meant by the sovereigns's "absolute power" (indeed, there is usually said to be no right to overthrow it). In which case the question is a nonsense.

But maybe there is some watered down and post Hobbesian version of his social contract where we grant only some rights, but always and only to the greatest power.


1 Answer 1


According to Susanne Sreedhar, we are need not "obey" the sovereign: if it does not limit its power. So I need not be expected to submit to e.g. my punishment, but only because it makes no difference if I do.

So I have the right to disobey the absolute authority of the sovereign. But I think that, given only the sovereign is permitted to punish etc., no-one else may do those things I am permitted to refuse the sovereign. In which case no, what I refuse of the sovereign I cannot permit of others, if only because my disobedience is quite limited.

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