Hobbes and Possessive Agency

There is an intimate connection between Hobbes’ views on property and Hobbes’ moral philosophy (LV 18.10). Hobbes is explicit that there cannot be any morality in the state of nature because there is no property: no mine or yours (LV 13.13-14; 18.10; 21.8). I’ve been thinking about the ways in which Hobbes could avoid saying that liberty is sufficient for moral agency and, in light of Russell’s reading of Hobbes, how issues concerning moral agency, the contract and, now, property are related. For Hobbes, the social contract involves each individual submitting their wills to the sovereign: in particular, this submission needs to be of a particular kind. It must authorize the actions of the sovereign. How? For Hobbes, this involves a particular kind of proprietary relationship: individuals need to own the actions of the sovereign. They need to be, in other words, authors of the sovereign’s actions (See Ch.16 and 17.13).  The ownership, or property, of actions (or words) Hobbes calls authorship (16.4). Natural persons, according to Hobbes, are those that own their own actions (or words) (16.1). Thus, persons are authors of their own actions. I will call this view possessive agency. Natural persons are possessive agents.

Consider, then, what Hobbes argues with respect to inanimate objects and non-rational creatures like children and madmen. First, Hobbes notes that inanimate objects cannot be authors and, therefore, cannot authorize the actions of their representatives (16.9). In the Latin edition, Hobbes writes that inanimate objects are not persons (16.9, fn.5). Since a person is that which is said to own her own actions or words,  I think Hobbes is committed to the following: inanimate objects are not authors in general: they cannot own their actions (or words). It follows that they cannot own the actions (or words) or another and, so, they cannot authorize the actions of their representatives. They are not possessive agents, therefore they cannot authorize the actions of a sovereign.

Likewise, Hobbes continues, children or madmen cannot authorize the actions of the sovereign, at least during the time in which they are not reasonable (16.10). Should I be right about how Hobbes argues his point, then it seems Hobbes is equally committed to the view that children and madmen, during their `folly’, are not authors in general. They cannot, thereby, authorize the actions of their representatives. They are not possessive agents, so they cannot contract with the sovereign.

If one is a moral agent only in in so far as one has contracted with a sovereign and entered a commonwealth, then it follows that possessive agency is at least a necessary condition for moral agency. That is, Hobbes may be committed to the view that only those who are considered authors of their own actions could be moral agents. Since animals, children, madmen, etc., are not possessive agents, they are incapable of authorizing a sovereign’s actions and thereby incapable of being moral subjects.

If Voluntary Contractual Acts Make us Moral Agents, who is a Moral Agent?

We’ve discussed Russell’s reading of Hobbes, and that Hobbes rejects the liberty assumption. Liberty, for Hobbes, is not sufficient to demarcate moral from non-moral agents. What is sufficient? Russell argued that those who perform a particular free act (a contractual speech act) are moral agents. In short, subjects of a commonwealth, for Hobbes, are moral agents.

I have been wondering about this particular contractual speech act. If this is the type of act that is necessary for moral agency, then it seems we can exclude children and animals. This is good. However, by Hobbes’ own lights, the act need not be linguistic (LV 21.10). We could indicate our consent tacitly. Our submission (to the sovereign) need only indicate (even tacitly) that what we intend, in so submitting, is our protection. One could argue that even this act may involve abstract reasoning (thanks to Julia for this point), and our capacity for abstract reasoning is ultimately grounded in our capacity for language. This has me thinking what degree of reason (and Hobbes does think reasonableness is gradable (LV, 5.18)) is actually necessary in order to appropriately consent and be a subject of a commonwealth (be it by institution or by acquisition). In light of this, I have come across some troubling passages:

And the most part of men, though they have the use of reasoning a little way, as in numbering to some degree, yet it serves them to little use in common life, in which they govern themselves, some better, some worse, according to their differences in experience, quickness of memory, and inclination to several ends, but specially according to good or evil fortune, and the errors of one another (LV, 5.18).

Hobbes here suggests that the majority of people, while they have some minimal degree of reason, hardly use it or do not use it at all. This might suggest, then, that the kind of reasoning one would need in order to tacitly consent is quite minimal. If we are too stringent with the demands of consent (or as Hobbes usually puts it, `submission’), then it would follow that the majority of people are not actually subjects of the commonwealth and, thereby, not moral agents. This seems implausible. Yet, consider what Hobbes says in De Cive:

Infants and the uninstructed are ignorant of their [civil society’s] Force, and those who do not know what would be lost by the absence of Society are unaware of their usefulness. Hence the former cannot enter Society because they do not know what it is, and the latter do not care to because they do not know the good it does. It is evident, therefore that all men (since all men are born infants) are born unfit for society; and very many (perhaps the majority) remain so throughout their lives, because of mental illness or lack of training [disciplina]. Yet as infants and as adults they do have human nature. Therefore, man is made fit for Society not by nature, but by training (De Cive, 1.2).

It seems we should take seriously the contention that Hobbes may have excluded most everyone from being proper subjects of civil society. If this is true, then Russell’s reading of Hobbes will not do, since it would turn out that the majority of people, being unfit for civil society, do not turn out to be moral agents. In other words, Hobbes’ conception of moral agency and responsibility would be quite poor even if he does not endorse the liberty assumption. I am largely operating on the assumption that Hobbes does not hold this view in the Leviathan, but I thought others might be interested in this point so I raise the issue here.


Hobbes on (odd) Obligations

Hobbes says some confusing things about obligations in the Leviathan.  His official position is that obligations only come about through an individual’s own actions—one must renounce or transfer a right (i.e. enter a contract).  However, he talks of obligations that don’t seem to fit this “official” account.  For instance, he talks about obligations to obey the laws of nature, even though these laws range over individuals prior to entering any contracts.  Even more strangely, he says that infants are obliged to obey their mothers because they are completely dependent on the mother to stay alive (xx.5).  Let’s call this latter type of obligation a “dependence-obligation”: an obligation that is grounded in the agent’s dependence on another being.

Given some descriptions that Hobbes gives of God’s power, it seems plausible to understand our obligation to obey the laws of nature as dependence-obligations.  For instance, consider:

The right of nature whereby God reigneth over men and punisheth those that break his laws is to be derived, not from his creating them, as if he required obedience as of gratitude for his benefits, but from his irresistible power… To those therefore whose power is irresistible, the dominion of all men adhereth naturally by their excellence of power; and consequently it is from that power that the kingdom over men…belongeth naturally to God Almighty, not as Creator and gracious, but as omnipotent. (xxxi.5)

It looks like we are absolutely dependent on God, and (drawing out the parallel with the infant/mother) are thus obliged to obey him.  He is also the source of the laws of nature, so we are obliged to obey the laws of nature.  In this way, these two odd uses of “obligation” seem plausibly reduced to just one: dependence-obligations.  However, this leads to some questions.

First, is what kind of obligation are these?  The two most obvious choices are either rational or moral (is there a plausible third option?).  It seems problematic to call them rational obligations, because Hobbes seems to say that the laws of nature are merely rational unless they are commands of God.  “These dictates of reason men used to call by the name of laws, but improperly… But yet if we consider the same theorems as delivered in the word of God that by right commandeth all things, then they are properly called laws” (xv.14).  Given that, on the present interpretation, the laws of nature are obligatory because commanded by God, it seems that this passage means that they must be understood as moral.  (Yes, it’s absurd that infants have moral obligations to obey their mothers, but it’s just as weird to say that they have rational obligations, or obligations of any other kind.  That’s going to be a problem for any interpretation, given that Hobbes explicitly says that infants have obligations.)

However, this is problematic, as we then have moral obligations that are independent of contracts.  This will cause problems for Hobbes’s account of freedom.  Russell (2011) convincingly argues that Hobbes is able to evade two objections to his mechanistic account of freedom by appealing to a contractualist account of moral responsibility.  For instance, Hobbes is happy to grant animals and children the same amount of freedom as ordinary adults.  This raises the objection that he will be unable to distinguish between moral and non-moral agents, such as animals.  Russell argues, however, that this is not a problem for Hobbes, because the distinction between moral and non-moral agents is not based on liberty, but on contracts.  Agents become moral agents through giving up some of their rights—because animals do not enter contracts, they are not moral agents (Russell 2011: 435-436).  If our dependence on God grounds a moral obligation to obey him, though, independent of any contract, then this response may be unavailable.  Animals are just as wholly dependent on God as ordinary adult humans, and equally free according to Hobbes, but surely they are not thereby moral agents.

In response to this objection, perhaps Hobbes could say that dependence-obligations and contractual-obligations are both distinctly moral obligations, but they are not the same.  Moral agency depends on the agent entering into a contract, and dependence-obligations are distinctly moral, but not sufficient for being a moral agent.

This response strikes me as initially implausible given the intuitions that one can only have a moral obligation if one is morally responsible, and only moral agents are morally responsible.  If this is right, then any being with a moral obligation must also be a moral agent.  Thus, if infants have moral obligations to their mothers, then they are moral agents (outside of a contract).

However, I wonder if Hobbes can plausibly deny that having moral obligations entails being a moral agent.  Could he say that the moral content of dependence-obligations comes from the type of character-appraisals that they make appropriate?  For instance, an infant may act ungrateful to its caregiver, or we may be irreverent towards God—these are moral appraisals that seem appropriate given a dependence relationship.  Nonetheless, these appraisals would seem out of place in the context of the state of nature outside of a dependence relationship.  It would be unfitting for someone to say that another independent person in the state of nature acted ungrateful or irreverent towards her, given the context (namely, war).  However, one need not be a moral agent in a robust sense in order to be appropriately assessed as ungrateful or irreverent, so these moral appraisals do not require that the agents be moral agents—thus they do not undermine the cogency of Russell’s response on behalf of Hobbes to libertarian objectors.  Contractual agreements ground moral obligations of one sort, dependence relations ground moral obligations of another.  Only contractual obligations ground moral agency.

Does this response seem plausible to anyone (else)?  And/Or am I missing an obvious way of driving a wedge between moral obligations and moral agency that is open to Hobbes?

Russell and how effective Bramhall’s Dual-Law Objection is against Hobbes

Russell argues that Bramhall’s dual-law objection is especially effective against Hobbes, in particular, because Hobbes made it clear in the Leviathan that no society could survive should there be two sovereigns making divergent laws. If there were, where any person is subject to inconsistent commands from two disparate legal systems, then only chaos and anarchy could follow (Russell, p. 431). In other words, Hobbes, by his own lights, ought to feel the sting of this objection. Russell cites evidence from the Leviathan: 18.16, 19.3, 20.4, 26.41, 29.8, 29.15, 39.5, 43.1.

However, the textual evidence does not obviously sustain Russell’s point (at least not in the way he presents it). These passages in the Leviathan seem to make two different claims: (1) that the power of the sovereign is, in principle, indivisible (passages 18.16, 19.3 and 20.4). This is independent of whether commands issued by disparate legal systems are inconsistent or not. (2) That the chaos and anarchy of civil war is often caused by the inconsistent commands of the sovereign (or one’s father) on the one hand, and God’s commands on the other. On the latter point, Hobbes is clear about which is obligating and which is not. In any case, I wish to ignore (2) for the moment both to control the length of this post and because I think that Russell is correct with respect to inconsistent commands issued from civil and divine sources: they lead to chaos and anarchy according to Hobbes. With (2), the focus really is on the inconsistency of those laws.

I take it that the sting of Bramhall’s objection turns on the fact that the commands issued from disparate systems (in Bramhall’s case from physical laws and moral laws) are inconsistent. I want to suggest, however, that the issues Hobbes has against two disparate sovereigns (excluding the divine case) don’t turn on whether the commands are inconsistent. Rather, the issue is much more general: in principle, we cannot be subject to the commands of two sovereigns, regardless of whether those commands are consistent or not. In fact, in passages 18.16, 19.3 and 20.4, Hobbes never mentions the issue of inconsistency.

In 18.16, as I read it, Hobbes argues that the rights of the sovereign are indivisible, for if they were then the purpose of those rights (i.e. the conservation of peace and justice) could not be served. The judiciary is not effective without the militia (or military/forces of the commonwealth), etc. This ineffectiveness, however, does not imply the stronger claim: that under such a system, where the rights of the sovereign are divided among the judiciary, executive and judicial branches, we have an inconsistent set of laws. The latter need not obtain for Hobbes to think that no kingdom could have two sovereigns. The crucial claim is not that we are subject to an inconsistent set of laws but, rather, that the power enforcing those laws, peace and ensuring security is divided. The latter could be so even if the all laws are consistent.

The same is repeated in 19.3: the issue is not about contradicting laws but, rather, with the divisibility of power (something which cannot be so divided, Hobbes thinks). Again, in 20.4, Hobbes suggests that there cannot be two sovereigns, and so a child cannot be subject equally to the dominion of both parents, but only one (although Hobbes does not think that this dominion need necessarily be paternal). Hobbes here says nothing about conflicting laws/commands, etc.

As such, at least with respect to these passages, it is not clear that, by Hobbes’ own lights, he should be concerned with Bramhall’s objection. The issues Hobbes is dealing with here concern whether in principle there could even exist two sovereigns (and Hobbes thinks not) rather than the fact that the laws issued by each sovereign are inconsistent. The latter is the heart of Bramhall’s objection, but it does not seem to be Hobbes’ central concern in the three passages discussed.

Hobbes and the Liberty Assumption

It still seems to me that there is something fishy about the pairing of Hobbes’ account of moral responsibility and freedom.  Russell argues that Hobbes evades what we called the “Liberty Assumption: the distinction between moral and non-moral agents rests on liberty” (Handout 1/29).  Hobbes denies that liberty is sufficient for being morally responsible; rather, “an agent becomes a moral agent… if and only if he can and does freely renounce his natural right to all things” (Russell 437).  So liberty is still a necessary condition of being morally responsible, because only free individuals can “freely” renounce their natural rights.  It is just that liberty is insufficient, because an agent that retains all of her natural rights is not subject to moral evaluation (I am setting aside the “eternal moral law,” which doesn’t seem to include room for robust moral evaluation anyway).  Given this, it seems that we get the following taxonomy:

1) Agents: beings that are capable of voluntary action, i.e. free (in the narrow sense) beings.

2) Moral Agents: agents that have freely renounced their natural right to all things.

So examples of agents are ordinary adults, animals and children, but not rivers.  Moral agents, on the other hand, include most normal adults, but not children and probably no animals.  But Hobbes presumably wants to deny that animals are even potential moral agents, so not all agents are potential moral agents.  As such, it seems that there must be a third category as well:

3) Potential Moral Agents: beings that are capable of freely renouncing their natural right to all things.

It now looks like Hobbes’ rejection of the Liberty Assumption is not advantageous, because it leads to a difficulty parallel to the difficulty of Compatibilists.  Compatibilists’ difficulty is “to distinguish moral from non-moral agents” (Handout 1/29), whereas Hobbes’ difficulty is to distinguish agents from potential moral agents.  Whatever feature Hobbes could use to make his distinction would likely work just as well for the ordinary compatibilist.

For instance, perhaps Hobbes would say that ordinary adults are potential moral agents but dogs are not, because adults but not dogs are capable of communicating the renunciation of their natural rights.  This seems like weak grounding for such a distinction, but perhaps Hobbes could defend it as the relevant characteristic.  Isn’t it open, though, for the compatibilist to take whatever defense Hobbes offers and apply it to her own difficulty?  If communicative ability is sufficient for the distinction between agents and potential moral agents, what would make it insufficient for the distinction between moral and non-moral agents?

While the distinction that Hobbes must make is probably less important for our moral practices than the distinction with which compatibilists must wrestle, I’m not sure that that makes the problem any less significant for his overall theory.  So in the end, I’m not sure Hobbes has made much progress.  Is there some option for Hobbes that is closed off for the compatibilist, such that he retains the apparent advantage?

Avoiding the Dual-Law Objection

Russell argues that Hobbes can respond to the dual-law objection by noting that desert and punishment only apply to agents that voluntarily consent to enter into a social contract that subjects them to the judgements of the sovereign (437–8). Since the civil law only applies to agents who have voluntarily consented to be bound by such law it cannot be unjustly applied to anyone, much less unjustly applied to an agent whose actions are determined. Either the law applies because the agent voluntarily consented to the civil law or it doesn’t apply because they did not consent. In former case all applications are just and in the latter there are no unjust applications because there are no applications.

Part of what is doing the work here is that the voluntary consent makes an agent a moral agent (as Russell puts it, a rejection of the “voluntariness claim” (433)) (435). But I wonder if, and to what extent, Hobbes trades on normative notions in the act of ‘voluntarily consenting’? It seems that we have ideas about what parties are obligated to do if there were to voluntarily enter into an agreement even before such an agreement is made. So it seems we have some moral expectations prior to forming agreements. So does defining a “moral agent” as someone who voluntarily consents to be governed by the civil law already build in notions of moral agency? If so, does this undermine Hobbes ability to maneuver around the dual-law objection?

Civil Law vs. Eternal Moral Law

There’s something very odd, at first blush, about the notion of moral agency that Paul Russell attributes to Hobbes in his chapter “The Free Will Problem.” On Hobbes’s account as described by Russell, humans only “become moral agents” when they “perform a distinct kind of act”—specifically, the act of consenting to the laws of a society (443). This claim raises (at least) one obvious question: in what sense, if any, can humans who don’t consent to the laws of a society ever be morally responsible for their acts?

Russell approaches this question by drawing a distinction between civil law (the moral law to which we consent) and eternal moral law. Russell clarifies that the latter is not “strictly ‘law’ until the Commonwealth makes it so” (439). Prior to being declared law by the Commonwealth, the rules of eternal moral law are simply natural facts. They’re a very specific set of natural facts, though; they’re the facts about which actions will (and will not) bring about human well-being. Russell clarifies that it’s perfectly possible for intelligent, non-madman, non-fool adult humans to simply “ignore” the facts about eternal moral law, and to act contrary to it. But, he notes, such people will “suffer the (natural) consequences accordingly”; a wicked sovereign, for instance, “will surely suffer harm nonetheless” (440).

I’d like this spelled out a little more. It seems perfectly possible, on this reading of Hobbes, to have people (like the wicked sovereign, or extra-societal robbers) who:

1)      are not moral agents in the sense of being beholden to civil law

2)      acknowledge, but act in flagrant disregard of, “eternal” moral facts

There certainly seems to be some important difference, when it comes to moral responsibility and punishment, between this sort of person and an animal or a madman. Does Hobbes have the necessary tools to draw the distinction? Perhaps he could retreat to the claim that the mere ability to consent to civil law is sufficient to make a person into a moral agent.  But such a move seems to force a revision of the story that Russell tells about the connection between justified punishment and participation in a society. It’s all well and good to say that Commonwealth A is justified in punishing moral transgressions from Agent B when Agent B is a murderous robber on the outskirts of town. But what about when Agent B is a well-behaved member in Commonwealth B, whose civil laws contradict Commonwealth A’s?  I’d like to hear and discuss more about the most defensible line for Hobbes to take on these matters.

Concerns about the Will

In Section 27 of “Of Liberty and Necessity”, Hobbes states that he conceives “that in all deliberations, that is to say, in all alternate succession of contrary appetites, the last is that which we call the will, and is immediately next before the doing of the action, or next before the doing of it become impossible.”  Since Hobbes has classified the will as an appetite, it makes sense that he believes it comes and goes.  An appetite for food is only occurrent when a person is hungry.  Yet to say that the will is only occurrent when a person is deliberating is rather unsettling, and I am concerned by this notion for three reasons.

My first concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will is that he seems to present an individual as having multiple wills instead of just one.  Suppose that person X is deliberating about making herself lunch.  She thinks about how hungry she is and how making herself lunch would solve that issue.  She then considers the fact that making herself lunch takes some effort (she would have to get off the couch, and she is feeling particularly lazy).  Ultimately, her hunger wins out and she decides to head into the kitchen to make herself lunch.  Hobbes would argue that person X had the will to make lunch since “making lunch” was the appetite she decided to act upon.  Later that same day, person X is engaged in a new deliberation.  This time she is deliberating going for a walk or going for a bike ride.  She weighs her options and decides to take a walk.  In this instance, Hobbes would claim that person X had the will to go for a walk.  The will to make lunch and the will to take a walk are completely distinct, and a person will have as many wills as they have results of deliberation.  This picture of the will is a drastic reduction from the more standard view of the will as the faculty that determines an individual’s course of action.  It may be the case that this is only unsettling because I am used to discussing the will in the more standard way, but it seems wrong to talk about a person having multiple wills.  We typically think of the will of the individual propelling them to do X or Y instead of “will X endorsed action X” and “will Y endorsed action Y.”  I think I have trouble with the latter picture because I associate the will as a part of a person’s character, and separating the will into multiple smaller wills seems to completely change that idea.  Instead of talking about a person’s strength of will, you would have to discuss each individual will in part which allows you to look at pieces as distinct entities instead of a whole.

My second concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will is that claiming that the will is the result of a deliberation implies that a person is devoid of a will when he or she is not deliberating.  The standard view of the will is that it is the faculty that chooses a course of action and, as a faculty, the will sits idly by when not actively choosing a course of action, but it does not fade away.  Does a person sitting on the couch inactive have a will?  Do I have a will while I am asleep?  Hobbes seems to think that the answer here is “no.”  I am honestly not sure if I have a problem with this idea.  Again, the notion is unsettling, but it might only be unsettling because it is not the standard view I am used to hearing.

My third concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will considers the person who decides not to act.  If the will is the appetite that happens right before an action is taken or right before an action becomes impossible, is there a will if the person decides not to act?  Let us look again to person X as she deliberates whether or not to make lunch.  Let us suppose that this time she decides that getting off the couch is an arduous task and she would rather be a bit hungry.  This time, person X has decided NOT to make lunch.  She chooses not to act.  Did she have a will not to act?  Do we want to say that she choose the action “staying on the couch”?  That does not seem to be what she was deliberating, however.  The initial prompt did not have her debating between “stay on couch” and “make lunch.”  She was debating between “make lunch” and “not make lunch.”  The fact that “not make lunch” entails “stay on couch” does not make the two the same.  To make the point more easily understood, let us have person X choosing whether to phi or not phi.  Let us suppose that “not phi” is not an action at all (it is simply not partaking in the action phi).  If the deliberating person decides “not phi,” do we say that this person has a will?  Hobbes claims the will is the appetite immediately before the doing of the action.  Since there is no action, there is no decision that occurs immediately before the doing of the action.  Hobbes also states that the will can be that which occurs right before the doing of the action becomes impossible.  Let us suppose that doing phi is not impossible, but rather the deliberator simply decided not to engage in phi.  In this scenario, we cannot say that the decision happened before the action became impossible.  It seems that Hobbes would have to say that “not doing phi” is an action, and it is the action of “not partaking in phi,” but this does not seem to be exactly the same picture he presented when he claimed that the will is that which “is immediately next before the doing of the action.”  Is it?

Animate Objects

In Chappell’s introduction to Hobbes and Bramhall on Liberty and Necessity, Chappell seems to point to a distinction between two possible kinds of beings for Hobbes when briefly discussing Hobbes’ definition of liberty, or freedom. Hobbes, Chappell tells us, defines liberty as: “the absence of all the impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinsical quality of the agent.” (Treatise §29) Moreover, Chappell points us to the fact that Hobbes recognizes that “inanimate” objects, such as water flowing down a river, exhibit this type of freedom. However, Chappell further tells us that in Hobbes’ characterization of “animate creatures–those which have appetites and thus are voluntary agents-Hobbes includes a reference to their wills, that is, to their acts of willing”. (Chappell xviii) Chappell’s discussion prompted two questions for me: (1) is the distinction between an “inanimate” and an “animate” creature really intelligible within Hobbes’ metaphysical framework, that is, given Hobbes’ materialist commitments and rejection of the possibility of a self-determined “agent”? And (2) how does Hobbes delineate or individuate agents themselves, especially in a way such that some agents are capable of “voluntary acts” and others are not?


With respect to (1), it seems that all beings in Hobbes’ ontology could be understood as “inanimate” given that each being is moved to undergo change, whether it be water flowing down a stream, or a man performing some action, only if it is moved by “some other immediate agent without itself” (§30). Moreover, to me at least, it seems that referencing the wills of “animate creatures” isn’t very satisfying given that these wills are nothing more than sensitive appetites for Hobbes, comparable to feelings like hunger.  Is there an intelligible difference, according to Hobbes, between being moved to eat bread because one is hungry and water flowing down a river because of gravity, that is, if we don’t count the man moved to eat as self-determined? Are both the body of water and the man “inanimate” beings on Hobbes account?  If not, why not? But, perhaps Chappell’s characterization of “inanimate”/”animate” objects  is not meant to be taken too seriously. This leads me to consider (2). What stops us from saying that the water flowing, like the man who eats, “acts voluntarily”? Perhaps I just need a more fine-tuned understanding of how human motivation works for Hobbes.

Freedom with Voluntarism?

I am wondering if others had thoughts on the importance of the success of Hobbes’ defense of compatibilist freedom, given his other commitments.  It seems to me that because of his moral voluntarism it makes little difference, at least with respect to moral responsibility, whether we are free in any sense.  If “[God’s] doing a thing makes it just and consequently no sin” (“Treatise ‘Of Liberty and Necessity’” 23), then it seems that the preconditions of moral responsibility are up in the air as much as anything.  If “there is no independent standard of right apart from the lawmaker’s will” (“Introduction” xiii), then God (or the sovereign) is not unjust for punishing an action whatever its psychological source: simply in virtue of it being God doing the punishing, the punishment is just.  As such, does it really matter if Hobbes is successful in grounding any kind of freedom?

I’m not sure what Hobbes would say here, because he does seem to believe that there are some necessary preconditions in order to make punishment just: otherwise, there seems to be no reason to distinguish forced actions as non-voluntary compared to actions that are compelled, but remain voluntary.  Are we to understand the distinction here as one that is relevant only given God’s will, i.e. that God arbitrarily chose that forced actions are ones for which we cannot be held responsible?  This doesn’t seem to fit well with the tenor of Hobbes’ argument, as he provides reasons for including one and excluding the other (“Treatise ‘Of Liberty and Necessity’” 30-31).  As such, it seems that he believes that there is a deeper ground for it being unjust to punish an individual for the forced movements of their body than merely ‘it turns out that’s how God does things.’  Is there a tension here in Hobbes’ thought, or am I missing a way to make sense of his project in a way such that it can be integrated with his ethical and political theorizing (as briefly and “baldly” presented in Chappell’s introduction, page xiii)?