Morality as Reciprocity

  • George Shelton


Hobbes’s political theory has a tendency to swallow up his ethical theory in the works of most commentators. However, he does distinguish between them although not as clearly as would have been desirable. In Leviathan, morality is discussed in Part One, ‘Of Man’; in De Cive, in Part One, entitled ‘Liberty’; and in The Elements of Law in Part One, which was first published separately under the title of Human Nature. Political theory proper is to be found in the next section in each book, entitled respectively, ‘Of Commonwealth’, ‘Dominion’ and ‘De Corpore Politico’. The reason I emphasize this is the little noted fact that Hobbes gives two versions of the social contract, one in each part of all three books. I have chosen to interpret this as meaning that it was his intention to found morality as well as the commonwealth on a social contract. He does not succeed in making this distinction clear, I believe, because it is difficult to think of them as separate, particularly if one’s original interest is political. He has been accused of not differentiating between the state and society but I believe that this was what was in his mind when he provided two versions of the contract. The wording he gives for the first contract is applicable to a community of any size, from the family on up. He tends to think in terms of the large states, the stability of which he was trying to defend but his ideas apply to social entities of all types.


Social Contract Moral Obligation Ethical Theory Golden Rule Negative Form 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Thomas Nagel, ‘Hobbes’s Concept of Obligation,’ Phil Rev., LXVIII, 1959, p. 69.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, app., ‘Maxims for Revolutionists’ in Collected Works of Bernard Shaw X, 217 (New York, 1930), p. 217.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Alan Gewirth, ‘The Golden Rule Rationalized,’ Midwest Studies in Philosophy, III (1978), p. 134.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Brian Barry, A Treatise on Social Justice, Volume I, Theories of Justice (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989), p. 334.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© George Shelton 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Shelton

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations