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Public Reason and the Hobbesian Dilemma

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Hobbesian accounts of public reason (provided by David Gauthier and Michael Ridge) are forced to face a tension that is presented for any theorist that toes the Hobbesian line. This tension has been referred to as the “Hobbesian Dilemma.” On one horn, we are afraid that we might create a monster with our authorization of an absolute sovereign. On the other horn, we are afraid that if we do not hand over unlimited power to the sovereign (and to its judgment) we will not be freed from the conflict that is endemic to our reliance upon private pluralistic standards. These Hobbesians, stressing the first horn, are afraid of authorizing a supreme political entity, so they provide modifications that serve to restrict such an entity. Such modifications, however, necessarily reintroduce pluralism back into the commonwealth. But if we take Hobbes seriously and accept that pluralism generates a state of war, the reintroduction of pluralism must be viewed as disastrous.


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