Hobbes and Religious Freedom

  • Nicholas Jolley University of California, USA, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
Keywords: absolute state, authorization, belief, conscience, Independency, minimal creed, private judgment, sovereignty, worship


This paper seeks to examine Hobbes’s credentials as a defender of religious freedom along three dimensions. The first section analyzes what might be called Hobbes’s core position on freedom of conscience and worship; it is shown how, by means of a characteristically reductionist strategy, he seeks to persuade the reader that the absolute state allows room for freedom of conscience and worship in all ways that they have reason to care about. The second section turns to Hobbes’s praise of Independency and addresses the issue whether it is consistent with his core position; it is argued that though it supplements this position it does not represent a fundamental departure from it. The final section takes up the perennially fascinating issue of the relationship between Locke’s mature defence of religious toleration and the teachings of his great precursor in the social contract tradition. Without seeking to minimize the differences I argue that Locke is able to adapt Hobbesian themes to his own distinctive purposes.


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