Modern times: Law, temporality and happiness in Hobbes, Locke and Bentham

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Abstract

This Article shows how three modern English thinkers - Hobbes, Locke and Bentham - construe the law as an intersection of secular eternity on the one one hand and transience in modernity on the other, allowing for immovability and movement at the same time, combining stability with change. It details how these theorists, who undoubtedly have earned themselves places of honor in the canon of modern political thought, tried to solve the problem of self-grounding in three different and yet paradigmatically modern ways, each of them intertwining law and time in a different fashion, and each of them connecting both law and temporality to happiness. Thus this Article shows not only that these three British thinkers claim in one way or another that while natural desires may provide pleasure, only the law can bring happiness, but also emphasizes that, in their view, the transformation of the former into the latter entails a transformation of temporal consciousness. Thereby this Article foregrounds two elements that are crucial to an understanding of how seventeenth and eighteenth century British thinkers envisaged the transformation of pleasure into happiness by means of the law: first, the notion that the law creates or reinforces duration in social life, and second, the idea that the law can harness the immediacy of desires by assuring the legal protection of enduring pleasures, which lead to happiness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-310
Number of pages34
JournalTheoretical inquiries in law
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2006

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