European Journal of Pol Theory

Article: The two faces of personhood

Fleming, Sean. “The two faces of personhood: Hobbes, corporate agency and the personality of the state” In European Journal of Political Theory, 2017/10/30, doi: 10.1177/1474885117731941
Abstract: There is an important but underappreciated ambiguity in Hobbes’ concept of personhood. In one sense, persons are representatives or actors. In the other sense, persons are representees or characters. An estate agent is a person in the first sense; her client is a person in the second. This ambiguity is crucial for understanding Hobbes’ claim that the state is a person. Most scholars follow the first sense of ‘person’, which suggests that the state is a kind of actor – in modern terms, a ‘corporate agent’. I argue that Hobbes’ state is a person only in the second sense: a character rather than an actor. If there are any primitive corporate agents in Hobbes’ political thought, they are representative assemblies, not states or corporations. Contemporary political theorists and philosophers tend to miss what is unique and valuable about Hobbes’ idea of state personality because they project the idea of corporate agency onto it.