Daniel Philpott

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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  • History of Western Philosophy
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Sovereignty has borne too many conflicting meanings over the centuries. Nevertheless, there arguably exists a definition of sovereignty that is flexible enough to accommodate much of the concept's historical diversity yet concrete enough to be meaningful: supreme authority within a territory. Authority—“the right to command and correlatively, the right to be obeyed,” in Robert Paul Wolff's definition—implies that sovereignty is a matter of right or legitimacy, not one of mere power. But authority alone does not specify sovereignty; plenty of holders of authority exist who do not have sovereignty. Another ingredient is crucial: supremacy. The holder of sovereignty's authority is highest and may not be questioned or opposed. Supremacy was stressed by sovereignty's first modern articulators, sixteenth-century French philosopher Jean Bodin and seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and has been reflected widely by users of the concept ever since. A final ingredient is territoriality. This is the principle that defines the set of people who live under the holder of sovereignty, or the supreme authority.

Keywords: Jean Bodin; Thomas Hobbes; sovereignty; authority; supremacy; territoriality

Article.  5808 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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