Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dennis Klimchuk


This dissertation explores the idea of civil interests, and considers how civil interests constrain the legitimate exercise of political authority. John Locke presents the concept of civil interests in A Letter Concerning Toleration as the legitimate object of political authority’s concern. First, I identify the idea of civil interests and its relationship with the social contract in Locke’s Letter. I argue for the prominence of Locke’s contractarian line of argument in his case for toleration. Second, I trace the idea of civil interests through the historical social contract arguments of Locke’s Second Treatise, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Immanuel Kant’s major political works. I demonstrate the utility of analyzing the social contract in light of the idea of civil interests by clarifying puzzling features of each theory, specifically Hobbes’ conflicting remarks on religious liberty, and Kant’s elusive notion of possible consent. Third, I abstract the social contract argument for identifying persons’ civil interests from its historical expression to argue that persons’ civil interests, consist of their lives and liberty. I additionally justify my appeal to the social contract, and specify its details for the purpose of my argument. Finally, I apply the social contract argument centred on the concept of civil interests to argue against legal moralism as theory of criminalization and criminal law. I argue that instrumental legal moralism is conceptually untenable, and non-instrumental legal moralism provides an illegitimate justification for criminalization and the criminal law.