Hobbes

Hobbes

[hobz]
Hobbes, Thomas, 1588-1679, English philosopher, grad. Magdalen College, Oxford, 1608. For many years a tutor in the Cavendish family, Hobbes took great interest in mathematics, physics, and the contemporary rationalism. On journeys to the Continent he established friendly relations with many learned men, including Galileo and Gassendi. In 1640, after his political writings had brought him into disfavor with the parliamentarians, he went to France (where he was tutor to the exiled Prince Charles). His work, however, aroused the antagonism of the English group in France, and his thorough materialism offended the churchmen, so that in 1651 he felt impelled to return to England, where he was able to live peacefully. Among his important works, which appeared in several revisions under different titles (see Sir W. Molesworth's edition of the complete works, 11 vol., 1839-45), are De Cive (1642), Leviathan (1651), De Corpore Politico (1650), De Homine (1658), and Behemoth (1680). In the Leviathan, Hobbes developed his political philosophy. He argued from a mechanistic view that life is simply the motions of the organism and that man is by nature a selfishly individualistic animal at constant war with all other men. In a state of nature, men are equal in their self-seeking and live out lives which are "nasty, brutish, and short." Fear of violent death is the principal motive which causes men to create a state by contracting to surrender their natural rights and to submit to the absolute authority of a sovereign. Although the power of the sovereign derived originally from the people—a challenge to the doctrine of the divine right of kings—the sovereign's power is absolute and not subject to the law. Temporal power is also always superior to ecclesiastical power. Though Hobbes favored a monarchy as the most efficient form of sovereignty, his theory could apply equally well to king or parliament. His political philosophy led to investigations by other political theorists, e.g., Locke, Spinoza, and Rousseau, who formulated their own radically different theories of the social contract.

See biographies by J. L. Stephen (1934, repr. 1968), C. H. Hinnant (1977), and T. Surrell (1986); studies by T. A. Sprague, Jr. (1973), J. W. N. Watkins (rev. ed. 1973), W. Von Leyden (1982), J. Hampton (1988), and Q. Skinner (1996, 2002, and 2008).

Thomas Hobbes, detail of an oil painting by John Michael Wright; in the National Portrait Gallery, elipsis

(born April 5, 1588, Westport, Wiltshire, Eng.—died Dec. 4, 1679, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire) English philosopher and political theorist. The son of a vicar who abandoned his family, Hobbes was raised by his uncle. After graduating from the University of Oxford he became a tutor and traveled with his pupil in Europe, where he engaged Galileo in philosophical discussions on the nature of motion. He later turned to political theory, but his support for absolutism put him at odds with the rising antiroyalist sentiment of the time. He fled to Paris in 1640, where he tutored the future King Charles II of England. In Paris he wrote his best-known work, Leviathan (1651), in which he attempted to justify the absolute power of the sovereign on the basis of a hypothetical social contract in which individuals seek to protect themselves from one another by agreeing to obey the sovereign in all matters. Hobbes returned to Britain in 1651 after the death of Charles I. In 1666 Parliament threatened to investigate him as an atheist. His works are considered important statements of the nascent ideas of liberalism as well as of the longstanding assumptions of absolutism characteristic of the times.

Learn more about Hobbes, Thomas with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Thomas Hobbes, detail of an oil painting by John Michael Wright; in the National Portrait Gallery, elipsis

(born April 5, 1588, Westport, Wiltshire, Eng.—died Dec. 4, 1679, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire) English philosopher and political theorist. The son of a vicar who abandoned his family, Hobbes was raised by his uncle. After graduating from the University of Oxford he became a tutor and traveled with his pupil in Europe, where he engaged Galileo in philosophical discussions on the nature of motion. He later turned to political theory, but his support for absolutism put him at odds with the rising antiroyalist sentiment of the time. He fled to Paris in 1640, where he tutored the future King Charles II of England. In Paris he wrote his best-known work, Leviathan (1651), in which he attempted to justify the absolute power of the sovereign on the basis of a hypothetical social contract in which individuals seek to protect themselves from one another by agreeing to obey the sovereign in all matters. Hobbes returned to Britain in 1651 after the death of Charles I. In 1666 Parliament threatened to investigate him as an atheist. His works are considered important statements of the nascent ideas of liberalism as well as of the longstanding assumptions of absolutism characteristic of the times.

Learn more about Hobbes, Thomas with a free trial on Britannica.com.

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