Sociology Index

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory. In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, jurisprudence, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, and ethics, as well as philosophy in general. His main concern is the problem of social and political order: how human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict.

Thomas Hobbes visited Galileo Galilei in Florence while he was under house arrest upon condemnation, in 1636, and was later a regular debater in philosophic groups in Paris, held together by Marin Mersenne. When in November 1640 the Long Parliament succeeded the Short, Hobbes felt that he was in disfavour due to the circulation of his treatise and fled to Paris. He rejoined the coterie around Mersenne when he returned, and wrote a critique of the Meditations on First Philosophy of Rene Descartes, which was printed as third among the sets of "Objections" appended, with "Replies" from Descartes, in 1641.

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, referred to as Leviathan was published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes' work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory. Written during the English Civil War (1642–1651), it argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that civil war and the brute situation of a state of nature, "the war of all against all" could be avoided only by strong, undivided government.

Thomas Hobbes presents an image of man as matter in motion, attempting to show through example how everything about humanity can be explained materialistically without recourse to an incorporeal, immaterial soul or a faculty for understanding ideas that are external to the human mind. Thomas Hobbes defines terms clearly and unsentimentally.

Thomas Hobbes believed that Good and evil are nothing more than terms used to denote an individual's appetites and desires, while these appetites and desires are nothing more than the tendency to move toward or away from an object. Hope, according to Thomas Hobbes is nothing more than an appetite for a thing combined with an opinion that it can be had. Thomas Hobbes suggests that the dominant political theology of the time, Scholasticism, thrives on confused definitions of everyday words, such as incorporeal substance, which for Hobbes is a contradiction in terms.

Thomas Hobbes describes human psychology without any reference to the summum bonum, or greatest good, as previous thought had done. Not only is the concept of a summum bonum superfluous, but given the variability of human desires, there could be no such thing. Any political community that sought to provide the greatest good to its members would find itself driven by competing conceptions of that good with no way to decide among them. The result would be civil war.

Thomas Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best-known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state humankind would be in, were it not for political community: "In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."