Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Agora Dialogue

“The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real.” –The Leviathan

The philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is perhaps the most complete materialist philosophy of the 17th century. Hobbes rejects Cartesian dualism and believes in the mortality of the soul. He rejects free will in favor of determinism, a determinism which treats freedom as being able to do what one desires. He rejects Aristotelian and scholastic philosophy in favor of the “new” philosophy of Galileo and Gassendi, which largely treats the world as matter in motion. Hobbes is perhaps most famous for his political philosophy. Men in a state of nature, that is a state without civil government, are in a war of all against all in which life is hardly worth living. The way out of this desperate state is to make a social contract and establish the state to keep peace and order. Because of his view of how nasty life is without the state, Hobbes subscribes to a very authoritarian version of the social contract.


Biography of Hobbes

  • For an up to date listing of Hobbes resources on line, you can visit the Hobbes page at EpistemeLinks.com
  • Aubrey’s A Brief Life of Thomas Hobbes is an account of Hobbes by one of his contemporaries. Another Hobbes site is: http://www.thomas-hobbes.com

Hobbes Time Line

1588 April 5, born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England. His premature birth was hastened by his mother’s fear upon hearing of the approach of the Spanish Armada. His father was vicar of Westport but fled to London after being involved in a brawl outside his own church, leaving Thomas to be raised by a wealthy uncle.

1603 Enters Magdalen Hall, Oxford where he studies scholastic philosophy with little enthusiasm but does well in logic.

1608 Receives bachelor’s degree and becomes tutor to the son of William Cavendish, earl of Devonshire.

1610 On his first trip to the continent discovers the influence of scholasticism is waning and resolves to return to England to pursue learning based on the classics. Has several meetings with Francis Bacon.

1628 Publication of his English translation of Thucydides through which he intended to show the English the dangers of democracy.

1629 William Cavendish dies and Hobbes becomes tutor for the son of Sir Gervase Clinton. Travels to the continent with Clinton’s son and discovers a passion for geometry and ponders how to use the geometrical method to demonstrate his social and political principles.

1634- Once more employed by the Devonshires, he takes his third 1637 journey to the continent where he enters the intellectual circle of the Abbe Mersenne, patron of both Descartes and Gassendi, and became good friends with Gassendi.

1636 Travels to Italy where he meets with Galileo. With the influence of Galileo, Hobbes develops his social philosophy on principles of geometry and natural science.

1637 Returns to England where the king and parliament are in a heated struggle.

1640 Circulates his manuscript Elements of Law, which demonstrated the need for absolute sovereignty, to members of parliament. King dissolves parliament in May. November, the Long Parliament impeaches Thomas Wentworth and Hobbes flees to Paris where he is welcomed once more into the circle of Mersenne.

1642- Publication of De Cive and First Draught of 1646 the Optiques. Begins De Corpore, the first work in a trilogy on body, man and citizen.

1646 Tutor in mathematics to the future Charles II, also exiled in Paris.

1647 Severe illness puts him near death but he recovers. Publishes second edition of De Cive.

1648 The death of Mersenne.

1651 Publication of Leviathan. Returns to England and begins his dispute with John Bramall, bishop of Derry, on the issue of free will.

1654 Of Liberty and Necessity published without his consent.

1655 In response Bramall publishes A Defence of True Liberty from Antecedent and Extrinsical Necessity.

1656 Response to Bramall published as The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance.

1657 Publication of the second part of his trilogy, De Homine.

1658 Another response by Bramall, Castigations of Hobbes his Last Animadversions with an appendix titled “The Catching of Leviathan the Great Whale.”

1663 Death of Bramall.

1665 Publication of De Corpore. Beginnings of his controversy with John Wallis and Seth Ward, charter members of the Royal Society, on issues of geometry, religion and the state of the universities. Year of the Great Plague.

1666 Year of the Great Fire of London. After the two great catastrophes, parliament was caught up in a witch hunt and sought to stamp out atheism. Leviathan is scrutinized but the king interceeds in his behalf but prohibits Hobbes from publishing any more of his works.

1668 Finishes Behemoth, a history of the period between 1640 and 1660, and submits it to the king for publication but is denied.

1672 After completing a prose version of his autobiography, Hobbes writes a Latin verse version.

1675 At the age of 86, publishes a translation of both the Iliad and the Odessey.

1679 December 4, dies at Hardwick Hall.

1682 Posthumous publication of Behemoth.


Bibliography

Time Line Sources

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