Who was Thomas Hobbes and why is he such an important figure in the history of philosophy? This series aims to make learning about the history of philosophy as easy as possible by bringing together the best videos, podcasts, and articles from across the internet and allowing you to choose the type of content that best suits your learning style. Simply choose one of following links to get started:
If you want a comprehensive overview of Hobbes:
- Read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy. However, you should keep in mind that the Stanford Encyclopedia in often quite technical and this article may be difficult for beginners. It’s also fairly long at around 4000 words. Here’s a short excerpt that explains why Hobbes is such an important figure in the history of philosophy:
“The 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes is now widely regarded as one of a handful of truly great political philosophers, whose masterwork Leviathan rivals in significance the political writings of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls. Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be known as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons. He is infamous for having used the social contract method to arrive at the astonishing conclusion that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power. While his methodological innovation had a profound constructive impact on subsequent work in political philosophy, his substantive conclusions have served mostly as a foil for the development of more palatable philosophical positions. . . .
Hobbes sought to discover rational principles for the construction of a civil polity that would not be subject to destruction from within. Having lived through the period of political disintegration culminating in the English Civil War, he came to the view that the burdens of even the most oppressive government are “scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a Civill Warre”. Because virtually any government would be better than a civil war, and, according to Hobbes’s analysis, all but absolute governments are systematically prone to dissolution into civil war, people ought to submit themselves to an absolute political authority. Continued stability will require that they also refrain from the sorts of actions that might undermine such a regime. For example, subjects should not dispute the sovereign power and under no circumstances should they rebel. In general, Hobbes aimed to demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between political obedience and peace. . . .”
If you’re looking for a somewhat shorter and and more engaging introduction:
- Read Alistair MacFarlane’s short article on Hobbes [1800 words]
If you’d prefer a video introduction:
- Watch The School of Life’s short video on Hobbes [6:45 mins]
If you prefer audio and podcasts:
- Listen to the In Our Time episode on Hobbes [41:25 mins]
If you’d just like to casually browse a few quotes:
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