Who Is Thomas Hobbes?

During the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man... 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 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, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, I, 13

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued: "During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man". For Hobbes, the difference between order and disorder was stark. In the state of nature, ungoverned man lived life in "continual fear, and danger of violent death". The only way out of this "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" existence, he said, was to relinquish all your freedom and submit yourself to one all powerful absolute sovereign. Hobbes' proposal, contained in his controversial and now classic text, Leviathan, was written just as England was readjusting to life after the Civil War and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. In fact, in his long life Hobbes’ allegiance switched from Charles I to Cromwell and back to Charles II. But how did the son of a poor clergyman end up as the most radical thinker of his day? Why did so many of Hobbes' ideas run counter to the prevailing fondness for constitutionalism with a limited monarchy? And why is he regarded by so many political philosophers as an important theorist when so few find his ideas convincing?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Hobbes

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

...Whatever the many merits of Hobbes’s other works, there is no doubt that Leviathan is his work of genius which guarantees his place as one of the intellectual giants of European philosophy. It is also one of the great works of English prose. In it Hobbes gives a highly original account of the nature of human beings and their psychology, and the nature and justification for government. According to Hobbes, there is no naturally given hierarchy among human beings, and therefore a perceived natural right to everything. In the absence of a controlling power, conflict will arise between human beings all seeking the best for themselves. It is only by voluntarily accepting articles of peace that humanity may be drawn to agreement. Each person must renounce their right to everything, and pass that right to a sovereign whose duty it is to use the common power of the community to enforce the law of nature for the benefit of all. It is this voluntary and rational renunciation that constitutes the contract of the people to accept one person as sovereign which creates the state...

Continue reading John Priest's short article: Philosopher of the month: Thomas Hobbes

Further Reading

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), whose current reputation rests largely on his political philosophy, was a thinker with wide-ranging interests. In philosophy, he defended a range of materialist, nominalist, and empiricist views against Cartesian and Aristotelian alternatives. In physics, his work was influential on Leibniz, and led him into disputes with Boyle and the experimentalists of the early Royal Society. In history, he translated Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War into English, and later wrote his own history of the Long Parliament. In mathematics he was less successful, and is best remembered for his repeated unsuccessful attempts to square the circle. But despite that, Hobbes was a serious and prominent participant in the intellectual life of his time...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Thomas Hobbes by Stewart Duncan

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

Human Nature | Locke

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