Thomas Hobbes was a prominent English philosopher, who is best known for his excellent work on political philosophy. His 1651 book “Leviathan” marked the foundation for numerous Western political philosophies taking in account the perspective of social contact theory. He is chiefly famous for his excellence of absolutism for the sovereign, but simultaneously he also established some fundamentals of European liberal thought. Apart from the same, he also devoted time in various array of fields like history, geometry, physics of gases, theology, ethics, general philosophy, and political science. Hobbes take on human nature as self-interested cooperation also proved to be an enduring theory in philosophical anthropology stream. Hobbes was amongst the primary founders of materialism in philosophy.
Thomas Hobbes Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Hobbes was born on April 5, 1588 at Westport, now part of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, England. His father, also named Thomas, was the vicar of Charlton and Westport. The childhood of Hobbes was blank. His father left the three siblings to be taken care of by his elder brother, Francis when he was asked to move to London after he fought with a clergyman outside his own church. Hobbes initially got educated at Westport church and then at the Malmesbury School, followed by a private school. As Hobbes was good student, in around 1603 he went to Magdalen Hall which is closely related to Hertford College, Oxford. John Wilkinson, principal of Hobbes was a Puritan; therefore Hobbes was greatly influenced by him.
Being at the university, Hobbes followed his own curriculum as he did not believe in the scholastic learning. While he was doing his B.A, he was recommended as tutor to William who was a son of William Cavendish, Baron of Hardwick by his master at Magdalen, Sir James Hussey. William and Hobbes became friends and they together participated in the grand tour in the year 1610. In this tour, Hobbes got introduced to many European scientific and critical methods which were quite opposite to the scholastic philosophy he studied in Oxford. During this time, Hobbes scholarly efforts were pointed at a careful study of classical Greek and Latin authors which gave birth to his tremendous translation of Thucydides' “History of the Peloponnesian War” in 1628. This work was the first translation of the war from a Greek manuscript to English.
Despite he was linked with many literary personalities such as Ben Johnson and thinkers like Francis Bacon, Hobbes did not put much effort into philosophy before 1629. After the demise of his employer Cavendish, then the Earl of Devonshire, the widowed countess terminated Hobbes. Shortly afterwards, he found another job as a tutor to the son of Sir Gervase Clifton. Hobbes spent most of his days in Pairs until 1631 when he again got the job with the Cavendish family. He was appointed as a tutor of the son of his previous friend, William. The next seven years apart from tutoring, Hobbes engaged in expanding his own knowledge of philosophy that arouses great curiosity in him over prime philosophic debates. Hobbes, in 1636, visited Florence and afterwards became a regular debater in philosophic groups held together by Marin Mersenne in Paris. From 1637, Hobbes started considering himself as a philosopher and scholar.
Hobbes was initially interested in the physical doctrine of motion and physical momentum but he disregarded experimental work as in physics. He headed towards in conceiving the system of thoughts to the elaboration of the same. Hobbes worked on the scheme to first to work out, in a separate treatise, a systematic doctrine of body, showcasing how physical phenomena were universally understandable in terms of motion, at least as motion or mechanical action was then understood. Hobbes afterwards also singled out ‘man’ from the kingdom of ‘nature and plants’. He, in his another treatise, depicted that which particular bodily motions were involved in the production of the peculiar phenomena of sensation, knowledge, affections and passions by which ‘man’ built relationship with ‘man’. In his crowning treatise, he explained how ‘men’ were moved to enter in the society and raised questions on how this movement must be regulated if men were not to fall back into “brutishness and misery”.
Hobbes, later, proposed to bring all the separate phenomena of ‘body’, ‘man’ and ‘the State’ together. In 1637, Hobbes moved back home to a country driven with disappointment which interrupted him from orderly execution of his philosophic plan. Hobbes, in 1640 by the end of the Short Parliament, wrote a short treatise named “The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic.” But this work was not published; rather was only circulated among his friends in the form of a manuscript. However, its pirated version was published after long ten years. It is noticeable that most of the elements of Hobbes’s political views remained same between “The Element of Law”and Leviathan, which indicated that the English Civil war events had quite lesser effect on his contractarian methodology. In November 1640, during the Long Parliament, Hobbes realized that he was a marked person by the circulation of his treatise. He, then, moved to Paris and did not return back for the next eleven years. Being in Paris, he rejoined the coterie about Mersenne.
Hobbes wrote a critique of the “Meditations on First Philosophy of Descartes”. In 1641, this work was published as third among the sets of “Objections” appended, with “Replies” from Descartes. Hobbes worked on the third section of “De Cive” which he completed in November 1641. Firstly, it was circulated among few acquaintances only, but gathered great appreciation. Also, its lines of argumentation were also repeated in the Leviathan after almost a decade. Hobbes then again started working on the first two sections of his work and published little except for a short treatise on optics which was included in the collection of scientific tracts published in 1644 by Mersenne as Cogitata physico-mathematica. Hobbes was well respected in the philosophic circles. In 1645 Hobbes was also elected among others to referee the controversy aroused between John Pell and Longomontanus due to the squaring the circle problem.
Civil War in England
When English Civil War broke out in 1642 and by 1644, when the royalist cause experienced downfall, king’s supporters flocked to Europe in great numbers. Most of them came to Paris and were familiar to Hobbes. With the same Hobbes once again revived his interests in politics. Also, “De Cive” was published again and this time was more widely circulated. The new edition contained new preface and some new notes suggesting replay to objections and was published in 1646 by Samuel de Sorbiere through the Elsevier press at Amsterdam. Hobbes became a mathematical instructor to the young Charles, Prince of Wales in 1647, but in 1648 Hobbes had to end it up as Charles moved to Holland. The company of the royalists that came to Paris led him to create an English book to set ahead his theory of civil government in relation to the political crisis that took place because of the war. This work of Hobbes was ended with a general “Review and Conclusion” which came out as a direct reaction to the war which raised arguments on the subject's right to change allegiance in the situation when a former sovereign’s protection power was irrecoverably went away. Hobbes also criticized commonwealth’s religious doctrines on rationalistic grounds.
While composing Leviathan, he mainly stayed in or near Paris. Hobbes encountered a serious sickness in 1647, which disabled him for long six months. After recovering from the same, he again began to accomplish his literary task and completed it by 1650. During the same time, a translated version of “De Cive” was also created. Also in 1650 itself, pirated copies of “The Element of Law Natural and Politic” was also published. The work was divided into two separate volumes. In 1651, the translated version of “De Cive” was published with the title “Philosophicall Rudiments concerning Government and Society”. In the middle of 1651, his major work was published under the title of “Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common Wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil”. The work of Hobbes grabbed immediate response. He was praised and criticized at the same time. He then fled back to London in the late 1651. After his submission to the council of state, he was permitted to subside into the private life in Fetter Lane.
Hobbes completed his scheme and wrote the final section of his philosophical system in 1658. “De Homine” contained mainly an elaborated theory of vision. He published some controversial works on mathematics and physics. He continued to produce philosophical works too. Hobbes gained a new distinction; “Hobbism”. Also the former pupil of Hobbes, Charles II remembered him and therefore called him up to the court and granted a pension of £100. When the House of Commons introduced a bill against atheism and profaneness, the king played a major role in protecting Hobbes in 1666. On October 17, 1666 an order came which said that the committees to whom the bill was referred “should be empowered to receive information touching such books as tend to atheism, blasphemy and profaneness... in particular... the book of Mr. Hobbes called the Leviathan”. Hobbes with the same was scared with the possibility of being called as a heretic and thus started to fire some of his compromising papers. During this time, he also examined the real state of the law of heresy. Hobbes’s result of investigation was initially announced in three short dialogues which were added as an appendix to his Latin translation of Leviathan which was published in 1668 at Amsterdam. The only outcome of the bill was that he could not publish any of his work in England on the topics related to human conduct. In 1668, his work was published in Amsterdam as Hobbes was not able to obtain the censor's license for its publication in England. Other writings of Hobbes were not printed in his lifetime. His lasts works were an autobiography in Latin verse in 1672, translation of four books of the Odyssey into “rugged” English rhymes 1673 which led to the completion of Iliad and Odyssey in 1675.
In October 1679, Hobbes contracted a bladder disorder followed by a paralytic attack due to which he died on 4 December 1679. He was buried in St. John the Baptist Church in Ault Hucknall in Derbyshire, England.