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Hobbes Thomas(1588-1679) English philosopher and political theorist responsible for the earliest self-conscious attempt to construct a 'S cience’ of CIVIL SOCIETY from first principles derived from imagining what Man would be like in a state of nature, where all authority, political, moral and social, was lacking. His project was to follow the deductive reasoning of geometry, and his first principles were dictated by a philosophy that was both mechanistic and materialist. According to this view, society, like the human beings who are its simplest elements, is a machine. To understand how society works, one must take it apart in imagination, resolve it into its simplest elements, and then recompose it to a healthy functioning according to the laws of motion of these components. Hobbes distinguished between the artificial, made by Man, and the natural, found in the physical world. He then claimed that Man could only have certain knowledge of what men have created or made. Men could have certain knowledge of geometry because men themselves had created the theorems, propositions and figures of geometry A like knowledge was possible of civil society, because men had also created this. The substance of Hobbes’ political thinking is contained in De Cive (Concerning the Citizen) (1642) and Leviathan (1651). In these, he sought to demonstrate that Man's natural condition, in which all authority was lacking and in which he enjoyed a NATURAL RIGHT to everything that would assist his self-preservation, was one of unmitigated strife, in which there was no security for any human purpose. He then argued that since Man possessed reason, which was his capacity to know the causes of things, he was able to discover those principles of conduct which he ought, prudentially, to follow for his security and safety. These principles Hobbes called the ‘convenient Articles of Peace’, under which men agreed to lay down their natural right to everything and submit to absolute and undivided sovereign authority. Hobbes’ conclusions here point in a monarchical direction, but he was always careful, when referring to this authority, to use the phrase ‘one man, or assembly of men’. In the times in which he wrote – the English Civil War and its aftermath – it was not prudent to offend either royalist or parliamentary susceptibilities. For commentators such as MacPherson (1962), Hobbes’ thinking reflects a bourgeois individualism. For others, it came close to a Kantian view of ‘moral obligation’. The question raised by Hobbes – the Hobbesian ‘problem of order’, as PARSONS puts it -remains a central question in sociology
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000