Thomas Hobbes

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Hobbes, Thomas

(hŏbz), 1588–1679, English philosopher, grad. Magdalen College, Oxford, 1608. For many years a tutor in the Cavendish family, Hobbes took great interest in mathematics, physics, and the contemporary rationalism. On journeys to the Continent he established friendly relations with many learned men, including GalileoGalileo
(Galileo Galilei) , 1564–1642, great Italian astronomer, mathematician, and physicist. By his persistent investigation of natural laws he laid foundations for modern experimental science, and by the construction of astronomical telescopes he greatly enlarged
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 and GassendiGassendi, Pierre
, 1592–1655, French philosopher and scientist. A teacher and priest, Gassendi taught at Digne, Aix, and the Royal College at Paris and held several church offices. He ranked with the leading mathematicians of his day.
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. In 1640, after his political writings had brought him into disfavor with the parliamentarians, he went to France (where he was tutor to the exiled Prince Charles). His work, however, aroused the antagonism of the English group in France, and his thorough materialism offended the churchmen, so that in 1651 he felt impelled to return to England, where he was able to live peacefully. Among his important works, which appeared in several revisions under different titles (see Sir W. Molesworth's edition of the complete works, 11 vol., 1839–45, and Noel Malcom et al., ed., the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes, 1983–), are De Cive (1642), Leviathan (1651), De Corpore Politico (1650), De Homine (1658), and Behemoth (1680).

In the Leviathan, Hobbes developed his political philosophy. He argued from a mechanistic view that life is simply the motions of the organism and that man is by nature a selfishly individualistic animal at constant war with all other men. In a state of nature, men are equal in their self-seeking and live out lives which are "nasty, brutish, and short." Fear of violent death is the principal motive which causes men to create a state by contracting to surrender their natural rights and to submit to the absolute authority of a sovereign. Although the power of the sovereign derived originally from the people—a challenge to the doctrine of the divine rightdivine right,
doctrine that sovereigns derive their right to rule by virtue of their birth alone—a right based on the law of God and of nature. Authority is transmitted to a ruler from his ancestors, whom God himself appointed to rule.
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 of kings—the sovereign's power is absolute and not subject to the law. Temporal power is also always superior to ecclesiastical power. Though Hobbes favored a monarchy as the most efficient form of sovereignty, his theory could apply equally well to king or parliament. His political philosophy led to investigations by other political theorists, e.g., LockeLocke, John
, 1632–1704, English philosopher, founder of British empiricism. Locke summed up the Enlightenment in his belief in the middle class and its right to freedom of conscience and right to property, in his faith in science, and in his confidence in the goodness of
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, SpinozaSpinoza, Baruch or Benedict
, 1632–77, Dutch philosopher, b. Amsterdam. Spinoza's Life

He belonged to the community of Jews from Spain and Portugal who had fled the Inquisition.
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, and RousseauRousseau, Jean Jacques
, 1712–78, Swiss-French philosopher, author, political theorist, and composer. Life and Works

Rousseau was born at Geneva, the son of a Calvinist watchmaker.
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, who formulated their own radically different theories of the social contractsocial contract,
agreement or covenant by which men are said to have abandoned the "state of nature" to form the society in which they now live. The theory of such a contract, first formulated by the English philosophers Thomas Hobbes (in the Leviathan,
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See biographies by J. L. Stephen (1934, repr. 1968), C. H. Hinnant (1977), and T. Surrell (1986); studies by T. A. Sprague, Jr. (1973), J. W. N. Watkins (rev. ed. 1973), W. Von Leyden (1982), J. Hampton (1988), and Q. Skinner (1996, 2002, and 2008).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hobbes, Thomas


Born Apr. 5, 1588, in Malmesbury; died Dec. 4, 1679, in Hardwick. English materialist philosopher.

Hobbes was the son of a vicar. He graduated from Oxford in 1608 and became a tutor in the aristocratic family of W. Cavendish, later earl of Devonshire, with which he remained associated to the end of his life. The development of Hobbes’ thought was considerably influenced by F. Bacon, Galileo, P. Gassendi, and R. Descartes. His principal works include the philosophical trilogy De corpore (1655), De homine (1658), and De cive (1642), and Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651; Russian translation, 1936).

Working along the same lines as Bacon, Hobbes “destroyed the theistic prejudices of Baconian materialism” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2, p. 144). In his polemic with Descartes, Hobbes rejected the existence of a special thinking substance, arguing that a rational thing is a material entity. Hobbes created the first complete system of mechanistic materialism, corresponding to the character and demands of the natural science of his day. For Hobbes, geometry and mechanics are the ideal models for scientific thought in general. He conceives of nature as the sum total of extended bodies differing from each other in magnitude, figure, position, and motion. Motion is interpreted mechanically; as movement from one point to another. Qualities perceived through the senses are regarded by Hobbes not as properties of things themselves but as forms of perception of things. Hobbes differentiated between extension, an inherent property of bodies, and space, an image created by reason (a phantasm), as well as between the objectively real movement of bodies and time, the subjective image of movement. He distinguished between two methods of cognition—the logical deduction of rationalist “mechanics” and the induction of empirical “physics.”

In Hobbes’ view the state resulted from a contract between men, which put an end to the pregovernment natural condition of “war of all against all.” He adhered to the idea of the primordial equality of men. Individual citizens voluntarily limited their rights and liberty in favor of the state, whose task is to ensure peace and security. Hobbes exalted the role of the state, which he held to be absolutely sovereign. On the question of the form of the state, Hobbes’ sympathies were on the side of monarchy. Defending the necessity of the submission of church to state, he considered it essential to preserve religion as an ideological weapon of state power for keeping the people in check.

Hobbes’ ethics stem from his view of “human nature” as unchanging and concupiscible. He believed the basis of morality to be “natural law”—the striving for self-preservation and for the satisfaction of needs. Virtue is determined by the rational understanding of what facilitates or hinders the attainment of the good. Moral duty coincides with civic responsibilities arising out of the social contract.

Hobbes’ teachings greatly influenced the later development of philosophy and social thought.


Opera philosophica, quae latine scripsit …, vols. 1-5. Edited by W. Molesworth. London, 1839-45.
The English Works, vols. 1-11. Edited by W. Molesworth. London, 1839-45.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. soch., vols. 1-2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1926.
Izbr. proizv., vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1964.


Bykhovskii, B. E. “Psikhofizicheskoe uchenie T. Gobbsa.” Vestnik Komakademii, 1928, no. 26(2).
Cheskis, A. A. Tomas Gobbs. Moscow, 1929.
Pod znamenem marksizma, 1938, no. 6. (Articles by B. E. Bykhovskii, L. German, M. Petrosova, and D. Bikhdriker.)
Deborin, A. M. “Tomas Gobbs.” In his collection Ocherkipo istorii materializma 17-18 vv., Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.
Golosov, V. F. Ocherkipo istorii angliiskogo materializma 17-18 vv. Krasnoiarsk, 1958.
Tönnies, F. Th. Hobbes, der Mann und der Denker. Osterwieck, 1912.
Polin, R. Politique et philosophic chez Thomas Hobbes. Paris, 1952.
Peters, R. Hobbes. [London, 1956.]
Hobbes Studies. Edited by K. C. Brown. Oxford, 1965.
McNeilly, F. S. The Anatomy of Leviathan. New York-London, 1968.
Gauthier, D. P. The Logic of Leviathan. Oxford, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hobbes, Thomas


The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England. At the age of fourteen he was sent to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he took his bachelor’s degree. In 1610, after visiting the Continent, where through Kepler and Galileo he discovered the disrepute into which the Aristotelian system was beginning to fall, Hobbes turned to the classics for a better understanding of life and philosophy, and decided to translate Thucydides into English. Upon returning from his third journey to the Continent, he published his first philosophical work, Little Treatise, an explanation of sensation in terms of the new science of motion.

During his exile in France, Hobbes’s De cive (1642) was published, as well as his Minute or First Draught of the Optiques (1642–1646), and he began working on a trilogy on body, man, and citizen, the first book of which is De corpore. In 1650 his Elements of Law, which demonstrated the need for undivided sovereignty, was published in two parts: Human Nature and De corpore politico.

Hobbes’s views on man and citizen were to be included in his masterpiece, Leviathan, which was published in 1651. In the same year he returned to England, where the second part of his trilogy, De homine, was published in 1657. In Behemoth (1668) he interpreted the history of the period from 1640 to 1660 in light of his vision of man and society. He died at the age of ninety-one in Hardwick, Derbyshire.

Thomas Hobbes was fascinated by dreams, to which he dedicated a discussion in the first part of Leviathan, in a chapter on imagination. He claimed that dreams consist of compounded phantasms of past sensations, and, in an attempt to determine what distinguishes dreams from waking thoughts and to develop a mechanical theory to explain them, he described dreams as the reverse of man’s waking imaginations, and as the result of internal motions of one’s organs of sense in the absence of external stimulation. He maintained that dreams are characterized by lack of coherence, since no thought of an end or goal guides them, and by lack of sense of time. He also pointed out that nothing appears surprising or absurd in dreams.

Like many other, more recent philosophers, Hobbes was inclined to a somatic theory of dreams, that is, the belief that physical factors can affect one’s dreams (for example, that overeating leads to certain kinds of dreams). He maintained that there is an intimate connection between dreams and bodily states, since the motions pass both from the brain to the inner parts and from the inner parts to the brain. Motions begin at one end during waking and at the other end during sleep, and this tendency to project images produced by bodily states gives rise to belief in apparitions and visions.

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