Thomas Hobbes

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Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher, political theorist, historian, optical scientist, translator and classicist. Hobbes was notable as one of the founders of social contract theory, and a forerunner of British empiricism. As a materialist, his concept of human existence excluded the soul, with the mind being given a purely mechanical explanation. He was widely rumored during his lifetime to be an atheist, which was illegal in 16th century England. Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon and a contemporary of Hobbes', claimed that the philosopher was "a pander to bestiality" whose "doctrines have had so great a share of the debauchery of his Generation, that a good Christian can hardly hear his name without saying of his prayers."[1]

Hobbes saw matter in motion as the only reality. To him even consciousness and thought were but the byproducts of atoms moving in the brain.[2]

According to Hobbes's most famous work Leviathan (1651), life for humans prior to the foundation of the social contract was "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short". Humans had to form collectives in order to protect themselves from each other. This idea was extended by John Locke, who held (most notably in his Second Treatise on Government) that collectivisation was necessary for the promotion of economic growth. Hobbes's love of strong leadership led him to support monarchy, although he took the view that any strong government was better than nothing, and the stronger the better.

Government should be like unto a man, strong and hard (Leviathan xvii).

Hobbes himself had extraordinary longevity, living to the age of 91 in the 1600s.

See also


  1. Samuel I. Mintz, The Hunting of Leviathan: Seventeenth-Century Reactions to the Materialism and Moral Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (Cambridge, 1962), 57.
  2. The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989