Hobbes, Thomas

(1588-1679)
An English philosopher and social theorist of the Enlightenment. Hobbes's most influential writings in political philosophy span the period of the English Civil War, and are widely interpreted as an intellectual response to the experience of political instability and personal insecurity. His major work Leviathan (1651) offered a justification for absolute political authority which purported to be a deduction from human nature . Hobbes's account of human nature was an extraordinarily thoroughgoing and ingenious extension of the science of mechanics (as learned from Galileo). According to Hobbes, the whole range of human psychological attributes-sense-perception, memory, imagination, thought, speech, and the passions-were effects of the motions of the minute particles of matter of which we, like other material bodies, are composed. On this view of our nature, action is governed by the passions, which are in turn classified as ‘aversions’ and ‘appetites’. These passions are the basis of moral judgement, and issue in actions whose tendency is self-preservation.
In Hobbes's view, then, human action is governed by the twin passions of fear of death and desire for power. If we imagine humans living in a ‘state of nature’ prior to the establishment of any law or political power to keep them ‘in awe’, each individual, lacking any reason for expecting goodwill from the others, will be caught up in a restless pursuit of ever more power. In such a situation, the desire for security on the part of each individual must issue in perpetual antagonism and instability, a state in which (to use Hobbes's famous phrase) life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. But humans are possessed of rationality and foresight (capacities which Hobbes characteristically accounts for in mechanical terms). They are thus able to recognize that their security would be better guaranteed by a voluntary act of giving over their individual powers to an individual or group who would thereby be established as a sovereign power over all of them. On Hobbes's bleak view of human nature, the sole function of government is to guarantee the security of the national citizen.
In his own day, Hobbes was able to make himself acceptable to Royalists and Parliamentarians alike. Subsequently, his materialistic view of human nature and political power has been praised by Marxists, whilst his view of humans as essentially self-interested and his authoritarian view of the minimal state have been popular with the political right. He was one of the earliest and most brilliant exponents of a naturalistic approach to social science. Hobbes's political philosophy remains influential in the study of international relations. See also social contract.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • HOBBES Thomas — Anglus, Thucydidem Anglice vertit, A. C. 1628. eo fine, ut ineptias Democraticorum Atheniensum civibus suis patefaceret. Euclidis dein methodo delectatus, in illo evolvendo diligentissime versatus est. Post quae, dum moratetur Parisiis, Scientiae …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Hobbes, Thomas — born April 5, 1588, Westport, Wiltshire, Eng. died Dec. 4, 1679, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire English philosopher and political theorist. The son of a vicar who abandoned his family, Hobbes was raised by his uncle. After graduating from the… …   Universalium

  • Hobbes,Thomas — Hobbes (hŏbz), Thomas. 1588 1679. English philosopher and political theorist best known for his book Leviathan (1651), in which he argues that the only way to secure civil society is through universal submission to the absolute authority of a… …   Universalium

  • Hobbes, Thomas — (1588–1679) English philosopher, mathematician, and linguist. Hobbes was born of an impoverished clerical family in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. He was fond of the joke that his mother fell into labour with him on hearing the rumour of the Spanish… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Hobbes, Thomas — (1588–1679)    Philosopher.    Hobbes was educated at the University of Oxford, England, and acted as tutor to the Cavendish family.    He spent the years 1640–51 in exile in France where he was the tutor of Charles, Prince of Wales, son of the… …   Who’s Who in Christianity

  • Hobbes, Thomas — (1588 1679)    Hobbes traced his life long fear of disorder to his premature birth when his mother heard of the advance of the Spanish Armada. This fear of disorder exhibits itself not only in the subject matter of Hobbes s books, in particular… …   Christian Philosophy

  • Hobbes, Thomas — ► (1588 1679) Filósofo inglés, discípulo de Bacon. En su segundo viaje al continente (1629 1631) conoció los Elementos de Euclides, que le llenaron de entusiasmo y fijaron la orientación matematizante de su pensamiento. En su tercer viaje,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Hobbes, Thomas — See Seventeenth century materialism …   History of philosophy

  • HOBBES, THOMAS —    an English philosopher, psychologist, and moralist, born at Malmesbury; was educated at Oxford; connected all his days with the Cavendish family, with members of which he travelled on the Continent, and was on friendly terms with Charles II.,… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Hobbes, Thomas —  (1588–1679) English philosopher …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

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