- NAME: Thomas Hobbes
- OCCUPATION: Historian, Philosopher, Political Scientist, Scientist, Academic Author, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: April 05, 1588
- DEATH DATE: December 04, 1679
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Westport, near Mamesbury, Wiltshire, England
- PLACE OF DEATH: Derbyshire, England
- AKA: Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury
- AKA: Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury
Best Known For
Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher in the 17th century, was best known for his book Leviathan (1651) and his political views on society.
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Hobbes had never been trained in mathematics or the sciences at Oxford, nor previously at Wiltshire. But one branch of the Cavendish family, the Wellbecks, were scientifically and mathematically minded, and Hobbes' growing interest in these realms was stirred mainly through his association with certain family members and through various conversations he'd had and reading he'd done on the Continent. In 1629 or 1630,
it is reported that Hobbes found a volume of Euclid and fell in love with geometry and Euclid's method of demonstrating theorems.
Later, he had gained enough independent knowledge to pursue research in optics, a field he would lay claim to as a pioneer. In fact, Hobbes was gaining a reputation in many fields: mathematics (especially geometry), translation (of the classics), and law. He also became well known (notorious, in fact) for his writings and disputes on religious subjects. As a member of Mersenne's circle in Paris, he was also respected as a theorist in ethics and politics.
His love of mathematics and a fascination with the properties of matter--sizes, shapes, positions, etc.--laid the foundation for his great Elements of Philosophy trilogy: De Cive (1642; "Concerning the Citizen"), De Corpore (1655; "Concerning Body") and De Homine (1658; "Concerning Man"). The trilogy was his attempt to arrange the components of natural science, psychology and politics into a hierarchy, from the most fundamental to the most specific. The works incorporated Hobbes' findings on optics and the work of, among others, Galileo (on the motions of terrestrial bodies) and Kepler (on astronomy). The science of politics discussed in De Cive was further developed in Leviathan, which is the strongest example of his writings on morality and politics, the subjects for which Hobbes is most remembered.
In Paris, in 1640, Hobbes sent to Mersenne a set of comments on both Descartes' Discourse and his Optics. Descartes saw some of the comments and sent a letter to Mersenne in response, to which Hobbes again responded. Hobbes disagreed with Descartes' theory that the mind was the primal certainty, instead using motion as the basis for his philosophy regarding nature, the mind and society. To expand the discussion, Mersenne convinced Hobbes to write a critique of Descartes' Meditationes de Prima Philosophia ("Meditations on First Philosophy"), and of course he did so. Hobbes' thoughts were listed third among the set of "Objections" appended to the work. "Replies" from Descartes then appeared in 1641. In these exchanges and elsewhere, Hobbes and Descartes regarded each other with a unique mixture of respect and disregard, and at their one personal meeting, in 1648, they did not get along very well. The relationship, however, helped Hobbes develop his theories further.
In 1642, Thomas Hobbes released De Cive, his first published book of political philosophy. The book focuses more narrowly on the political (comprising sections titled "Liberty," "Empire" and "Religion") and was, as previously noted, conceived as part of a larger work (Elements of Philosophy). Although it was to be the third book in Elements, Hobbes wrote it first to address the particularly relevant civil unrest roiling in England at the time.
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