Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): His Life and Some Ideas

Thomas Hobbes viewed human nature as violent.
A political absolutist, Hobbes is described as among the proponents of liberalism. His father, also named Thomas, was a vicar in England who left his children in the care of their rich paternal uncle. This episode somehow echoes the five adjectives he used to depict the nature of human beings – “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Pratt 1). It also forebodes his idea that the right and need for security is an individual’s primary concern which only an authoritative body or the monarchy could provide (Encyclopaedia Britannica 970).  

Hobbes as a worker and philosopher

During his early 30s, Hobbes served as Francis Bacon’s assistant. Bacon is known as the father of inductive reasoning. Hobbes translated not only Bacon’s notes, but as well as those of historian Thucydides of Athens, Greece (Encyclopaedia Britannica 970). Besides being a writer/translator, Hobbes was the traveling companion of a politician’s son.  It was during this period when he discovered and fell for Euclid’s geometry that offered definiteness of mathematical expressions which Hobbes perceived as likewise applicable to science and philosophy (Encyclopaedia Britannica 970).

Around 1630, Hobbes stayed in Paris to work as a teacher to an earl. It was during this time when he probed more into other topics of interest, particularly geometry and his evolving materialist philosophy. Hobbes observed that unless material things are put into motion, these items at rest seemed to have no meaning or purpose. Moreover, it was around this period when he completed his initial philosophical work entitled A Short Tract on First Principles (Encyclopaedia Britannica 970). 

Hobbes shared his ideas with mathematician Marin Mersenne and with Galileo. He set out to work on a knowledge-intensive trilogy that expounded on his philosophy on materialism (De Corpore [Concerning Body] in 1655), human cognition (De Homine [Concerning Man] in 1658), and social organization (De Cive [Concerning Citizenship] in 1642) (Encyclopaedia Britannica 970-971).

During England’s political upheaval in late 1630s, Hobbes thought of releasing De Cive first to prove the inseparability of the monarchy and the country’s sovereignty. In his view, peace among people could only be achieved if they fully submit to an absolute power. Hobbes also claimed that democracy is the pioneering institutionalized commonwealth authority. He further explained that democracy ceases to exist once only a few (aristocracy) or one person (monarchy) rules over society. With his perspectives, Hobbes brought to himself the ire of supporters of both the monarchy and the Parliament. It was during his exile in Paris when De Cive was finally published (Encyclopaedia Britannica 971).

Said book discussed Hobbes’s legalistic arguments, including the indivisibility of the Christian church and the Christian state wherein sovereignty reigned supreme. Hobbes used this thought as the basis for a person’s right to interpret the Scripture, decide on religious disputes, and determine the form of public worship” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 971). 

His defense of the monarchy’s absolute power made members of the Royal family to commission him as their teacher. Thus, aside from tutoring the young earl cited earlier, Hobbes also worked as Charles II’s teacher in mathematics. Towards 1647 and 1651, De Cive was reprinted and translated into English. Around 1650, The Elements of Law was published. Among his oeuvres, the Leviathan is touted as his masterpiece. In this book, Hobbes continued to defend the monarchy or the Christian Commonwealth against its critics (Encyclopaedia Britannica 971).

In his philosophy about human nature, Hobbes propounded on the influence of the ego as well as the Utilitarian paradigm. He viewed moral rules as the primary means to achieve peaceful and convenient living in society. He also believed that all natural laws adhered to God’s laws (Encyclopaedia Britannica 971). Without the monarchy or any absolute authority, however, human beings would always be in a ‘state of war’ (Forde, 2.). 

Works Cited

Encyclopaedia Brittanica. John Locke. USA: Enclopaedia Brittanica Inc. 1978. Print.

---. Thomas Hobbes. USA: Enclopaedia Brittanica Inc. 1978. Print

Forde, Steven. n.d. John Locke and the Natural Law and Natural Rights Tradition. Published on Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.

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