Thomas Hobbes - Portrait and Bio

Thomas Hobbes - Portrait Philosophy Visual Arts Social Studies

Thomas Hobbes, a British philosopher who was born in "the philosophy town" of Malmesbury, in 1588 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I), believed that if people live "in a state of nature," they would be fearful and prone to violence. 

To curb these natural tendencies, Hobbes thought it best for individuals to form societies in which they could agree to be governed by a central authority. By doing so, they would avoid a state of nature which could become a "state of war" or a war of "all against all."

Although he died in 1679, during the reign of Charles II, Hobbes and his philosophy remain influential.

The BBC provides a short biography about him:

Thomas Hobbes was born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, on 5 April 1588, the son of a clergyman. His father left the family in 1604 and never returned, so a wealthy uncle sponsored Hobbes' education at Oxford University.

In 1608, Hobbes became tutor to William Cavendish, later earl of Devonshire. The Cavendish family were to be Hobbes' patrons throughout his life. In 1610, Cavendish and Hobbes travelled to Europe together, visiting Germany, France and Italy. After Cavendish died, Hobbes obtained another position but later became tutor to Cavendish's son. During these years he travelled to Europe twice more, meeting leading thinkers including the astronomer Galileo Galilei and the philosopher Rene Descartes.

In 1640, with England on the brink of civil war, the Royalist Hobbes fled to Paris, fearing the reaction of the Long Parliament to his writing. He remained in exile for 11 years. Between 1646 and 1648, Hobbes was a mathematics tutor to Charles, Prince of Wales (the future Charles II) who was also in exile.

In 1651, Hobbes' best-known work 'Leviathan' or, 'The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil' was published. For Hobbes, the only way for man to lift himself out of his natural state of fear and violence was to give up his freedom and make a social contract with others to accept a central authority. Hobbes felt that a monarchy provided the best authority. He also argued that as sovereign power was absolute, the sovereign must also be head of the national religion. He was, as a result, hostile to the Roman Catholic Church.

This made him unpopular with the French authorities and in 1651 he returned to England. He continued to write, producing works on mathematics and physics as well as philosophy, and engaging in academic disputes. In 1660, his former pupil returned to England as Charles II and granted Hobbes a pension.

In 1666, parliament ordered 'Leviathan' [Hobbes' word for a strong government] to be investigated for atheist tendencies. Hobbes was terrified of being labelled a heretic and burned many of his papers. Charles II interceded on his behalf, but the condition seems to have been that Hobbes published nothing further on overtly political subjects.

In 1672, Hobbes published an autobiography in Latin verse and translations of the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' in 1675-1676. He died on 4 December 1679 at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, one of the Cavendish family's homes.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Nov 21, 2016

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