Posted on 24 June 2019
Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) was an Englishman who took philosophy into a new direction – politics.
Born in Wiltshire, south-west Engand, as a young man Hobbes went on a grand tour of Europe and ended up staying in Paris for several years where he attended philosophical lectures and gained work as a tutor.
Influenced by the work of Decartes, he first developed a theory of physical motion and momentum. For Hobbes, everything was governed by the same unbreakable laws or mechanics of nature. This mechanical world view would later be developed by Isaac Newtown a few decades later.
He came back to England, but soon returned to the safety of France as the English Civil War Period began.
The political uncertainty of the time led Hobbes to begin writing what would become most famous work, Leviathan. The book was finally published in 1651, shortly after the civil war had ended.
Much of Leviathan is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority, with the avoidance of the evils of discord and civil war.
Subtitled, ‘The Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil’, in Leviathan, Hobbes set out his argument for the foundation of states and legitimate governments, based on social contract theories. This branch of philosophy is known as Contractarianism.
Hobbes argued that the human body is like a machine and that the political organization is like an artificial human being. Beginning from this mechanistic understanding of human beings, He speculated on what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the State of Nature.
The State of Nature, he argued, inevitably leads to conflict and lives that are, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. In order to escape this state of war and insecurity, people in the State of Nature accede to a ‘social contract’ and establish a civil society.
Thus, all individuals in the civil society give up their natural rights for the sake of protection. Any abuses of power by this authority must be accepted as the price of peace (although in severe cases of abuse, rebellion is to be expected).
In particular, Hobbes rejected the doctrine of separation of powers, arguing that the sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers, which some have seen as a justification for authoritarianism and even totalitarianism.
From the age of about 60, Hobbes began to suffer “shaking palsy” (probably Parkinson’s Disease) and he died from a stroke in 1679.
Image from www.theguardian.com/