Hobbes - European Philosophy - Thomas Hobbes
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Thomas Hobbes (yes, he's the one that Calvin named his tiger after) lived in England, about fifty years after Calvin and about the same time as Descartes.

While Hobbes' sister was kept at home, as a man Hobbes got to go to college at Oxford and read Thucydides, Aristotle, and other ancient authors. After college, Hobbes began teaching rich young men as a private tutor (he never got married or had children). In 1610 he traveled with his students to France and Italy, and ran into the very beginning of the Enlightenment there. Hobbes heard about the work of astronomers like Galileo, and medical researchers like William Harvey. Hobbes wasn't that interested in stars or sickness, but he wanted to see what this kind of scientific thought could do for politics and social science.

Hobbes saw that stars and planets formed solar systems and galaxies, and the heart and brain worked with the lungs to form the human body. He suggested that people also needed to organize themselves into systems, which we call society or government. Men and women without any organization, in a "state of nature", would selfishly take care of themselves, and not care about anybody else. They would fight with other people all the time, and live lives that were "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." In order to have happy, peaceful lives, people needed to enter into a "social contract" - a cooperative arrangement, rather like the Roman "do ut des". Just as the arms and legs worked together to make a human body, people could work together to make a country. Hobbes called this giant super-creature a Leviathan (luh-VI-uh-than), after a huge monster in the Christian Bible. But like Plato, Hobbes thought people were too competitive to rule democratically. Just as the brain runs the human body, a king or prime minister should run the Leviathan. A strong leader, Hobbes says, settles arguments and brings peace.

Like Machiavelli, Hobbes didn't see any reason to think that God chose kings, or that people should obey their kings because they were special to God somehow. People should obey because their lives will be better for it, even if they'll have to give up their freedom. Hobbes says this is like how men rule their own families - women, children, servants, and farmhands (but he doesn't explain how we get from the state of nature, where men and women are equal, to the family where men rule). The result of this family metaphor, though, is that it appears that men, rather than women, should be the rulers of countries. Hobbes was born when Sofia Baffo ruled the Ottoman Empire, Catherine de' Medici ruled France, and Queen Elizabeth ruled England, and he lived in France when Anne of Austria ruled it. So he knew that women did rule countries, but he didn't work that into his system. Instead, Hobbes used the "voluntary" submission of women to their husbands as a metaphor for the way men should consent to be ruled by their king.

In 1637, Hobbes came back to England, where Cromwell was beginning his revolution against King Charles. Hobbes took the side of Cromwell and the Puritans, but ended up making enemies on both sides of the war. All the fighting convinced Hobbes even more of the need for strong leaders and peace.

Because of his enemies, Hobbes had to spend another ten years in exile in Paris. While he was there, he met the French philosopher Descartes. They argued, because Descartes thought people's souls were separate from their bodies, while Hobbes thought that there was no difference between souls and bodies. Hobbes asked how the soul communicates with the body if they're separate? Descartes complained that if souls were just part of the body, religious faith was impossible. Many other people agreed, and saw Hobbes as an atheist. Even after Hobbes returned to England he continued to get in trouble with the Church and political enemies until he died of a stroke in 1679.

Go on to Descartes

Bibliography and further reading about Hobbes:

Go on to Descartes
Modern Europe
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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