Thomas Hobbes – European philosophy

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Thomas Hobbes, a etching  of a middle-aged man with longish hair in a big white collar

Thomas Hobbes, a European philosopher

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 ThucydidesAristotle, 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.

Like Machiavelli, Hobbes didn’t see any reason to think that God chose kings. And he didn’t think that people should obey their kings because they were special to God somehow. People should obey kings 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 have to obey men. (But Hobbes doesn’t explain how we get from the state of nature, where men and women are equal, to the family where men rule.)

Calvin and Hobbes, from the comic

This is the other Hobbes (and Calvin)

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 Hobbes 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. Cromwell was just beginning his revolution against King Charles. Hobbes took the side of Cromwell and the Puritans. But he 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 about souls. Descartes thought people’s souls were separate from their bodies. 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. They saw Hobbes as an atheist. Even after Hobbes returned to England he continued to get in trouble with the Church and political enemies. Finally he died of a stroke in 1679.

Go on to Descartes

Bibliography and further reading about Hobbes:


Go on to Descartes
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By | 2018-04-23T09:44:15+00:00 August 7th, 2017|Modern Europe, Philosophy|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Thomas Hobbes – European philosophy. Study Guides, August 7, 2017. Web. May 22, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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