Hobbes' Life & Work
by Garth Kemerling. Be sure to use the extensive links to relavant names and ideas.

On Hobbes's Leviathan
Summaries and observations on this great work from Garth Kemerling.

The Leviathan
A searchable version of
the 1660 text by Hobbes.

Hobbes's Moral and
Political Philosophy

A concise and incisive analysis by Sharon A. Lloyd.



Thomas Hobbes

In what matter soever there is place for addition and subtraction, there also is place for reason; and where these have no place, there reason has nothing at all to do.
[Leviathan, Chapter V]

While Hobbes was a mathematician and linguist by training, his major contribution is in the area of political philosophy. His works Leviathan and De Cive remain basic texts in studies of politcal theory. Part of the power of these works is the method that Hobbes sought to solve complex issues such as what is the most stable and fair political system? Starting with definitions and self-evident principles, as is done in geometry, he builds up through the mechanics of physics, the dynamic of living things, the psychology of humans, and the laws of social organizational. Because of his striking depictions of human self-interest and the social contract, Hobbes is often read in portions. Yet, to follow his reasoning in Leviathan from start to end is to witness a remarkable mind dedicated to the conviction that humankind can solve its most vexing social problems with the systematic application of reason.

Hobbes (1588-1679) was contemporary with the French philosopher Rene Descartes and wrote reviews (Objections) of Descartes' Meditations. He opposed Descartes' dualism and is an important source of the philosophical mechanism.

Unlike French, Greek, and Chinese philosophy, works written in the English language are presented to English-language readers in their original form. The advantage of this for English language readers is that we are able to read original works that are not mediated by translation. The disadvantage is that we must read original texts that are separated from our current language by time and culture. The vocabulary, grammar, and conventions are often not familiar to us. Almost always, these old texts include assumptions about the maleness of readers. If that ever was true, it is not anymore. The remedy to challenging texts is to take the reading slow and in parts. Get the point of each sentence and look to how it connects to the last and next. That, by the way, is the same skill needed to make thoughtful analysis of philosophical works. Consider, for instance, the following passage from the concluding chapter of Leviathan.

Of Darkness from Vain Philosophy and Fabulous Traditions
"And to consider the contrariety of men's opinions and manners in general, it is, they say, impossible to entertain a constant civil amity with all those with whom the business of the world constrains us to converse: which business consisteth almost in nothing else but a perpetual contention for honour, riches, and authority....To which I answer that these are indeed great difficulties, but not impossibilities: for by education and discipline, they may be, and are sometimes, reconciled."

I am certain that you are able to work through the unfamiliarity of the language to capture the spirit of Hobbes' optimism. Please do not be hasty is rejecting any philosopher's ideas because it is hard to read. These thinkers are grapling with problems that many people regard as impossible to understand or solve. Anyone who offers a serious alternative must be given our fair attention.

Next - learn more about Hobbes' Mechanism Link to next page



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