Thomas Hobbes — , whose current reputation rests largely on his political philosophy, was a thinker with wide-ranging interests. In philosophy, he defended a range of materialist, nominalist, and empiricist views against Cartesian and Aristotelian alternatives. In physics, his work was influential on Leibniz, and led him into disputes with Boyle and the experimentalists of the early Royal Society. In mathematics he was less successful, and is best remembered for his repeated unsuccessful attempts to square the circle.

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Thomas Hobbes — , whose current reputation rests largely on his political philosophy, was a thinker with wide-ranging interests. In philosophy, he defended a range of materialist, nominalist, and empiricist views against Cartesian and Aristotelian alternatives.

In physics, his work was influential on Leibniz, and led him into disputes with Boyle and the experimentalists of the early Royal Society. In mathematics he was less successful, and is best remembered for his repeated unsuccessful attempts to square the circle. But despite that, Hobbes was a serious and prominent participant in the intellectual life of his time. Thomas Hobbes was born on 5 April His home town was Malmesbury, which is in Wiltshire, England, about 30 miles east of Bristol.

His father, also called Thomas Hobbes, was a somewhat disreputable local clergyman. The older Thomas Hobbes eventually in left Malmesbury, when a dispute with another clergyman, Richard Jeane, escalated to the point of a fight in a churchyard.

By that point the future philosopher Hobbes had himself left Malmesbury in or , in order to study at Magdalen Hall, Oxford. His studies there were supported by his uncle, Francis Hobbes, who was a glover. After graduating from Oxford in February , Hobbes went to work for the Cavendish family, initially as a tutor to William Cavendish — , who later became the second earl of Devonshire. Hobbes would work for the same family most of the rest of his life. Hobbes had also interacted with various prominent intellectual figures.

Earlier on, around , Hobbes worked for some time as a secretary to Francis Bacon. Hobbes first made a notable impact with philosophical writings in the early s. These included his Elements of Law and De Cive. The Elements of Law , which Hobbes circulated in , is the first work in which Hobbes follows his typical systematic pattern of starting with the workings of the mind and language, and developing the discussion towards political matters. However, De Cive was conceived as part of a larger work, the Elements of Philosophy.

De Corpore , which is discussed below, covers issues of logic, language, method, metaphysics, mathematics, and physics.

De Homine , meanwhile, focuses on matters of physiology and optics. At this time Hobbes also had a series of interactions with Descartes. Descartes saw some of this, and sent a letter to Mersenne in response, to which Hobbes also responded.

In these exchanges and elsewhere, the attitudes of Hobbes and Descartes to one another involved a curious mixture of respect and dismissal. On the one occasion they are said to have met, in , they did not get along well Martinich , In earlier letters, Descartes suggested that Hobbes was more accomplished in moral philosophy than elsewhere, but also that he had wicked views there Descartes , 3. Hobbes spent the next decade in exile in Paris, leaving England late in , and not returning until His exile was related to the civil wars of the time.

Hobbes was associated with the royalist side, and might also have had reason to fear punishment because of his defence of absolute sovereignty in his political philosophy.

Late in his time in France, Hobbes wrote Leviathan , which was published in After his return to England in , Hobbes continued to publish philosophical works for several years.

De Homine was published in , completing the plan of the Elements of Philosophy. In later years Hobbes defended his work in a series of extended debates.

He also published a Latin edition of Leviathan in , in which there were some significant changes and additions relating to controversial topics, such as his treatments of the Trinity and the nature of God. Indeed, in the s he published translations of the Odyssey and Iliad. And in the late s he wrote a history of the civil wars, Behemoth; or, The Long Parliament , which was published posthumously Hobbes a.

Hobbes died on 4 December at Hardwick Hall, one of the homes of the Cavendish family, with whom he was still associated after seventy years. Hobbes begins with questions about mind and language, and works towards questions in political philosophy. How exactly the parts of the system are connected has long been debated. But Hobbes thinks at least that we will better understand how individuals interact in groups if we understand how individuals work.

Hobbes did not insist it was necessary to work through all the issues about individuals before tackling the issues about groups, as he acknowledged when he published the third part of the Elements of Philosophy De Cive first. But he did think it helpful. Thus even in Leviathan , with its focus on political and religious matters, Hobbes starts with a story about the workings of the mind.

The first six chapters work through issues about the senses, imagination, language, reason, knowledge, and the passions. Hobbes is a sort of empiricist, in that he thinks all of our ideas are derived, directly or indirectly, from sensation. Quite why this endeavour from inside to out should make the sensation seem to come from outside is unclear, for things coming from outside should be moving the other way.

At any rate, the sensation is strongly grounded in, perhaps even identical with, the internal motions. But what, we might ask, is the quality? What is, say, red? In this chapter Hobbes seems happy to say that red in the object is just motions in it, and that red in us is motions in us, which give rise to or are a certain sensation. And he seems happy to avoid the issue of whether red itself belongs to the sensation or the object.

This is a story about how we form ideas. That is, we can take the ideas, the faded sensations, from different experiences and combine them together. Imagination and memory, Hobbes says, are the same thing, with two names that point to different aspects of the phenomenon of decaying sense.

Moreover, Hobbes thinks that understanding is a sort of imagination. That is, the faculty of imagining is responsible for understanding, as well as for compounding images and for memory. Understanding is not restricted to humans. But humans have a sort of understanding that other creatures lack. A dog, for instance, can understand the will of its owner, say that its owner wants it to sit down.

In general, the understanding that non-human animals can have is the understanding of will. Understanding is for Hobbes the work of the faculty of imagination, and crucially involves language. An account of the workings of language is thus crucial for his having an account of the workings of the mind. For Hobbes, the mind contains sense, imagination, and the workings of language, and no further rational faculty, such as the Cartesian immaterial mind that can grasp natures by clear and distinct perception.

His story about sensation, the formation of ideas, and the workings of imagination is supposed to explain how some of our thought works. Hobbes denies the existence of that immaterial mind, and needs other accounts of those functions. This — combined no doubt with some independent interest in the topic — leads to Hobbes devoting a fair amount of attention to issues in the philosophy of language.

But what is signification? One important question here is whether and how Hobbes distinguishes signification and the thing signified from naming and the thing named. That is, Hobbes first introduces names as having a private use for individuals, to help them to bring particular ideas to mind.

Notice here that though the point of using names is to recall ideas, the thing named is not necessarily an idea. Later in that chapter, Hobbes starts to talk explicitly about signifying rather than naming. However, it is not at all clear that he really means to introduce signifying as a relation distinct from naming here. Indeed, he seems rather to be giving the same relation two different names.

In Leviathan and De Corpore something more complex goes on Duncan The equivalent chapters in Leviathan and De Corpore start in the same way, with discussions of the role of names as marks to aid the memory Hobbes , 4. Though there are hints of this account in Leviathan , it is set out in most detail in De Corpore. Someone might think that, and nevertheless have a derivative notion of what a word signifies. Hobbes takes some steps in this direction. In particular, we can understand two words having the same signification as their being interchangeable without changing the signification of the utterance Hungerland and Vick , And some interpreters go further, and take Hobbes to believe that words signify ideas, which are the ideas they call to mind when used in utterances.

Hobbes is a nominalist: he believes that the only universal things are names Hobbes , 5. There is one name, and there are many trees.

But there is not, Hobbes argues, some further thing that is the universal tree. Nor is there some universal idea that is somehow of each or all of the trees. What Hobbes calls common names, those words which apply to multiple things, are applied because of similarities between those things, not because of any relation to a universal thing or idea.

There are, in the minds of speakers, ideas related to those names, but they are not abstract or general ideas, but individual images of individual things. Leibniz put the point as follows. Hobbes seems to me to be a super-nominalist. For not content like the nominalists, to reduce universals to names, he says that the truth of things itself consists in names and what is more, that it depends on the human will, because truth allegedly depends on the definitions of terms, and definitions depend on the human will.

This is the opinion of a man recognized as among the most profound of our century, and as I said, nothing can be more nominalistic than it. Yet it cannot stand. In arithmetic, and in other disciplines as well, truths remain the same even if notations are changed, and it does not matter whether a decimal or a duodecimal number system is used Leibniz , However, he does endorse various claims about aspects of language and truth being conventional and arbitrary.

Some such claims are widely agreed upon: whether we write from left to right or right to left, for instance, and what particular marks we choose to represent words on paper. But Hobbes also endorses other, more controversial, claims of this sort.

Most controversially perhaps, Hobbes thinks that there is a conventionality and arbitrariness in the way in which we divide the world up in to kinds. That is, the groupings and kinds, though based in similarities, are not determined by those similarities alone, but also and primarily by our decisions, which involve awareness of the similarities, but also an arbitrary element.

Hobbes describes reasoning as computation, and offers sketches of the computation that he thinks is going on when we reason.

In De Corpore Hobbes first describes the view that reasoning is computation early in chapter one.


The Elements of Philosophy: De Homine

De Cive "On the citizen" is one of Thomas Hobbes 's major works. The English translation of the work made its first appearance four years later London under the title 'Philosophicall rudiments concerning government and society'. It anticipates themes of the better-known Leviathan. The famous phrase bellum omnium contra omnes "war of all against all" appeared first in De Cive. De Cive is the first of a trilogy of works written by Hobbes dealing with human knowledge , the other two works in the trilogy being De Corpore "On the body" , published in and De Homine "On man" , published in Because of the political turmoil of the time, namely the unrest leading up to the Civil War of , Hobbes hastily "ripened and plucked" the work which would systematically come last: De Cive. This work comprises three parts: Libertas liberty , Imperium dominion , and Religio religion.


Thomas Hobbes

This is an updated edition of the year-old translation of Hobbes's two Latin precursors to the Leviathan. These are important statements of Hobbes's thought and well worth reading on that account. Thomas Hobbes was born in Malmesbury, the son of a wayward country vicar. He was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and was supported during his long life by the wealthy Cavendish family, the Earls of Devonshire.

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