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Thomas Hobbes

(1588 - 1679)

Biography of Thomas Hobbes:

English philosopher, son of a Protestant clergyman, Thomas Hobbes was one of the first thinkers on the modern State and the founder of the civil philosophy. He started as a tutor of the Cavendish family, earl of Devonshire, and took a great interest in mathematics and physics. Thomas Hobbes made the most of his pupilís travels in Europe to meet scientists as Galileo and Mersenne. He worked with the chancellor and philosopher Francis Bacon with whom he was opposed in the field of ideas. At the time of the English revolution, by prudence Thomas Hobbes settled in 1640 in Paris where he saw Descartes and Cassendi frequently. He was under the influence of libertines and published "De cive" (On the Citizen).

Thomas Hobbes returned to England in 1651 not to be obliged to become converted to Catholicism. This attitude showed less his attachment to Protestantism than his anticlericalism and his convictions about the priority that State must have on Church. Then he published Leviathan, manuscript he had written in France, which made allowances between the temporal and the spiritual power. Because of this work and the following ones (Of Liberty and Necessity, Of the Body Politic, Human Nature), the English clergy accused him of being antireligious. Therefore, he had to take refuge to Chatsworth at the earl of Devonshire.

The wars of religion in France and the civil wars in England induced him to develop a philosophy where he considered that only the absolutism of State, to which men entrust by contract the care to govern them, is able to preserve right and peace. Thomas Hobbes, consequently, refused the power by divine right. As regards morals, he thought that man must act according to a "utility selfishness" which rises from the instinct of self-preservation (conatus) and of domination. His naturalistic philosophy built from the human feeling was inseparable from science, in particular that of the human body. Thomas Hobbes thought that experiment is the only basis of any knowledge. His rationalist, materialist and anticlerical thought - it denies the existence of soul - inspired the French philosopher as Diderot, Holbach and Voltaire. He did not, however, carry on to the end of materialism and admitted that man, not being able to know God with reason, may find him with faith.

Four years after the Hobbesís death, the University of Oxford condemned his works "On the citizen" and "Leviathan" and burned them at the stake.
Bibliography : Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (1640), Humane Nature (1640), De Cive (On the Citizen, 1642), Leviathan (1651), Of Liberty and Necessity (1654), De Corpore Politico (Of the body politic, 1655), Behemoth (1668).


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