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Thomas Hobbes

« The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real. » — The Leviathan

Born: 5 April 1588 in Westport, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England. Educated at Oxford, where he graduated in 1608. Died: 4 Dec 1679 in Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, England.

The philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is perhaps the most complete materialist philosophy of the 17th century. Hobbes rejects Cartesian dualism and believes in the mortality of the soul. He rejects free will in favour of determinism, a determinism that treats freedom as being able to do what one desires. He rejects Aristotelian and scholastic philosophy in favour of the ±new½ philosophy of Galileo and Gassendi, which largely treats the world as matter in motion.

Hobbes is perhaps most famous for his political philosophy. Men in a state of nature, that is a state without civil government, are in a war of all against all in which life is hardly worth living. The way out of this desperate state is to make a social contract and establish the state to keep peace and order. Because of his view of how nasty life is without the state, Hobbes subscribes to a very authoritarian version of the social contract.

Hobbes Time Line

1588 — April 5, born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England. His premature birth was hastened by his motherφs fear upon hearing of the approach of the Spanish Armada. His father was vicar of Westport but fled to London after being involved in a brawl outside his own church, leaving Thomas to be raised by a wealthy uncle.

1603 — Enters Magdalen Hall, Oxford where he studies scholastic philosophy with little enthusiasm but does well in logic.

1608 — Receives bachelorφs degree and becomes tutor to the son of William Cavendish, earl of Devonshire.

1610 — On his first trip to the continent discovers the influence of scholasticism is waning and resolves to return to England to pursue learning based on the classics. Has several meetings with Francis Bacon.

1628 — Publication of his English translation of Thucydides through which he intended to show the English the dangers of democracy.

1629 — William Cavendish dies and Hobbes becomes tutor for the son of Sir Gervase Clinton. Travels to the continent with Clintonφs son and discovers a passion for geometry and ponders how to use the geometrical method to demonstrate his social and political principles.

1634-1637 — Once more employed by the Devonshires, he takes his third journey to the continent where he enters the intellectual circle of the abbé Mersenne, patron of both Descartes and Gassendi, and became good friends with Gassendi.

1636 — Travels to Italy where he meets with Galileo. With the influence of Galileo, Hobbes develops his social philosophy on principles of geometry and natural science.

1637 — Returns to England where the king and parliament are in a heated struggle.

1640 — Circulates his manuscript Elements of Law, which demonstrated the need for absolute sovereignty, to members of parliament. King dissolves parliament in May. November, the Long Parliament impeaches Thomas Wentworth and Hobbes flees to Paris where he is welcomed once more into the circle of Mersenne.

1642-1646 — Publication of De Cive and First Draught of the Optiques. Begins De Corpore, the first work in a trilogy on body, man and citizen.

1646 — Tutor in mathematics to the future Charles II, also exiled in Paris.

1647 — Severe illness puts him near death but he recovers. Publishes second edition of De Cive.

1648 — The death of Mersenne.

1651 — Publication of Leviathan. Returns to England and begins his dispute with John Bramall, bishop of Derry, on the issue of free will.

1654 — Of Liberty and Necessity published without his consent.

1655 — In response Bramall publishes A Defence of True Liberty from Antecedent and Extrinsical Necessity.

1656 — Response to Bramall published as The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance.

1657 — Publication of the second part of his trilogy, De Homine.

1658 — Another response by Bramall, Castigations of Hobbes his Last Animadversions with an appendix titled « The Catching of Leviathan the Great Whale ».

1663 — Death of Bramall.

1665 — Publication of De Corpore. Beginnings of his controversy with John Wallis and Seth Ward, charter members of the Royal Society, on issues of geometry, religion and the state of the universities. Year of the Great Plague.

1666 — Year of the Great Fire of London. After the two great catastrophes, parliament was caught up in a witch hunt and sought to stamp out atheism. Leviathan is scrutinized; the king intercedes in his behalf but prohibits Hobbes from publishing any more of his works.

1668 — Finishes Behemoth: the History of the Causes of the Civil Wars of England, a history of the period between 1640 and 1660, and submits it to the king for publication but is denied.

1672 — After completing a prose version of his autobiography, Hobbes writes a Latin verse version.

1675 — At the age of 86, publishes a translation of both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

1679 — December 4, dies at Hardwick Hall.

1682 — Posthumous publication of Behemoth.

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