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Hobbes: 1588-1679

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Hobbes: 1588-1679

Historical Context

English Civil War (1642-1651)

-”Royalists” or people who wanted the continuation of an absolute monarchy


-”Parliamentarians” or people who wanted to restrict the king’s power, or even do away with the monarchy altogether

=> How government should be organized? And rulers constrained?

(No order in society => Civil war happened.)

1629: Work on Peloponnesian War

Order must be provided for a breakdown of this society.

Reciprocal relationship: We construct the world; the world constructs us.

Scientific Context

• Polymath

• Wrote during the Scientific Revolution

• Francis Bacon (worked for as private secretary)

• Rejected Aristotelian logic in favor of pure induction

• Sensory observation necessary for all knowledge

• Rene Descartes (corresponded and debated with)

• Philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

• Laid the foundation for 17th-century rationalism and opposed by the empiricist school of thought favored by Hobbes

• Galileo (met during travels in Italy & studied his work)

• Astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, mathematician

• Variously called the “father of observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of the scientific method”, the “father of science”.

Hobbes’ Methodology

Method of Resolution and Composition: one starts reasoning with ‘deduction’ (like Descartes suggested) but from there one moves to ‘induction’ (as Bacon recommended)

1. Start with an observed complex whole to be explained

2. Use imagination to identify the smallest components

3. Develop simple propositions

4. Build more complex propositions in step-by-step process

Individual - Multiple individual - build a society

Major Works

The Elements of Philosophy (3 vols.)

• De Cive (Concerning the Citizen) (1642)

• De Corpore (Concerning Body) (1655)

• De Homine (Concerning Man) (1658)

Leviathan (Written during the English War)

Three Major Themes in Book

1. Human Nature and the State of Nature

2. Social Contract (Mainly referring white, rich man with property)

3. Power of the Sovereign

What is Human Nature?

• Men deliberate between appetites and aversions - acts voluntarily

• Seek power - essence of human nature is struggle for power

• If one wants to survive - must obey all-powerful sovereign

Voluntary action - the two motions

Vital - blood, pulse, nutrition…

Animal/Voluntary - appetite/desire, aversion

Appetites: Born + Experience

Aversions: We do know have hurt us/We do not know whether they will hurt us or not

Deliberation and Will

The whole summe of desires, aversions till the thing be either done - Deliberation

The last appetite, or aversion - Will

Agency or FREE WILL?

• Each thought/action is caused by the preceding one in an infinite chain

• Mechanistic, but is it deterministic?

• Somehow, we do have CHOICE

Deliberation => (Free?) will => Voluntary

Hobbes seeks self-preservation.

Desire for Power - unending

Hobbes: Pessimistic => Humans are fearful.

Zero sum theory: If A gets +1, B gets -1. (A fixed pie of power)

Men born equal

“Nature had made men equal”

“The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest”

Evil <= Scarcity (Power, Property)

=> Competition

War of everyone against every one (P186, 189-190)

No guarantee and assurance of peace => At war




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