Leviathanby Thomas Hobbes
After the publication of his masterpiece of political theory, Leviathan, Or the Matter, and Power of Commonwealth Ecclesiastic and Civil, in 1651, opponents charged Thomas Hobbes with atheism and banned and burned his books. The English Parliament, in a search for scapegoats, even claimed that the theories found in Leviathan were a likely cause of the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.
For the modern reader, though, Hobbes is more recognized for his popular belief that humanity's natural condition is a state of perpetual war, with life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Despite frequent challenges by other philosophers, Leviathan's secular theory of absolutism no longer stands out as particularly objectionable. In the description of the organization of states, moreover, we see Hobbes as strikingly current in his use of concepts that we still employ today, including the ideas of natural law, natural rights, and the social contract. Based on this work, one could even argue that Hobbes created English-language philosophy, insofar as Leviathan was the first great philosophical work written in English and one whose impact continues to the present day.
About the Author:
Thomas Hobbes was born on Good Friday in 1588. Despite growing up in an impoverished clerical family, he was precociously intelligent and completed a classical education at Oxford. He decided not to follow in his father's footsteps, though, and instead became a tutor within an aristocratic family. When these royalist political connections and a number of personal writings in support of monarchical authority got Hobbes centrally involved in the turmoil of the English Civil War, he feared for his safety and fled to France in 1640. It was while in exile in France that he wrote Leviathan, the work that cemented Hobbes' philosophical reputation as the pre-eminent modern theorist of secular absolutism.
“Internationally renowned Hobbes scholar A.P. Martinich has produced the definitive version of Leviathan for student use. Handsomely turned out by Broadview Press, this edition features a highly informative introduction, a brief chronology of Hobbes’s life, as well as some useful notes on the text itself. Of special value are seven appendices drawn from the writings of contemporary critics of Hobbes’s thought, including Filmer, Lawson, Bramhall, Hyde and others. Martinich has made a difficult but essential text as accessible to students as it is likely ever to become.” George Wright, University of Wisconsin
“An admirably accessible edition of Hobbes’s masterpiece. The work is presented clearly, in its entirety, and with generous excerpts from Hobbes's formidable contemporary critics.” Kinch Hoekstra, Balliol College, Oxford University
“This very readable edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan is an excellent resource for students of political philosophy and its history. The collection of published responses to Leviathan by some of Hobbes’s most prominent contemporaries provides insight into the historical context in which he was writing, and philosophically challenging commentary on this great work of political philosophy.” Thomas Christiano, University of Arizona
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Meet the Author
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (5 April 1588 - 4 December 1679), in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy. His 1651 book Leviathan established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory.
Hobbes was a champion of absolutism for the sovereign, but he also developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be "representative" and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.
He was one of the founders of modern political philosophy. His understanding of humans as being matter and motion, obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential; and his account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political communities as being based upon a "social contract" remains one of the major topics of political philosophy.
In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes also contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, ethics, and general philosophy.
Early life and education
Thomas Hobbes was born at Westport, now part of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, England, on 5 April 1588. Born prematurely when his mother heard of the coming invasion of the Spanish Armada, Hobbes later reported that "my mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear." His childhood is almost a complete blank, and his mother's name is unknown. His father, also named Thomas, was the vicar of Charlton and Westport. Thomas Hobbes Sr. had an older brother, Francis Hobbes, who was a wealthy merchant with no family of his own. Thomas Hobbes, the younger, had one brother Edmund who was about two years older than him. Thomas Sr. abandoned his wife, two sons and a daughter, leaving them in the care of his brother, Francis, when he was forced to flee to London after being involved in a fight with a clergyman outside his own church.
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