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Thomas Hobbes


Thomas (April 5, 1588 to December 4, 1679) was an English philosopher who is regarded as one of the forefathers of contemporary political philosophy. Hobbes is widely known for his 1651 work Leviathan, which espoused a popular articulation of social contract theory. Hobbes also made contributions to history, law, geometry, physics of gasses, religion, ethics, and general philosophy, in addition to political philosophy.

The Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes

According to Thomas Hobbes, society arose as a method of protecting mankind from the consequences of their own nature. Because of his fundamentally selfish character, man was perpetually at odds with his neighbors in his natural form. 'Man's life was lonely, impoverished, ugly, brutish, and short.' Every guy had an adversary in every other man.
Hobbes made it plain in his book Leviathan that man finds nothing but pain in the company of his fellows. Because the state of nature was unbearable and mankind yearned for peace, the people formed a type of social compact to protect their own security and assurance of life and property. By unanimous agreement, they agreed to pass over their inherent rights to a few or one with command authority. Each agreed with all, and all agreed with each other. As an everlasting social link, the contract becomes binding on the whole society. Thus, in order to shield himself/herself from the negative effects of his/her own nature, individual person organized himself/herself in society in order to live in harmony with everybody.

Thomas Hobbes' political thought

Hobbes presented his philosophy in a variety of style for different audiences. De Cive presents his view in what he considers to be its most empirical form. Unlike The portion of Law, which was written in English for English parliamentarians & with local/regional political challenges to Charles-I in mind, De Cive was written in classic language for an audience of Continental savants interested in "new" science i.e, science that did not appeal to the authority of the ancients but approached different problems with fresh principles of explanation. De Cive's retreat from the pre-eminent past authority, Aristotle, could not have been more publicized. Thomas Hobbes set-aside one of Aristotle's most renowned theory in politics after only a few words, namely that layman are inherently fitted to live in a police & don't completely fulfill their natures until they perform the position of citizen. Thomas flips Aristotle's premise on its head, affirm that human are naturally not fit to political life. They naturally criticize & compete with one another, are readily misled by the rhetoric of aspiring individuals, & place far more value on themselves than others. In precise, their passions enhance the significance they place on their own interests, particularly those that are instant. At the same time, most of the people lack the capacity & courage to win over competitors while pursuing their self interests. People also cannot appeal to some inherent universal normal of behavior that everyone will feel obligated to adhere. Even when humans are modest in their cravings, there is no inherent self-restraint, because a cruel & blood thirsty minority might make even the moderate feel obligated to take violent pre-emptive action in order to stop losing all. Even modest self-restraint can readily devolve into bitterness. Specifically, no human being is immune to hostility & the anarchy (chaos) that ensues.
Humans are more prone to war than to political order. Indeed, political order is only feasible when humans renounce their natural state of assessing and pursuing what is best to each individual and transfer this judgment to someone else. This delegation occurs when a group of people choose to submit to a sovereign in exchange for physical protection and a semblance of well-being. Each of the many effectively says to the other, "I give my right of self-government to X (the sovereign) provided you do as well." And the transfer is engaged collectively with the assumption that it makes one less vulnerable to assault or dispossessed than one would be in one's natural state. Although Hobbes did not believe that there was ever an actual historical event in which a mutual pledge was made to transfer self-government to a sovereign. He maintained that seeing the state as the product of such an agreement was the best way to comprehend it.
Many people in Hobbes' social contract sacrifice liberty for safety. According to Hobbes, liberty, with its open invitation to local conflict and, eventually, all-out war—a "war of every man against every man"—is overrated in conventional political thought and public opinion; it is better for people to delegate the authority to rule themselves to the sovereign. Once transferred, however, this prerogative of the government is absolute, unless the many believe that compliance would endanger their lives. The sovereign decides who owns what, who holds which public posts, how the economy is governed, what activities are crimes, and how offenders should be punished. The sovereign or Head of State is the supreme commander of the army, the supreme interpreter of the law, and the supreme interpretation of the Bible, with power over any national church. It is unjust—a breach of agreement—for any subject to object to these arrangements, since by forming the state or accepting its protection, one agrees to leave judgements about the means of collective well-being and security to the sovereign. The sovereign's laws, decrees, and nominations to public office may be unpopular, if not incorrect. However, until the sovereign fails so completely that subjects believe their situation would be no worse in the free for all outside the state, it is better for the subjects to accept the sovereign's authority.
It is more prudent both prudentially and ethically. Because no one can rationally choose unlimited liberty to subjugation because no one can rationally embrace a higher danger of death. Total liberty breeds conflict, and surrender is the best antidote to war. Morality also supports this conclusion, because, according to Hobbes, all moral precepts enjoining good behavior are derivable from the foundational moral precept that one should pursue peace—that is, freedom from war—if it is safe to do so. Without peace, humans live in "constant fear and risk of violent death," and their lives are "solitary, poor, ugly, brutish, and short." Hobbes' "laws of nature," the system of moral rules by which everyone is bound, cannot be safely observed outside the state, because the total liberty that people have outside the state includes the liberty to disregard moral requirements if one's survival appears to depend on it. The sovereign is not a signatory to the social compact; he accepts the allegiance of the many as a free gift in the belief that he would ensure their safety. In order to gain their allegiance, the sovereign offers no promises to the many. Indeed, he keeps the absolute liberty that his people trade for safety because he does not cede his right to self-government to anybody. He is not bound by the rule of law, including his own. He also does not act unfairly if he makes judgments concerning his people' safety and well-being that they do not agree with.
Although the sovereign is in a better position to appraise the means of survival and well-being for the people than they are, he is not immune to self-interested desires. Hobbes recognises that the sovereign may act unjustly. He maintains that it is extremely unwise for a sovereign to act ubiquitously in such a way that he disappoints his subjects' expectations of protection and makes them feel unsafe. Subjects who dread for their life relinquish their duty to obey, depriving the king of his power. The unseated king, reduced to the status of one among many as a result of his people' desertion, is likely to face the fury of those who surrendered to him in vain. Hobbes' masterwork, Leviathan (1651), does not deviate considerably from De Cive's concept of the relationship between protection and obedience, but it pays much greater emphasis to the civil responsibilities of Christian believers and the suitable and improper functions of a church inside a state (see church and state). Hobbes contends that believers do not jeopardize their chances of salvation by strictly adhering to a sovereign's decrees, and he maintains that churches have no authority that is not permitted by the civil sovereign. Hobbes' political beliefs influenced his work in various domains, including historiography and legal theory. His political theory is primarily concerned with the organization of government in order to avert civil conflict. It incorporates a perspective of the traditional causes of civil war, all of which are reflected in his chronicle of the English Civil Wars, Behemoth; or, The Long Parliament (1679). Hobbes wrote the first English translation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, which he considered provided crucial lessons for his contemporaries about the excesses of democracy, which he saw as the worst type of dilution of royal authority.

Return to the United Kingdom

There are indications that Hobbes intended Leviathan to be read by a king, who would be able to glean statecraft norms from it. While in exile in Paris, Prince Charles was handed a specially bound copy. Unfortunately, Hobbes' proposal in Leviathan that a subject had the right to desert a monarch who could no longer protect him infuriated the prince's counselors. Hobbes saw his situation in Paris growing increasingly unpleasant as he was prohibited from the exiled court and under suspicion by French officials for his attack on the pope. Hobbes returned to England towards the end of 1651, around the time Leviathan was published, and made peace with Oliver Cromwell's new authority. Hobbes had long bowed to its power before the monarchy was restored in 1660.
Hobbes rose to prominence with the Restoration in 1660. Hobbes was re-acquired by Charles II. The presence of Hobbes at court scandalized the bishops and chancellor, but the king enjoyed his humor. He even gave Hobbes a £100-a-year stipend and had his image displayed in the royal wardrobe. Hobbes did not feel severely threatened until 1666, when the House of Commons produced a measure against atheism and profanity, since the committee to which the bill was assigned was directed to study Leviathan. Hobbes, who was nearing the age of 80 at the time, burnt any materials he felt may implicate him.

Thomas Hobbes' Optics

Hobbes' most important contributions to natural science were in optics. In his day, an optical theory was required to make pronouncements about the nature of light, the propagation of light from the Sun to the Earth, reflection and refraction, and the operation of optical equipment such as mirrors and lenses. Hobbes addressed these issues in a number of brief treatises and letters, including one with Descartes on the latter's Dioptrics (1637). A Minute or First Draught of the Optiques was Hobbes' most polished optical work (1646).
Hobbes' optical theory, in its mature form, held that the dilations & contractions of an original light source, such as the Sun, are transmitted through contact with a uniform, pervasive ethereal medium, which stimulates the eye & the nerves connected to it, eventually resulting in a "phantasm," or sense-image, in the brain. The features of a sense-image do not need to be described in terms of the attributes of a perceived object, according to Hobbes' view. Instead, just motion and matter—the movement of a light source, the disruption of a physical nerve system, and sense membranes—must be evoked. Traditional optics, as developed within Aristotle's framework, maintained that perceiving the color of something—the redness of a cherry, for example—was a matter of recreating the "form" of the color in the sense organs; the form is then detached from the sense organs by the mind. In Hobbes' optics, "sensible forms," or the qualities communicated by objects to the senses during perception, were completely ignored.

Hobbes' system

Mechanical theories are those that attribute all observed phenomena to matter and motion. Hobbes was thus a mechanical materialist: he believed that only material things are real, and that the subject matter of all natural sciences consisted of the movements of material objects at various degrees of generality. Geometry considers the effects of movements of points, lines, and solids; pure mechanics considers the motions of three-dimensional objects in a full space, or plenum; physics considers the motions of inanimate body parts insofar as they contribute to observable phenomena; and psychology considers the effects of animate body internal motions on behavior. Hobbes' trilogy's natural science system provides his interpretation of the materialist foundations that underpin all science.
The fact that Hobbes incorporated both politics and psychology in his framework, however, has tended to obscure his stress on political knowledge's independence from natural-scientific understanding. Politics, according to Hobbes, does not have to be understood in terms of the movements of material things (though, in the end, it can be); a certain sort of generally available self-knowledge is sufficient proof of the human proclivity to conflict. Although Hobbes is often regarded as having discovered "laws of motion" for both humans and civilizations, the best that can be credibly said is that he built his political philosophy on psychological concepts that he believed might be enlightened by general laws of motion.

Last years and their impact

Despite his detractors at home, no English-man of the time had as high regard abroad as Hobbes, and renowned foreigners who visited England were always ready to pay their respects to the elderly man, whose energy and freshness of brain remained unquenched. Hobbes entertained himself in his last times by returning to his youth's classical studies. At the age of 84, he published his autobiography in Latin verse, with its whimsical humor, occasional melancholy, and supreme self-complacency. In 1675, he published a harsh English rhymed translation of the Odyssey, with a colorful introduction, "Concerning the Virtues of a Heroic Poem." The following year, a translation of the Iliad was published. Even four months earlier, he had told his publisher that he would "partially print in English."
Hobbes' significance stems not only from his political philosophy, but also from his contribution to the development of an anti-Aristotelian and thoroughly materialist view of natural science. His political philosophy influenced not only those who adopted the social-contract framework—for example, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant—but also, less directly, those theorists who linked political and moral decision making in rational people to considerations of self-interest broadly defined. Hobbes' materialist bent is also consistent with modern Anglo-American, or analytical, metaphysics, which tends to consider as real only those entities presupposed by physics in particular or empirical science in general.