Thomas Hobbes

Philosopher / Writer

Born: 5 April 1588
Died: 4 December 1679
Birthplace: Westport, Wiltshire, England
Best known as: English philosopher who wrote Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher who wrote the 1651 book, Leviathan, a political treatise that described the natural life of mankind as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Hobbes was educated at Oxford and worked as a tutor to the son of William Cavendish, later the Earl of Devonshire. His connections to the royal family gave him opportunities to travel and pursue his studies, but they also put him in the middle of the English Civil War. In 1640 political turmoil forced him to leave England for France, where he continued to associate with scholars and scientists of Europe, including Galileo and René Descartes. In his philosophical works, Hobbes wrote that matter and motion are the only valid subjects for philosophy. In Leviathan, he argued that man's natural state is anti-social, and that moral rules are created to avoid chaos. Hobbes's notion that social authority can come from the people -- and not necessarily a monarch -- rankled his royal associates, but helped him reconcile with Oliver Cromwell and the English revolutionaries, and he returned to England shortly after Leviathan was published. After the Restoration of 1660, Hobbes was favored by King Charles II, who granted him a pension, but urged him to clear future publications with the throne. Hobbes's "nasty, brutish and short" line is still used often when students and politicians discuss human nature and the proper role of government.

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