Thomas Hobbes: Biography of this English philosopher

In this article we will see a biography of Thomas Hobbes, 17th century English philosopher, discussing his origins, career and some of his most significant works.

As we will see, Hobbes is considered one of the founders of contractualism, and was a conservative philosopher, who traveled widely and advocated an absolutist political regime. We will run through his thinking through his philosophical and social ideas, which were materialistic and deterministic in nature.

    Brief biography of Thomas Hobbes

    Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), full name Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, and also known as Thomas Hobbes Malmsbury, he was an English philosopher, specializing in political philosophy. Hobbes was born April 5, 1588 in Westport, near Malmesbury (England), and died December 4, 1679 in Derbyshire (England).

    Hobbes is particularly known for being considered one of the founders of modern political philosophy. One of his most notable works, “Leviathan” (1651), was the basis of Western political philosophy, which focused on the theory of the social contract. Thus, in this work, Hobbes presents the foundations of the contractualist theory.


    Contractualist theory (or contractualism) is a stream of modern political philosophy and law, which states that society enjoys a range of rights and social benefits in exchange for accepting that its freedoms are limited by a series of laws, they must follow and obey.

    Thus, in terms of Hobbes’ political philosophy, he stands out the idea of ​​the social contract on which political communities were based (In other words, contractualism).

    Law and Politics

    On the other hand, Hobbes too develop some of the foundations of European liberal thought, And spoke for example of equality as a fundamental right, of rights and of the artificial nature of the political order. Thus, although his thought is absolutist, he also makes some contributions on liberal thought.

    Thomas Hobbes was of the opinion that legitimate political power should be representative and based on the consent of the people, of the people. He also spoke about laws; in this sense, he was of the opinion that anything that was not expressly prohibited is permitted.


      Thomas Hobbes was the son of a Westport clergyman. His mother’s name is unknown and, in fact, much of his childhood is also unknown.

      In 1603 Hobbes studied at the University of Oxford, at Magdalen Hall. here he studies academic philosophy and logic, And he graduated five years later, in 1608. It was in that same year that he began to “take control” of the nobility and the most intellectual social class, taking over the count’s son. of Devonshire (William Cavendish).

      At only twenty years old, Thomas Hobbes undertook his first trip to Europe, in 1610; From this trip, Hobbes realizes the power that scholasticism (current theological and philosophical) still exercises in many fields of knowledge.

      Intellectual and professional trajectory

      As for his career, Thomas Hobbes published in 1628 a translation of Thucydides, a work which criticizes the democratic system and evokes its dangers, from a frankly conservative perspective.

      William Cavendish, the said earl and whose son Hobbes is caring for, died in 1629. From here, Hobbes becomes the tutor of Gervase Clinton’s son, with whom he travels across Europe, and discovers geometry. In fact, in geometry, Thomas Hobbes also finds one of his passions, and tries to apply it to the social and political principles which he so extolled.


      As we can see, Thomas Hobbes was a great traveler. In one of his journeys, concretely the third by Europe, carried out in 1637, the English philosopher relates to the circle of Marin Mersenne (An important French priest, mathematician and philosopher of the time).

      From there, Hobbes made contact with two important personalities: René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi. He also met important authors, like Galileo, also on one of his trips (this time to Italy, in 1636). Knowing Galileo influenced him in the development of his social philosophy, Based on geometry and natural sciences.

      After several trips, Hobbes finally returned to his native England in 1637. It was then that the philosopher secretly circulated a manuscript entitled Elements of Law; at the moment there are clashes between the king and the parliament. In this work, Hobbes defends the need for absolute sovereignty (against parliamentarism).

      However, after having circulated his work, the English philosopher does not feel calm, and fearing the consequences of this diffusion, he goes into exile in November, and voluntarily, in France. But Hobbes continues to write and publishes in 1642 De cive, which consists of a theory of government. He also begins to write another work, De corpore, which is the first work in a trilogy on “man, citizen and body”.

      Hobbes’ philosophy

      Now digging into the more theoretical part of this author, we ask ourselves what Hobbes’s philosophy looked like? This was based on two currents: materialism and determinism. In fact, Hobbes’ philosophy forms the most comprehensive materialist doctrine of the 17th century.

      According to him, the universe is a large bodily machine, in which the strict laws of mechanism are followed. By these laws, any phenomenon can be explained by simple quantitative elementsThat is, matter, the movement and collisions of matter in space.

      To illustrate all this a little, let us recall one of the sentences of Hobbes in his book Leviathan, which says: “The universe is corporeal. All that is real is material and all that is not material is not. real.” “.


      In this sentence we see how the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes was materialistic in nature. His view of philosophy was further linked to a deterministic position of the world; in other words that is to say, for him all the phenomena which take place in the universe, are determined, Desperately, by a causal chain of events.

      In other words, “nothing happens by chance”, but whatever happens is the necessary result of a number of causes. Accordingly, it is understood that everything, in a certain way, can be anticipated or anticipated.


      The determinism of the philosopher it is based on a rationalist method, which has a purely geometric and mathematical character. This method is, in fact, the analytical-synthetic method of Descartes, and is part of the hypothesis that “the parts of a whole (the causes of things) must be decomposed into smaller parts, in order to be able to explain and understand the whole or parts in their entirety “.


      We have seen how the ideas of Thomas Hobbes concerning politics are reflected in the work of Levitan. Its political ideas (and in relation to political philosophy) clash with the decentralizing (parliamentary) ideas of the moment..

      At that time, the Reformation offered an ideology and a freedom of conscience that Hobbes did not support. According to Hobbes, these ideas of the Reformation would lead to anarchy, chaos and revolution.

      This is why Hobbes advocates, as we have already seen, absolutism as the ideal political regime; according to him, this regime would fight all these “evils” which would probably give birth to ideological freedom and parliamentarism.

      Bibliographical references:

      Jacobson, N. (1987). The review of Thomas Hobbes: the radical in the service of the reaction. Political Psychology 8 (3): 469-471. Replogle, R. (1987). Personality and Society in Hobbes’ “Leviathan”. Polity 19 (4): 570-594. Vélez, F. (2014). The word and the sword. Back with Hobbes. Madrid: Maia.

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