Friday, August 31, 2007

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Sierra Club


No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.


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Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was a great English political philosopher,; most famous for his book Leviathan. In this book, he described human nature and the necessity of governments and societies. In the state of nature, while some men may be stronger or smarter than others, none are so far above as to be beyond fear of another man doing harm. Thus, each of us has rights to everything, and due to the scarcity of these things, we are in a constant state of war. However, man has a self-interested desire to end war, and so he forms societies by entering into a social contract. According to Hobbesism, such a society needs a leader to whom all members of that society surrender their authority, in order to secure a common defense.

This benevolent sovereign is chosen at random and becomes the Leviathan, an unquestionable authority. Hobbes also wrote numerous other books on political philosophy and other matters, providing a fairly perceptive account of human nature as self-interested cooperation. He was also a contemporary of Descartes and wrote one of the replies to Descartes' Meditations. Philip Coates in "Wreaking Hobbes on mankind" (Independent Review, 06/01/97) postulates that Hobbes's pessimistic view of human nature reflected the social and political situation of his own times. The tiger in Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin and Hobbes was named after Thomas Hobbes; the boy after John Calvin. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Thomas Hobbes.]

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