6PO003 Political Theory
Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes and Leviathan

Leviathan is Hobbes's most famous work and was published in 1651.

It is available online at - http://www.orst.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html


Hobbes lived from 1588 to 1679.
You can find a Hobbes Timeline at - http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/hobbes.html

Hobbes was in the service of the Cavendish family for most of his adult life. He acted as tutor, secretary, advisor, translator & business agent. He had access to libraries, travel, Members of Parliament and other scholars, in England and abroad. He does not seem to have had any independent source of income and there is no record of him marrying or having children.

There is evidence in the content and timing of many of his works, and in his letters and other contemporary sources, that Hobbes was influenced by and sought to influence contemporary events, especially the dispute between King and Parliament.

Many sources say that Hobbes planned to write other books before the Elements of Law but because of the escalation of events between King and Parliament in England, he decided to publish it in 1640. As his book seemed to support the King against the claims of Parliament, Hobbes began fearing for his welfare, and so left England for Paris where he stayed until 1651


  • Conflict between King and Parliament 1625-1642
  • Civil War 1642-1646
  • Execution of Charles I 1649
  • Cromwell established Protectorate which lasted until his death in 1658
  • Restoration of Monarchy 1660

Sources http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon47.html
and http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon49.html

Quotations on the Context of Hobbes's Thought
"For Hobbes, moral and political philosophy were not merely academic exercises; he believed that they could be of tremendous practical importance. Hobbes's moral and political philosophy is informed by a purpose: the attainment of peace and the avoidance of war, especially civil war. When he errs, it is generally in his attempt to state the cause of peace in the strongest possible form.

However, his writings are very bold. He published views that he knew would be strongly disliked by both parties to the English Civil War. He supported the king over Parliament, which earned him the enmity of those supporting Parliament, but he also denied the divine right of the king, which earned him the enmity of many royalists, though not of the king. He also put forward views concerning God and religion that he knew would make him extremely unpopular. The Roman Catholic Church put his books on the Index and Oxford University dismissed faculty for being Hobbists. Some people recommended burning not only his books but himself."

Source http://www.xrefer.com/entry/552317 (no longer available)

"In the context of the age, Hobbes's theory seemed to argue that Parliament's rebellion was illegitimate as long as Charles was king. But once the head of King Charles I fell, then all rebellion against the Parliament becomes illegitimate. For Hobbes, power legitimates, power is justice. The State -- whatever its form -- is always, by definition, right, as long as it is capable of maintaining civil peace."

Source Miles Hodges (2000) originally http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/hobbes.htm
Now http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/hobbes/hobbesbio.htm

1640 The Elements of Law, Natural and Political was "designed to demonstrate that the royal prerogative belonged by nature to the monarchy. But this pleased neither faction in the dispute. Hobbes conceived of the royal prerogative as an evolved principle of governance arising from some ancient contractual transfer of power of popular or democratic society when democracy showed itself unable to govern properly. The royalists were not pleased at Hobbes' building a logical explanation of royal power on some kind of social contract theory arising from the consent of the people--for they claimed that royal power came solely and indisputedly from God. But the anti-Royalists were unhappy with his work because it built a strong argument for absolute royal power."

Source Miles Hodges (2000) originally http://www.newgenevacenter.org/biography/hobbes2.htm
Now http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/hobbes/hobbesbio.htm

The Audience of Leviathan

"Leviathan attracted much hostile attention on its publication and was regularly denounced as a work of materialism and of atheism."

Source http://www.thoemmes.com/encyclopedia/hobbes.htm (not accessible 20/1/08)

"Some of his contemporaries were alarmed at some of his doctrines, such as his denial of extra-human authority, his doctrine of human selfishness, and his suggestion that we cannot know any of God's attributes."

Source http://www.island-of-freedom.com/HOBBES.HTM

An excellent source is Geoffrey M. Vaughan (2001) 'The Audience of LEVIATHAN and the Audience of Hobbes's Political Philosophy' History of Political Thought Vol. XXII. No. 3. Autumn.


Hobbes's work can be seen as marking the transition from medieval to modern philosophy, from thought based on Christianity to thought based on scientific method and logic. It is also significant that his most famous work, Leviathan was written in English and not Latin. His method is deductive not empirical and his view of human nature is deterministic and materialist. Some of his ideas provide a basis for the later development of utilitarianism and his concept of the social contract, together with those of Locke and Rousseau, is influential in political thought and political practice.

"English philosopher who is generally regarded as the founder of English moral and political philosophy."

Source http://www.xrefer.com/entry/552317 (no longer available)

Online Articles about Hobbes's Ideas

Philosophy Pages from Garth Kemerling - http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/3x.htm

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature - http://www.bartleby.com/217/1207.html

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - http://www.iep.utm.edu/hobmoral/

The History Guide - http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/hobbes.html

Search Hobbes work - http://www.ps.ritsumei.ac.jp/shige2/index/search.htm

Short Bibiography

Apperley, A. (1999) 'Hobbes on Democracy', Politics 19(3): 165-71.
Barry, B. (1989) 'Warrender and His Critics' in Lively, J. and Reeve, A. (eds) Modern Political Theory from Hobbes to Marx.
Bowle, J. (1969) Hobbes and his Critics.
Brown, K. (ed) (1965) Hobbes Studies.
Forsyth, M. (1994) 'Hobbes's Contractarianism: A Comparative Analysis' in Boucher, D. & Kelly, P. (eds), The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls
Gauthier, D. (1969) The Logic of Leviathan.
Goldsmith, M. (1966) Hobbes's Science of Politics.
Gray, J. (1993) 'Hobbes and the modern state' in Gray, J. Post-Liberalism.
Hampsher-Monk, I. (1992) A History of Modern Political Thought: major political thinkers from Hobbes to Marx, Oxford: Blackwell.
Hampton, J. (1986) Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition.
Hood, F. (1964) The Divine Politics of Thomas Hobbes: an interpretation of Leviathan, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Macpherson, C. The Political Theory of Posessive Individualism.
Martinich, A. (1995) A Hobbes Dictionary.
Mintz, S. (1962) The Hunting of Leviathan: seventeenth-century reactions to the materialism and moral philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Morris, C.W. (1999) The Social Contract Theorists: Critical Essays on Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.
Oakeshott, M. 'Introduction' to his edition of Leviathan (1960) Also reprinted in his Hobbes on Civil Association (1975).
Rogers, G. & Ryan, A. (eds) (1988) Perspectives on Thomas Hobbes
Slomp, G. (1994) 'Hobbes and the Equality of Women', Political Studies, 42(3): 441-452
Sorell, T. (1986) Hobbes, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Sorrell, T. (ed.) (1996) The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spragens, T. (1973) The Politics of Motion.
Tarlton, C. (1998) 'Rehabilitating Hobbes: Obligation, Anti-fascism and the Myth of the Taylor Thesis', History of Political Thought, XIX: 407-438.
Warrender, H. (1957) The Political Philosophy of Hobbes.
Vaughan, G. (2001) 'The Audience of Leviathan and the Audience of Hobbes's Political Philosophy' History of Political Thought XXII(3).

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/hobbpage.htm
Page created by Penny Welch March 2002/last updated February 2011