Thomas Hobbes

English philosopher (1588–1679)

Thomas Hobbes (5 April 15884 December 1679) was an English philosopher, whose 1651 book Leviathan established the agenda for nearly all subsequent Western political philosophy.

Such Truth as opposeth no man's profit nor pleasure is to all men welcome.


The passion of laughter is nothing else but a sudden glory arising from sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmities of others, or with our own formerly.
  • Give an inch, he'll take an ell.
    • Liberty and Necessity (no. 111)
  • To understand this for sense it is not required that a man should be a geometrician or a logician, but that he should be mad.
    • On the proposition that the volume generated by revolving the region under 1/x from 1 to infinity has finite volume. Quoted in Mathematical Maxims and Minims by N. Rose (1988)
  • The passion of laughter is nothing else but a sudden glory arising from sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmities of others, or with our own formerly...
    • The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic Pt. I Human Nature (1640) Ch. 9
  • statu naturae Mensuram juris esse Utilitatem.
    • In the state of nature, Profit is the measure of Right.
    • De Cive (1642)
  • "For he that hath strength enough to protect all, wants not sufficiency to oppresse all."
    • De Cive "Of the right of him, whether Counsell, or one Man onely, who hath the supreme power in the City" (1642) Ch. 6
  • Now I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark.
    • Last words
In a way beset with those that contend, on one side for too great Liberty, and on the other side for too much Authority, 'tis hard to passe between the points of both unwounded.
For all men by nature reason alike, and well, when they have good principles.
The source of every Crime, is some defect of the Understanding; or some error in Reasoning; or some sudden force of the Passions.
Such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men's at a distance.
The office of the sovereign, be it a monarch or an assembly, consisteth in the end for which he was trusted with the sovereign power, namely the procuration of the safety of the people, to which he is obliged by the law of nature.


  • I know not how the world will receive it, nor how it may reflect on those that shall seem to favor it. For in a way beset with those that contend, on one side for too great Liberty, and on the other side for too much Authority, 'tis hard to passe between the points of both unwounded.
    • The Epistle Dedicatory, Paris, April 15-25, 1651


  • He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but Mankind; which though it be hard to do, harder than to learn any Language, or Science; yet, when I shall have set down my own reading orderly, and perspicuously, the pains left another, will be only to consider, if he also find not the same in himself. For this kind of Doctrine, admitteth no other Demonstration.
    • The Introduction, p. 2
  • Art goes... imitating that Rationall and most excellent worke of Nature, Man. For by Art is created that great Leviathan called a Common-Wealth or State, (in latine Civitas) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the Soveraignty is an Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; The Magistrates, and other Officers of Judicature and Execution, artificiall Joynts; Reward and Punishment (by which fastned to the seate of the Soveraignty, every joynt and member is moved to performe his duty) are the Nerves, that do the same in the Body Naturall; The Wealth and Riches of all the particular members, are the Strength; Salus Populi (the peoples safety) its Businesse; Counsellors, by whom all things needfull for it to know, are suggested unto it, are the Memory; Equity and Lawes, an artificiall Reason and Will; Concord, Health; Sedition, Sicknesse; and Civill war, Death. Lastly, the Pacts and Covenants, by which the parts of this Body Politique were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that Fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.
    • The Introduction

Chapter 2

  • If this superstitious fear of Spirits were taken away, and with it, Prognostiques from Dreams, false Prophecies, and many other things depending thereon, by which, crafty ambitious persons abuse the simple people, men would be much more fitted then they are for civill Obedience.
    • The First Part, Chapter 2, p. 8

Chapter 4

  • But all this language gotten, and augmented by Adam and his posterity, was again lost at the tower of Babel, when by the hand of God, every man was stricken for his rebellion, with an oblivion of his former language.
  • A naturall foole that could never learn by heart the order of numerall words, as one, two, and three, may observe every stroak of the Clock, and nod to it, or say one, one, one; but can never know what houre it strikes.
    • The First Part, Chapter 4, p. 14
  • "Understanding being nothing else, but conception caused by Speech."
    • The First Part, Chapter 4, p. 17

Chapter 5

  • But this priviledge, is allayed by another; and that is, by the priviledge of Absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, but man only.
    • The First Part, Chapter 5, p. 20
  • The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words: as if they could cast account, without knowing the value of the numerall words, one, two, and three.
    • The First Part, Chapter 5, p. 20 (See also: Algorithms)
  • It is not easy to fall into any absurdity, unless it be by the length of an account; wherein he may perhaps forget what went before. For all men by nature reason alike, and well, when they have good principles. For who is so stupid as both to mistake in geometry, and also to persist in it, when another detects his error to him?
    By this it appears that reason is not, as sense and memory, born with us; nor gotten by experience only, as prudence is; but attained by industry: first in apt imposing of names; and secondly by getting a good and orderly method in proceeding from the elements, which are names, to assertions made by connexion of one of them to another; and so to syllogisms, which are the connexions of one assertion to another, till we come to a knowledge of all the consequences of names appertaining to the subject in hand; and that is it, men call science. And whereas sense and memory are but knowledge of fact, which is a thing past and irrevocable, science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another; by which, out of that we can presently do, we know how to do something else when we will, or the like, another time: because when we see how anything comes about, upon what causes, and by what manner; when the like causes come into our power, we see how to make it produce the like effects.
    Children therefore are not endued with reason at all, till they have attained the use of speech, but are called reasonable creatures for the possibility apparent of having the use of reason in time to come.
    • The First Part, Chapter 5, p. 21 (See also: John Rawls)
  • Science is the knowledge of Consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another: by which, out of that we can presently do, we know how to do something else when we will, or the like, another time:
    • The First Part, Chapter 5, p. 21
  • But yet they that have no Science, are in better, and nobler condition with their naturall Prudence; than men, that by their mis-reasoning, or by trusting them that reason wrong, fall upon false and absurd generall rules.
    • The First Part, Chapter 5, p. 21

Chapter 6

  • But Aversion wee have for things, not only which we know have hurt us; but also that we do not know whether they will hurt us, or not.
    • The First Part, Chapter 6, p. 24
  • For Appetite with an opinion of attaining, is called HOPE.
  • The same, without such opinion, DESPAIRE.
    • The First Part, Chapter 6, p. 25
  • Desire, to know why, and how, CURIOSITY; such as is in no living creature but Man; so that Man is distinguished, not only by his Reason; but also by this singular Passion from other Animals; in whom the appetite of food, and other pleasures of Sense, by predominance, take away the care of knowing causes; which is a Lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of Knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnal Pleasure.
    • The First Part, Chapter 6, p. 26
  • Sudden Glory, is the passion which maketh those Grimaces called LAUGHTER.
    • The First Part, Chapter 6, p. 27 (italics and spelling as per text)
  • And Beasts that have Deliberation, must necessarily also have Will.
    • The First Part, Chapter 6, p. 28
  • For there is no such thing as perpetual Tranquility of mind, while we live here; because Life it selfe is but Motion, and can never be without Desire, nor without Feare, no more than without Sense.
    • The First Part, Chapter 6, p. 29 (See also: Rene Girard)

Chapter 7

  • Of all Discourse, governed by desire of Knowledge, there is at last an End, either by attaining, or by giving over.
    • The First Part, Chapter 7, p. 30
  • When two, or more men, know of one and the same fact, they are said to be CONSCIOUS of it one to another; which is as much as to know it together.
    • The First Part, Chapter 7, p. 31

Chapter 8

  • The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, prophane, clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame, or blame…
    • The First Part, Chapter 8, p. 34

Chapter 9

  • The Register of Knowledge of Fact is called History.
    • The First Part, Chapter 9, p. 40

Chapter 10

  • The Value or WORTH of a man, is as of all other things, his Price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his Power...
    • The First Part, Chapter 10, p. 42
  • And as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the Price.
    • The First Part, Chapter 10, p. 42

Chapter 11

  • By MANNERS, I mean not here Decency of behaviour; as how one man should salute another, or how a man should wash his mouth, or pick his teeth before company, and such other points of the Small Morals; But those qualities of mankind that concern their living together in Peace and Unity. To which end we are to consider that the Felicity of this life consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such Finis ultimus (utmost aim) nor Summum Bonum (greatest good) as is spoken of in the books of the old Moral Philosophers. Nor can a man any more live whose desires are at an end than he whose Senses and Imaginations are at a stand.
    • The First Part, Chapter 11, p. 47
  • Felicity is a continual progress of the desire from one object to another, the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter.The cause whereof is that the object of man's desire is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time, but to assure forever the way of his future desire. And therefore the voluntary actions and inclinations of all men tend not only to the procuring, but also to the assuring of a contented life, and differ only in the way, which ariseth partly from the diversity of passions in diverse men, and partly from the difference of the knowledge or opinion each one has of the causes which produce the effect desired.
    • The First Part, Chapter 11, p. 47
  • So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.
    • The First Part, Chapter 11, p. 47
  • From the same it proceedeth,that men gives different names, to one and the same thing, from the difference of their own passions: As they that approve a private opinion, call it Opinion; but they that mislike it, Haeresie: and yet haeresie signifies no more than private opinion; but has only agreater tincture of choler
    • The First Part, Chapter 11, p. 50
  • And this Feare of things invisible, is the naturall Seed of that, which every one in himself calleth Religion; and in them that worship, or feare that Power otherwise than they do, Superstition.
    • The First Part, Chapter 11, p. 51
  • The doctrine of Right and Wrong, is perpetually disputed, both by Pen and the Sword: Whereas the doctrine of Lines, and Figures, is not so; because men care not, in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no mans ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any mans right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, That the three Angles of a Triangle, should be equall to two Angles of a Square; that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of Geometry, suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.
    • The First Part, Chapter 11, p. 80-81

Chapter 12

  • And in these foure things, Opinion of Ghosts, Ignorance of second causes, Devotion towards what men fear, and Taking of things Casuall for Prognostics, consisteth the Natural seed of Religion; which by reason of the different Fancies, Judgements, and Passions of severall men, hath grown up into ceremonies so different, that those which are used by one man, are for the most part ridiculous to another.
    • The First Part, Chapter 12, p. 54

Chapter 13

  • For Prudence, is but Experience; which equal time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto.
    • The First Part, Chapter 13, p. 60
  • For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men's at a distance.
    • The First Part, Chapter 13, p. 61
  • Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.
    • The First Part, Chapter 13, p. 62
  • For Warre, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather.
    • The First Part, Chapter 13, p. 62
  • Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.
    • The First Part, Chapter 13, p. 62

Chapter 14

  • The RIGHT OF NATURE, which Writers commonly call Jus Naturale, is the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own Judgement, and Reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.
    • The First Part, Chapter 14, p. 64
  • And because the condition of Man, (as hath been declared in the precedent Chapter) is a condition of Warre of every one against everyone; in which case every one is governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemyes; It followeth, that in such a condition, every man has a Right to every thing; even to one anothers body.
    • The First Part, Chapter 14, p. 64
  • That a man be willing, when others are so too, as farre-forth, as for Peace, and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.
    • The First Part, Chapter 14, p. 64-65
  • As first a man cannot lay down the right of resisting them, that assault him by force, to take away his life; because he cannot be understood to ayme thereby, at any Good to himself.
    • The First Part, Chapter 14, p. 66
  • A Covenant not to defend my selfe from force, by force, is always voyd.
    • The First Part, Chapter 14, p. 69

Chapter 15

  • Men looke not at the greatnesse of the evill past, but the greatnesse of the good to follow.
    • The First Part, Chapter 15, p. 76 (Italics as per text)
  • "And seeing every man is presumed to do all things in order to his own benefit, no man is a fit Arbitrator in his own cause:"
    • The First Part, Chapter 15, p. 78
  • And though this may seem to subtile a deduction of the Lawes of Nature, to be taken notice of by all men;whereof the most part are too busie in getting food, and the rest too negligent to understand; yet to leave all men unexcusable, they have been contracted into one easie sum, intelligble, even to the meanest capacity; and that is, Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done to thyselfe; which sheweth him, that he has no more to do in learning the Lawes of Nature, but, when weighing the actions of other men with his own, they seem too heavy, to put them into the other part of the balance, and his own into their place, that his own passions, and selfe love, may adde nothing to the weight; and then there is none of these Laws of Nature that will not appear unto him very reasonable.
    • The First Part, Chapter 15, p. 79
  • And the Science of them, is the true and onely Moral Philosophy. For Moral Philosophy is nothing else but the Science of what is Good, and Evill, in the conversation, and Society of mankind. Good, and Evill, are names that signify our Appetites, and Aversions; which in different tempers, customes, and doctrines of men, are different:
    • The First Part, Chapter 15, p. 79

Chapter 17

  • For the Lawes of Nature (as Justice, Equity, Modesty, Mercy, and (in summe)doing to others, as wee would be done to,) of themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 17, p. 85
  • "I Authorize and give up my Right of Governing my selfe, to this Man, or to his Assembly of men, on this condition, that thou that give up thy Right to him, and Authorise all his Actionsin like manner." This done, the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a COMMON-WEALTH, in latine CIVITAS. This is the Generation of that LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speake more reverently) of that Mortall God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence.

Chapter 18

  • As in the presence of the Master, the Servants are equall, and without any honour at all; So are the Subjects, in the presence of the Soveraign. And though they shine some more, some lesse, when they are out of his sight; yet in his presence, they shine no more than the Starres in presence of the Sun.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 18, p. 93

Chapter 19

  • From whence it follows, that were the publique and private interest are most closely united, there is the publique most advanced.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 19, p. 97

Chapter 21

  • No man is bound by the words themselves, either to kill himselfe, or any other man.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 21, p. 112

Chapter 22

  • For all uniting of strength by private men, is, if for evil intent, unjust; if for intent unknown, dangerous to the Publique, and unjustly concealed.

Chapter 24

  • For naturall Bloud is in like manner made of the fruits of the Earth; and circulating, nourisheth by the way, every Member of the Body of Man.

Chapter 25

  • But if one Subject giveth Counsell to another, to do anything contrary to the Lawes, whether that Counsell proceed from evil intention, or from ignorance onely, it is punishable by the Common-wealth; because ignorance of the Law, is no good excuse, where every man is bound to take notice of the Lawes to which he is subject.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 25, p. 132

Chapter 26

  • " and where men build on false grounds, the more they build, the greater is the ruine:"
    • The Second Part, Chapter 26, p. 140
  • The Interpretation of the Laws of Nature in a Common-wealth, dependeth not on the books of Moral Philosophy. The Authority of writers, without the Authority of the Commonwealth, maketh not their opinions Law, be they never so true.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 26, p. 143
  • No man's error becomes his own Law; nor obliges him to persist in it.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 26, p. 144

Chapter 27

  • So that every Crime is a sinne; but not every sinne a Crime.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 27, p. 151
  • "Fact be vertuous, or vicious, as Fortune pleaseth;"
    • The Second Part, Chapter 27, p. 153
  • As for [...] Of all passions, that which inclineth men least to break the laws is fear.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 27

Chapter 29

  • Another doctrine repugnant to Civill Society, is that whatsoever a man does against his Conscience, is Sinne; and it dependeth on the presumption of making himself judge of Good and Evill. For a man's Conscience and his Judgement are the same thing, and as the Judgement, so also the Conscience may be erroneous.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 29, p. 168
  • As also the great number of Corporations; which are as it were many lesser Common-wealths in the bowels of a greater, like wormes in the entrayles of a natural man.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 29, p. 174

Chapter 30

  • The office of the sovereign, be it a monarch or an assembly, consisteth in the end for which he was trusted with the sovereign power, namely the procuration of the safety of the people, to which he is obliged by the law of nature, and to render an account thereof to God, the Author of that law, and to none but Him. But by safety here is not meant a bare preservation, but also all other contentments of life, which every man by lawful industry, without danger or hurt to the Commonwealth, shall acquire to himself.
    And this is intended should be done, not by care applied to individuals, further than their protection from injuries when they shall complain; but by a general providence, contained in public instruction, both of doctrine and example; and in the making and executing of good laws to which individual persons may apply their own cases.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 30: Of the Office of the Sovereign Representative
  • Time, and Industry, produce everyday new knowledge.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 30, p. 176
  • And whereas many men, by accident unevitable, become unable to maintain themselves by their labour; they ought not to be left to the Charity of private persons; but to be provided for, (as far-forth as the necessities of Nature require,) by the Lawes of the Common-wealth. For as it is Unchariablenesse in any man, to neglect the impotent; so it is in the Soveraign of a Common-wealth, to expose them to the hazard of such uncertain Charity.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 30, p. 181
  • And when all the world is overcharged with Inhabitants, then the last remedy of all is Warre, which provideth for every man, by Victory or Death.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 30, p. 181

Chapter 31

  • And hereby it comes to passe, that Intemperance, is naturally punished with Diseases; Rashness, with Mischance; Injustice; with Violence of Enemies; Pride, with Ruine; Cowardice, with Oppression; Negligent government of Princes, with Rebellion; and Rebellion with Slaughter.
    • The Second Part, Chapter 31, p. 194

Chapter 32

  • To say he hath spoken to him in a Dream, is no more then to say he dreamed that God spake to him; which is not of force to win beleef from any man, that knows dreams are for the most part naturall, and may proceed from former thoughts; and such dreams as that, from selfe conceit, and foolish arrogance, and false opinion of a mans own goodlinesse, or other vertue, by which he thinks he hath merited the favour of extraordinary Revelation. To say he hath seen a Vision, or heard a Voice, is to say, that he dreamed between sleeping and waking: for in such manner a man doth many times naturally take his dream for a vision, as not having well observed his own slumbering. To say he speaks by supernaturall Inspiration, is to say he finds an ardent desire to speak, or some strong opinion of himself, for which hee can alledge no naturall and sufficient reason. So that though God Almighty can speak to a man, by Dreams, Visions, Voice, and Inspiration; yet he obliges no man to beleeve he hath so done to him that pretends it; who (being a man) may erre, and (which is more) may lie.
    • The Third Part, Chapter 32

Chapter 36

  • And for Incoherent Speech, it was amongst the Gentiles taken for one sort of Prophecy, because the Prophets of their Oracles, intoxicated with a spirit, or vapor from the cave of the Pythian Oracle at Delphi, were for a time really mad, and spake like mad-men; of whoose loose words a sense might be made to fit any event, in such sort, as all bodies are said to be made of Materia prima.
    • The Third Part, Chapter 36, p. 226 (See also: Glossolalia)

Chapter 42

  • Power as is really divided, and as dangerously to all purposes, by sharing with another an Indirect Power, as a Direct one.
    • The Third Part, Chapter 42, p. 315

Chapter 43

  • Christian Kings may erre in deducing a Consequence, but who shall Judge?
    • The Third Part, Chapter 43, p. 330
  • For it is not the bare Words, but the Scope of the writer that giveth true light, by which any writing is to bee interpreted; and they that insist upon single Texts, without considering the main Designe, can derive no thing from them clearly; but rather by casting atomes of Scripture, as dust before mens eyes, make everything more obscure than it is; an ordinary artifice of those who seek not the truth, but their own advantage.
    • The Third Part, Chapter 43, p. 331

Chapter 46

  • For as there were Plants of Corn and Wine in small quantity Dispersed in the Fields and Woods, before men knew their vertue, or made use of them for their nourishment, or planted them apart in Fields,and also there have been divers true, generall, and profitable Speculations from the beginning; as being the naturall plants of humane Reason: But they were at first but few in number; men lived upon grosse Experience; there was no Method; that is to say, no Sowing, nor Planting of Knowledge by it self, apart from the Weeds, and common Plants of Errour and Conjecture: And the cause of it being the want of leasure from procuring the necessities of life, and defending themselves against their neighbours, it was impossible, till the erecting of great Common-wealths, it should be otherwise. Leisure is the mother of Philosophy; and Common-wealth, the mother of Peace, and Leisure: Where first were great and flourishing Cities, there was first the study of Philosophy.
    • The Fourth Part, Chapter 46, p. 368

Chapter 46

  • And if a man consider the original of this great Ecclesiastical Dominion, he will easily perceive, that the Papacy, is no other than the Ghost of the deceased Romane Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof: For so did the Papacy start up on a Sudden out of the Ruines of that Heathen Power.

Review and Conclusion

  • But if it bee well considered, The praise of Ancient Authors, proceeds not from the reverence of the Dead, but from the competition and mutual envy of the Living.
    • Review and Conclusion, p. 395
  • For such Truth as opposeth no man's profit nor pleasure is to all men welcome.
    • Review and Conclusion, p. 396, (Last text line)

Quotes about Thomas Hobbes

Can humans exist without some people ruling and others being ruled? The founders of political science did not think so. "I put for a general inclination of mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, that ceaseth only in death," declared Thomas Hobbes. Because of this innate lust for power, Hobbes thought that life before (or after) the state was a "war of every man against every man"—"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Was Hobbes right? Do humans have an unquenchable desire for power that, in the absence of a strong ruler, inevitably leads to a war of all against all? To judge from surviving examples of bands and villages, for the greater part of prehistory our kind got along quite well without so much as a paramount chief, let alone the all-powerful English leviathan King and Mortal God, whom Hobbes believed was needed for maintaining law and order among his fractious countrymen. ~ Anthropologist Marvin Harris
  • The purpose of the Leviathan was to expand the basis of human government; in the course of his discussion Hobbes raised many detailed questions about the books of the Bible. In this way he participated in the development of critical Bible study.
    • Albert Edwin Avey, Handbook in the History of Philosophy. New York: Barnes & Noble. 1954. p. 133. 
  • He was beloved by his lordship [Francis Bacon]... who was wont to have him walk in his delicate groves, where he did meditate; and when a notion darted into his mind, Mr. Hobbes was presently to write it down. And his Lordship was wont to say that he did it better than any one else about him; for that many times when he read their notes he scarce understood what they writ, because they understood it not clearly themselves.
  • He was... 40 years old before he looked upon geometry; which happened accidentally. Being in a gentleman's library..., Euclid's Elements lay open, and 'twas the 47 El. libri I. He read the proposition. 'By G—,' sayd he (he would now and then sweare, by way of emphasis), 'this is impossible!' So he reads the demonstration of it, which referred him back to such a proposition, which proposition he read. That referred him back to another, which he also read. Et sic deinceps, that at last was demonstrably convinced of the truth. This made him in love with geometry.
    • John Aubrey, A Brief Life of Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679 (1898) as quoted by Stephen J. Finn, Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Natural Philosophy (2004)
  • There are, it is true, masterpieces of political philosophy in the English language: Hobbes' Leviathan is an obvious example. But the true character of this debate has been empirical: the discussion of particular and practical issues, in the course of which a clash of principle and attitude is brought out, but in which the element of abstract thought is always kept in relation to an immediate and actual situation.
  • The bitterest of all quarrels was that in which Hobbes sought to defend himself against the accusations of atheistic and immoral teaching which haunted him throughout his life and persisted for decades after his death. Writers, theological and philosophical, many of them incapable of understanding Hobbes, united in these clamorous charges against him. The clergyman who wrote the "Dialogue between Philautes and Timothy" (London 1673) fairly illustrates the critics of Hobbes's own age, who believed that Hobbes had "said more for a bad life and against any other life after this than ever was pleaded by philosopher or divine to the contrary." The allusions of Locke and Berkeley to 'that atheist Hobbes' reflect the opinions of the generations following. ...Hobbes certainly teaches that there is a God, and that faith in Jesus Christ is the supreme religious duty. True, he also teaches that God is corporeal, but only in the sense in which, as he believes, men, also, are purely corporeal. However theoretically unjustified the doctrine, it is certainly compatible—as Hobbes holds it—with religious teaching. The ethics of Hobbes, also, inculcates all the practical duties of a Christian morality, though it founds them on a psychologically inadequate basis: the assumption that all men are radically selfish. In a word, Hobbes was unfairly treated; his reputation suffered unjustly; and—more unfortunate than all—the suspicion of his atheism kept people from the study of his vigorous metaphysics and his acute psychology.
  • I have seen a translation by Hobbes, which I prefer for its greater clumsiness. Many years have passed since I saw it, but it made me laugh immoderately. Poetry that is not good can only make amends for that deficiency by being ridiculous...
  • Perhaps the most influential book ever written on the characteristics of men in politics is The Prince, by the great Renaissance Italian Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527). Despite its enduring popularity, fascination, and authority it is extremely one-sided and unsystematic. … More systematic in its treatment of political man than The Prince, though about equally one-sided, is Hobbes' first section of The Leviathan entitled “Of Man.” Hobbes' psychological assumptions bear a remarkable resemblance to the modern school of psychology often called Behaviorism.
  • No more comprehensive, tightly structured, and closely argued political philosophy exists than Hobbes set out in Leviathan. It shocks our conventional assumptions, and it is disquieting. For the sake of peace and order, religion cannot be allowed the political power and conscientious authority it has often claimed. To cure our political ills and contain the state of war we may have to submit to governments we thoroughly dislike. The most prevalent and powerful human traits of human nature are unpleasant and socially destructive. It is this insight which touches a raw nerve of truth with so many readers. Modern man, if not all mankind, is ominously close to Hobbes's account of us—competitive, acquisitive, possessive, restless, individualistic, self-concerned, and insatiable in our demands for whatever we see in isolation as our own good. It is this point of realism which almost all other political philosophies underestimate, and which Hobbes gets memorably right in his great endeavour to deliver us from a life consistent with our own natures, and of our own making; a life which would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
    • J. C. A. Gaskin, 'Introduction', Leviathan (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. xliii
  • Both his works [De Cive and Leviathan] were condemned by Parliament, and "Hobbism" became, ere he died, a popular synonym for irreligion and immorality. ...Hobbes was the first great English writer who dealt with the science of government from the ground, not of tradition, but of reason. ...Hobbes ...denied the existence of the more spiritual sides of man's nature. His hard and narrow logic dissected every human custom and desire, and reduced even the most sacred to demonstrations of a prudent selfishness. Friendship was simply a sense of social utility to one another. ...Nothing better illustrates the daring with which the new skepticism was to break through the theological traditions of the older world than the pitiless logic with which Hobbes assailed the very theory of revelation.
  • Can humans exist without some people ruling and others being ruled? The founders of political science did not think so. "I put for a general inclination of mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, that ceaseth only in death," declared Thomas Hobbes. Because of this innate lust for power, Hobbes thought that life before (or after) the state was a "war of every man against every man"—"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Was Hobbes right? Do humans have an unquenchable desire for power that, in the absence of a strong ruler, inevitably leads to a war of all against all? To judge from surviving examples of bands and villages, for the greater part of prehistory our kind got along quite well without so much as a paramount chief, let alone the all-powerful English leviathan King and Mortal God, whom Hobbes believed was needed for maintaining law and order among his fractious countrymen.
    • Anthropologist Marvin Harris, Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came From, Where We Are Going (1989)
  • The great thinker from whom the basic ideas of what we shall call constructivist rationalism received their most complete expression was René Descartes. But while he refrained from drawing the conclusions from them for social and moral arguments, these were mainly elaborated by his slightly older (but much more long-lived) contemporary, Thomas Hobbes. Although Descartes’ immediate concern was to establish criteria for the truth of propositions, these were inevitably also applied by his followers to judge the appropriateness and justification of actions.
  • Although longer experience may have lent some older members of these bands some authority, it was mainly shared aims and perceptions that coordinated the activities of their members. These modes of coordination depended decisively on instincts of solidarity and altruism - instincts applying to the members of one's own group but not to others. The members of these small groups could thus exist only as such: an isolated man would soon have been a dead man. The primitive individualism described by Thomas Hobbes is hence a myth. The savage is not solitary, and his instinct is collectivist. There was never a 'war of all against all'.
  • The thought has surely occurred to many people throughout the ages: what if there is an afterlife but no god? What if there is a god but no afterlife? As far as I know, the clearest writer to give expression to this problem was Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 masterwork Leviathan. I strongly recommend that you read part III, chapter 38, and part IV, chapter 44, for yourselves, because Hobbe's command of both holy scripture and the English language is quite breathtaking. He also reminds us of how perilous it was, and always has been, even to think about these things. ...Having planted the subversive thought—that forbidding Adam to eat from one tree lest he die and from another lest he live forever, is absurd and contradictory... he acknowledged the process by which people are always free to make up a religion that suits or gratifies or flatters them.
  • The irony here is quite remarkable: Hobbes, who would later spend years publishing and defending numerous attempts to square the circle, published his first mathematical work as part of a campaign to silence an old circle squarer. Indeed, less than a decade after his participation in Pell's battle with Longomontanus, Hobbes would find himself involved in a prolonged and bitter controversy that centered on his claims to have squared the circle, and he would go to his grave insisting that he had solved this ancient geometrical problem.
    • Douglas M. Jesseph, Squaring the Circle: The War Between Hobbes and Wallis (2000)
  • It was supposedly the discovery of mathematics at the age of forty that led Hobbes to attempt to cast all of philosophy on the model of geometry.
    • Douglas M. Jesseph, Squaring the Circle: The War Between Hobbes and Wallis (2000)
  • In spite of all these points of similarity, Hobbes is not generally regarded as a liberal political theorist in the full sense of the term. Although his approach is distinctively liberal, his conclusions are not. We have seen that he views freedom as the absence of interference, and so coincides with the liberal position in this regard. In addition, he believes that the erection of government represents an increase of freedom.
    • George Klosko, History of Political Theory: An Introduction: Volume II: Modern (2013), Chap. 2 : Thomas Hobbes
  • It was not until the Twelfth Century of our era that the Pentateuch as a whole was subjected to rational scrutiny. The man who undertook the ungrateful task was a learned Spanish rabbi, Abraham ben Meir ibn Esra. He unearthed many absurdities, but... it was not until five hundred years later that anything properly describable as scientific criticism... came into being. Its earliest shining lights were the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and the Amsterdam Jew, Baruch Spinoza. ..and ever since then the Old Testament has been under searching and devastating examination.
  • The pervasiveness of social dilemmas has repeatedly been recognized in the great books of political philosophy. Hobbes described such a setting as a “war of all against all.” Rousseau used a stag hunt to illustrate the problem of a group needing to all work together to hunt a large animal but facing the temptation to break up into separate groups when small animals appeared on the scene that were easy to catch. A small group could catch a rabbit, but ruined the chance for the group to obtain a large animal.
    • Elinor Ostrom, Understanding Institutional Diversity (2005), Ch. 2 : Zooming In and Linking Action Situations
  • [I]n the past two decades anthropologists have gathered data on life and death in pre-state societies rather than accepting the warm and fuzzy stereotypes. What did they find? In a nutshell: Hobbes was right, Rousseau was wrong.
  • There are several passages in Hobbes's translation of Homer, which, if they had been writ on purpose to ridicule that poet, would have done very well.
  • The question concerning the role of the state in preserving territorial integrity is raised by the recent events in the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia: why do some multinational states survive the collapse of the authoritarian regime while others do not? Except in Spain, democratization occurred until recently in countries where the integrity of the state was not problematic. The breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia raises a new set of issues because there democratization unleashed movements for national independence; indeed, for some political forces, democratization is synonymous with national self-determination and the breakdown of the multinational state that was maintained by authoritarian rule. Under such conditions, Hobbes's first problem - how to avoid being killed by others - is logically and historically prior to his second problem - how to prevent people within the same community from killing one another.
  • Hobbes's Leviathan is the greatest single work of political thought in the English language.
    • John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy, p. 1
  • This diplomatic revolution, part of the growing bureaucratization of government, was complemented by a revolution in political ideas that we can measure in the changing use of the term “state.” In the fourteenth century the Latin term status (and vernacular equivalents such as estat or state) was mainly used with reference to the standing of rulers themselves, much as we would today use the term “status.” Thus the chronicler Jean Froissart, describing King Edward III entertaining foreign dignitaries in 1327, recorded that his queen “was to be seen there in an estat of great nobility.” Gradually, however, usage was extended to include the institutions of government. In the works of Machiavelli, written in the 1510s, lo stato becomes an independent agent, separate from those who happen to be its rulers. In a similar vein, Thomas Starkey, the English political commentator of the 1530s, claimed that the “office and duty” of rulers was to “maintain the state established in the country” over which they ruled. The thrust of such arguments was to limit the power of kings by postulating their higher obligation to the common good. In radical hands this implied that subjects had the right to overthrow tyrannical rulers, which is what happened in the English civil wars of the 1640s and Europe’s bitter wars of religion. Responding to this crisis of governance,Thomas Hobbes moved the debate to a different level, defining the state as “an artificial man” abstractly encapsulating the whole populace, who enjoys absolute sovereignty (his “artificial soul . . . giving life and motion to the body”) which is exercised in practice through a sovereign ruler. This gradual but dramatic word shift, from the medieval state of princes to the person of the Hobbesian state, was hugely important for political thought. It also reinforced the decline of dynastic summitry: diplomacy, like governance, was no longer regarded as the sole prerogative of princes.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), p. 18
  • The study of politics is a form of natural history. Thomas Hobbes loathed Aristotle’s politics, and in Leviathan followed Plato in modeling politics on geometry; but he admired Aristotle’s biology. One consequence of that “biological” style is important, not only because it was at odds with Hobbes’s—and Plato’s—hankering after political geometry. Aristotle claimed that political analysis should aim only “at as much precision as the subject matter permits.” Political wisdom cannot aspire to the precision of geometry, and must not pretend to. Aboriculture suggests an analogy: most trees grow best in firm soil with a moderate water supply; a few thrive with their roots in mud and water.
    • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 3 : Aristotle: Politics Is Not Philosophy
  • It is a remarkable fact that, in a history extending over nearly twenty-five hundred years, a considerable part of the most significant writing on political philosophy was done in two periods of only about fifty years each and in two places of quite restricted area. … The Second place was England, and the period was the half century between 1640 and 1690, which produced the works of Hobbes and Locke, together with the works of a host of lesser figures.
  • Hobbes himself had experienced this truth in the terrible times of civil war, because then all legitimate and normative illusions with which men like to deceive themselves regarding political realities in periods of untroubled security vanish. If within the state there are organized parties capable of according their members more protection than the state, then the latter becomes at best an annex of such parties, and the individual citizen knows whom he has to obey.
  • When Hobbes referred to the dire state of human beings in having ‘nasty, brutish and short’ lives, he also pointed, in the same sentence, to the disturbing adversity of being ‘solitary’. Escape from isolation may not only be important for the quality of human life, it can also contribute powerfully to understanding and responding to the other deprivations from which human beings suffer. There is surely a basic strength here which is complementary to the engagement in which theories of justice are involved.
  • At the core of Hobbes’s theory of political authority is the provision of security. “The end of Obedience is Protection,” Hobbes insists in chapter 21 of Leviathan. The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign, is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” This is because “the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished.”6 The king’s rightful authority is rooted in his capacity to protect his subjects. As a result, their obligation to obey him, unqualified as it is while it lasts, expires with the king’s ability to protect them.
    Hobbes spelled this out even more perspicaciously in his discussion of conquest—with clear implications for what was at stake in the Engagement controversy. A person is conquered not by being slain or imprisoned. (In the latter case “he is still an Enemy, and may save himself if hee can.”) Rather, “he that upon promise of Obedience, hath his Life and Liberty allowed him, is then Conquered, and a Subject; and not before.” The long and short of it was that once Parliament had replaced the king as protector of the people of England, they owed Parliament their unqualified allegiance. Engagement was therefore legitimate. Indeed, in the circumstances after 1649, it was obligatory. And it would follow, a fortiori, that should Parliament lose the capacity to provide protection, then the obligation to Engage would cease as well.
    In this way, Hobbes could counsel Charles’s supporters to promise allegiance to Parliament, but they could do it in a manner that would not compromise their ability to support the king in the event of a restoration. As it turned out, making this move alienated Hobbes from many royalists—even though he offered them a doctrine that promised to get them out of a tight spot and hedge their bets for the future. Their attachment, it seems, was to Charles himself, or at least to the institution of the monarchy.
    • Ian Shapiro, "Introduction: Reading Hobbes Today", in Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Yale University Press, 2010)
  • The long life of Thomas Hobbes covers almost the whole of the most critical period alike in the growth of modern science and in the development of the British Constitution. Born in the year of the Armada, Hobbes did not die until nine years before the great Revolution which finally determined the question whether the British Islands should be ruled constitutionally or absolutely. He lived through the Stuart attempt to convert England into an absolute monarchy, the Puritan revolution and great Civil War, the political and ecclesiastical experiments of the Long Parliament and of Cromwell, the restoration of the exiled line, and the beginnings of modern Whiggism and Nonconformity. Still more remarkable were the changes which came over the face of science during the same period. When Hobbes entered the University as a lad, the sham Aristotelianism of the Middle Ages was still officially taught in its lecture-rooms; before he died, mechanical science had been placed on a secure footing by Kepler, Galileo, and Descartes, the foundations of the scientific study of physiology and magnetism had been laid by Harvey and Gilbert, the Royal Society for experimental research into nature had been incorporated for more than a generation, analytical geometry had been created by Descartes, and the calculus by Leibniz and Newton, while it was only eight years after his death that the final exposition of the new mechanical conception of the universe was given by Newton's Principia. It is only natural that a philosopher who was also a keen observer of men and affairs, living through such a period of crisis, should have made the most daring of all attempts to base the whole of knowledge on the principles of mechanical materialism, and should also have become the creator of a purely naturalistic theory of ethics and sociology.
  • The first-fruits of... renewed interest in learning was an English translation of Thucydides, published in 1628-9, for the purpose, as Hobbes said at the time, of educating his readers in the true principles of statesmanship. Afterwards, when his absolutist political theories had been fully developed, he wished it to be believed that his real object had been to warn Englishmen against the dangers of democracy, by showing them how much wiser a single great statesman is than a multitude.
    • Alfred Edward Taylor, Thomas Hobbes (1908)
  • Foremost among his friends stands Francis Bacon, who 'loved to converse with him,' and employed him on the translation of some of the famous Essays... into Latin. This connection can be shown to belong to the years 1621-6 when Bacon, after his political disgrace, was devoting himself entirely to scientific work... The influence of Bacon, however, has left no trace on Hobbes's own matured thought. He... has no place for 'Baconian induction' in his own conception of scientific method. Bacon's zeal for experiment, the redeeming feature in an otherwise chaotic scheme of thought, is entirely alien to the essentially deductive and systematic spirit of the Hobbian philosophy.
    • Alfred Edward Taylor, Thomas Hobbes (1908)
  • At the age of forty he was, for the first time, introduced to the works of Euclid, and at once 'fell in love with geometry,' being attracted, he says, more by the rigorous manner of proof employed than by the matter of the science. (Mathematics... were then only beginning to be seriously studied in England. Hobbes tells us that in his undergraduate days geometry was still looked upon generally as a form of the 'Black Art,' and it was not until 1619 that the will of Sir Henry Savile, Warden of Merton College, established the first Professorships of Geometry and Astronomy at Oxford.)
  • Wants and possessions might have standards and limits, but pride makes property the instrument for satisfying the lust for power and social superiority. More is already on the way to an analysis of pride that was later continued by Hobbes for the case of religious election as the instrument of satisfying pride. And More, like Hobbes, despairs of finding the cure for the diseased souls in a reawakening of the life of the spirit. Hobbes devised the Leviathan as the external power that will repress the proud by force; and More devises the propertyless society as the external, institutional measure that will have to substitute for the cure of the souls. It is perhaps not needless to stress that the conception of this remedy is as un-Platonic as anything can be.
  • Thomas Hobbes has always been thought of as the arch materialist, the first man to uphold go-getting as a creed. But that is a travesty of Hobbes's opinion. He was a go-getter in a sense, but it was the going, not the getting he extolled. The race had no finishing post as Hobbes conceived it. The great thing about the race was to be in it, to be a contestant in the attempt to make the world a better place, and it was a spiritual death he had in mind when he said that to forsake the course is to die. 'There is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind while we live here,' he told us in Leviathan, 'because life itself is but a motion and can never be without desire, or without fear, no more than without sense'; 'there can be no contentment but in proceeding.' I agree.

See also

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisA priori and a posterioriCausalityDemarcation problemFactInductive reasoningInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theory
Related topics AlchemyEpistemologyHistory of scienceLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceSociology of scientific knowledge
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicism
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of Ockham
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett
Social and political philosophers
Classic AristotleMarcus AureliusChanakyaCiceroConfuciusMozi LaoziMenciusMoziPlatoPlutarchPolybiusSeneca the YoungerSocratesSun TzuThucydidesXenophonXun Zi
Conservative de BenoistBolingbrokeBonaldBurkeBurnhamCarlyleColeridgeComteCortésDurkheimDávilaEvolaFichteFilmerGaltonGentileHegelHeideggerHerderHobbesHoppeHumede JouvenelJüngerKirkvon Kuehnelt-LeddihnLandde MaistreMansfieldMoscaOakeshottOrtegaParetoPetersonSantayanaSchmittScrutonSowellSpenglerStraussTaineTocqueville • VicoVoegelinWeaverYarvin
Liberal ArendtAronBastiatBeccariaBenthamBerlinBoétieCamusCondorcetConstantDworkinEmersonErasmusFranklinFukuyamaHayekJeffersonKantLockeMachiavelliMadisonMaineMillMiltonMenckenMisesMontaigneMontesquieuNietzscheNozickOrtegaPopperRandRawlsRothbardSadeSchillerSimmelSmithSpencerSpinozade StaëlStirnerThoreauTocquevilleTuckerVoltaireWeberWollstonecraft
Religious al-GhazaliAmbedkarAugustine of HippoAquinasAugustineAurobindoCalvinChestertonDanteDayanandaDostoyevskyEliadeGandhiGirardGregoryGuénonJesusJohn of SalisburyJungKierkegaardKołakowskiLewisLutherMaimonidesMalebrancheMaritainMoreMuhammadMüntzerNiebuhrOckhamOrigenPhiloPizanQutbRadhakrishnanShariatiSolzhenitsynTaylorTeilhard de ChardinTertullianTolstoyVivekanandaWeil
Socialist AdornoAflaqAgambenBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBernsteinButlerChomskyde BeauvoirDebordDeleuzeDeweyDu BoisEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFrommGodwinGoldmanGramsciHabermasKropotkinLeninLondonLuxemburgMaoMarcuseMarxMazziniNegriOwenPaine RortyRousseauRussellSaint-SimonSartreSkinnerSorelTrotskyWalzerXiaopingŽižek