Hobbes, Thomas

Hobbes, Thomas

biographical name


Thomas Hobbes, detail of an oil painting by John Michael Wright; in the National Portrait Gallery, …—Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London

(born April 5, 1588, Westport, Wiltshire, Eng.—died Dec. 4, 1679, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire) English philosopher and political theorist. The son of a vicar who abandoned his family, Hobbes was raised by his uncle. After graduating from the University of Oxford he became a tutor and traveled with his pupil in Europe, where he engaged Galileo in philosophical discussions on the nature of motion. He later turned to political theory, but his support for absolutism put him at odds with the rising antiroyalist sentiment of the time. He fled to Paris in 1640, where he tutored the future King Charles II of England. In Paris he wrote his best-known work, Leviathan (1651), in which he attempted to justify the absolute power of the sovereign on the basis of a hypothetical social contract in which individuals seek to protect themselves from one another by agreeing to obey the sovereign in all matters. Hobbes returned to Britain in 1651 after the death of Charles I. In 1666 Parliament threatened to investigate him as an atheist. His works are considered important statements of the nascent ideas of liberalism as well as of the longstanding assumptions of absolutism characteristic of the times.

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