Hobbes

Hobbes

Hobbes

Hobbes

Synopsis

Thomas Hobbes was the first great English political philosopher, and his book, Leviathan, was one of the first truly modern works of philosophy. This book looks at Hobbes in the context of his era, and examines the importance of his work.

Excerpt

Hobbes created English-language philosophy. Before his work, there was little written in English on the more technical areas of philosophy--on metaphysics, physics, and even ethics. Only Richard Hooker can count as a precursor, and then merely in one limited branch of philosophy, that of jurisprudence. But after Hobbes, there was no area of human enquiry deemed inappropriate for the English language. This was a remarkable achievement, and one which we tend to take for granted; but it was possible for Hobbes only because he had a thorough mastery of the contemporary debates in the traditional language of philosophy--Latin--and in the new language-- French. He wrote continually in both Latin and English, and we cannot really understand his finest achievement (which was to produce, in Leviathan, the first unquestionably great philosophical work in our language) without surveying the full range of his intellectual activity.

This has seldom been done: of all the great philosophers, Hobbes has arguably been the most neglected by posterity. As we shall see in Part III, there are clear historical reasons for this; but the fact remains that he has suffered in many ways. He devoted at least half his time and energy to trying to understand modern science, at the moment at which it was first emerging; his understanding of it was certainly as acute as any of his contemporaries; yet because his ideas on this subject are not fully discussed in Leviathan his theories are disregarded. The works in which he set them out are scarcely read today, and some of them have not even been translated from their original Latin. Though Leviathan is remarkable in many ways, it was not actually intended by him to be his principal statement even on political and moral matters, and our (understandable) concentration on that single work has distorted many accounts of what Hobbes was trying to do.

Hobbes is thus a peculiarly appropriate figure to be discussed in a book of this kind, for the resurrection of what he was . . .

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