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Leviathan (Oxford World's Classics)

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A book by Thomas Hobbes

Leviathanis both a magnificent literary achievement and the greatest work of political philosophy in the English language. Permanently challenging, it has found new applications and new refutations in every generation. This new edition reproduces the … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Thomas Hobbes
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
1 review about Leviathan (Oxford World's Classics)

The First Modern Political Philosopher

  • Feb 17, 2009
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote "Leviathan" in 1651, it was his most important philosophical work. I think you should know something of Hobbes to understand how his thinking was influenced by his experiences. He was born 2 months prematurely on the day the Spanish Armada approaches the English coast. His mother's fear of invasion caused the premature birth. Hobbes remarked late in life, "his mother brought forth twins-myself and fear." Fear seems to be Hobbes life long companion and the key passion in his political system, which uses human passions as its foundation. He was a child prodigy reading Latin and Greek at the age of six years old. At fifteen, he entered Oxford University and hated his educational experience there. He thought the curriculum was too immersed in the ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle. He called them "erroneous doctrines," and throughout his life he railed against English universities for there stodgy curriculum.

At the age of 22, he graduates and takes a job to tutor the son of the Earl of Devonshire. It gives him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe where he meets with Galileo in Florence and Descartes in Paris. Descartes calls Hobbes the greatest political philosopher of his day. During the British civil war, Hobbes flees to Paris because he is a well-known monarchist sympathizer. In 1651, he publishes his monumental work "Leviathan." He returns to England, submits to Cromwell's government, and withdraws from politics. He is on friendly terms with Charles II when the Stuart's are restored to the throne.

Hobbes philosophy is "materialistic"; he is greatly influenced by Galileo's mechanistic approach to science, and Euclidian geometry. His ambition was to explain all phenomena, man, and government with mathematical precision. In "Leviathan," he explains human conduct is a product of human passions. The most dominant passions are fear of violent death and desire for power, both are manifestations of man's most basic impulse, "self preservation." Hobbes asserts that the basic impulse is the right of the individual; he calls it a "natural right." All men process this natural right equally. This theory leads Hobbes to believe man's natural state to be one of constant conflict with each other. This leads him to write the following quote he is most known for: "men's lives are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." So as not to have to live in constant state of fear or conflict, men make a contract for protection with the state. Hobbes believes that the best state is one led by a single sovereign whose power must be unrestricted with all three branches of government devolving to him. A single sovereign who has absolute power and cannot be replaced by the people.

His political writing had immediate influence in the world and influences other philosophers like Spinoza, Hutcheson, Locke, and Hume. Hobbes is the first man to write about political philosophy in such methodical terms. He is an excellent writer and his theories are easy to understand by the laymen. As a graduate student of political philosophy, I recommend if you have an interest in politics, philosophy, or government then you must start with reading Hobbes "Leviathan."

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