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Hobbes, Locke and Newton

Thomas Hobbes, Pro-Constraint and Anti-Democracy | John Locke, the Philosophical Father of the U.S. Constitution | Isaac Newton and the New Physics versus God's Magic

Thomas Hobbes, Pro-Contraint and Anti-Democracy

Hobbes had studied the classics at Oxford from 1604 at the age of fourteen. In the first half of the 1600s, England's universities were still immersed in the writings of Aristotle, and Hobbes disliked the metaphysical muddles. He became a nominalist and the first significant British empiricist, and he was to be called the father of analytical philosophy. He was interested in logic and language and created a distinction between proper nouns and universal nouns.

Hobbes left England and went abroad at the age of thirty, and in Paris in 1651 he was a tutor in mathematics to the future King of England in exile, Charles II. Also in 1651, Hobbes' book Leviathan appeared, otherwise titled Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil. The Catholic Church did not care for the book, and Hobbes returned to Protestant England and settled in London. Hobbes would always be accused of failing to make sufficient room in his theories for the spirit, soul and the Deity. He withdrew from controversies, while across Europe he was becoming the man whom students were expected to refute.


More than Francis Bacon, Hobbes appreciated the contribution that deduction and mathematics made to scientific inquiry. He was bigger of mind on the question of empiricism and reasoning than Descartes had been. He wanted both. Reasoning, he believed required discipline. He believed in starting with a definition and being careful to avoid self-contradictory notions. He believed that the ability to reason was something that developed, that it was not innate, that people were not born with it.

Hobbes recognized that people were born into traditions, common misconceptions and primitive impulses. Hobbes did not trust the masses, believing that common people did not reason well. He hated the passions of the mob and the upheavals and civil strife of his time. Taking a cue in part from Galileo's description of inertia, Hobbes took up the cause of constraint. He warned that democracy meant anarchy because it lacked constraints. He believed that humanity had once lived in a "state of nature" and that men joined together and adopted government for the sake of security of life and private property – a view labelled as false by 21st century scholars, including Francis Fukuyama. note36

Hobbes believed that government was a matter of social contract rather than authority designated by God or mandate from Heaven. He held that if established political authority failed to protect society from anarchy then men (ignoring women) had the right to declare their agreement with that authority null and void.


He believed that churches, including the Church of England, should be governed by state laws rather than be above state laws.

Hobbes has been accused of believing that people by nature are not social animals, that society exists only by power of the state. His rival in political philosophy was John Locke, born 44 years after him. Locke had more confidence in humanity than did Hobbes.


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