Thomas Hobbes was a great philosopher and one of the founders of the modern political philosophy, who lay the foundations for the idea of the social contract.

Below is an excerpt from a biography of Thomas Hobbes included with our books.

De Cive1642

Thomas Hobbes was born at Westport in Wiltshire, England, on April 5, 1588. His childhood was almost a blank. His mother’s name was unknown and his father was the priest of Charlton and Westport. Thomas Hobbes was raised by his uncle Francis Hobbes when his father Thomas Hobbes Senior was forced to flee to London after being involved in a fight with a priest outside his own church.

Hobbes was educated at a Westport church from the age of four and then went to the Malmesbury School.

Hobbes was a bright student and he went up to Magdalen Hall around 1603, which is Hertford College, Oxford today.

Westport Church in Wiltshire, England.
Hertford College, Oxford, where Hobbes studied.

At Oxford, Hobbes was quite independent about selecting his own curriculum since he was not attracted by the scholastic learning. He graduated with a B.A. degree in 1608.

After graduation from Oxford, Sir James Hussey, his master at Magdalen, recommended Hobbes as a tutor to William, the son of William Cavendish of Baron of Hardwick, and began a lifelong connection with that family.

At the age of 20, Hobbes worked as a companion to the younger William. In 1610, both took part in a grand tour of Europe. During the tour, Hobbes had a chance to expose to European scientific and critical methods that was in contrast to the scholastic philosophy.

In 1620, Hobbes published three of the discourses known as Horea Subsecivae: Observations and Discourses.

Hobbes also had a strong tie with literary figures like Ben Jonson and thinkers such as Francis Bacon. Under their influence, he extended his research work into philosophy in 1629.

In June 1628, Cavendish of the Earl of Devonshire died of the plague and Hobbes was dismissed by Cavendish family.

After the tenure with Cavendish family, Hobbes soon found a job as a tutor to Gervase Clifton, the son of Sir Gervase Clifton, 1st Baronet. This job was chiefly in Paris and ended in 1631 when Cavendish family offered him a tutor job again to William Junior, the eldest son of his previous student.

From 1621 to 1638, Hobbes extended his own knowledge into philosophy through curiosity over key philosophic debates while tutoring William Junior.

In 1636, Hobbes visited Florence and was a regular debater in philosophic groups in Paris that was held together by Marin Mersenne. From 1637 he earned a reputation as a great philosopher in Paris.

In 1637, Hobbes returned to England that disrupted him from the orderly execution of his philosophic plan.

In 1640, Hobbes wrote a short treatise called The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic. It was not published and only circulated among his acquaintances in manuscript form. Many elements of Hobbes’s political thought were further detailed in Leviathan.

Florence, a city Thomas Hobbes visited.
Paris, where Thomas Hobbes spent most of his time outside of London.

In November of 1640, the Long Parliament succeeded the Short, Hobbes fled to Paris due to that he was a marked man by the circulation of his treatise.

Hobbes was in Paris for eleven years until 1651 before returning to England. During the long stay in Paris he wrote a critique of the Meditations on First Philosophy of Descartes by René Descartes and published it in 1641.

In November of 1641, Hobbes finished De Cive. This book was well received though it was initially only circulated privately.

After De Cive, Hobbes published a short treatise on optics, Tractatus Opticus in 1644.

Since Hobbes built a good reputation in philosophic circles, he was chosen with Descartes, Gilles de Roberval and others in 1645 to referee the controversy between John Pell and Longomontanus over the problem of squaring the circle.

In 1642, The English Civil War broke out and many king’s supporters came to Paris. Many of them were known to Hobbes and this revitalised Hobbes’s political interests. The De Cive was republished and more widely distributed in 1646.

In 1647 Hobbes worked as a mathematical instructor to the young Charles, Prince of Wales, who had come over from Jersey around July. This job lasted until 1648 when Charles went to Holland.

The English Civil War, from 1642-1651.

The company of the exiled royalists led Hobbes to produce an English Book Leviathan in Paris. During the years of the completing Leviathan until 1650, Hobbes remained in Paris.

In 1650, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic was published.

In 1651 the translation of De Cive was published in English under the title of Philosophical Rudiments concerning Government and Society.

Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, one of his most important writings.

In 1651, he published Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common Wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil with the secularist spirit that greatly angered both Anglicans and French Catholics. In Leviathan, Hobbes declared his doctrine of the foundation of states, governments, and science of morality. This was to lay the foundation of social contract theory based on Hugo Grotius’ works.

Once again, Hobbes fled back to England in 1651 by following his submission to the Council of State.

In 1654, Hobbes completed the fundamental treatise of his philosophical system, De Corpore.

Also in 1654, a small treatise, Of Liberty and Necessity, was published by Bishop John Bramhall.

In 1656 Hobbes published The Questions concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance, in which he replied “with astonishing force” to Bishop John Bramhall.

Hobbes accused of atheism and of teachings which could lead to atheism by writing “the catching of the Leviathan” that “atheism, impiety, and the like are words of the greatest defamation possible”.

In 1658, Hobbes published his philosophical system De Homine. This book consisted for the most part of an elaborate theory of vision.

The king of Charles II, Hobbes’s former student, played an important role in protecting Hobbes in 1666 when the House of Commons introduced a bill against atheism, profaneness, and Hobbism that was a byword for all that respectable society ought to denounce. The young king called Hobbes to the court to grant him a pension of £100. The worst impact of the bill on Thomas Hobbes was that he could never thereafter publish anything in England on philosophy, politics, and science. Many of his writings were published after many years of his death, including Behemoth: the History of the Causes of the Civil Wars of England and of the Counsels and Artifices by which they were carried on from the year 1640 to the year 1662.

The House of Commons of England.

For some time after passing the bill, Hobbes was not even allowed to respond in writing to the attacks of his enemies. However, the bill that came out of House of Commons to restrict Hobbes’s writings never stopped wide spread of his thoughts and he was not forgotten at all. His reputation was formidable and noble so that many foreigners who came to England never forgot to pay their respects to the old philosopher.

During this final years, Hobbes did not publish any books related to philosophy and politics instead of an autobiography in 1672, a translation of four books of the Odyssey in 1673, a complete translation of both Iliad and Odyssey in 1675.

St. John the Baptist Church, Ault Hucknall, where Thomas Hobbes was permanently settled.

In October 1679, Hobbes suffered a bladder disorder. He was then followed by a paralytic stroke and died on December 4, 1679.

Thomas Hobbes expressed the last words with a great pride and optimism to our future “A great leap in the dark” in his final moments of life. He was interred within St John the Baptist’s Church, Ault Hucknall in Derbyshire, England and he is forever remembered as essential enabler, reformer, and contributor for that great leap in the dark.