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Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

THOMAS HOBBES was born at Westport, now part of Malmesbury, in Wiltshire, England, April 5, 1588. His father was a clergyman of the Church of England, and he was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, whence he graduated in 1608. From this time till 1640 he was, with a short break, a member of the household of the Earls of Devonshire, acting as tutor and secretary, and traveling on several occasions on the Continent as companion to the second and later to the third Earl. He made the acquaintance of many of the leading philosophers and scientists of the Continent, including Descartes, Gassendi, and Galileo. He is also reported to have acted for a time as amanuensis to Bacon.

On the meeting of the Long Parliament, Hobbes fled to Paris, afraid of what might happen to him on account of opinions expressed in certain philosophical treatises which had been circulated in manuscript. While abroad he published his “De Cive,” containing the political theories later embodied in his “Leviathan.” In 1646 he was appointed mathematical tutor to the future king, Charles II; but after the publication of the “Leviathan” in 1651, he was excluded from the court, and returned to England.

The rest of Hobbes’s life was spent largely in controversy, in which—especially in mathematical matters—he had by no means always the best of the argument. He lived in fear of prosecution for heresy, but was saved by the protection of the king. He died December 4, 1679.

Hobbes’s writings produced much commotion in his own day, but his opponents were more conspicuous than his disciples. Yet he exerted a notable influence on such thinkers as Spinoza, Leibniz, Diderot, and Rousseau; and the utilitarian movement led to a revival of interest in his philosophy in the nineteenth century. He was a fearless if one-sided thinker, and he presented his views in a style of great vigor and clearness. “A great partizan by nature,” says his most recent critic, “Hobbes became by the sheer force of his fierce, concentrated intellect a master builder in philosophy.… He hated error, and therefore, to confute it, he shouldered his way into the very sanctuary of truth.”