Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, April 5, 1588, died in Derbyshire, Dec. 4, 1679. The son of a clergyman, he was sent at the age of 15 to Magdalen hall, Oxford, where for five years he applied himself to logic and the Aristotelian philosophy, He afterward became private tutor in the family of Lord Hardwicke (soon created earl of Devonshire), and travelled in France and Italy with his pupil, Lord Cavendish. On his return to England he was intimately associated with Lord Herbert of Cher-bury, Ben Jonson, and Lord Bacon. Ben Jonson revised for him his first publication, the translation of Thucydides (London, 1628). Severely afflicted by the death both of his patron and pupil, he again visited France and Italy with a son of Sir Gervase Clifton, but returned to England in 1031 at the solicitation of the countess dowager of Devonshire to undertake the education of the young earl. With his new pupil he went abroad again in 1634, and during an absence of three years enjoyed the friendship of Father Mersenne, Gassendi, and Galileo. He withdrew again from England in 1640 at the approach of the civil war, and resided for more than ten years in Paris, where he became acquainted with Descartes. In 1642 a few copies of his Ele-menta Philosophic a de Cite were printed at Paris and distributed among his friends, and the work was published by the Elzevirs at Amsterdam in 1647. In that year he was appointed mathematical tutor to the prince of Wales, afterward Charles II., then resident in Paris. In 1650 his treatises on "Human Nature" and De Corpore Politico appeared in London, and in 1651 "Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil." The last contains the complete system of his philosophy, treating the same subjects often in the same language as his three previous works.
After its publication he returned to England, and wrote a "Letter on Liberty and Necessity" (1654), which involved him in a long controversy with Bishops Bramhall and Laney. He carried on also for 20 years a controversy with Dr. Wallis, professor of geometry at Oxford, which gained him little honor among mathematicians; his claim was that he had discovered the quadrature of the circle. His opinions were during this period assailed by all classes of religionists and by many eminent writers; and in 1666 his "Leviathan" and De Cive were censured by parliament. Yet he was personally esteemed by his former pupil the king, who granted him a pension of £100 from the privy purse, though, yielding to the persuasions of divines, he forbade the philosopher his presence. His fame, too, was spread throughout Europe; foreign ambassadors were interested to see him; and Cosmo de' Medici, prince of Tuscany, visited him and solicited his portrait and a collection of his works to take to Florence. He passed the latter years of his life at the earl of Devonshire's seat in Derbyshire, and continued to write at an advanced age.
His principal later publications are an English version of the Iliad and Odyssey (1675-7), of which three editions were called for in less than ten years, though Pope characterizes it as " too mean for criticism;" the "Decameron Physiologi-cum, or Ten Dialogues on Natural Philosophy" (1678); an autobiography in Latin verse (1679, translated by himself into English verse), and "Behemoth, or the History of the Civil Wars of England, from 1640 to 1660," published posthumously (1679). He possessed remarkable independence and disinterestedness of character. The earl of Devonshire entertained him in ease, leaving him free to follow his own tastes, and was wont to speak of him as a humorist whom nobody could account for. - The speculations of Hobbes base all knowledge upon sensation; and, as the senses perceive only what is material, matter is the only reality. The mind is physical, and all thoughts result from the pressure of material objects upon it. Sensation consists in the movement of particles of matter, which gradually ceases after the actual period of impact, and the vividness of the conception gradually diminishes. This "decaying sense" is imagi-nation, but, if viewed as a lingering image of the past, it is memory.
Knowledge is of two kinds: first, "knowledge original," derived from direct impressions of external things by sensation; second, remembrance of the former, or knowledge of words or of the truth of propositions. He lays immense stress on language; understanding is only the faculty of perceiving the relation between words and things; and errors in reasoning arise only from defective definitions and the wrong employment of names. Yet Hobbes wrote the weighty aphorism: "Words are wise men's counters; they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools." His ethics follow necessarily from his metaphysics. Good and evil have no absolute character, but mean simply personal pleasure or pain, and the highest motives of life must be to attain the one and avoid the other. Moreover, as man does not determine for himself the conditions of pleasure and pain, he is absolutely subject to circumstances and the creature of necessity. Hence results the political theory of Hobbes. Nature gives to every man the right to seek his own happiness, the highest end of being, at whatever expense to his fellow men. The state of nature, therefore, is a state of warfare among men, each seeking to advance only his own interests, and being therefore in hostile collision with every other.
Experience, however, proves a state of universal warfare to be one of universal suffering, and reason therefore dictates the institution of government and other social institutions to be the antagonist of man's natural selfishness. The state should be sufficiently mighty to coerce the will of the individual, and its perfect form is an absolute monarchy, to which should be given supreme control over everything connected with law, morals, and religion. In respect of style Hobbes is one of the best English authors. The most complete edition of his English and Latin works is that prepared by Sir William Molesworth (10 vols., London, 1839-'45).