October 31, 2002
By Howard Hobbs PhD, Editor & Publisher
-- Philosopher, political theorist
and Virginia Company cofounder, Thomas Hobbes was raised
and educated by an uncle where he became proficient at translating
Greek texts by the time he was age 14.
From 1603 to 1608 he studied at Magdalen College,
Oxford where he earned an MA in Aristotle's metaphysics.
future philosopher was then retained as a tutor to the Cavendish
family children. The Cavendish family's extensive private library,
combined with foreign travel back and forth to Europe and the American
colonies presented him both the knowledge of the expanding world
and introductions to influential people in the Jamestown.
Thanks to the Cavendish wealth, Hobbes became
an active member of the Virginia trading company and was granted
a sizable shareholder stake in both the Virginia and the Somer
Island companies which organized the settlement of the Bermuda
Hobbes attended more than thirty shareholder
meetings of the Virginia Company
in 1622-1624 and came into contact with influential colonial writers
and political leaders.
It was at this time Hobbes finished writing
his detailed translation of Thucydides, famous for its speech by
Pericles in a veiled defense of democracy.
Hobbes translation of Thucydides's History
of the Peloponnesian Wars, was published in 1629. In it, Hobbes
depicted Thucydides as stating that knowledge of the past was useful
for determining correct action. Hobbes wrote that he produced the
translation during a period of civil unrest as a reminder that that
democracy was not historically the most effective form of government.
His sympathy and
support for the royal family placed him in a precarious position
in 1640. He left England during on the first of many trips back
and forth between England and the Continent.
Hobbes at 91 years of age had
prevailed in longevity over his contemporary 17th Century thinkers
as he continued writing, and actually invited friends to submit
epitaphs for his planned funeral.
He died on December 4, 1679. Shortly before
his death, however, he reportedly selected one epitaph above all
others, that read "This is the true philosopher's stone."
Hobbes rode the intellectual crest of the
wave in the 17th Century, as modern classical philosophy challenged
the authority of the past. In this he was joined by Descartes, of
the rationalist tradition, and Sir Francis Bacon, who introduced
new ways of thinking through a scientific conception of reality.
For his part, Hobbes was the first to raise the
question as to whether or not it is moral for the government to
impose itself upon people who wish to be free of a monarchy. Case
in point, the Massachusetts Bay Colony? A related concern for Hobbes
is his praises for civil law and his cudgel for a continuing process
of informing and educating both the government and the people about
sources of sovereignty and the common interest.
Hobbes was fascinated by Galileo's mechanical
physics and proposed an explanation of that theory to human cognition.
The origin of all thought, he surmised, was mental images produced
in the mind by the pressure of motion of external objects.
These sense images are extended by the power of memory,
imagination and linguistic expression, the cumulative knowledge
that enables the mind to move progressively from abstract and simple
to more particular and complex sciences: geometry, mechanics, physics,
morals and politics.
the connection between nature, man, and society through the analogy
of society as a "commonwealth" (perhaps a colony
in the new world) which is a political entity that is part of Nature.
One that in its natural state may be depicted as "solitary, poor,
nasty, brutish and short."
Such colonists in the new world, then,
live and die in "a state of perpetual war" with nature and each
other, driven by competition and desire for the same goods. But,
its saving grace is that it is man's natural right and liberty to
seek self-preservation by any and every means he can devise on the
new frontier in Massachusetts Bay.
In this state of nature a "social contract"
binds the individual to treat others as he expects to be treated
by them. Only a civil power commands sufficient force to compel
everyone to fulfill this original compact by which men exchange
liberty for security.
In Hobbes' view the
sovereign power of a commonwealth like Massachusetts or any
other colony in the new world, is absolute and to the extent of
its power to secure to itself, its own bill-of-rights, and provide
for the common defense is empowered by the laws of Nature and of
man to refuse to observe any and all the laws and obligations imposed
upon it by its former sovereign.
contract of medieval England & France as set out by Hobbes,
Locke and Rousseau is – “…the sole source of political power,
under God, is the people; that every society rests on an implicit
social contract of mutual obligations and restraints between the
governed and the governors; that the will of the majority may rightly
rule the whole; that the king is subject to laws passed by the representatives
of the people; and that a tyrant may justly be resisted deposed,
A brief overview of ethics and moral philosophy
teaches that normative ethics centers study on those moral assumptions
or statements that are evaluative about underlying assumptions and
beliefs e.g. “oughts”.
Metaethics, however, is linguistically
based, and deals with conceptual issues of human conduct standards,
and the meaning of terms like good, bad, and why. These Normative
and Metaethics forms of discourse are closely related and it is
often informative to distinguish between the two in discussions.
Secular individualism found in Hobbes and
Locke, a foundation of logic that sets the basis of ethics, the
contract theory of natural rights: the individual before the social
aggregate. It steps back from a consideration of the consequences,
either to society or to the individual, and asks whether there are
certain characteristics of actions that make them right, independent
of the consequences of the action.
This position is found in the writings
of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and those who talk and write about inalienable
rights. Often referred to as situationalist in theory, see
John Rawls, Two Concepts of Rules, Philosophical Review
64 (1955): 3-32. Illustrative of Hobbes'
personal ethic, he became a member of The Virginia Company
Board of Governors in June 1622 when he purchased stock in the venture.
Hobbes attended all The Virginia Company
Board meetings between 1622-1624 and had a hand in management of
American Colony affairs including obtaining land grants and tract
leases from the Crown for enormous commercial rice and tobacco plantations.
Through his involvement with the Virginia Company, Hobbes came into
contact with prominent politicians and writers such as Sir Edwin
Sandys and lawyer John Seldin. [Sorell, Tom, HOBBES, Cambridge Universality
Press, University of Cambridge, (1996): p20.
Thomas Hobbes Touchstones:
Greville, lord Brooke
Hobbes; His life and character
conception, system of philosophy and controversies
style and method of work
of human nature and of sovereignty
commonwealths: More’s Utopia and Harrington’s Oceana
critics of Hobbes
[Editor's Note: Philosopher's
Stone -- figurative usage. Hobbes may have referred to the
"philosopher's stone" as the alchemy thought by some to be
capable of regenerating spiritually. More likely, Hobbes, used the
term to imply that he was the person whose true philosophical perspective
enabled him to meet trouble with equanimity, and prevail.
The philosophical writings which belong to the period
following Bacon’s death show but slight traces of Bacon’s
influence. His genius was recognised, and he was quoted, now and
again, on special points; but his leading doctrines wer The generally
ignored. No new logic appeared on the lines described in his Novum
The writers of logical treatises followed the traditional
scholastic method, or adopted the modifications of it introduced
by Ramus. Even Milton’s logic, which is founded on that of
Ramus, pays no attention to the Baconian revolution. It is worthy
of note that, in the middle of the sixteenth century, a beginning
had been made at writing works on logic in English. In 1552, Thomas
Wilson published The Rule of Reason, conteining the arte
of logique. The innovation was not without danger at the time, if
it be true that his publication on this subject in a vulgar tongue
led to the author’s imprisonment by the inquisition at Rome.
His example was followed, in safer circumstances, by
Ralph Lever, who, in his Arte of Reason rightly termed Witcraft,
teaching a perfect way to argue and dispute (1573), not only wrote
in English, but used words of English derivation in place of the
traditional terminology—forest and backset for “subject”
and “predicate,” inholder and inbeer for “substance”
and “accident,” say what for “definition”
and so on. This attempt was never taken seriously; and a considerable
time had to elapse before English became the usual language for
books on logic. In the seventeenth century, as well as in the sixteenth,
the demands of the universities made the use of Latin almost essential
for the purpose.
The work of Richard Crakanthorp, Logicae libri
quinque de Praedicabilibus (1622), was one of the best known
of these text-books. The question of method which had ruled the
thought of Bacon, was less prominent in the English philosophy of
the following period and did not lead to any new work of importance.
Thomas Hobbes is one of the greatest philosophers and political
theorists of the last three hundred years. His life and thought
are an intriguing blend of conservatism and radicalism, and possibly
He was both a conservative supporter of the Stuart
monarchy and absolute sovereignty, and also a radical democratic
theorist. In Leviathan Thomas Hobbes defines moral philosophy
as 'the science of Virtue and Vice', yet few modern readers take
this description seriously. Moreover, it is typically assumed that
Hobbes' ethical views are unrelated to his views of science. Influential
modern interpreters have portrayed Hobbes as either an amoralist,
or a moral contractarian, or a rule egoist, or a divine command
theorist. David Boonin-Vail challenges all these assumptions and
presents a new, and very unorthodox, interpretation of Hobbes's
He shows that Hobbes is best understood as embracing
a theory of virtue concerned with the development of good character
traits rather than with rules of behaviour. In focusing in a quite
new way on Hobbes's moral theory this book is likely to attract
considerable attention amongst both philosophers and intellectual
historians. While Hobbes is thought of as a champion of possessive
individualism, James Forrestal; The Dying of the Light
notes that the author of Leviathan put the sanctity of life foremost
and endorsed social-welfare programs.
Yet in many ways, the author admits, Hobbes was a precursor
of today's radical right, a thinker who believed that the endsin
the case of his philosophy, civic peace and stability justified
almost any means.
Hobbes stressed the dark side of human nature and saw
society as a clash of individuals' drives for self-preservation;
he was more complex than the "Hobbesian" authoritarian
many critics consider him to be, the author argues. Rogow's attempt
to link Hobbes's life to his thought is stymied by a paucity of
personal data, but his portrait succeeds in kindling interest in
the pessimistic political thinker who wrongheadedly cast Thucydides
as an antidemocrat.
In the book, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement
of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches, Henry
C. Johnson documents the decline and fall of the Christian tradition
in the nation's marketplace of ideas from early times to the present
day. He focuses in exemplary detail on a relative handful of colleges.
What is impressive and useful in this study is that it rests his
case on primary documents and institutional relics.
This is an important work, which rests
on a significant account of the nation's leadership who attained
their education in places characterized by the "meaning"
and "values" that were transmitted to this elite, and
suggests how and why they changed over time, illuminating the social
and cultural transition to a secularized and fragmented present.
In our often anguished search for "meanings" and "values,"
this past is instructive, most obviously for those still concerned
that our religious traditions continue to contribute to our culture.
The inquiry is immeasurably sharpened by the fact that Burtchaell
is a serious theologian with well-honed philosophical skills who
can find and explicate foundational questions in this complex narrative,
many of which are unaddressed elsewhere.
Seven religious-educational traditions were studieed,
Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran,
Roman Catholic, and, finally, the frequently ignored Evangelical.
He identifies two or three specific institutions that, he believes,
illustrate disengagement from ecclesial originsof diverse national,
cultural, and physical geography which should be kept in mind in
discussions on this process. For example, he discusses the Lutherans
Gettysburg College, St. Olaf College, and Concordia University,
which represent significantly different theological views.
Sparing none, he demonstrates how the once clearly
focused advocates of Christian higher education slid from theologically
and philosophically principled thinking into crude a clumsey psychology
and the worship of the academic idols in ostensibly enlightened
but shrinking venues of religious counterculture.
Note -- The Dying of the Light:
The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian
Churches. By James Tunstead Burtchaell. (Grand Rapids, Mich.,
and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.
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