In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thomas Hobbes

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies (Collected Essays)
  • Journals
  • Life
  • Context
  • Bibliographies
  • Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Skepticism
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Nominalism and Language
  • Liberty, Necessity, Materialism, and Determinism
  • Literature, History, and Rhetoric
  • Law
  • Religion
  • Church-State Relations
  • Toleration
  • The Reception of Hobbes

Philosophy Thomas Hobbes
Johann Sommerville
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 June 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0096


Thomas Hobbes (b. 1579–d. 1688) was an English philosopher best known for his work in political and moral philosophy, though he also wrote on metaphysics, epistemology, mathematics, history, religion, and much else. Hobbes’s political theory famously featured the idea that people who live together outside of political society are in a state of nature that is a war of all against all and that life in such a situation would be nasty, brutish, and short. Hobbes argued that the fundamental principles of morality, or laws of nature, require us to try to establish peace: he says this can only be established through the institution of an absolute sovereign. He contended that the sovereign alone is empowered to make laws regulating our actions. Religious or other institutions that are independent of the state have no authority over us. Hobbes’s ideas have exercised a great influence on later political philosophers, both positively and by way of eliciting criticism. He is often seen as a foundational figure in the history of modern political philosophy and sometimes of liberalism. His best-known work is Leviathan (1651; 1668).

General Overviews

Williams 2003, Finn 2008, Duncan 2009, and Lloyd and Sreedhar 2008 are all short introductions available on the Internet. Tuck 2002, Sorell 1986, and Watkins 1973 are all lucid, brief, printed introductions to Hobbes and his thought. Martinich 1995 is a dictionary consisting of some 140 articles providing an overview of many aspects of Hobbes’s thought.

  • Duncan, Stewart. “Thomas Hobbes.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2009.

    This well-organized chapter-length introduction to Hobbes briefly discusses his life and works, and then surveys his ideas on mind and language, materialism, views on method, philosophy of religion, and reception.

  • Finn, Stephen. “Hobbes: Methodology.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2008.

    This is a clear introduction to Hobbes’s views on science and to his deployment of scientific methodology in his writings on history, law, morals, and politics. The size of a relatively short journal article, it discusses a number of works not dealt with in Williams.

  • Lloyd, Sharon, and Susanne Sreedhar. “Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

    About half the length of Duncan 2009, this is a well-written and clearly organized introduction to the main themes in Hobbes’s moral and political philosophy.

  • Martinich, Aloysius. A Hobbes Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

    Includes a brief life, chronologies, and some 140 articles covering various aspects of Hobbes’s thought.

  • Sorell, Tom. Hobbes. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

    A good, short introduction, locating Hobbes’s political ideas in the wider context of his more general philosophy, though arguing that the political ideas can largely be understood on their own.

  • Tuck, Richard. Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Short, acute, and lively. It introduces modern interpretations of Hobbes, as well as his life, times, and thought.

  • Watkins, J. W. N. Hobbes’s System of Ideas: A Study in the Political Significance of Philosophical Theories. 2d ed. London: Hutchinson, 1973.

    A clear, brief introduction, arguing that Hobbes’s general philosophy is centrally important to his political theory.

  • Williams, Garrath. “Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2003.

    A good, clearly organized, chapter-length introduction to the most important themes in Hobbes’s moral and political philosophy.

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