Thomas Hobbes Criticism - Essay

Sir Leslie Stephen (essay date 1904)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The State," in Hobbes, 1904. Reprint by The University of Michigan Press, 1961, pp. 173-236.

[In the following excerpt, Stephen examines Hobbes's conception of both the law of nature and the social contract.]


1. Contemporary Controversies

We come now to the third part of Hobbes's philosophy. He is to base a science of politics upon the doctrines already expounded. We become aware that there is a certain breach of continuity. To understand his line of thought, it is necessary to take note both of the problems in which he was specially interested, and the form into which the arguments...

(The entire section is 13772 words.)

A. E. Taylor (essay date 1908)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Empirical Psychology—The Nature of Man," in Thomas Hobbes, Archibald Constable & Co Ltd, 1908, pp. 76-101.

[In the following excerpt, Taylor explores Hobbes's views regarding humankind's transition from a "state of anarchy into a state of settled order."]

We have seen, in the last chapter, what is Hobbes's conception of the 'state of nature,' the condition in which man found himself at the dawn of civilisation, and into which he tends to degenerate when the bonds of political allegiance are gravely relaxed. It is a condition in which the machinery provided by government for the restraint of men's fundamentally anti-social impulses is entirely absent, and...

(The entire section is 5737 words.)

G. P. Gooch (essay date 1914-15)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Hobbes," in Political Though in England: From Bacon to Halifax, Thorton Butterworth Limited, 1914, pp. 35-57.

[In the following excerpt, Gooch offers an overview of Hobbes's political philosophy and suggests that he was instrumental in the "atmospheric change which substituted the secular for the theological standpoint."]

While James proclaimed the divinity of lawful kings and Bacon preached the ideals of the Tudor monarchy, Hobbes, the author of the first comprehensive political system produced in England, derived his theory of the State neither from theology nor from tradition, but from the study of human nature. The most interesting as well as the most...

(The entire section is 5305 words.)

Bertrand Russell (essay date 1945)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Hobbes's Leviathan," in A History Western Philosophy, and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Simon & Schuster, 1945, pp. 546-57.

[In the following essay, Russell examines the doctrines of Leviathan, noting that Hobbes's main limitations are his fear of anarchy, overemphasis on the national interest, and misunderstanding of relations between states.]

Hobbes (1588–1679) is a philosopher whom it is difficult to classify. He was an empiricist, like Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, but unlike them, he was an admirer of mathematical method, not only in pure mathematics, but in its...

(The entire section is 4809 words.)

John Dewey (essay date 1954?)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Motivation of Hobbes's Political Philosophy," in Thomas Hobbes in His Time, Ralph Ross, Herbert W. Schneider, Theodore Waldman, eds., University of Minnesota Press, 1974, pp. 8-30.

[In the following excerpt, Dewey examines Hobbes's political philosophy in historical context. Because the editors were unable to determine the exact date of this essay, Dewey's death date has been used.]

It is the object of this essay to place the political philosophy of Hobbes in its own historic context. The history of thought is peculiarly exposed to an illusion of perspective. Earlier doctrines are always getting shoved, as it were, nearer our own day. We are familiar with...

(The entire section is 9825 words.)

Quentin Skinner (essay date 1966)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Ideological Context of Hobbes's Political Thought," in The Historical Journal, Vol. IX, No. 3, 1966, pp. 286-317.

[In the following excerpt, Skinner explores Hobbes's contemporary reputation and rejects the claim that he was isolated ideologically.]

The modern reputation of Hobbes's Leviathan as a work 'incredibly overtopping all its successors in political theory'1 has concentrated so much attention on Hobbes's own text that it has tended at the same time to divert attention away from any attempt to study the relations between his thought and its age, or to trace his affinities with the other political writers of his time. It has by now...

(The entire section is 6230 words.)

Michael Oakeshott (essay date 1975)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to Hobbes on Civil Association, Basil Blackwell, 1975, pp. 1-74.

[In the following excerpt from his introduction to Leviathan, Oakeshott discusses what philosophy meant to Hobbes, and how to approach reading him.]


Leviathan is the greatest, perhaps the sole, masterpiece of political philosophy written in the English language. And the history of our civilization can provide only a few works of similar scope and achievement to set beside it. Consequently, it must be judged by none but the highest standards and must be considered only in the widest context. The masterpiece...

(The entire section is 9749 words.)

David Johnston (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Theory and Transformation: The Politics of Enlightment," in The Rhetoric of "Leviathan": Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation, Princeton University Press, 1986, pp. 114-33.

[In the following excerpt, Johnston considers Hobbes's purpose in presenting the theological arguments in the second half of Leviathan.]

Apart from the vigor and vividness of its language, the feature of Leviathan that distinguishes it most clearly from Hobbes's earlier political works is the great extent and detail of the attention it devotes to Scriptural exegesis and theological argumentation. In The Elements of Law, a work of twenty-nine chapters,...

(The entire section is 6417 words.)

Arlene W. Saxonhouse (essay date 1995)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Arlene W. Saxonhouse, "Hobbes and the Beginnings of Modern Political Thought," in Thomas Hobbes, Three Discourses: A Critical Modern Edition of Newly Identified Work of the Young Hobbes, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Arlene W. Saxonhouse, The University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 123-54.

[In the following excerpt, Saxonhouse discusses three newly-attributed, pre-scientific writings of the young Hobbes.]


There are many ways to read the three Discourses: for what they tell us about the social and religious life of the English aristocrat in the early decades of the seventeenth century, for what they tell us about...

(The entire section is 12162 words.)