Thomas Hobbes Quotes

Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes.

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Thomas Hobbes was an accomplished scientist and philosopher whose contributions to metaphysics and political philosophy continue to shape the world. His greatest work is the 1651 book Leviathan, in which he set out his political philosophy of the social contract, wherein the masses consent to be governed by a sovereign or executive in exchange for security and other services, an idea that challenged the concept of divine right and has influenced civil life ever since. While Hobbes is best known as a political philosopher, his talents ranged across many disciplines, and he made significant contributions to science, history, and the law.

Quotes About Politics

“NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal . . . For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body.” (Leviathan, Introduction)

The first line of Hobbes’ Leviathan summarizes the main point of his argument, which is that government is an artificial construct created by man. He ties this to the central metaphor of the book: Government as a person, is stronger and greater than individuals because of its collective strength.

“Temporal and spiritual government are but two words brought into the world to make men see double and mistake their lawful sovereign.” (Leviathan, Book III, Chapter 38)

Hobbes was a fierce opponent of the Catholic Church and considered the Pope’s claim to temporal authority to be bogus. This quote clarifies his position that this is not only incorrect, but actually sows confusion among people in regards to the ultimate authority they should be obeying.

Quotes About Justice

“And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” (Leviathan, Book II, Chapter 17)

Hobbes conceived his leviathan as a power that was equally ascendant over all people, and thus able to enforce its collective will. He believed that all contracts and agreements were worthless unless there was a way to compel adherence to them, otherwise the party that abandons the contract first has an irresistible advantage. Thus, the establishment of the overarching leviathan was necessary for civilization.

Quotes About Science and Knowledge

“Science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another.” (Leviathan, Book I, Chapter 5)

Hobbes was a materialist; he believed reality was defined by objects you could touch and observe. Thus, observation was crucial to scientific investigation, as was the precise definition of an agreed-upon reality. He believed that once you agree on the definitions of what you’re observing, you can then observe the changes (or consequences) they undergo and use that data to form conjectures.

“But the most noble and profitable invention of all other was that of speech, consisting of names or apellations, and their connection; whereby men register their thoughts, recall them when they are past, and also declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation; without which there had been amongst men neither Commonwealth, nor society, nor contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears, and wolves.” (Leviathan, Book I, Chapter 4)

In accordance with his materialist beliefs, Hobbes states that language—and an agreement on precise definitions of words—is key to any sort of civilization. Without a framework of language, nothing else can be accomplished.

Quotes About Religion

“For whatsoever power ecclesiastics take upon themselves (in any place where they are subject to the state) in their own right, though they call it God’s right, is but usurpation.” (Leviathan, Book IV, Chapter 46)

Here Hobbes goes back to his ultimate point: Authority on Earth is conveyed by people in their own self-interest, not conferred via divine right. His anti-Catholic leanings show through as he condemns religious figures who claim the authority of the temporal world for themselves. Hobbes favored a protestant state religion that was subservient to the government.

Quotes About Human Nature

“... the life of man [is] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Leviathan, Book I, Chapter 13)

Hobbes had a dim view of human nature, which led to his support of a strong, coherent government. Describing the sort of world that would exist if people were left to fend for themselves in a world without a strong authority enforcing laws and contracts, he describes a frightening and violent world, and ends with this pithy description of what our lives would be like in such a place.

Quotes About Death

“Now I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark.”

These were the last words spoken by Hobbes as he lay on his deathbed, contemplating his end. The turn of phrase has entered the language and has been repeated and re-purposed many times; for example, in Daniel DeFoe’s Moll Flanders, the titular character says marriage can, “like death, be a leap in the dark.”