Foundations of social modern thought lecture 2 – hobbes: authority, human rights and social order


Professor Iván Szelényi: Then let’s go on to Thomas Hobbes. And I do something what probably not everybody does in a kind of history of ideas course: I give you an overview of the individual whom you were reading from, and around some sense of the historic times they lived in. Occasionally I get negative comments in my course evaluations for this. People want just to talk about the text, what they have to know. There are some people who like it, to see well this is how Thomas Hobbes looked like, and who the character was. So therefore I still will do this. I think what I will try to do is to go very fast through the sort of individual’s life and history; sort of to have my cake and eat it, right? To give those of you who are interested in the historical context, at least briefly; and those who are not particularly interested, not to bore them with it. But you can go back to the internet and get even more detail.
Okay, so we’ll start this with Thomas Hobbes. Whether Foundations of Modern Social Thought should start with Hobbes or not, that’s a question. In some other courses I’ve taught, occasionally I started with Thomas [correction: Francis] Bacon; I will talk about him very briefly later on. But in some ways arguably Thomas Hobbes is the first who laid the foundations of modern social science. He was a genuine scientist, and a formidable one, and an extremely controversial figure, addressing a number of very important issues. We are all still very divided, particularly on human nature. Are we by nature good, or are we by nature evil? I think probably half of the crowd here would go one way; the other half would go another way. And I hope to be able to discuss that in the discussion sections. Anyway there are a number of very important issues that Thomas Hobbes framed, and which have a great deal of impact on later social scientists – of course, on Locke, but also on Adam Smith, on Nietzsche, on Freud, on Max Weber and others.
Okay, so this is Thomas Hobbes, and let me just very briefly talk about his life. I mentioned that – in the introductory lecture – he was born in 1588 in Westport. I also mentioned that his father was a vicar and he had actually a fistfight with a clergyman in, of all places, in a cemetery which was absolutely no-no by that time. So he had to skip and disappear and leave young Thomas behind in the care of an uncle who was actually a glover, produced gloves.

And this all happened under the rule of Queen Elizabeth. I will talk about this a little later. In 1602, he went to Oxford, to Magdalene Hall, and then in ’08 he graduated, and he became a tutor of William Cavendish II who became at one point a very important politician.
In 1610, he went to France and Italy. It is very important because he met Galileo and he was absolutely turned on by Galileo and physics of his time. I already mentioned that Hobbes cannot be classified in any of the disciplines. He even cannot be classified as a social scientist. He was as much a mathematician – I gather a pretty bad mathematician – but also he made important contributions to sciences, particularly to optics. Well, he had a close association with a person whom you may have heard of, Francis Bacon.
And who was Francis Bacon, and what is his influence? Francis Bacon was a philosopher who rejected the Aristotelian logic and system, which basically was a speculative system – started out from some major assumptions and through deductions developed his philosophical system.



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Foundations of social modern thought lecture 2 – hobbes: authority, human rights and social order