History and Motives
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Author:  President Camacho [ Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:43 pm ]
Post subject:  History and Motives

I created this thread so that Geo could start us off talking a little bit about the current events happening in England and in Hobbes' life during the time he wrote this book. This should shed some light on the motives behind Leviathan! Thanks Geo! :P :gettowork:

Author:  geo [ Wed Jan 04, 2012 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: History and Motives

President Camacho wrote:
I created this thread so that Geo could start us off talking a little bit about the current events happening in England and in Hobbes' life during the time he wrote this book. This should shed some light on the motives behind Leviathan! Thanks Geo! :P :gettowork:

Geez, what a bossy moderator. :lol:

Hobbes: a brief historical context as cobbled together from a few different sources. I had some of this already written, but I wouldn't be surprised if I introduced a few errors.

Briefly, Elizabeth I was queen of England for 40 years until her death in 1603. Her reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights Shakespeare and Marlowe. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity. Elizabeth never married and her lack of an heir was a point of concern for the English people. Her successor was James I, an experienced monarch when he ascended the English throne, having been King of Scotland since his infancy. Both Elizabeth and James had balanced approaches to governing and both were patrons of the arts. Shakespeare's company of actors was known as "Lord Chamberlain's Men" during the reign of Elizabeth, and it became "The King's Men" in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.

James I believed in the divine right of kings, that a king is subject to no earthly authority and derives his right to rule directly from God. James wrote two works, The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron, in which he argues a theological basis for monarchy. In the True Law, he sets out the divine right of kings, explaining that for Biblical reasons kings are higher beings than other men.

The divine right of kings is predicated on the Great Chain of Beings, an idea that can be traced to antiquity. See other thread here.


Shakespeare addressed themes of order and disorder in many of his plays. It was believed that everybody has a place or station in life and that it was everyone's obligation to remain in one's station. Indeed, Shakespeare's Macbeth (dedicated to James) is a portrayal of the inversion of the natural order of things. In other words, what happens when Macbeth murders the natural king, Duncan, and all hell breaks loose. Disorder in one realm affected other realms. When Macbeth usurps the king's rightful place, there is bad weather and animals behave strangely.

In King Lear, the "simultaneous disorder in family relationships and in the state (child ruling parent, subject ruling king) is reflected in the disorder of Lear's mind (the loss of reason) as well as in the disorder of nature (the raging storm). Lear even equates his loss of reason to "a tempest in my mind." ... 6/ren.html

Continuing, the second son of James was Charles I who succeeded his father as king and reigned from 1625 until his execution in 1649.

Religious conflicts played heavily into Charles' reign. Charles also engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England as he attempted to obtain royal revenue which he believed was his right as the divinely-ordained king. Many of his England's subjects opposed his actions, in particular his interference in the English and Scottish Churches and the levying of taxes without parliamentary consent which grew to be seen as those of a tyrannical absolute monarch.

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political perturbations between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers). In a nutshell, Parliamentarians sought a constitutional monarchy, in place of the absolutist monarchy as attempted by Charles (and his father before him).

Here's where Hobbes comes into the picture. He wrote Leviathan between 1648 and 1651, so he had probably started it before Charles was executed in 1649. Hobbes was an absolutist, but he didn't believe in the divine right of kings. As an absolutist, he believed the people ought to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power. He didn't necessarily believe a monarch necessarily had to be that sovereign power, but I think that was his preference.

So, a question: who did Hobbes have in mind as monarch while he was writing Leviathan? Was he promoting James II's ascendancy?

Author:  President Camacho [ Thu Jan 05, 2012 12:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: History and Motives

:wiggle: :yourock: :wiggle: :goodpost: :wiggle: :yourock: :wiggle:


I am always curious to consider what motives people have for writing a book like this and immediately question their life experiences. Hobbes was raised by a relatively low income house-hold and his Father was a drunk and left him and his Mother. Unable to pay for a proper University, a family member helped Hobbes enter a 'Hall'. Hobbes was extremely bright and picked up Greek, Latin, French, and Italian in addition to his native English. His first published work was a translation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Hobbes' skills were noticed and he was recommended to become a tutor, secretary, honored servant, and as he calls it a "domestic" to William Cavendish, one of the absolute wealthiest men in England.

He was 15.

Hobbes was a servant nearly his entire life. He went on numerous vacations with aristocrats and acted as translator and tour guide. In France he was exposed to the philosophy of Rene Descartes and soon began to write his own works on philosophy.

While writing the book, as Geo has said, there was great turmoil in the country and, really, around the known world. Although Hobbes began writing political philosophy before the English Civil War began, it's assumed that Leviathan was written as a response to it. Hobbes wrote the book while still in the service of the exiled king's court (Charles II, not Charles I who would be put to death in England before the book was completed). After the book was written, he was dismissed.

When did Hobbes write this book? When he was past 60 years of age. How do our brains work when we're that old? I think, despite his obvious genius, this man still suffered what all old men suffer; he was prone to be very safe and conservative and not at all risk taking or accepting of change. He was raised by a money-giving uncle that he probably had to kowtow to and then he was the servant of supremely wealthy and powerful men his entire life. He was a dependent... he was slavish... or again, in his words, a "domestic". A pet?!?!?! Sure sounds like it. In his old age did he feel like he knew what worked? To accept a yoke?

His language skills and his translation of Thucydides tell me immediately that he should have a good grasp of Greek and possibly Roman history as well as culture. It's weird that so early in the book he gets them confused.

He died at the age of 91. I wonder how many sons of poor single mothers in England at that time lived to that old age.

Author:  geo [ Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: History and Motives

I was thinking about Hobbes' cushy job as tutor too and I'm inclined to think that's exactly what enabled him to become a great philosopher. Regular folks don't have time to devote to such esoteric subjects. He was something of a late bloomer. I've read that Hobbes was deeply troubled by the political unrest in England, prompting him to spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of man and his contract with the state. i was wondering if his self-imposed exile in Paris during much of the English Civil War was fear for his own safety, or was he simply accompanying his employer? I'll look into this. I have lots of other comments/questions as well. Thanks for your input, Camacho (not to mention all the dancing icons!) Leviathan is definitely the kind of work that requires a lot of supplementary reading. The context means so much.

Author:  heledd [ Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: History and Motives

Ok thanks guys. very helpful. Family circumstances mean I can't get on as quickly as I'd like, but I'm still reading the posts.

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