Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher, who is best known today for his work on political philosophy. Hobbes was born in 1588 in Westport, United Kingdom and lived to be age 91. He was not born into power, wealth or influence with his father, a village vicar, abandoning him. Hobbes was raised and educated by his uncle, which allowed his intellectual talents to develop, eventually bringing him to Oxford University in England (Williams, n.d.). When Thomas turned 20, he became a tutor to the son of an important noble family, the Cavendishes, who he developed a lifelong connection with. His association with the family provided him with an extensive library and gave him the opportunity to meet countless influential people, even eventually becoming the tutor to future King Charles II.
During upcoming years Hobbes interacted and associated with brilliant thinkers, including Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei, however it was two different influences that heavily affected his future work. According to Williams (n.d.), the first influence was a response against religious authority, specifically against the scholastic philosophy that accepted and defended such authority. The second influence was an admiration for, and involvement in, the emerging scientific method, as well as geometry. Both of these influences impacted how Hobbes expressed his political and moral ideas.
Hobbes first manuscript, Elements of Law was not received well in his time. Hodges (2001) conveyed that the manuscript created controversy as it built a strong argument for absolute royal power. With the hostility in society at the time, Hobbes decided to spend the next 11 years of his life in Paris. This time-span helped turn Hobbes’ thoughts into more political matters, eventually leading to the creation of Hobbes’ most famous work, Leviathan. The book establishes the foundation for political philosophy from the perspective of the social contract. Social contract is an agreement in which a person within a society gives up their freedom. The person agrees to drastically limit their right of nature, and defend himself or herself only in a situation that involves an immediate threat (Williams, n.d.).
Hobbes ultimately believed that people were naturally selfish and brutal and could not be trusted to govern. The only way to avoid disorder was for people to surrender their freedom, giving all the power to a king or queen in an absolute monarchy. This life without government is expressed as a state-of-nature. Williams stated (n.d.), “if I judge that killing you is a sensible or even necessary move to safeguard my life, then – Hobbes’s state of nature claims – I have a right to kill you.” Therefore, Hobbes pictures it as people having the right to do whatever they think will ensure their self-preservation.
Hobbes ideas were efficiently laid out, providing a strong foundation for research in the social contract field for other philosophers to expand on. John Locke specifically accepted Hobbes’ terms. In fact, “our modern, liberal view of privacy comes largely from the claims of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke” (Plaisance, 2014, p. 178). Hobbes saw the “private world” to protect individual security, while Locke stated that independence in the public and private spheres were mutually exclusive. Locke’s ideas typically differed from Hobbes, specifically with human nature. Locke viewed man as a social animal by nature, Hobbes saw man to not be a social animal.
In today’s society, the ideas of Hobbes can be applied in the media ethics field. A specific case that can be looked at through his ideology is the case of American journalist, Brian Williams. NBC recently suspended the star news anchor for a false story that had come under fire involving a US military helicopter in Iraq. Through Hobbes view, Williams’s actions were naturally selfish. Williams broke the Code of Ethics for Journalists, fabricating a story to better his position as a journalist and the ratings of his nightly news show. This case is an excellent example of Hobbes depiction of human behavior to be rooted in self-interest. Overall, Hobbes has had a tremendous impact on political philosophy, his ideologies still relevant and looked at today.
Hodges, M. H. (2001). Life of Thomas Hobbes. In Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. Retrieved from http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/hobbes/hobbesbio.htm
Plaisance, P. L. (2014). Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Williams, G. (n.d.). Thomas Hobbes: Moral and political philosophy. In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/hobmoral/