Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Hobbes

English Political Philosopher

"The disembodied spirit is immortal; there is nothing of it that can grow old or die. But the embodied spirit sees death on the horizon as soon as its day dawns."

"The end of knowledge is power ... the scope of all speculation is the performing of some action or thing to be done."

"The fault lieth altogether in the dogmatics, that is to say, those that are imperfectly learned, and with passion press to have their opinion pass everywhere for truth."

"The final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters."

"The first and fundamental law of Nature, which is, to seek peace and follow it."

"The flesh endures the storms of the present alone; the mind those of the past and future as well as the present. Gluttony is a lust of the mind."

"The freedom can be rightly defined as a lack of all obstacles to the action, because they don’t contain in the nature or in the inner qualities of acting person."

"The Future being but a fiction of the mind, applying the sequels of actions Past, to the actions that are Present."

"The government itself, or the administration of its affairs, are better committed to one, then many."

"The greatest and most active part of mankind has never hitherto been well contented with the present."

"The imagination that is raised in man, or any other creature imbued with the faculty of imagining, by words or other voluntary signs, is that we generally call ‘understanding,’ and is common to man and beast. For a dog by custom will understand the call or the rating of his master; and so will many other beasts. That understanding which is peculiar to man is the understanding not only his will but his conceptions and thoughts, by the sequel and contexture of the names of things into affirmations, negations, and other forms of speech; and of this kind of understanding I shall speak hereafter."

"The imaginations of them that sleep are those we call ‘dreams.’ And these also, as also all other imaginations, have been before, either totally or by parcels, in the sense. And, because in sense, the brain and nerves, which are the necessary organs of sense, are so benumbed in sleep as not easily to be moved by the action of external objects, there can happen in sleep no imagination, and therefore no dream, but what proceeds from the agitation of the inward parts of man’s body; which inward parts, for the connection they have with the brain and other organs, when they be distempered, do keep the same in motion; whereby the imaginations there formerly made, appear as if a man were waking; saving that the organs of sense being now benumbed, so as there is no new object which can master and obscure them with a more vigorous impression, a dream must needs be more clear in this silence of sense than our waking thoughts. And hence it cometh to pass that it is a hard matter, and by many thought impossible, to distinguish exactly between sense and dreaming. For my part, when I consider that in dreams I do not often nor constantly think of the same persons, places, objects, and actions, that I do waking, nor remember so long a train of coherent thoughts, dreaming, as at other times, and because waking I often observe the absurdity of dreams, but never dream of the absurdities of my waking thoughts, I am well satisfied, that, being awake, I know I dream not, though when I dream I think myself awake."

"The law is more easily understood by few than many words. For all words are subject to ambiguity, and therefore multiplication of words in the body of the law is multiplication of ambiguity. Besides, it seems to imply (by too much diligence) that whosoever can evade the words is without the compass of the law."

"The law is the public conscience."

"The laws are of no power to protect them, without a sword in the hands of a man, or men, to cause those laws to be put in execution."

"The laws of nature are immutable and eternal; for injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity, acception of persons, and the rest, can never be that war shall preserve life, and peace destroy it."

"The liberty of a subject, lieth therefore only in those things, which in regulating actions, the sovereign hath permitted: such as the liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves think fit; and the like."

"The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

"The most difficult discerning of a man’s dream from his waking thoughts is, then, when by some accident we observe not that we have slept: which is easy to happen to a man full of fearful thoughts, and whose conscience is much troubled, and that sleepeth without the circumstances of going to bed or putting off his clothes, as one that noddeth in a chair. For he that taketh pains, and industriously lays himself to sleep, in case any uncouth and exorbitant fancy come unto him, cannot easily think it other than a dream. We read of Marcus Brutus (one that had his life given him by Julius Cæsar, and was also his favorite, and notwithstanding murdered him) how at Philippi, the night before he gave battle to Augustus Cæsar, he saw a fearful apparition, which is commonly related by historians as a vision; but, considering the circumstances, one may easily judge to have been but a short dream. For, sitting in his tent, pensive and troubled with the horror of his rash act, it was not hard for him, slumbering in the cold, to dream of that which most affrighted him; which fear, as by degrees it made him wake, so also it must needs make the apparition by degrees to vanish; and, having no assurance that he slept, he could have no cause to think it a dream or anything but a vision. And this is no very rare accident; for even they that be perfectly awake, if they be timorous and superstitious, possessed with fearful tales, and alone in the dark, are subject to the like fancies, and believe they see spirits and dead men’s ghosts walking in churchyards; whereas it is either their fancy only, or else the knavery of such persons as make use of such superstitious fear to pass disguised in the night to places they would not be known to haunt."

"The most noble and profitable invention of all other, was that of speech, consisting of names or appellations, and their connections; 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."

"The most part are too busy in getting food, and the rest too negligent to understand."

"The most part of men, though they have the use of reasoning a little way, as in numbering to some degree; yet it serves them to little use in common life; in which they govern themselves, some better, some worse, according to their differences of experience, quickness of memory, and inclinations to several ends; but specially according to good or evil fortune, and the errors of one another."

"The oath adds nothing to the obligation. For a covenant, if lawful, binds in the sight of God, without the oath, as much as with it; if unlawful, bindeth not at all, though it be confirmed with an oath."

"The object of man's desire is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time; but to assure for ever, the way of his future desires."

"The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no covenant be relinquished."

"The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, everyone to his will, and their judgments to his judgment."

"The Originall of them all, is that which we call SENSE; (For there is no conception in a man’s mind, which hath not at first, totally, or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of Sense."

"The passions of men are commonly more potent than their reason."

"The passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them."

"The passions that most of all cause the difference of wit, are principally, the more or less desire of power, of riches, of knowledge, and of honour. All which may be reduced to the first, that is, desire of power. For riches, knowledge, and honour, are but several sorts of power. - Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. 1651."

"The power of a man, to take it universally, is his present means, to obtain some future apparent good; and is either original or instrumental."

"The praise of ancient authors proceeds not from the reverence of the dead, but from the competition and mutual envy of the living."

"The Present only has a being in Nature; things Past have a being in the Memory only, but things to come have no being at all; the Future but a fiction of the mind."

"The privilege of absurdity to which no living creature is subject, but man only."

"The question is not, whether a man be a free agent, that is to say, whether he can write or forbear, speak or be silent, according to his will; but whether the will to write, and the will to forbear, come upon him according to his will, or according to anything else in his own power. I acknowledge this liberty, that I can do if I will; but to say, I can will if I will, I take to be an absurd speech."

"The right men have by nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no covenant be relinquished. - Thomas Hobbes."

"The right of nature... is the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life."

"The safety of the people requireth further from him or them that have the sovereign power, that justice be equally administered to all degrees of people, that is, that as well the rich and mighty as poor and obscure persons may be righted of the injuries done them, so as the great may have no greater hope of impunity when they do violence, dishonor, or any injury to the meaner sort than when one of these does the like to one of them. For in this consisteth equity, to which, as being a precept of the law of Nature, a sovereign is as much subject as any of the meanest of his people."

"The science which teacheth arts and handicrafts is merely science for the gaining of a living; but the science which teacheth deliverance from worldly existence, is not that the true science?"

"The source of every crime is some defect of the understanding; or some error in reasoning; or some sudden force of the passions."

"The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes."

"The sum of the right of nature; which is, by all means we can, to defend ourselves."

"The value of all things contracted for, is measured by the appetite of the contractors, and therefore the just value is that which they be contented to give."

"The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power."

"The world is governed by opinion."

"There are few who need complain of the narrowness of their minds if they will only do their best with them."

"There have been divers true, generall, and profitable Speculations from the beginning; as being the naturall plants of humane Reason: But they were at first but few in number; men lived upon grosse Experience; there was no Method; that is to say, no Sowing, nor Planting of Knowledge by it self, apart from the Weeds, and common Plants of Errour and Conjecture: And the cause of it being the want of leasure from procuring the necessities of life, and defending themselves against their neighbours, it was impossible, till the erecting of great Common-wealths, it should be otherwise. Leasure is the mother of Philosophy; and Common-wealth, the mother of Peace, and Leasure: Where first were great and flourishing Cities, there was first the study of Philosophy."

"There is no action of man in this life that is not the beginning of so long a chain of consequences as no human providence is high enough to give a man a prospect in the end. And in this chain, there are linked together both pleasing and unpleasing events in such manner as he that will do anything for his pleasure must engage himself to suffer all the pains annexed to it."

"They that approve a private opinion, call it opinion; but they that dislike it, heresy; and yet heresy signifies no more than private opinion"

"They that are discontented under monarchy, call it tyranny; and they that are displeased with aristocracy, call it oligarchy: so also, they which find themselves grieved under a democracy, call it anarchy, which signifies the want of government; and yet I think no man believes, that want of government, is any new kind of government."