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Hobbes’s theory of materialism: Essay

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Historical background

Hobbes was close to noble families, which allowed him to realize his scientific abilities and, at the same time, affected his social and political views thinker. Before Hobbes, almost all philosophers, even those who promoted the idea of determinism, thought that human beings have free will.

The main and most famous works of Hobbes are “Leviathan” and “Fundamentals of Philosophy,” consisting of three books. Hobbes is known as one of the founders of the theory of “social contract.” He was one of the first philosophers who considered a process of thinking as a material object. Hobbes was also influenced by Civil War in England. This influenced his attitude toward the Civil Wars and his theory of “social contract.”


Hobbes emphasized that the general criterion of behaviour and motivation of human activity is the benefit to the state. Everything which is allowed by law and improves the state is considered motivation. Both citizens and the sovereign must strictly follow the laws. They should ensure civil peace and social harmony as the principal foundations of the “health state,” the welfare of citizens, and the greatness of the sovereign. Hobbes extolled the value of civil peace and condemned the revolution and rebel insurgencies as destructive factors of sociality.


Hobbes’s methodology, on the one hand, is based on the ideas of the founder of the empirical-inductive method – Bacon, and on the other hand, on the deductive-rationalist method of Descartes. Hobbes considered geometry as a model of strict and reliable knowledge. Hobbes believed that all things could be decomposed into simple elements: lines, planes, shapes, and movement. Everything can be reduced to geometrical and mechanical properties. Therefore he based all his theories on geometry and atoms.

Main arguments:

According to Gaukroger, “Hobbes denied free will because he denied all spirituality and immateriality” (34). Feelings and desires are caused by atoms in our bodies. Therefore it creates an illusion of free will. However, all our actions are determined, and it is easy to predict them by knowing the physical properties of the atoms which affect us. Choices are determined by the laws of physics. Hobbes thought that world is made up of tiny atoms which are constantly moving like billiard balls. This theory contributes to our understanding of free will and determinism by denying that there is free will. Everything is determined by the physical properties of atoms which influence everything in the world.

Potential Problems:

According to van Mill, “Hobbes doesn’t distinguish between water running downhill, the physical movements of irrational animals, and the movements of human beings” (49). Some philosophes think that freedom doesn’t need to be rational. In addition, our thought processes are influenced by our past experiences. Van Mill underlines that Hobbes demonstrates that “we have stopped the causal chain of thoughts which move us to a particular action” (49). Therefore the main problem of Hobbes’s philosophy is that he doesn’t pay attention to past experience, which determines our actions. Therefore without knowing a person’s past experience, it is impossible to predict the actions of this person.

Works cited:

van Mill, D. Liberty, Rationality, and Agency in Hobbes’s Leviathan. State University of New York Press, 2001. Print.

Gaukroger, S. The Uses of Antiquity: The Scientific Revolution and the Classical Tradition. Springer Netherlands, 1991. Print.

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