Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, philosophy, and history

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Bunce, Robin Edward Roger 

This thesis focuses on the relationship between Thomas Hobbes and his one-time patron, Francis Bacon. It addresses the natural and civil histories and philosophies of the two thinkers. The study does not contain any extended treatment of Bacon and Hobbes' conception of rhetoric or theology, or their literary style. V The thesis comprises five chapters. Chapter 1 sets out the extant evidence for the personal relationship between the two thinkers. It also shows that Hobbes' knowledge of Bacon's works was extensive and that his interest in _ his texts was ongoing. Chapter 2 deals with Bacon and Hobbes' histories of learning. It argues that Hobbes consistently followed the contours of Bacon's history of knowledge. It also shows the way in which Hobbes assimilated details from the histories of other writers into this framework, and how he provided more naturalistic explanations of some of the central characters and motives in that history. The third chapter discusses Bacon and Hobbes' civil histories. This chapter explores the conception of history embodied in Hobbes' translation of Thucydides. It also addresses Hobbes' later church histories. In so doing it extends the analysis of the previous section in two ways. First, it traces Hobbes' conception of the history of philosophy back to Thucydides. Secondly, it shows how, especially in Hobbes' later church histmies, the factors that had led to the poverty of human science also posed dangers for the commonwealth. Chapter 4 deals with natural history and philosophy. Central to this chapter is the claim that Hobbes' assimilation of Euclid reflected a pre-existing commitment to a Baconian conception of the ends and justification of science. It also argues that Hobbes' two major discoveries of the 1630s and 1640s (as he saw them) were expressed in Baconian terms. Finally, the fifth chapter explores civil philosophy. I also explore Bacon and Hobbes' understanding of the passions and Hobbes' rejection of Bacon's doctrine of civil greatness. Throughout I have attempted to compare Bacon's mature position with Hobbes' philosophy at different stages of its development. The purpose of this thesis is not to claim that Hobbes' philosophy was essentially Baconian. Nor do I claim that Bacon, rather than Galileo, Harvey or Euclid, was Hobbes' pre-eminent interest. Rather, I argue that Bacon was one of a number of philosophers with whom Hobbes constructively and critically engaged. Consequently, I reject the thesis that Hobbes' thought was the antithesis of Bacon's, and the view that Hobbes soon forgot Bacon after reading Euclid and Galileo.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge