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Hobbes, Thomas

  1. S. A. Lloyd

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee523

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Lloyd, S. A. 2013. Hobbes, Thomas. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), the famed English philosopher often taken to be the father of modern social contract theory (see Social Contract), is best known for his absolutist political philosophy. But does he have a distinct and genuinely moral philosophy? Scholars are divided on this point, for there are several plausible ways of interpreting Hobbes' remarks concerning such concepts of morality as good and evil, right and wrong, obligation, duty, and sin. Hobbes can be read as having attempted to reduce morality to personal prudence (see Prudence), thus effectively eliminating it as a distinctive element of practical reasoning (see Practical Reasoning). Alternatively, he can be read as having endorsed ethical egoism (see Egoism), or a divine command theory of morality (see Divine Command), or an agency-centered natural law theory (see Natural Law). The arena of contention is Hobbes' laws of nature. Hobbes tells us explicitly that the laws of nature are the one and only true moral philosophy. Scholars, then, are concerned to understand the meaning and status of Hobbes' laws of nature. Are these merely prudential recommendations to the agent concerning how best to preserve his own life? Or are they commands from God the moral status of which depends on their having been so commanded? Or are they rules for the preservation of human communities – rules derived from the necessary desire of any rational agent to secure an environment in which her agency may be effectively exercised?


  • normative ethics