Mathematician:Thomas Hobbes

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English thinker better known for being an astute political philosopher than as a mathematician.

Best known in mathematical circles for believing that he had solved the problem of Squaring the Circle.

Generally considered a mathematical ignoramus, his influence was perhaps of greater importance than generally considered, if only because of the stimulating controversy and discussion he raised.

A member of the informal Académie Parisienne.




  • Born: 5 April 1588, Westport, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England
  • Died: 4 Dec 1679, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, England


  • 1637: The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (unpublished at the time)
  • 1642: De Cive (Concerning Citizenship)
  • 1646: A minute of first draught of the optiques
  • 1647: De Cive (second edition)
  • 1650: Humane Nature (Human nature) and De Corpore Politico (Of the body politic) (published without his permission: these were the two parts of his 1637 work The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic)
  • 1651: Leviathan
  • 1655: De Corpore (On the Body) (containing a large amount of mathematical material, including a few flawed attempts at Squaring the Circle)
  • 1658: De homine

Dispute with Wallis

As a result of his publication of efforts at Squaring the Circle, from $1655$ onwards he was involved in an intellectual dispute with John Wallis, whence various publications with titles like:

  • 1656: Six Lessons to the Professors of Mathematics in the University of Oxford
  • The Marks of the Absurd Geometry, Rural Language etc. of Doctor Wallis

He rejected the new algebraic techniques, claiming that algebraic symbols (because of their potential ambiguity of usage) were unreliable in mathematical proofs.

In particular, he condemned Wallis's work as:

... a scab of symbols ... as if a hen had been scraping there.

Dispute with Royal Society

He also quarreled with the newly-founded Royal Society, in particular with Robert Boyle:

  • 1661: Dialogus Physicus, sive de Natura Aeris
  • 1662: Mr. Hobbes Considered in His Loyalty, Religion, Reputation, and Manners

... and so on ...

Had problems with Gabriel's Horn.

In particular he could not make sense of the fact that it has a finite volume but an infinite surface area:

To understand this for sense, it is not required that a man should be a geometrician or a logician, but that he should be mad.
-- 1672 (quoted in 1992: George F. Simmons: Calculus Gems: Chapter $\text {A}.15$

Critical View

Hobbes had the curious belief that mathematical theorems can be attacked by ridicule and invective as if they were obnoxious planks in an opponent's political platform.
-- 1992: George F. Simmons: Calculus Gems: Chapter $\text {A}.15$