Order from Chaos
: Cosmology and Political Thought in Seventeenth-Century England

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


This thesis situates the political thought of Thomas Hobbes, particularly Leviathan of 1651, in the wider context of changing ideas about the cosmos. In so doing, it investigates an overlooked concept of plurality of worlds and its effect on the world view in seventeenth-century England. In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, human consciousness confronted a transition in the traditional relationship between nature, humans and society. However, insufficient attention has been paid to the motivating scientific forces behind English political thought over this period, especially to the concept of “plurality of worlds” which has been neglected at the expense of Copernican heliocentrism. The old system of order no longer functioned adequately due to a breakdown in traditional cosmological ideas, which meant disorder and a consequent search for alternatives. On the one hand, scientific developments of the period, such as the invention of the telescope, proved new hypothetical ideas of an infinite universe with a plurality of worlds. On the other hand, the developing ideas of “self” emerged as a conscious force, which referred to a consequent search for temporal secular salvation (the sovereign state). This development of self-consciousness can be traced in English political thought during this period. This paper does not discuss the entirety of the scientific revolution or of Thomas Hobbes, which have been sufficiently examined, but focuses specifically on the relationship between “plurality of worlds” and his political thought. This thesis will show that existing contemporary British intellectual history overlooks cosmological narratives through exploring the intersection between science, philosophy and politics in the early modern period. It therefore adds to a growing literature which introduces cosmology as a different perspective to understanding British sovereignty.
Date of Award29 Sep 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRonald E Hutton (Supervisor) & John G Reeks (Supervisor)

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