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Hobbes

Disclaimer: I do not recall writing this document, and I claim no responsibility for it. By the physical appearance of the original, and by source-critical analysis, it appears to be a conflation of several documents, and I conjecture, on the basis of my very dim memory, that these may have been drafts of undergraduate research papers by some of my friends. Yet this same analysis shows that I do seems to have had some formative input into the generation of this document. So, while this document does not represent my current thought on the matter, some parts of the document may perhaps represent positions held by me in the past.
Rejecting Caresian-style dualsim, Hobbes posited a physicalist monism and the determinism which he believed it to imply.

Hobbes is generally reckoned as an empiricist in the manner of Locke, Berekely, and Hume, but he did not devote as much effort to expressing a detailed epistemology as they did. For Hobbes, empiricism is much more a presupposition or a methodology for his investigations of other matters. Nonetheless, Hobbes did take the step, vital for all later empiricism and epistemology in general, of explicitly stating an empiricist formula: a new concept of experience, relevant for the natural sciences and epistemology, of individual experiences which agree in certain aspects, and which therefore suffice for the derivation of general propositions. This explicit formulation of induction has been foundational in the concept of experiment used by modern natural sciences.

Hobbes followed Galileo and Democritus, and foreshadowed Locke, in ascribing motion, shape, size, and limit as objective qualities in bodies, all other properties (e.g. color) being merely subjective sensory qualities. Locke, of course, systematized this idea most explicitly as "primary" and "secondary" qualities.

Mixing empricism with linguistic philosophy (again anticipating later British philosophers), Hobbes stressed that words ("names") must be meticulously defined. The laws of logical will allow us to synthesize or derive new ideas by combining accurately defined words. Experience gives us the the referents of "proper names" which function as atoms for Hobbes, building complex ideas or simple universals. A universal term (e.g. "man") is, for Hobbes, merely an extended conjunction (e.g. "Tom and Fred and Robert and Peter and ... "). In general, Hobbes typifies, in an early and rough form, many of the aspects of later English philosophy.

This linguistic method required sensativity to, and refinement of, linguistic usage. Hobbes pointed out that "redness" is "in blood" differently than "redness is in a bloody cloth," and he categorized the different meanings of the verb "be".

The "natural" acts of the human mind, according to Hobbes, are sense, memory, and imagination. He defines them so: sense is pressure (motion) exerted against us by the objects we perceive; "in us that are pressed" the immediate form of sense is "divers motions, for motion produces nothing but motion." Imagination is the momentum of sensation; it decays in being overshadowed by new sensation. Newer sensations are brighter than older ones, and obscures them like the light of the sun obscures the light of the stars. Imagination, then, is sensations which continue by momentum within human beings. Hobbes tells us that imagination and memory are one thing. Memory is imagination when it is considered as something old and decaying. Memory is a sense of imagination. Nature is "the art whereby God has made and governs the world" and is imitated by the art of man, Hobbes says. He believes that nature is also motion, for he says that man imitates nature by creating things which move and things which therefore have Ersatz life. These actions which he calls natural are done because a human has senses. They are involuntary in that there are always objects around us to be sensed, and Hobbes says that sense is being pushed, so these actions are involuntary. One can't not sense, and having sensed, can't not imagine or remember.

The actions of speech, reasoning and science Hobbes views as artificial in the human mind. We can reduce these three terms to two (and lighten our burden) by showing that "the faculty of reasoning" is "consequent to the use of speech" and that if we can arrive at the one, the other will take care of itself. Science is the knowledge gained by defining words, using them in discourse, and reaching a final opinion. So it appears that both science and reasoning are consequential to speech in a Hobbesian universe. Science is the result of reasoning. Reason is not inborn, like sense and memory, nor is it attained by experience, like prudence. Rather, it is the product of "industry". "Industry" is this process of naming and using the names in assertions and syllogisms. Science is the knowledge of consequences and dependence (logic), while sense and memory are knowledge of fact. Science is somehow superior to factual knowledge. He holds that universals are real things, and denies the Aristotelian "genus" or "general thing". Hobbes tells us that speech consists of names and signs by which we "transfer our mental discourse into verbal." If "mental discourse" is "reasoning", then Hobbes has gotten himself into a circularity; if reasoning is posterior to speech, then how can speech be the expression of mental discourse? This needs to be cleared up. He writes that God gave speech to man. Speaking he lists as a voluntary action.

Hobbes states that the imagination is the "first internal beginning of all voluntary motion." With this statement, he blurs the distinction he may be trying to make between sense and speech and their attendants. He is saying that speech is a result of sense, and thAT doesn't work too well if one is trying to say that one is natural and the other is artificial.

Hobbes wants to show that all human acts can be derived from motion. The trouble is that he doesn't clearly distinguish between causal relations and logical relations ("x causes y" or "x is prior to y"). Artificial acts are not caused by natural acts, but are posterior to natural acts. The difficulty lies in the ambiguity of terms like "consequential" and "beginning". If natural acts do not cause artificial acts, what does? Perhaps "industry". But exactly what Hobbes means by that, and what causes that, is not clear.

His distinction between the natural acts and the artificial acts seems to be based on the distinction between the involuntary act of sense and the voluntary act of speech. The other actions (memory, imagination, science, reasoning) are simply developments of these two. As a voluntary act, speech requires a deliberation (premeditation) to put it into action, while sensation is merely incidental. Speech also has, according to Hobbes, an extra-human origin, while sense is inborn and part of a person: sensation is part of the personness of person.

Factual knowledge is absolute, and purely sensual. Science (remember the broader definition of the word in the time of Hobbes), however, is conditional, its knowledge being demonstrations. Quantity and motion in general are the subject matter of Philosophia Prima, while determined (quantified) quantity and motion are the subjects of mathematics. Actual quantity and motion are studied by Astronomy, Geography, Engineering, etc. Those are the sciences dealing with quantity and motion. Other sciences deal with qualities, ethics dealing with the qualities of the passions of men, and logic dealing with the qualities of the speech of men. Hobbes gives us nineteen "laws of nature". These are knowable a priori. The first is "that every man ought to endeavor to peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantage of war." The other eighteen are similar socio-ethical laws.

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At the beginning of Leviathan, Hobbes makes clear his distaste for several previous schools of thought. Reflecting on the scholastic definitions for common philosophical words, he says that the "explication" of these terms

is commonly in the Schools called metaphysics, as being a part of the philosophy of Aristotle which has that for a title. But it is in another sense, for there it signifies as much as books written or placed after his natural philosophy; but the Schools take them for books of supernatural philosophy, for the word "metaphysics" will bear both these senses. And indeed that which is there written is for the most part so far from the possibility of being understood, and so repugnant to natural reason, that whosoever thinks there is anything to be understood by it must needs think it supernatural.
Here he rejects Thomism and most varieties of Scholasticism. More problematic is his seeming rejection of Aristotle. Hobbes clashes with Aristotle's metaphysical bent, yet appropriates his empirical methodology in the natural sciences. Again, the foreshadowing of Locke and Hume is clear.

Hobbes analyzes religious discourse, paralleling logical positivism, looking for some possible experience to underlie spiritual vocabulary:

but the opinion that such spirits were incorporeal or immaterial could never enter into the mind of any man by nature because, though men may put together words of contradictory signification, as "spirit" and "incorporeal", yet they can never have the imagination of anything answering to them; and therefore men that by their own meditation arrive to the acknowledgment of one infinite, omnipotent, and eternal God choose rather to confess that He is incomprehensible and above their understanding than to define His nature by "spirit incorporeal" and then confess their definition to be unintelligible; or if they give Him such a title, it is not dogmatically, with intention to make the divine nature understood, but piously, to honor Him with attributes of significations as remote as they can from the grossness of bodies visible.
In so writing, Hobbes approaches the mysticism of the some of the Vienna Circle, saying that one cannot talk sensibly about matters most crucial to life - that any attempt to discuss the meaning of life - ethics, spirituality - in rational terms is doomed to failure, and that such matters are best discussed irrationally, i.e., in poetry, painting, or music. Yet Hobbes will go on to discuss God's being composed of "spiritual substance" because he cannot bear to consider anything which is not somehow material; his solution to the problematic aspect of material is to stretch the definition of material and posit new types of material, so that he can discuss the human soul, angels, and God as being "ethereal bodies". Hobbes wants to be a materialist and a mystic all at the same time: but the extreme Marxist-Leninist materialists are not pleased with his materialism, because he has stretched it enough to include "spiritual substance," and mystics like Wittgenstein would not be happy with his mysticism, because he has rationalized it enough to categorize things as "ethereal bodies."

What is the rationality of Hobbes, which keeps him from embracing the most materialist of materialisms, and restrains him from the most mystical of mysticisms? His concept of reason is quite mathematical or even geometrical:

When a man reasons, he does nothing else but conceive a sum total from addition of parcels, or conceive a remainder from subtraction of one sum from another; which, if it be done by words, is conceiving of the consequence of the names of all the parts to the name of the whole, or from the names of the whole and one part to the names of the other part. And though in some things, as in numbers, besides adding and subtracting men name other operations, as multiplying and dividing, yet they are the same; for multiplication is but adding together of things equal, and division but subtracting of thing as often as we can. These operations are not incident to numbers only, but to all manner of things that can be added together and taken one out of another. For as arithmeticians teach to add and subtract in numbers, so the geometricians teach the same in lines, figures solid and superficial, angles, proportions, times, degrees of swiftness, force, power, and the like; the logicians teach the same in consequences of words, adding together two names to make an affirmation, and two affirmations to make a syllogism, and many syllogisms to make a demonstration; and from the sum or conclusion of a syllogism they subtract one proposition to find the other. Writers of politics add together pactions to find men's duties, and lawyers laws and facts to find what is right or wrong in the actions of private men. In sum, in what matter soever there is place for addition and subtraction, there is also place for reason; and where these have no place, there reason has nothing at all to do.

Out of all which we may define - that is to say, determine - what that is which is meant by this word "reason" when we reckon it among the faculties of the mind. For reason, in this sense, is nothing but reckoning - that is, adding and subtracting - of the consequences of general names agreed upon for the marking and signifying of our thoughts; I say "marking" them when we reckon by ourselves, and "signifying" when we demonstrate or approve our reckonings to other men.

Hobbes, then, views reason as the most mechanistic of processes - mathematical, reminding one of 20th century symbolic logic in its most abstract and strictly rigorous forms. Such a reason will never give us a Kantian type of a priori knowledge; for Hobbes, reason is, strictly speaking, empty: the manipulation of forms. It is the content of those forms which is knowledge - the content of those forms is their definitions. The concept of definition is for Hobbes central, yet it is, for him, also completely arbitrary: the agreement of the linguistic community. We have a common empirical experience (a sensation or a perception), and we arbitrarily agree to label it with a certain word: we have defined the word. By means of the mechanistic combination of that word with other similarly defined words, we will be engaging in the activities of reason. Yet Hobbes will still find room for the supernatural, coming to some very Kantian conclusions, while rejecting Kant's hope for knowledge through a priori synthetic statements. At the foundation of his system, Hobbes places the atomic experiences, the common bits of knowledge which we agree to signify with a certain word and thereby create a defined term for discourse; beyond this, no new knowledge is added: all is mere calculation. How, then, does Hobbes embrace the spiritual, the supernatural, the mystical? Apparently, he sees some of those empirical atoms, those basic common experiences, as being supernatural and spiritual in themselves: direct contact with the metaphysical.

In the 20th century, empiricism has sometimes been seen as leading toward various forms of materialism (of course, some empiricists have also argued against the independent existence of a material world, and therefore against materialism, advocating an empiricist idealism). For Hobbes, however, it is empiricism which leads him to make room for the spiritual in his taxonomy. More imaginative and broadminded than some of his later counterparts, he finds no problem in placing natural and supernatural sources on equal footing as sources of epistemological justification:

Whether men will or not, they must be subject always to the divine power. By denying the existence or providence of God, men may shake off their ease but not their yoke. But to call this power of God, which extends itself not only to man but also to beasts and plants and bodies inanimate, by the name of kingdom is but a metaphorical use of the word.
Hobbes is telling us that it is clear, but philosophically uninteresting, to note that the forces and laws of nature tell us about God. To merely deduce the power of God from lawlike regularities in natural forces, or from the providence which creates more happiness than we would otherwise expect, is an elementary exercise in reasoning. The more interesting challenge is to learn about the personhood of God. To merely take a the laws of physics and call them "God" is simply to re-define "God", and, as we have seen, definitions are central to the thought of Hobbes. Hobbes forces us to analyze the definition of the word "God" and see that "natural religion" falls far short of its goal. God is not merely a word used to designate the totality of the laws of nature.
For he is only properly said to reign that governs his subjects by his word, and by promise of rewards to those it obey and by threatening them with punishment that obey it not. Subjects therefore in the kingdom of God are not bodies inanimate nor creatures irrational, because they understand no precepts as his; nor atheists, nor they that believe not that God has any care of the actions of mankind, because they acknowledge no word for his nor have hope of his rewards or fear of his threatenings. They therefore believe there is a God that governs the world, and has given precepts and propounded rewards and punishments to mankind, are God's subject; all the rest are to be understood as enemies.
These comments by Hobbes need considerable commentary, for they can easily be understood to me something different than he might have intended. That God gives decrees, rewards, and punishments cannot be taken to mean that God is mechanistic, that by doing good I earn my way to heaven, or that by doing evil I earn my way to hell. Exactly the opposite is true: despite the fact that we violate God's laws, He grants us the right to enter heaven, and despite our good deeds, He condemns us to hell. This is authentic personhood on God's part. If we could earn God's favor and merit the right to enter eternal life, then God would be a mechanistic system, not a person. Dealing with God is not a matter of collecting enough "brownie points" to buy a favor from Him. When Hobbers calls atheists and infidels "enemies", he is indicating that they are enemies of all humanity: it is they who create misery among people, and even among themselves. Lack of an acknowledgement of God's personhood, the lack of an acquaintance with this divine Person, is a form of denial and alienation which can only lead to pain.
To rule by words requires that such words be manifestly made known, for else they are no laws; for to the nature of laws belongs a sufficient and clear promulgation such as may take away the excuse of ignorance, which in the laws of men is but of one only kind, and that is proclamation or promulgation by the voice of man. But God declares his laws three ways: by the dictates of natural reason, by revelation, and by the voice of some man to whom, by the operation of miracles, he procures credit with the rest. From hence arises a triple word of God: rational, sensible, and prophetic; to which corresponds a triple hearing: right reason, sense supernatural, and faith. As for sense supernatural, which consists in revelation or inspiration, there have not been any universal laws so given, because God speaks not in that manner but to particular persons, and to divers men divers things.
Here Hobbes lists the fountainheads of epistemology, and take empiricism at its word, that experience is the basis for knowledge, he posits supernatural experience as the basis for supernatural knowledge.

Hobbes was an Anglican with Puritan leanings, not entirely comfortable within the Anglican church, yet not so radical in his Puritanism that he would leave it. He opposed Arminianism and had Calvinist leanings. Some factions within the Roman Catholocism and Anglicanism brought a formal charge of atheism against him, although they privately acknowledged that he was no atheist: this was a common way of dealing with anti-clerical Christians. Neither a materialist in the usual sense of the word nor an atheist, Hobbes noted that, long before any charges were lodged against him, he had consistently proclaimed throughout his life that "Christ died for my sins."

Although the comparison sounds at first odd, Hobbes invites contrast with Spinoza. Both men sought an arithmetic-geometrical rigor for their social and ethical systems; both men were profoundly moved by their relationship to God. The differences are clear: Spinoza looked for an a priori confirmation of his ethics and spirituality by pure reason. Hobbes sought the basic elements of his beliefs in experiences from which he would build up a complex whole.

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