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Hobbes' Instamatic

Anthony Grafton, in a wonderful book, recounts how the world was shattered by the discovery of America. If before, all the world could fit in-between the covers of a book, now that book got a whole lot bigger.

Books like the Margarita Philosophica compiled all the world’s knowledge and laid before the reader a comprehensive system for understanding it all. Knowledge is broken into the seven liberal arts. The first three are the foundation, the trivium, or artes trivialles: Grammar (the science of language), Rhetoric (or oratory), Dialectics (or logic). The next four, the quadrivium, or artes reales: arithmatic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These, in turn, prepared one to study Philosophy and Theology.

But, the desire to bound the world between two covers did not die a quick death… truth be told, nor did rumors of mermaids and such marvels. Columbus, and his crew, saw them. Some authorities believe he saw nothing more than dugongs. (This may be a little unfair, because, Hobbes, I think, thinks himself in the midst of a Copernican Revolution; the 17th century Pico, if you will.)

So, we find philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, who has a conniption any time he thinks of the Scholastics, still giving us the world in a book. In fact, as the cover to his famous, 1651 book shows, Leviathan proposes to depict the world of humans… to define the common-wealth, both ecclesiastical and civil. The columns on either side perfectly mirroring each other from castle/palace, crown/mitre, force (physical/natural, acts of men/acts of God), weapons (firearms/arguments), and the arena of dispute for both. Resting on this double column is the kingdom, the city and the surrounding land; above this looms Leviathan, the Common-wealth, the Prince’s body composed of the people who entered into contract to be in society to protect themselves from life in the state of nature, which is life with “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”.

Though his ostensible purpose is to talk about the Common-wealth, and despite his acid spitting anytime Philosophers are mentioned, a cursory examination would think his approach not so different than theirs. They begin with language (the trivium), and so does he; they speak about the mind and psychology, and so does he, even using the same terms as they: imagination, memory, fantasy, etc.. (I’ve just not wanted to do a post on 17th century psychology and Hobbes’ fight with Descartes and Medieval psychology; in part because it’s really technical and convoluted and I get easily lost.) They construct an image of how knowledge fits together and so does he.

There is a difference, though. He purports to construct a method… a method of rational thought that will lead to Science. The precise definition of terms and the proper alignment of propositions will not lead to Opinion but Science.

And therefore, when the Discourse is put into Speech, and begins with teh Definitions of Words, and proceeds by Connexion of the same into generall Affirmations, and of these again into Syllogismes; the End or last summe is called Conclusion; and the thought of the mind by it signified, is that conditionall Knowledge, or Knowledge of the consequence of words, which is commonly called Science. (Chapter 7)

And, of supreme importance in the realm of Science is to remember that it is divided into the “certain and unfallible [and the uncertain].”

Certain, when he that pretendeth the Science of any thing, can teach the same; that is to say, demonstrate the truth thereof perspicuously to another: Uncertain, when only some particular events answer to his pretence, and upon many occasions prove so as he sayes they must.

When dealing with the uncertain, one must always remember that “to forsake his own natural judgement, and be guided by generall sentences read in Authors, and subject to many exceptions is a signe of folly.” (Chapter 5)

Argument and reason… language and the human mind are the ultimate judges of reality, science, knowledge, and the world. Hobbes, though creating a picture of how the world works, does not rely on authority but on reason… on Man. After defining man (sense, mind, imagination, language, passions, religion, etc.), he can then move onto to the Common-wealth civil, and then the Common-wealth ecclesiastical.

I was wanting to do a post on power and desire… he’s got some interesting things to say. That will be another day. And, soon enough, we will see what he says about religion. Of which I am very curious, because, so far, God has not come into play, beyond being the unnameable.



I like these Leviathan posts. Makes me think I should pull it off the shelf, where it’s sat for years (free Penguin classics) and read it.

Completely unrelated, JH made me laugh.

In all fairness I believe it’s a Simpsons quote, from the episode where Homer changes his name to Max Power.