Part IV. REVIVAL OF PHILOSOPHY
Realistic tendency. Hobbes
(3) Thomas Hobbes is
connected with Gassendi by his mathematico-physical interpretation of
nature. He was born at Malmesbury in England in 1588. He studied in
France, where he met Gassendi and Descartes. In his own country he
became acquainted with Bacon, Ben Jonson, and other distinguished men of
his age. The Civil War, which began in his time, turned his attention to
political themes—an interest which dominated his whole philosophy. As a
youth he was an ardent student of Euclid, and was powerfully drawn to
the new "mechanical philosophy" of Galileo as well as to the teaching of
Descartes' Discourse on Method. According to Hobbes geometry is
the only certain discipline. In mathematics all our knowledge is rooted,
and the law of motion is the principle of all things.
Philosophy is simply "the knowledge of
effects or phenomena derived from correct conclusions about
their causes, or the same knowledge of causes derived from their
observed effects. The aim of philosophy is to enable us to
predict effects, so that we may be able to utilise them in
life." Our knowledge is due to impressions of sense, and these
again depend on certain motions in the external world. All
knowledge, therefore, can be traced back to the motions of
bodies in space. Philosophy deals only with bodies and must
leave everything spiritual to revelation.
The connection between causes and effects leads to the recognition by
Hobbes of a causa prima, an ultimate source of all motion, which,
as contradictory to the nature of thought, remains inscrutable to us.
Faith and reason must not be confounded, and where science ends
revelation begins. "All reasoning," he says, "is calculation, and all
calculation is reducible to addition and subtraction." Thought consists
in a combination of verbal signs which are invented by us to retain our
impressions in the mind. Thinking, in other words, is dependent on
words, and accurate definition of language is the first requisite of
philosophy. "Words," says Hobbes, "are wise men's counters, they do but
reckon by them; but they are the money of fools, that value them by the
authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas" (Leviathan, pt.
I. chap. IV.). We are constantly being deceived by the counters of our
According to Hobbes, there is only one substance— matter. But matter,
as we know it, consists of bodies. He holds that the accidents of
bodies, extension, form, colour, etc., have really no objective
existence, but are the ways by which our senses are affected by bodies.
"Matter itself is nothing real, but only a general notion derived from
the principal qualities of bodies."
It will thus be seen that though Hobbes insists upon a material explanation of
the world, in his very explanation of the way in which the mind perceives
things, he seems to transcend his own theory and imply a doctrine of Idealism,
assigning to the thinking subject a positive part in the formation of ideas—a
line of thought which, had he pursued it, might have anticipated Kant's
teaching. But as a matter of fact Hobbes is not interested in any account of
perception, and is only concerned in the interests of a complete realism to show
that all sensible perceptions are simply the movements of infinitely small
particles or atoms that act upon the senses and cause reaction in them.
It is, however, in the sphere of social and political philosophy that the
principal distinction of Hobbes as a thinker lies. The world, in his view,
consists of natural bodies and political bodies—things and men. Natural
philosophy and civil philosophy, therefore, are the two branches of science. Man
forms a bridge between nature and society. Accordingly Hobbes planned three
systematic treatises, De Corpore, De Homine, and De Cive; but owing to the
pressure of political events he was only able to carry out the latter part of
Hobbes' vigorous materialism reappears in his political theory. The State arises
out of atomism. It is an aggregate of bodies, just as matter is a combination of
particles. As in the natural world so in the world of mankind, movement and
antagonism are the original conditions. Humanity is in a state of strife. The
savage state is
war of all against all. Self-preservation is the supreme good; death the supreme
evil. To promote the one and prevent the other is the first law of nature. Every
man regards his neighbour with fear and suspicion. This condition leads men to
enter with one another into a kind of treaty or contract, in which each
renounces his freedom and limits his desires, on the understanding that all do
the same. This social contract becomes, as with Rousseau, the original
foundation of the State's constitution. Such a compact, however, can be realized
only through the subjection of all to one. Thus the sovereign becomes the State,
and his will, law. Right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice, have no
meaning in themselves. They are only constitutional ideas which exist by the
supreme will of the government. Outward morality arises out of this state of
peace. Order prevails when all men come to see that they gain by this mutual
respect for and united subjection to a common head.
The political system of Hobbes, it will thus be seen, was the direct outcome of
his materialism. The conception of the State as a vast machine from which was to
be excluded every private judgment, every dictate of conscience or religious
conviction in so far as it interfered with what the State ordained as right, was
a counterpart of that mechanical theory of the universe in which nothing is
recognised but the necessary working of material forces.
His political and social views were framed on the basis of the atomistic
philosophy of Bacon. But that which Bacon hinted at, but did not develop, is
effected by Hobbes, viz.—the reduction of the whole moral world to natural laws.
Hence he calls the state the "mortal God" or "the great Leviathan" which
swallows up all individuals. He rejects all ecclesiastical authority, and
opposes every religion which seeks to be independent of the State. He is the
uncompromising opponent of the Puritans on the one side, and of the Papists on
His Leviathan was specially directed against Cromwell, who, by the aid of
dependency, had overthrown the monarchy of England.
Religion is only possible through the State. It is the government alone which
must determine what is useful or what is hurtful, what is to be revered and what
may be believed. The legal worship of God is religion; the illegal worship of
Him, superstition. The distinction between morality and legality, on which Kant
afterwards laid so much stress, does not exist for Hobbes. There is only one
standard for the worth of actions, and that is public law. Neither without nor
within man is there any tribunal of truth except the voice of public authority.
Religion and morality of themselves do not exist. The natural man is purely
selfish. That is good which is the object of his desire; that is bad which is
hurtful to himself. All moral definitions are relative. Selfishness alone
decides the value of things. Religion is the child of fear, and duty the
offspring of self-interest, and both are the creatures of law, the artificial
appointments of political expediency.
While Hobbes thus carries the physical postulates of the Organum to their
legitimate conclusions in the spheres of morality and religion, reducing their
facts to mere laws of nature, it must be conceded that he is very far from being
an echo or even an out and out disciple of Bacon. He shows an intellectual
vigour and independence of thought which are all his own. He is indeed one of
the most original writers of England. He is in many respects much in advance of
his age, and in the departments of ethics and politics his influence may be
detected in the most different schools of thought. His moral theory determined
ethical speculation for more than a generation, and all the great moralists have
made his views the starting-point of their own.
In the realm of politics also his influence has been not less marked and
various. The writings of Montesquieu, Locke, and Rousseau, as well as those of
the English and
French political thinkers, cannot be correctly understood without a careful
study of Hobbes' position.
His point of contact with Rousseau is especially interesting. Both agree in the
theory of a social contract as the foundation of the State. Both would deduce
the civil from the natural condition of man. But while Hobbes conceives of men
as being at enmity and as making a contract for the sake of mutual safety and
preservation, according to Rousseau men are not foes by nature, but are
naturally drawn to one another for the sake of mutual advantage and development.
With Hobbes the contract is based on the idea that might is right, and therefore
the might which would be self-destructive is lodged in the person of one, —the
sovereign, who is alone all-powerful. With Rousseau the contract unites all in
the enjoyment of equal rights and equal duties. With Hobbes the contract is, as
has been remarked, only on one side; with Rousseau it is reciprocal, and the
power is lodged in the people themselves. Hence, according to Rousseau, the
State is a democracy; according to Hobbes it is an absolute monarchy. These
opposite points of view have important bearings on morality. While Hobbes finds
in the natural state of man only fear and selfishness, Rousseau sees in nature
the source of all morality and religion, and instead of hate and repulsion,
regards the natural condition of mankind as one of brotherhood and love.
Hobbes' principal writings are: The Leviathan; or the Matter, Form and Power of
a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil, published in 1651: De Corpore
appeared in 1655, and De Homine in 1658. Three later works—Behemoth, The Common
Laws, and a metrical Historia Ecclesiastica, about 1670.
A collected edition of his works in sixteen volumes was published in 1839-45.
Hobbes died in 1679.
Modern philosophy. Realistic tendency. Gassendi
Modern philosophy. Idealistic tendency. Descartes