Thomas Hobbes' Physical Philosophy and its Implications toward the Religious Language of Scripture

This essay will examine Thomas Hobbes' (1588-1679) physical philosophy and epistemology with special attention given to their impact on biblical interpretation and authority. A central aim of this essay is an evaluation of Hobbes' central philosophical principles and their implications toward the communication of religious content.

Through prolific writings on subjects including optics, philosophy and social theory, the "Hobbsean system" emerges as a coherent and comprehensive world view grounded in the distinct understanding of philosophy as physics. Hobbes' early work on optics, written in response to contemporary Rene Descartes' Dioptique, sets the paradigm for his theory of epistemology, and by extension his theories of natural and social philosophy and religion. The world according to Hobbes is a world in which all spheres of activity are governed and explained through mechanical principles and where the primary task of philosophy is to understand the chain of cause and effect through which all phenomena emerge.

It is clear that Hobbes considered himself to be primarily a scientist and philosopher and only consequently a theorist of civil and ecclesiastical authority. His reputation, however, both in his own day and ours, is inextricably linked to his progressive theories in civil and church polity, despite more practical accomplishments in optical theory. [1] Hobbes' controversial views on civil and church authority appear so due to their ground in his physical philosophy and constitute a more complex application of what is implied by an epistemology dependent upon physical cause and effect. Hobbes' entire world view, then, is grounded in natural law. Although branded an atheist due to his unwavering application of this philosophical conviction, large portions of the philosophical community would come to embrace Hobbes' central notions several decades later. Much of Hobbes' epistemology and philosophy are echoed by John Locke writing 40 years later.

Our interest is not limited to Hobbes the philosopher but extends also to Hobbes the theologian. In his discussion of church authority vis-a-vas the state's, he deals with issues of biblical interpretation and authority. For Hobbes, criticism of the Church's authority, as targeted in Leviathan, is a criticism of the papacy and independent protestant's erroneous claims to authority. The ideal church according to Leviathan recognizes the authority of the civil sovereign and thus is a State Church. He criticizes papal claims to authority over sovereigns and independent protestantism's claim that ultimate authority derives from inner illumination. Hobbes' discussion of the interpretation and authority of the Bible, then, consists of an attempt to reappropriate Scripture from scholastic and individualistic abuses, and offers a correct understanding consonant with the authority of the civil sovereign. By grounding Scripture in his physical philosophy, Hobbes undoubtedly intended to preserve it from misunderstanding and abuse propagated by scholastic tradition. Within Hobbes' treatment of the interpretation and authority of the Bible is an interesting convergence of conservative and innovative convictions. Writing twenty years before Spinoza's Tractatus, Hobbes wrestles over textual discrepancies and concludes against complete mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and instead proposes partial authorship. [2] Unlike Spinoza and later critiques, however, Hobbes will limit his discussions and proposals to what appears in the text, and will venture no further. He demonstrates the assumption that Scripture possesses an internal consistency from which answers to difficult passages may be drawn. In many ways, his method is consistent with the motto, Scripture interprets Scripture. On the issue of authorship he writes,

"Who were the originall writers of the severall Books of Holy Scripture, has not been made evident by any sufficient testimony of other History, (which is the only proof of matter of fact); nor can be by any arguments of naturall Reason: for Reason serves only to convince the truth (not of fact, but) of consequence. The light therefore that must guide us in this question, must be that which is held out unto us from the Bookes themselves: And this light, though it shew us not the writer of every book, yet it is not unusefull to give us knowledge of the time, wherein they were written." [3]

This passage from Leviathan also demonstrates the importance accurate definitions play in Hobbes' philosophy. (Here, neither history nor reason, by definition, can aid in ascertaining the authorship of the biblical books.) Hobbes' interpretive innovation revolves around his insistence that key biblical terms require a redefining in light of his suspicion of scholastic tradition and his alternative physical philosophy. Thus Hobbes' more infamous handling of the Bible is not based on notions of an erroneous text but on faulty scholastic (and thus aristotelian) tradition dominating interpretation. Such redefining does not consist in a simple displacement of meanings, but attempts to demonstrate the consistency of the new definitions with the whole of Scripture. While Hobbes arrives at the conclusion that redefinition is necessarily through solely philosophical considerations, his treatment of scripture evidences a methodology which assumes a very high level of Scriptural accuracy and objectivity. It is noteworthy that in this, Hobbes demonstrates his belief that radical empiricism does not necessarily entail misgivings as to the adequacy of Scripture as a vehicle for divine revelation. What it does entail, however, is a reconsideration of the status of traditionally metaphysical elements (i.e., words and concepts) comprising revelation and their means of communication. We thus return again to Hobbes the philosopher.

The central principles of Hobbes' philosophical system derive from his work on the physiological origin of perception and rationation. Like many other thinkers of his day, Hobbes wrestled with optical theory, understanding the topic to have relevance not only to physics but also epistemology. Once one arrives at the manner in which the eye perceives, the question of the origin of ideas almost immediately presents itself. Through a more scientific or mechanical consideration of optics, Hobbes' naturally moved toward the development of a scientifically based epistemology. For Hobbes, as with many of his contemporaries, a major implication of both optical and epistemological projects was a displacement of the (apparently contrary) aristotelianism which Scholasticism had so effectively facilitated. Thus a dual front was assumed whereby an advance in science was thought to necessitate a retreat by metaphysics. One of Hobbes' primary criticisms of contemporary, Rene Descartes (in response to whom Hobbes addressed both optical and epistemological works) consisted in the (correct) observation that Descartes failed to shed completely the scholastic notion of static natures and ideas. [4]

While undergoing several revisions in its development, Hobbes optical theory understands ocular perception as consisting of the eye's being influenced by "motion" emanating from a (luminous) object. The eye does not perceive the object directly or immediately, nor does it so perceive the particular accidents or qualities we normally attribute the object. Instead, the eye, influenced by the stimuli of the motion, reacts by creating within the mind's perceptive window an appearance of certain attributes, the variety of which is dependent upon the nature or variety of the motion. Motion emanating from the apple we see as red differs slightly from motion emanating from an apparently green apple. It is the variation in motions which accounts for our perception of two different hues. [5]

Without involving ourselves too deeply in optical mechanics, we may note that certain significant implications of this theory appear almost immediately. It is clear that what the mind thus perceives is contingent upon the structure or perceptive range of the eye and the precise nature of the influence. One can no longer say that the apple itself possesses qualities of 'redness' or 'greeness' but that the interaction among object, motion and eye, results in an appearance of such qualities solely within the mind. This change in the location and status of qualities immediately brings into questions the entire aristotelian notion of universal qualities as possessed by particular objects (a notion upon which much of the Scholastic tradition had been founded). It also, as mentioned earlier, brings up the question of the derivation and status of ideas or concepts.

For Hobbes and subsequent empiricists including Locke, these initial sense perceptions serve as the foundation for all higher conceptualization and rationation. This subjectivization of perception will, of course, lead to assumptions of the subjectivity of ideas and concepts. But Hobbes does not (nor will Locke) foresee Hume's later insistence that such an epistemology necessarily results in skepticism. Hobbes sees no reason for assuming an irreconcilable disparity between the mechanical principles governing optics and those governing rationation. He claims, instead, that, "Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. [Since] Nature itselfe cannot erre" [6]

Hobbes 'motion theory' does not limit itself to the interaction of light and eye, but extends also to the formation of ideas and imaginations within the mind. For Hobbes, all motion is necessarily local motion, meaning that all activity is the direct result of an immediately prior (causal) motion. The eye sees because it is acted upon by the motion emanating from the object, and the mind conceptualizes because it, in turn, is acted upon by the motion received through the eye. [7] Though such a brief statement oversimplifies the complexity and thoroughness of Hobbes' theory, it does allow us to raise some of its key implications. First, given Hobbes' conviction that all motion is local motion and that all phenomena derive from immediately prior motion of an acting agent, it is clear why he defines the task of philosophy solely in terms of the identification of causes and effects. De Corpore defines philosophy as: "such knowledge of effects or appearances, as we acquire by true ratiocination from the knowledge we have first of their causes or generation: And again, of such causes or generations as may be from knowing first their effects." [8] In other words, philosophy is the attempt to ascertain future effects from known causes or prior causes from known effects.

This limitation of philosophy to the establishment of proximate cause and effect also implies the inclusion and exclusion of certain fields of study from the rubric of philosophical inquiry. Chapter 9 of Leviathan entitled "Of the severall subjects of knowledge" provides a schemata of the various relations among fields of science and philosophy according to Hobbes' framework. [9] Significantly, among those fields excluded are history, which according to Hobbes rests either in unverifiable experience or the simple acceptance of authority, and theology. Whereas theology properly consists of the study of God, "in whom there is nothing neither to divide nor compound, nor any generation to be conceived," [10] it by definition lies outside the scope of natural cause and effect and thus cannot belong to either science or philosophy. This definition will play a vital role in Hobbes' subsequent discussion of civil and ecclesiastical authority by providing a basis for a subjugation of church to state. Though of a distinct sort, political or civil philosophy finds its origins with the causal chain [11] and thus provides a more reliable foundation than the fideistic authority claimed by the church. [12]

A second implication of Hobbes' motion theory as a ground for conceptualization is the subjectivity it results in. As stated above, Hobbes and his contemporaries assume a meaningful degree of correspondence between concept and object despite the former's dependence upon sensation. Nor does Hobbes in any way anticipate the skepticism which Hume will later insist is implied by this process of conceptualization. He does however recognize that things are in fact not always as they appear, especially when it comes to our use of terms and what we intend by them. Here again we find Hobbes' insistence on correct definitions, believing that such is utterly necessary for any progress in learning and philosophy. [13] Hobbes will aim this insistence of correct definitions not only at fellow philosophers, but also at Scholastic and traditional theological proponents. Hobbes discounts most Scholastic metaphysical terms as either meaningless or contradictory (as in 'incorporeal substance'), and in so doing exhibits a very explicit adherence to nominalism [14] in his approach to the function and derivation of terms. Such terms, he insists, erroneously establish the assumption that there corresponds a metaphysical reality, and are generally accepted purely on the authority of Aristotle or Thomas. Thus the initial error is perpetuated through uncritical appropriation of traditional terms. [15] Instead, Hobbes proposes a causally verifiable terminology which can be said to correspond to real substances. This correlation of terminology with mechanical causality, by definition, implies a philosophy grounded and expressed in purely physical phenomena.

Hobbes' inclusion of traditional theological terms results in a reevaluation of the key terms and concepts of the Christian faith. Any term supposing to signify something outside of the physical chain of causality requires careful scrutiny. This is not due to an assumption that nothing outside the causality exists, but that nothing outside the causality is conceivable, at least in a properly philosophical or scientific sense. Hobbes writes,

"No man can have in his mind an Image of infinite magnitude; nor conceive infinite swiftness, infinite time, or infinite force, or infinite power. When we say any thing is infinite, we signifie onely, that we are not able to conceive the ends, and bounds of the thing named; having no Conception of the thing, but of our own inability. And therefore the Name of God is used, not to make us conceive him; (for he is Incomprehensible; and his greatnesse, and power are unconceivable;) but that we may honour him. Also because whatsoever we conceive, has been perceived first by sense, either all at once, or by parts; a man can have no thought, representing any thing, not subject to sense." [16]

In this passage we find the implications of Hobbes' physical epistemology directly applied to theological discourse. This application has significant ramifications as to what kind of religious language is even possible by pointing to the fideistic nature of religious language. This point is ultimately incorporated into Hobbes' discussion of biblical and ecclesiastical authority vis-a-vis the civil sovereign, allowing him to subject the authority of the Scriptures to the protection of the state. A fundamental conviction expressed in the quoted passage above is the notion that only the sensible is conceivable. Physical epistemology necessarily implies that only those things which confront the senses are capable of being conceptualized. [17] This conviction, of course, is the ground for Hobbes' theory of knowledge as a knowledge of proximate causes (and effects) and thus stands at the very core of his entire project. To step away from or compromise this conviction would be to render his entire system contradictory. But in maintaining this position Hobbes must, significantly, deny the possibility of innate ideas or idea of an incorporeal.

In the denial of innate ideas, Hobbes will later be joined by Locke , whose Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), appearing 40 years after Leviathan , claimed,

"Our observation employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected upon by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring." (Essay, II.i.2)

One might suppose that Locke here introduces a second source of knowledge, that of the internal operations of the mind. But Locke's own understanding of the nature of these operations involves a sequence of sense experience (the encounter with the object), perception (the intramental interpretation of the sense), and memory or retention (the mind's ability to recall or utilize the perceived idea at will), identical to that of Hobbes' [18] Interestingly, Locke also refers to the role of 'motion' as that which impresses itself upon the mind enabling the construction of an idea from sense experience. For Locke, as with Hobbes, the operations of the mind consist solely of a manipulation of sense-derived ideas, [19] and thus preclude the possibility, or more precisely the necessity of innate ideas.

Hobbes' emphasis on the exclusive role of mechanical principle in the process of knowledge formation, when logically extended, results in a world wherein nothing incorporeal or unobjectified can be said to be truly known, but only "believed". This, as we saw, was Hobbes' treatment of the term God as a name for that which lies completely outside the purview of human reason and comprehension. This of course does not remove God from the sphere of human affairs. Hobbes recognizes God's ability to directly impress himself or that which he wills upon the human mind, but finds it much more reasonable to expect God to work within the natural principles God has designed. Thus for Hobbes, the disparity between God and creation is not a disparity of influence but a disparity of direct experience whereby an individual might be said to conceptualize God. [20]

One cannot claim to know God in any sense or anything directly corresponding to him, but one can rightly believe in God in light of the authority of the Scriptures and the reasonableness of one's faith. In this regard, we may point out, Hobbes' would most certainly view the testimonies of Moses and Christ as authoritative due to their being the direct recipients of God's spoken Word. [21] Yet, since neither assent to authority nor reasonable beliefs are on par with knowledge via philosophy, theology and scriptural authority remain outside appropriate philosophical endeavor. Theology, of course, does not limit its discourse to statements directly corresponding to God, but in large part engages in discussions only indirectly related. But through their derivation in that which is outside the causal chain, albeit indirectly, even such related terms must be scrutinized. Thus topics such as Eternity, Spirit, Inspiration, etc., also fall outside the realm of things knowable. Here, however, Hobbes is not claiming these terms point to realities which we cannot fathom, and so does not simply relegate these terms to the category of 'beliefs'. Instead he views these and like terms as complicit in the erroneous yet popular assumptions of scholastic interpretation.

Although Scripture certainly uses these terms, it does not provide the precise definitions theologians are wont to use. Hobbes' call for redefinition is best understood, then, not as an attack upon the text, nor upon the concepts Scripture intends to conveys, but rather as a displacement of erroneous theological presuppositions which have informed traditional (metaphysical) usage. Hobbes' redefinition displaces the metaphysical with alternatives grounded in physical philosophy.

Hobbes, for example, would insist that if theologians use a term such as Spirit in the hope of conveying some sort of real conceptual content, they must not think that what they are talking about (or signifying) is some incorporeal entity. For theologians themselves cannot possess any accurate concept of an incorporeal object (despite the complex verbosity they employ), and neither will their audience. Hobbes apparently extends this reasoning one step further to include God's discourse with humanity, as seen in his methodological assumption that Scripture, when likewise mentioning the term Spirit, cannot intend to signify an incorporeal since to do so would imply a humanly inconceivable concept.

Whereas Scripture does in fact refer to such things as eternity, spirit, and inspiration, Hobbes sets out to ascertain what is actually being said. His alternatives often involve simply a literal reading of the biblical usage, such as the term Spirit's being equated with wind (Gen. 1:2), breath or life (Gen 2;7), an extraordinary gift of wisdom (Gen. 41:38), extraordinary zeal (Judg 3:10), etc. As evidence of Hobbes' personal unwillingness to attribute error to the text nor contribute to a demise of its stature, we may observe how he defines those uses of Spirit which undoubtedly refer to angels, demons, or even ghosts.

Rather than employ an argument claiming primitive ignorance or socinian accommodation, Hobbes seems to bend his own system to near breaking point by defining those particular 'spirits' as "subtile Bodies, which God can form by the same power, by which he formed all things," which, though remaining generally imperceivable to our senses, can be understood as "Substance Incorporeall, a thing not imaginary, but Reall; namely a thin Substance Invisible, but that hath the same dimensions that are in grosser Bodies". [22]

Here Hobbes seems to draw well nigh unto contradicting his earlier insistence on the limitation of human reality to physical causality. Whereas he criticizes the Scholastic use of "incorporeall substance" as an oxymoron [23], his own use of "Substance Incorporeal" seems little different. He does, however, attempt to maintain consistency by attributing dimensions to such spirits, thus requiring them to occupy space of some kind somewhere, which in turn subjects them to certain laws of motion (the movement of a body from one place to another). Such an exception, however, is very difficult to justify in light of the seemingly purely material definitions of "body" set down in De Corpore and Leviathan . Despite the difficulties in consistency, this provides one of several examples where Hobbes seems to make exceptions to his otherwise comprehensive system in those instances where Scripture seems to require it.

We cannot here go into specifics regarding Hobbes' treatment of various other terms. Hopefully our discussion thus far will allow the reader an accurate anticipation of the type of alternatives Hobbes will offer. A few concluding observations ought to be emphasized, however.

Hobbes concludes the need for a non-metaphysical redefinition of terms through a rather consistent application of key convictions regarding the role of mechanical principle in sensation and epistemology. These principles historically stand on quite sound foundations, and currently constitute the sole methodology of any scientific endeavor. In the area of optics and concept formation, at least in regards to concepts regarding existentials, Hobbes' aura of radical pioneer loses its brilliance simply due to our generation's acceptance of his premises as common sense. However, the philosophical and theological debate over the status of transcendents continues vigorously to this day, resulting in Hobbes' persistent reputation as radical among theologians and certain philosophers.

The argument over metaphysical universals may simply boil down to an issue of differing intuitions. Often such primary intuitions have been judged plausible or implausible based on the validity of the implications arising from them. This however, creates an interesting division among the ranks in the case of Hobbes and other nominalists. On the one hand there can be no doubt that in the natural universe empirical based models are the primary if not sole explanatory tools. That is to say, knowledge of causality suffices to answer all but questions of formal cause, an example of which might be, "Toward what purpose does the universe and its various elements exists". Thus, if validity of implications constituted validity of primary intuitions, Hobbes' physical philosophy is justified by its adequacy as an explanatory tool in regards to (physical) reality.

But those claiming that Hobbes' implications for biblical interpretation likewise rise to the occasion are scarce indeed. So here we must ask why this is. It would be fair to say that Hobbes approaches Scripture with a very clear idea as to what he should find, given his convictions. And thus the conclusion presents itself that Hobbes' treatment of the Bible amounts to a simple subordination of text to philosophy, independent of considerations as to what the text has traditionally seemed to say. We have seen, though, that Hobbes is very reserved in any deviation from what the text says, while more willing to move away from what he sees it as traditionally seeming to say. Herein lies the subtle problem which has engaged every nominalist, from Occam to Derrida.

This skepticism of traditional meaning does not derive from skepticism in general, as is seen in Hobbes belief in a coherence of the natural principles governing physics and epistemology. It is in fact a skepticism solely of the basic intuitions of aristotelian metaphysics. When put to the same test of valid implications such a metaphysic is wanting in most cases and survives only in those areas where abstract or transcendent ideas hang in the balance. It is self-evident that in the material world, evidence lends itself to an empirical model. Only in the immaterial world of ideas does the notion of universals continue. The task for Hobbes then is to account for the notion of universals and thereby provide means for a certain degree of reliable correspondence of thought and language. But unless one doubts the general unity of physical law, such correspondence is basically implied within the philosophical system, and appears assumed by most if not all nominalists/empiricists prior to Hume, and many such as Thomas Reid following.

The practical function of 'universals' is implied in any communication, most especially in the area of christian dialogue. The question is, however, whether the Bible assumes or requires metaphysical universals and not simply functional universals. If so, then any nominalist-based hermeneutic will inevitably fall short of accounting for the full biblical message as it seems to appear. But in no other field has there been agreement on a notion of required metaphysical universals but instead a uniform movement away from such an assumption. And unless Hobbes' initial segregation of theology from philosophy and science was correct, one would assume the operations of biblical interpretation and theology to parallel other fields involving reasoning. It is in fact plausible to suggest that metaphysical universals play no vital role in biblical interpretation other than allowing for an assurance for complete objectivity and conceptual-lingual correspondence. One must then simply ask if the abandonment of metaphysical universals implies and abandonment for hope in objectivity and such correspondence.

Of course, one loses the notion of complete objectivity in the metaphysical sense of all encountering one and the same thing, but it is questionable whether such a degree of objectivity is required, especially in light of the fact that through purely mechanical explanations we can account for the phenomenon of all people commonly seeing the 'red' of a red apple. Functionally is it quite sufficient that we all see 'red' without all seeing the same precise hue. Likewise sufficient seems a common concept of love grounded in the relatively uniform human experience among all its members, without the insistence that every one's concepts be grounded in the same content. The truth, then, that God loves humanity requires nothing more for communicability than that the members of the audience share in the same types of experiences whereby the notions of God, love and humanity are derived (or taught). Hobbes' system more than sufficiently accounts for this degree of correspondence.

Assuming then, as this essay will, that metaphysical universals are unnecessary to account for the degree of communication required of christian dialogue, the question remains as to why Hobbes' interpretations seem wanting. We might question his original removal of history and theology from the purview of philosophy due to their dependence upon unverifiable experience. One might ask how the experience of an historical event differs from an experience of another sort such that the communication of the former is less reliable. Hobbes seems to imply that history is non-repeatable and thus non-verifiable, but this notion of verification by repetition is certainly not practiced in daily living where most conceptualization and rationation occurs. In fact, according to Hobbes' own scheme, it would appear that as long as one defines one's terms correctly, and what you refer to occurs within the causal chain, communication and reasoning are possible. There should be nothing so unusual about a given historical event as to make it or portions thereof inconceivable.

In extending this generosity from historical to religious experiences deriving from unaccounted for causes, however, the difficulty increases, for now we rely solely on the testimony and interpretation of the recipient. Locke will attempt to resolve this difficulty by proposing criteria whereby the testimony of a witness may be reasonably deemed valid. And in fact in most cases similar criteria are necessarily employed in any scientific or philosophical dialogue.

It is precisely Hobbes' removal of theology from philosophy that disallows him from assuming God's role in human education. We may contrast Hobbes' conviction with that of Francis Bacon, who though no less rationalistic, acknowledged the role of a 'divine science' in human knowledge. To allow God a pedagogical role within the causal chain is to allow Scripture freedom to refer to things which are not commonly experienced. Thus eternity, inspiration and spirit need not necessarily refer to physical phenomena but may in fact comprise a special category of content stemming from highly unique religious experiences. These experiences, of course, remain unverified in a sense which no philosophical perspective, metaphysical or otherwise, can circumvent. And to that degree they remain matters of faith and stand open to doubt. Since this dilemma is not limited to the nominalist perspective, but also continues under a metaphysical framework, our current argument need not attempt a solution.

Of course, much more remains to be said of Hobbes, both pro and con. The aim of this paper was to examine specifically the implications of his physical philosophy and its impact on theology, an aim humbly accomplished. The grander question as to the validity of his physical epistemology and philosophy, though only touched upon here, will likely present the most significant conclusions, regarding not only the historical role and accuracy of Thomas Hobbes' philosophical empiricism, but also the future of traditional biblical hermeneutics.



Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan . Richard Tuck, ed. (New York: Cambridge Univ Press; 1991)

________ Thomas White's De Mundo Examined. trans. Harold Jones. (London: Bradford Univ Press; 1976)

________ Metaphysical Writings. Mary Whiton Calkins ed. (La Salle: Open Court Pub.; 1905)

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. A.D. Woozley ed. (Meridian Books; 1964)

Sorell, Tom. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes. (New York: Cambridge Univ Press; 1996)


[1] Hobbes' understanding of light rays involving wave properties was an essential contribution to a completely mechanically based optics. For a discussion on the development of Hobbes' optical theory, see Jan Prins, "Hobbes on light and vision", in Sorell, Tom ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes (129-156).

[2] Another interesting parallel between Hobbes and Spinoza is found in the former's understanding of the means by which prophets derived their message, namely, through imaginations, a notion which is central to Spinoza's treatment of prophetic authority. Hobbes writes, "So that generally the Prophets extraordinary in the Old Testament took notice of the Word of God no otherwise, than from their Dreams, or Visions; that is to say, from the imaginations which they had in their sleep, or in an Extasie: which imaginations in every true Prophet were supernaturall; but in false Prophets were either naturall, or feigned." ( Leviathan , chap. 36)

[3] Leviathan , chap. 33, entitled "Of the number, antiquity, scope, authority, and interpreters of the books of Holy Scripture."

[4] In response to Descartes Meditations, Hobbes published his Objections in Cartesii de prima Philosophia Meditationes (1641), and Tractatus Opticus (1644) in response to Descartes Dioptique.

[5] This notion that the mechanical motions or influences have no intrinsic similarity to the qualities we see is not unique to Hobbes, but appears in Descartes' works, and even earlier in Isaac Beeckman and Galileo. Noel Malcolm points out though, that as this was still on the frontier of modern scientific thought, "it must have been galling for Hobbes to see some of his own research preempted" in Descartes Dioptiques. The result was a prolonged (1640-1) dispute via correspondence over who had preempted, even plagiarized, whom. (Noel Malcolm. "A summary biography of Hobbes", Cambridge Companion to Hobbes, 25-26.)

[6] Leviathan , chapter IV, "On Speech".

[7] Of course, Hobbes elaboration allows for a much greater complexity which would account for the mind's activity during those periods in which the eye is not being stimulated, etc.

[8] De Corpore, 1.2., Metaphysical writings, 6.

[9] Hobbes writes: "The subject of Philosophy, or the matter it treats of, is every body of which we can conceive any generation, and which we may, by any consideration thereof, compare with other bodies, or which is capable of composition and resolution; that is to say, every body whose generation or properties we can have knowledge, And this may be deduced from the definition of philosophy, whose profession it is to search out the properties of bodies from the generation, or their generation from their properties; and, therefore, where there is no generation or property, there is no philosophy." De Corpore, chapter 1. Metaphysical writings, 13.

[10] De Corpore, chapter 1. In Metaphysical Writings, 13.

[11] This is the argument of Section 2 of Leviathan .

[12] That the church's claim to authority rests not on knowledge but on faith (and thus by implication is a lesser status of authority) is the argument of Section 3 of Leviathan . Here Hobbes also presents his view of the authority of Scripture as an authority of faith, requiring ultimately the protection or enforcement of the civil sovereign.

[13] In De Mundo Examined Hobbes emphasizes this necessity of accurate definitions for correct understanding to such an extent that some see it as a second theory of scientific knowledge which Hobbes holds along with that of the knowledge of causes. Noel Malcolm ("A summary biography of Hobbes", Cambridge Companion to Hobbes, 29.) hypothesizes that Hobbes' inability to adequately reconcile these two methodologies resulted in his several redrafts of De Corpore throughout the 1640's. In Hobbes' discussion of definitions in Leviathan , chapter IV it seems clear that he understands the issue of definitions as a necessary context within which accurate discourse regarding the knowledge of causes is made possible. Thus, this 'context of redefinition' provides the backdrop for Hobbes' call for a reevaluation of traditional scholastic usage. This reevaluation than amounts to an implementation of terms consonant with his view of philosophy as causal knowledge.

[14] In Leviathan , chapter IV, "On Speech" he writes, "Of Names, some are Proper, and singular to one onely thing; as Peter, John, This man, this Tree; and some are Common to many things; as Man, Horse, Tree, every of which though but one Name, is nevertheless the name of divers particular things; in respect of all which together, it is called an Universall; there being nothing in the world Universall but Names; for the things named, are every one of them, Individuall and Singular. One Universall name is imposed on many things, for their similitude in some quality, or other accident: and Whereas a Proper Name bringeth to mind one thing onely; Universals recall any one of those many."

[15] Interestingly, this is precisely the argument put forth by contemporary deconstructionists who likewise derive from nominalist origins, and demand a deconstruction of aristotelian essentialism and metaphysic of being. In many ways the difference between Hobbes and the deconstructionists amounts to a difference in levels of frustration over the embedded metaphysic. Hobbes operates on the assumption that given the evidence of an empirical philosophy, the philosophical community will come to displace erroneous aristotelian notions. Deconstructionists, from the time of Heidegger onward, have given up on the hope for a reasonable displacement of metaphysics, which they view as irrevocably entrenched and perpetually corrupting philosophical endeavor. Whereas this metaphysical entrenchment is purely a conceptual entrenchment, deconstructionists call for a collapse of concepts. Interestingly, however, they do not depart from the basic physical philosophy espoused by Hobbes. Heidegger's philosophy grounds in 'factical Dasein', that is, beings or objects factually existing. Derrida's own radical notions likewise stem from the presupposition that the world constitutes a closed system in which all phenomena are objectified, resulting in a finitude of reason utterly unable to conceive anything transcendent.

[16] Leviathan , chapter III, "Of the Consequence or Trayne of Imaginations".

[17] Hobbes and other nominalists/empiricists all provide for the exception whereby God communicates directly to the individual and perhaps reveals a vision or concept of something that falls outside the natural realm of experience. Such a direct revelation would be accurately incorporated into the recipient's conceptuality. Difficulty arises, however, when the recipient attempts to share his experience with others, since his audience has neither the experience nor prior concept to facilitate the (extra-natural) message. The result would likely resemble the mystic who must use metaphors or similes to convey his experience. Thus it is that current trends in deconstructionist theology are looking for precedence in the mystic tradition through church history. (See, for example, Jean-Luc Marion. God Without Being. trans. Thomas Carlson. Univ Chicago Press; 1995).

[18] Locke writes, "This is certain, that whatever alterations are made in the body, if they reach not the mind, whatever impressions are made on the outward parts, if they are not taken notice of within, there is no perception. Fire may burn our bodies with no other effect than it does a billet, unless the motion be continued to the brain, and there the sense of heat or idea of pain, be produced in the mind; wherein consists actual perception." (Essay, I.ix.3) Here Locke equates perception, that which arises from the motion of sense impressing itself upon the mind, with the formation of idea.

[19] Locke's Essay, I.x-xi lists the following faculties which "we may take notice of in our minds": retention, memory, discerning, distinguishing (as to clarity and determinateness), comparing, compounding, naming, and abstraction ("whereby ideas taken from particular beings become general representatives for all of the same kind"). All of these involve the 'simple ideas' produced via sense experience.

[20] Hobbes will not deny the possibility of miracles and considers, for example, "the works of God in Egypt, by the hand of Moses, properly Miracles", ( Leviathan , chap. 36). He does assume that many 'miracles' impressing biblical crowds were so simply out of a lack of explanation for the origin of the act (that is, an ignorance as to causality), as would be the case, for example, with pharaoh's magicians.

[21] See Hobbes' discussion of perpetuall and supreme prophets in Leviathan , chapter 36, "The Word of God, and the Prophets".

[22] Leviathan , chap 34. "The signification of Spirit, Angel, and Inspiration".

[23] On the improper uses of terms Hobbes writes, "Another [abuse is seen] when men make a name of two Names, whose significations are contradictory and inconsistent; as this name, an incorporeall body, or (which is all one) and incorporeall substance, and a great number more. For whensoever any affirmation is false, the two names of which it is composed, put together and made one, signifie nothing at all." ( Leviathan , chap. 4)

Appendix A: The Writings of Thomas Hobbes

1636? De Mirabilibus pecci, carmen. London.

1637? A Briefe of the Art of Rhetorique. London.

1641. Objections in Cartesii de prima Philosophia Meditationes. Paris.

1642. Elementorum philosophiae sectio tertia de cive. Paris.

1643. Critique du De mundo de Thomas White. (Publ. 1973)

1644. Tractatus Opticus. Paris.

1644. "Opticae liber septimus". For M. Mersenne. Paris.

1647. Elementa Philosophica de Cive. Amsterdam.

1649. Elements philosophiques du citoyen Traicte politique, ou les fondemens de la societe civile sont decouverts. Trans. S. Sorbiere. Amsterdam.

1650. "The Answer of Mr. Hobs to Sr. William D'Avenant's Preface before Gondibert." Paris.

1650. The Elements of Law, Moral & Politick. London.

1650. Humane Nature; or, The Fundamental Elements of Policie. London.

1651. Philosophical Rudiments concerning Government and Society.

1651. Leviathan ; or, The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. London.

1654. Of Libertie and Necessitie a Treatise Wherein all Controversie Concerning Predestination, Election, Free-will, Grace, Merits, Reprobation, &c Is Fully Decided and Cleared. London.

1655. Elementorum philosophiae sectio prima de corpore. London.

1656. Elements of Philosophy, the First Section, Concerning Body, with Six Lessons to the Professors of Mathematicks of the Institution of Sr. Henry Savile, in the University of London. London.

1656. The Questions concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance Clearly Stated and Debated between Dr. Bramhall Bishop of Derry, and Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury. London.

1657. Stigma or Marks of the Absurd Geometry, Rural Language, Scottish Church-Politicks, and Barbarismes of John Wallis Professor of Geometry and Doctor of Divinity. London.

1658. Elementorum philosophiae sectio secunda de homine. London.

1660. Examaninatio et emendatio mathematicae hodiernae. Qualis explicatur in libris Johannis Wallisii geomatriae professoris Salviani in academia Oxioniensi. Distributa in sex dialogos. London.

1661. Dialogos physicus, sive de natura aeris conjectura sumpta ab experiments nuper Londini habitis in collegio Greshamensi. Item de duplicatione cubi. London.

1662. Mr. Hobbes Considered in his Loyalty, Religion, Reputation, and Manners. By way of a Letter to Dr. Wallis. London.

1662. Problemata physica... adjunctae sunt etiam propositiones duae de duplicationes cubi, & dimensione circuli. London.

1666. De principiis et ratiocinationes geometrarum Ubi ostenditur incertitudinem falsitatemque non minorem inesse scriptis eorum, quam scriptis physicorum & ethicorum. London.

1668. Leviathan . Translated into Latin by Hobbes. Amsterdam.

1669. Quadratura circuli, cubatio sphaerae, duplicatio cubi, breviter demonstrata. London.

1669. Quadratura circuli, cubatio sphaerae, duplicatio cubi, una cum respensiones ad objectiones geometriae profesoris saviliani Oxoniae editas anno 1669. London.

1670. Leviathan sive de materia, forma & potestate civitatis ecclesiasticae et civilis. Amsterdam.

1671. Rosetum geometricum sive propositiones aliquot frustra antehace tentatae Cum censura brevi doctrinae Wallisianae de motu. London.

1671. Three Papers Presented to the Royal Society against Dr. Wallis.

1672. Lux mathematica Excussa collisionibus Johannis Wallisi... et Thomae Hobbesi malmesburiensis. London.

1674. Epistola Thomae Hobbes malmesburiensis ad dominum Antonium a Wood authorem Historiae & antiquitatum universitatus oxoniensis. London.

1674. Principia et problemata aliquot geometrica ante desperata, nunc breviter explicata & demonstrata. London.

1678. Decameron physiologicum; or, Ten Dialogues of Natural Philosophy. London.

1679. Behemoth; or, The History of the Civil Wars of England from the Year 1640 to 1660. London.

1679. Thomae Hobbesii malmesburiensis vita. London.

=========== Published Posthumously ============

1680. Considerations upon the Reputation, Loyalty, Manners, & Religion of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury. London.

1681. A Dialogue between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England. (written ca. 1666.)

1681. Tracts of Thomas Hobb's containing... Ten Dialogues of Natural Philosophy. London.

1682. An Answer to a Book Published by Dr. Bramhall... Together with an Historica Narration concerning Heresie, and the Punishment thereof. London.

1682. Tracts of Mr. Hobbs of Malmesbury, containing... Philosophical Problems, dedicated to the King in 1662 but never before printed. London.

1688. Historia Ecclesiastica Romana, Poema... ubi de Superstitionis Origine, progressu, &c. (written ca. 1670.)

1688. Historia ecclesiastica carmine elegiaco concinnata. London.

1973. Critique du De mundo de Thomas White. Paris.

1976. Thomas White's De Mundo Examined. London.

Appendix B: Principal Events in Hobbes' Life

1588. 5 April: Born Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

1602. Admitted to Magdalen Hall, Oxford.

1608. February: B.A. Oxford. Later in the year incorporated B.A. Cambridge and then appointed tutor to the son of William Lord Cavendish. Settled at the Cavendish's twin houses of Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth in Derbyshire.

1610. Left England with Lord Cavendish's son to tour the Continent, including France and Italy. Probably met Paolo Sarpi in Venice.

1615. Returned to England.

1618. Lord Cavendish created first Earl of Devonshire.

1623. Hobbes acted as amanuensis to Francis Bacon, so that Paolo Sarpi and other Venetians could learn Bacon's thought.

1626. March: First Earl of Devonshire died.

1628. June: Second Earl of Devonshire died.

1629. Hobbes published translation of Thucydides, dedicated to third Earl of Devonshire (age 11). Joins the house of Sir Gervase Clifton and accompanied Clifton's son on a tour of France and Geneva.

1630. Autumn: Returned to England and settled again at Hardwick as advisor to the widow of second Earl. Started to associate regularly with the Earl of Newcastle (cousin to the Earl of Devonshire).

1634. Autumn: Took Earl of Devonshire on a tour of France and Italy.

1635. Associated with Marin Mersenne, Gassendi and other French philosophers in Paris.

1636. Spring: Visited Galileo in Florence. October: Returned to England.

1637. Published A brief of the art of rhetorick. October: Received Descartes' Discourse on the Method from Sir Kenelm Digby.

1640. March: Suggestion that Hobbes should stand for Digby in the Short Parliament. May: Finished manuscript of Elements of Law. November: Fled to Paris, anxious about being implicated in the Long Parliament's attack on Strafford.

1641. Contributed to the Objections to Descartes' Meditations.

1642. March: Civil War began in England. April: Hobbes published De Cive at Paris.

1643. Drafted MS reply to Thomas White's De Mundo (published in 1973).

1644. Contributed an essay on ballistics to Mersenne's Ballistica.

1646. Appointed reader in mathematics to the Prince of Wales in Paris. Controversy with John Bramhall over free will and determinism (published in 1654-5).

1647. January: Published second edition of De Cive. August: Fell seriously ill.

1649. January: Charles I executed in London.

1651. April: Hobbes published Leviathan . December: Excluded from Charles' court.

1652. February: Returned to England.

1655. Published De Corpore.

1658. Published De Homine.

1660. May: Charles II restored; Clarendon one of his chief ministers.

1666. October: Bill introduced into the House of Commons which would have rendered Hobbes liable to prosecution for atheism or heresy. Hobbes drafted MS Dialogue... of the common laws (published in 1681).

1667. Clarendon fell, to be replaced by the 'Cabal' Ministry, in which Hobbes found supporters.

1668. Drafted other MSS on heresy; published Opera at Amsterdam including a Latin translation of Leviathan .

1670. Composed MS of Behemoth (published in 1679).

1674. Cabal Miinistry fell.

1675. Hobbes left London for the last time and settled finally at Hardwick and Chatsworth.

1679. Drafted a MS on the Exclusion Crisis for the third Earl's son, supporting the moderate Whig position. 3 December: Died at Hardwick and was buried at Ault Hucknall.

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