Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Excerpt

When we parade our nation's modern philosophical writers, the first that forces us to stop and admire is Francis Bacon. The next is Hobbes. Their lives overlapped. They even came together for a while, the younger helping the older in the silly business of turning the superlative English of the Essays into Latin, as if its ideas could charm the world apart from the gorgeous garment of words they were born in. The task would be congenial to Hobbes, since with him ideas came first, words having then to be found for them as precise and few as possible, whereas for Bacon ideas and phrases jumped into being together, and could not be divided without the murder of both; which simply means that the younger man was primarily a thinker and the older man an artist.

They had scarcely anything in common. Both held that knowledge is power; but so also did Descartes, and the scientists of that day, and the alchemists before them. Indeed, no man needed to be a philosopher to see and say that to produce a desired result we must know its cause. The contemporary problem was, how causes were to be discovered, and on this issue Bacon and Hobbes stood in opposite camps, the former decreeing that we must observe and go on observing until causal connections become entirely obvious, the latter that we must think downwards from first principles. The one, then, was an empiricist, the other a rationalist. Bacon's method committed him to a task which, he was aware, no individual inquirer could carry far--a prospect that did not vex him, for his lordly mind had a humble strain. Hobbes's method gave him a short cut which, though difficult, should enable a single inquirer almost to complete the task--a prospect that suited him perfectly, for his mind . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.