Scientific revolution and Hobbes’ Modern Political Philosophy
Thomas Hobbes, a well-known political philosopher was born on the late 16th century and had witnessed the beginning of the 17th century Europe. As a student, Hobbes excelled in his study primarily in language and poetry (Morgan, 548). He was given a position in the household of Lord Cavendish as a “secretary, tutor and advisor (Morgan 548)”. Living in the world of the aristocrats, it is therefore, inevitable for Hobbes to get acquainted with the scholars and great thinkers of his time.
In this essay, there will be a discussion regarding the connection between the scientific revolution and Thomas Hobbes. More particularly, the essay would deal with the influences of famous personalities such as Galileo, Machiavelli, Boyle and Bacon on the foundation of Hobble’s modern philosophy. Since these prominent thinkers had lived before or during the lifetime of Hobbes, their works served as guidelines or frameworks of Hobbes’ thoughts. The essay would start by describing scientific revolution to understand its connection to modern philosophy.
It will be followed by a discussion of the main ideas of each of the great thinker mentioned above to pinpoint their specific influence on Hobbes philosophy. It will conclude by showing that scientific revolution had influenced Hobbes through the inclusion of scientific concepts such as motion and induction into his modern political philosophy while abandoning the dogmas perpetuated by the Church and Aristotelian scientific tradition. As far as history is concerned, the period when Hobbes was born had been the door that opens to modernity both in the sciences and the arts.
This era is marked by the enlightenment period. The focus of knowledge was brought back to man and his surroundings instead of God and other religious divinities. There had been several changes in the society prompted by the failure of mercantilism and the advances in scientific knowledge. This period had also been known for the advent of the scientific revolution. But what do we mean by this phrase? Basically, a layman definition of the term “revolution” includes an overthrow of a previous state or authority.
Scientific on the other hand refers to what has been considered as science or pertaining to the works and process in the sciences. The sciences include not only physical and natural sciences but social sciences as well. Therefore, scientific revolution is an episode wherein the previous authority in the sciences where overthrown and replaced by something new. In general, the scientific revolution started as people tried to understand and uncover the “laws of nature” to explain how things works.
The modern philosophy of Hobbes that was formulated during the period of the scientific revolution also reflects this attitude. To understand the connection between the two, it is essential to understand how the scientific revolution had influenced the work of Hobbes starting with the works of Nicolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli had died 61 years before Hobbes was born. During these years, the writings of Machiavelli had already been published and studied by political thinkers across Europe. As a scholar and an acquaintance of political figures, Hobbes had also come across Machiavelli’s works.
Machiavelli pointed out in his book “The Discourses” and “The Prince” that men are naturally envious and self-interested (Morgan, 528). Therefore, to be able to rule the common people, there should be an absolute government ruled personally by the Prince that concentrates on expanding or at least maintaining his power using any way necessary even through evil means (Morgan, 478). Reading the works of Machiavelli, the idea that morality can be discarded for the sake of personal gains would repeatedly show itself. This stressed the selfishness of human nature which can also be reflected on Hobbes’ writings.
According to Hobbes the nature of man was naturally selfish and the life of man was described as “solitary, nasty brutish and short (Morgan, 592)”. Due to this condition, they enter a covenant and agreed to be ruled by an absolute authority to instill security and order among men. The connection between Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes was established when Hobbes had worked as Bacon’s secretary. Francis Bacon had been known to separate the subjects of metaphysics and natural philosophy. Unlike theology and metaphysics, natural philosophy tends investigate the material realm.
Bacon believed that human reason is greatly flawed due to its exposure to dogmas, prejudices and subjective interpretation. Bacon called these errors “idols or idola” (Hall, 2009). Basically, there are four types of idols or idola. The first among these was “idola tribus”. Bacon explained that human rely heavily on their senses that they do not critically assess the ideas and interpretations they gathered through its use. Moreover, man usually add abstractions or expound what they perceived in an exaggerated manner connecting things and establishing relations through imagination.
The second type of idols was “idola specus” or idols of the cave. This involves personal interpretation of things confined by personal experiences such as exposure to culture, education, upbringing and emotions. This involves seeing things through one’s own eyes or having personal bias on how to understand ideas. Next type of idol was “idola fori” or idol of the marketplace. This is an issue that involves the use of words. In Bacon’s analysis, words are simply symbols and its meaning is subjective (Harrison-Barbet, 2009).
Therefore, words can be vague and ambiguous or thoughts may not be expressed coherently by words. The last type of idol was “idola theatric” or idols of the theater. This encompassed the wrong information or false knowledge that was fed to the public as truths. Bacon argued that the method used by Aristotle or deductive reasoning was faulty since it did not result to knowledge. Hobbes also shared Bacon skepticism about how man interpret the things he perceived. Hobbes argued that inductive reasoning is important however, unlike Bacon he stressed that it is complimentary with deductive reasoning.
Knowledge starts with what the senses-experienced, and then it will be processed by the mind and become a memory. The memory will be involved in a hypothesis which can be verified through experience. Since institutions creates or is a part of “idols of the theater”, Bacon put forward a skeptic view on the information relayed to the public by schools of thought, the government and other social organizations. Hobbes shared this view as evident from his distrust to other institutions by putting everything under the command of the Leviathan.
Hobbes also made use of the concept of “idola specus” by declaring that there good and evil are dependent on the ma’s appetite and aversion. These are what set humans in motion which might conflict with each other if man would be on the “state of nature” (Morgan, 566-69). Another thinker that represents scientific revolution was Galileo Galilei. Upon his invention of the telescope, he had been able to proved Copernicus claim that the sun is the center of the solar system. Galileo believed that everything can be explained by movements or motion and mathematics.
Galileo had also rejected the Aristotelian systems and argued that the Scripture should not be taken literally. This perspective had an impact on the way Hobbes treated human reason and society. He tried to grasp the natural explanation behind human actions and association through looking for individual relationship. He identified the source of ideas as the motion of matter that was perceived by the senses (Morgan, 562). According to Hobbes, the words we used are merely symbols that signify the motion to be stored or be processed in the mind through understanding.
Boyle argued that matter is made of complex structures and combination of “corpuscles” (Sargent, 125). This is rendered as an attack against Aristotelian knowledge that maintains that matter is uniform and continuous and that there are only 4 elements that make up the material things namely: fire, water, earth and air (Anstey, 118). Through experiments, Boyle tried to display the elasticity of air. Boyle and Hobbes had been engage in a debate regarding knowledge. Boyle believed that the goal of science was to find description and causes of the axiom of nature (Sargent, 60).
On the other hand, Hobbes argued that science should look for the universal or necessary cause. In an experiment, Boyle claimed that his experiments produce legitimate knowledge since it can repeatedly be proven. Hobbes criticized that experiments (particularly Boyle’s air-pump experiment) as subjective and not a source of knowledge since it is artificial. Since the experiment was man-made and there are controlled variables, Hobbes noted that it may not actually happen in nature. This led back to Hobbes’ idea regarding the search for universal explanation of things.
Hobbes assumes that one should look into general or universally applicable axioms before addressing individual phenomena instead of the other way around. The interpretation of knowledge during the scientific revolution largely involves the idea of “motion”. Hobbes, in particular, maintained that knowledge started with motion. Galileo argued that everything is in motion unless something put a resistance on something. It is also through studying motion that Galileo had and Copernicus had been able to argue and prove the heliocentric model of the solar system. Aristotle who argued that motion has a beginning and an end.
In mechanical philosophy the universe is compared to a watch wherein its motion or movements had underlying mechanisms that explain its movement. These mechanisms which are hidden from perception had deceived the senses to assume that the watch has a life and a purpose of its own. Therefore, mechanical philosophy aims to unfold these mysteries through the use of scientific methodologies and observations. All throughout the discussion above, one can readily observe how the different thinkers during the scientific revolution had influenced Hobbes and his philosophy.
The general trend appears to be the rejection of former knowledge under the dominion of the church which espoused Aristotelian science and literal interpretation of the Scriptures. Hobbes rejects the Aristotle’s ideas. In terms of politics, instead of creating city to achieve “good life”; Hobbes argued that the commonwealth exist to protect the citizens. Clearly, Aristotle shows individualistic objectives while Hobbes displays universal goals. Aristotle’s ideas are greatly criticized and new sciences were accepted. Senses and the physical reality are regarded as the legitimate focus of philosophical enquiry.
The literal interpretation of the Scriptures and personal bias and prejudice in general are regarded as false knowledge. Human relations and the workings of the human mind are reduced into products of motion. The scientific revolution had been a quest for mathematical explanation of things. Hobbes modern political philosophy was a product of his exposure to these thoughts and approaches that revolutionized science by abandoning Aristotelian tradition and embracing mathematical, inductive and motion-based science. Works Cited: Anstey, Peter R. The philosophy of Robert Boyle.
Routledge, 2000. Hall, Manly P. Four Idols of Francis Bacon and the New Instrument of Knowledge. Etrieved on July 19, 2009 from http://www. sirbacon. org/links/4idols. htm. Harrison-Barbet, Anthony. Philosophical Connections. Retrieved on July 18, 2009 from http://www. philosophos. com/philosophical_connections/profile_057. html#_CONNECTIONS_47. Morgan, Michael. Classics of moral and political theory. Fourth Eds. Hackett Publishing, 2005. Sargant, Rose-Mary. The diffident naturalist: Robert Boyle and the philosophy of experiment. University of Chicago Press, 1995Sample Essay of StudyFaq.com