We took up two tasks: illustrating Hobbes’s conception of science and making some preliminary observations about the relationship between reason and ethics for Hobbes.
We started off with several illustrations of Hobbes’s understanding of reason and science (he uses the terms interchangeably). The easy ones were all drawn from the first paragraph of chapter five.
The more challenging ones were from chapter six. Hobbes’s account of the passions is an example of science, as he understood it: it’s a scientific account of psychology! Hobbes begins with root elements, like appetite and aversion. Then he starts drawing branches or sub-divisions of these roots by adding things. So, for instance, when we add a belief about the possibility of getting donuts to an appetite for donuts, we get a more specific state of mind: hope.
Speaking for myself, I find this very cool. This is probably because, for the longest time, it just looked like a weird list. I didn’t know why Hobbes cared or if there was any meaningful organization to it.
Now I see that it’s not just a long, eccentric list. It’s a theory! The theory makes claims about how to identify different passions and about their typical causes. So, for instance, you can put people into a state of hope if you give them reason to believe they might get what they want.
Now I understand what Hobbes was trying to do. And that makes me very happy. Very, very happy.
The other broad topic we addressed concerned the relationship between reason and ethics. I gave my opinion that Hobbes did not have a conception of practical reason, meaning he did not think there was a kind of reasoning that had action as a conclusion. Here’s what I mean. Some people believe in what is called a “practical syllogism.” Here’s an example:
Note that the conclusion is an action. It is not a sentence. Compare:
Hobbes’s conception of reason is entirely linguistic. It doesn’t extend to actions. One thing we’ll want to talk about later is how he can call the laws of nature dictates of reason. Since the laws of nature tell us what to do, how does that make sense if reason isn’t practical?
We also noted several other points on which reason and ethics diverge for Hobbes: ethical concepts can’t be the basis for “ratiocination” (4.24), good and evil are subjective (6.7), and there is no special faculty of a conscience we can use to determine what is right or wrong (7.4, compare Calvin).
Next time, we’ll return for one final point about reason: if science only gives us conditional knowledge (7.3-4, 9.1), how do we use it to learn how to produce real effects in the world (5.17)?
THERE are of KNOWLEDGE two kinds; whereof one is knowledge of fact: the other knowledge of the consequence of one affirmation to another. The former is nothing else, but sense and memory, and is absolute knowledge; as when we see a fact doing, or remember it done: and this is the knowledge required in a witness. The latter is called science; and is conditional; as when we know, that, if the figure shown be a circle, then any straight line through the centre shall divide it into two equal parts. And this is the knowledge required in a philosopher; that is to say, of him that pretends to reasoning. (Leviathan, ch. 9, par. 1)