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Thomas Hobbes And Rene Descartes: The Science Of Man

1390 words - 6 pages

In this paper I intend to examine the political philosophy of

Thomas Hobbes and Rene Descartes, in particular their ideas

relating to the science of man, and attempt to explain why their ideas

prove that it is not possible to construct a science of man. I will also

briefly mention the philosophy of Donald Davidson in regards to a

science of man.

The theories of Hobbes and the contemporary socio-

biologists attempt to recognize how man works and on that basis

build a society. "Hobbes wished to be seen as the inventor of the

science of politics" (Sorell, p45) He went about this by looking at the

psychology of man and discovering that man is a mechanism.

Hobbes wanted to understand mechanics. He wanted to look at why

men live the way that they do in society and therefore, breaks it

down. By doing this he discovered that people are cogs in the social

machine. Therefore he wants to examine these cogs in order to

achieve an understanding of the social mechanism, and does this by

looking at the psychology of the mind. Hobbes is both an empirist

and a materialist. Empiricists believe that sense gives all knowledge.

Generally, they do not believe in astrology, god, electrons etc. Their

philosophy is summed up by saying that all things that give true

knowledge can be sensed. Materialists believe that all things in

existence are physical matter. In other words, the soul and the spirit

do not exist. Therefore Hobbes believes that thoughts are material,

that they are caused by sense and vice versa. Tom Sorell suggests

in his essay, entitled "Hobbes’ scheme of the sciences", that rather

than have knowledge of how the mechanics of the mind’s passions

work, a more successful way of gaining political knowledge is to

understand what these passions cause. They cause various degrees

of action, with the possessor going to various extents to achieve

what they want.

In chapter six of "De Corpere", Hobbes makes a connection

between the knowledge of the principles of politics and the

knowledge of the motions of the average human mind. Hobbes’

account of political science is an idea of what man must do if his

goal is self-preservation. These ideas are not what mankind will do

but what it will have to do, in a rational way, to form a political

civilization. One would assume that as Hobbes identifies both a

natural science, and a civil science, he would suggest that they are

parallels which, in political philosophy, work together. However,

there are a few problems with Hobbes’ theory. Hobbes suggests that

a monarch makes a better sovereign than an assembly. Yet, surely

he would not agree that a monarch who is not dedicated would be

better suited than a group of thoughtful representatives. A politically

secure society is built up from its people. Hobbes believes that these


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