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...
... middle of paper ...
Davidson on the other hand, believe that a science of man is
impossible; Descartes because he believes that our minds are
immaterial and Davidson because man’s behavior follows no causal
laws. All of this evidence shows us that trying to interpret man’s
actions and apply them to a science is an impossible undertaking.
Man is too complicated a machine to understand and therefore
political philosophy, for a rational social structure, must be founded
on another basis.
1. Davidson, Donald, Regionalism and Nationalism in the United States: The Attack on Leviathan. Transaction publishers, New Brunswick, N.J., 1991
(Reprint, with new introduction, Originally published: Attack on Leviathan. University of North Carolina Press, 1938)
2. Hobbes, Thomas, The elements of law, natural and politic: Part I, Human nature, part II, De corpore politico ; with Three lives. Editor: Gaskin, J.C.A., Oxford University Press, 1994
3. Sorell, Tom, Descartes: Reason and Experience. Open University
4. Sorell Tom, The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes; Hobbes’ scheme of the sciences. Cambridge University Press, 1996
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