HOBBES: Leviathan [Part I Intro-Ch.5]


  • Man can create an artificial animal – a watch. There is no difference between man and a watch. God made man, who is moved by the heart, nerves, and joints. Man made a watch, which is moved by springs and wheels.
  • The State is an artificial man. The sovereignty is an artificial soul; it gives life and movement to the State. The judges are artificial joints, rewards and punishments are the nerves, the wealth and riches are the strength, the people’s safety is its business, counselors are the memory, equity and law are the artificial reason and will, peace is health, sedition is sickness, civil war is death.
  • To describe the State, Hobbes will first consider the matter and artificer of the State, both of which is man. Then he will consider by what covenants it is made; the rights and power of the sovereign; and what preserves and dissolves it. Third, he will consider the nature of a Christian State. Last, he will consider the Kingdom of Darkness.
  • One can truly learn what another man thinks and feels by examining one’s own self while involved in similar circumstances. Man will know the feeling of desire, fear, and hope, but not the objects that are desired, feared, and hoped; for those objects are particular to each individual according to his nature and education. To discover the design of men’s actions, we must compare the actions with our own.

Chapter 1 – Of Sense

  • Thoughts are representations or appearances of some quality of an external object.
  • The origin of all thoughts is sense.
  • Sense is produced by the impression of an external object on our sensory organs. All sensible qualities exist in the objects themselves as motions of matter. All of our perceptions of qualities are motions of matter within us. An object’s appearance to us is the same while waking and dreaming.
  • The objects we perceive are in a place outside of us, the sense of an object is inside of us. An object is one thing; the perception of the object is another.
  • Those that teach that objects send forth visible things, audible things, intelligible things, etc. to produce sensations of vision, hearing, understanding, etc. are mistaken. The senses are produced by the motion of matter in external objects, which impress our sensory organs and cause a motion of matter within us.

Chapter 2 – Of Imagination

  • An object at rest will remain at rest unless something stirs it is a generally accepted truth. But an object in motion will remain in motion unless something stops it is not so easily accepted; for men measure everything by themselves, and find themselves to grow weary of motion and seek repose. Men disregard the possibility that some other motion produces the desire of rest.
  • Thus, the sensations [motion of matter within us] retain the impression of external objects, but slowly decay by degrees over time. When an object is removed from our field of vision, the sense of the object remains but loses the strength of the impression over time.
  • The predominant impression is the only impression that we sense. For example, the stars still shine during the day, but their impression is obscured by the radiance of the sun. The imagination of the past is obscured and made weak by impressions of the present moment. Imagination and memory are the same.
  • Memory of things is called experience.
  • The imagination of a whole object as it was presented to the sense is called simple imagination. Compounded imagination is the imagination of objects as they were presented to the senses combined with one another [from the sight of a man and a horse, we conceive a centaur].
  • The imaginations of men who are asleep are called dreams. These imaginations have been in the sense before.
  • The senses are benumbed to external objects while asleep; and therefore dreams can only proceed from the inward agitation of a man’s body. These inward agitations produce sensations while waking, but they are obscured by the more vigorous impression of external objects.
  • Hobbes argues that he can distinguish between dreams and waking thoughts; for when he is dreaming, he does not think of the same persons, places, objects and actions that he does while awake, nor does he remember as long a train of thoughts while dreaming as he does while waking. While waking he observes the absurdity of his dreams, but when he dreams he never observes the absurdities of his waking thoughts.
  • Anger causes heat in some parts of the body. When those same parts of the body experience heat while we are sleeping, we dream that we are angry.
  • It is most difficult to distinguish between dreams and waking thoughts when one has not observed that one has slept. This is common to men who are fearful and whose conscience is troubled. Marcus Brutus likely dreamed that he saw an apparition of Caesar before the battle of Philippi because his conscience was troubled by his complicity in the murder of Caesar.
  • Thoughts that are produced by words or other voluntary signs are understood by men and beasts; for dogs understand the difference between their masters’ praises and criticisms. The understanding which is particular to man is the understanding of will, conceptions, and thoughts.

“The longer the time is, after the sight or sense of any object, the weaker is the imagination.”

In this chapter, Hobbes makes a very interesting observation about dreams. He argues that dreams are merely the sensations produced by the motions of the inward parts of a man. These inward motions occur even while a man is awake, but the sensations that are produced by such motions are obscured by the more vigorous impressions of external objects, as the light of the stars are obscured by the light of the sun. Thus, the argument seems to conclude that we are constantly dreaming. Whether we can perceive the dreams depends entirely upon the ability of our sensory organs to receive the impressions of external objects and the motion of our inward parts. Dreams are often a fertile source of creative ideas. It’s frightening to consider how many creative ideas are possibly lost due to distractions by the external objects of the world.

Chapter 3 – Of the Consequence or Train of Imaginations

  • The succession of one thought to another is a mental discourse.
  • There is no transition from one thought to another that we have never sensed before. All thoughts are relics of some past impression.
  • There are two sorts of mental discourse: the first is a wandering discourse unguided by desire or passion; the second is more constant because it is guided by some desire and design.
  • One ought to consider the goal and purpose one sets forth to achieve because that object is what directs all your thoughts, and consequently all your opinions and actions.
  • There are two kinds of trains of regulated thoughts: the first is when one seeks the causes of some effect [this is common to men and beasts]; the second is when one imagines all the possible effects that can be produced when one has something [this is particular to men].
  • Only mankind considers all the possible effects that can be produced by something because it is naturally curious. It has more passions than those it shares with beasts – i.e. hunger, thirst, lust, and anger.
  • Men suppose that like events will follow like actions. However, the difficulty of observing all circumstances connected to actions renders this supposition liable to frequent error.
  • The more experience one has, the more one’s expectations are met.
  • The present only has being in nature; things past only have being in memory; things future have no being at all. The future is a fiction of the mind, applying the sequels of past actions to the actions of the present. Prudence and foresight are merely presumption that like events will follow like actions.
  • Prudence does not distinguish men from beasts; for some beasts at a year old pursue that which is for their good more prudently than a child can do at ten years old.
  • Prudence is a presumption of the future. All knowledge grounded in experience is presumption.
  • Through the aid of language, the faculties of the senses and thoughts of men can be elevated to such a height as to distinguish men from all other living creatures.
  • Everything we can imagine is finite. That which is infinite is unimaginable. There is no idea or conception of the infinite. When we speak of the infinite, we only signify that we are unable to conceive the limits of the thing under consideration. All that we conceive has been first perceived by the senses. Therefore we cannot conceive of the infinite power, knowledge, presence, and benevolence of God.

“What is the value of a Roman penny?”

“In all your actions, look often upon what you would have, as the thing that directs all your thoughts in the way to attain it.”

“The discourse of the mind, when it is governed by design, is the hunting out of the causes of some effect, present or past; or of the effects of some present or past cause.”

“The present only has a being in nature; things past have a being in the memory only; but things to come have no being at all, the future being but a fiction of the mind, applying the sequels of actions past to the actions that are present.”

In the third chapter, Hobbes writes that there are two types of mental discourses that take place within one’s mind: the first is a wandering discourse unguided by any desire or passion; the second is a more constant and logical because it is guided by a desire and design. In regards to the second sort of discourse, one ought to often consider the purpose or desire one possesses; for that object directs one’s thoughts and consequently one’s opinions and actions. In other words, thoughts become actions, and actions determine one’s character – either good or bad. Thus, like Marcus Aurelius advised, we ought to constantly consider that our purpose as human beings is to be good, to help one another, and to cheerfully accept what happens. With these thoughts in mind, our actions will necessarily follow in accordance with these principles.

Hobbes also discusses the errors that men make when they suppose like events will follow like actions. Mankind’s inability to accurately predict the future is due to the difficulty in observing all the circumstances of a particular action. This leads to the unsettling thought that our scientific knowledge, which is grounded upon the assumption that the future will behave like the past, is unstable and possibly erroneous. Indeed, there have been discoveries in science that have refuted past theories that seemed irrefutable. They seemed irrefutable merely because we did not possess the necessary tools to observe all the circumstances acting upon a particular experiment. Perhaps most of our knowledge of the physical universe is wrong because we do not possess the adequate implements required to observe every circumstance of physical actions.

Chapter 4 – Of Speech

  • The invention of language is a very important development in the evolution of mankind. Language allows us to preserve the memory of the past and to unite peoples of distant regions of the world. Without speech, there would be neither society, nor, contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears, and wolves.
  • There are four uses of speech: 1) to register what we think to be the causes of things present and past; and to register what we think to be produced or effected by things present and past; 2) to show others the knowledge we have attained, to teach, and to counsel others; 3) to express our wills and purposes so that we may have the mutual help of one another; and 4) to please and delight ourselves and others by playing with our words.
  • There are four corresponding abuses of speech: 1) to wrongly register thoughts by the inconstancy of the meaning of their words, and so deceive one’s own self; 2) to use words metaphorically – i.e. to use words in another sense than that which they are ordained for – and thus deceive others; 3) to falsely declare one’s will to be something that it is not; and 4) to use words to grieve one another.
  • Some names are proper and singular to one thing: this man, Peter, John, this tree. Some names are universal: man, horse, tree, etc. Nothing that exists in the world is a universal; for objects are individual and singular. Universal names are imposed on things for some similitude in quality.
  • We reckon the consequences of things imagined in the mind by reckoning the consequences of names. A man who does not possess a language cannot comprehend universal rules, such as all triangles have three angles whose sum is 180 degrees. Such a man cannot perform mathematics or any other type of reasoning; for reasoning is the adding and subtracting of things from one another.
  • Where there is no speech, there is no truth or falsehood; for true and false are attributes of speech, not things. If two names are joined into a consequence or affirmation, as “A man is a living creature,” and the name ‘living creature’ signifies all that the name ‘man’ signifies, then the affirmation or consequence is true; otherwise false.
  • Error is when a man expects what shall not be, and supposes what has not been. But this is not falsehood.
  • Truth consists in the right ordering of names.
  • One ought to provide clear definitions of words if one seeks precise truth. Thus, Geometricians begin their reckonings with definitions and proceed to assert truths with those settled definitions.
  • The errors of definitions multiply themselves, adding as reckoning proceeds. The foundations of errors are generally found in the definitions of things. Natural sense and imagination are not subject to absurdity. Nature itself cannot err. Thus, men who take their authority from books and not from their own meditation are liable to err.
  • Anything that can be added or subtracted is subject to names.
  • The Greek word ‘logos’ means both speech and reasoning; for the Greeks believed that there is no reasoning without speech. The act of reasoning is syllogism, which signifies the summing up of the consequences of one saying to another.
  • There are four types of names:
    • Of matter – living, sensible, rational, hot, cold, moved, and quiet are names of bodies
    • Of qualities in matter – heat, length, life, and motion
    • Of properties of our own bodies – when we see anything, we reckon not the object itself, but the sight, the color, the idea of it.
    • Of names themselves and speeches – general, universal, syllogism, narration, sermon, oration
    • Negative names are useful in reckoning because they make us refuse to admit of names not rightly used. An example of a negative name is infinite – i.e. not finite. We conceive of the infinite by understanding that it is that which is not finite since we cannot conceive of infinity without reference to something finite, which has been perceived by us.
    • All other names are insignificant sounds. There are two types of insignificant sounds: 1) names that are new and have not yet had their meaning explained by definition; 2) names that are made of two or more contradictory and inconsistent names, like incorporeal body and round quadrangle.
    • To understand is to have those thoughts which the words of that speech are ordained and composed to signify. Understanding is but conception caused by speech. Since speech is peculiar to man, understanding is peculiar to him too. There can be no understanding of insignificant sounds, or absurdities.
    • The names of things which please and displease us are of inconstant signification; for all men are not pleased and displeased by the same things, nor is one man at all times pleased and displeased by the same things. Thus names have a signification of what we imagine to be the thing’s nature, and also a signification of the nature, disposition, and interest of the speaker. One man calls wisdom what another calls fear, one man call justice what another calls cruelty, etc. Thus, virtue and vice can never be the foundation for any type of reckoning; for their signification is inconstant according to the nature, disposition, and interests of the speaker. Metaphors cannot be used in reckoning the truth either, but they are less dangerous than names such as virtue and vice because metaphors profess their inconstancy.

“True and false are attributes of speech, not of things.”

“Truth consists in the right ordering of names.”

In chapter 4, Hobbes asserts that truth and false are attributes of speech, not of things. Where there is no speech there is not truth or falsehood. Truth, according to Hobbes, consists in the right ordering of names. This is an interesting concept. It reminds me of the question, “if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?” According to Hobbes argument, if there is no speech, or no being capable of speech, then there is no truth. Mankind naturally desires the truth; and if we agree with Hobbes, then we must conclude that mankind has imposed truth upon the external world by developing language. In other words, there would be no truth without mankind, unless there are other sentient life-forms in the universe that have developed a system of naming things.

Hobbes also asserts that one ought to contemplate nature and the definitions of things without the aid of books; for nature cannot err, but men can. This is an important principle to remember. One should not readily accept what is written in a book, even if that book is written by one of the wisest men ever to have lived. For example, there are many instances found in the writings of Aristotle regarding the physical world that have been proven false, though Aristotle is inarguably one the smartest and most creative men to ever live.

Chapter 5 – Of Reason and Science

  • Reasoning is merely the process of conceiving a sum total by adding things together or subtracting things from one another. Adding two names together produces an affirmation. Adding two affirmations together produces a syllogism. Adding two syllogisms together produces a demonstration. From the sum, or conclusion of syllogism, one can subtract a proposition to arrive at a new one.
  • As in arithmetic mathematicians often err and come to false conclusions, so also in the subject of reasoning do the ablest men deceive themselves and infer false conclusions.
  • He that takes up the conclusions of authors, and does not trace them from the definitions of the words used in the fundamental propositions, does not know anything, but only believes.
  • We reckon without words when we perceive a thing and conjecture what was likely to have preceded it, or is likely to follow it. If what we expect to follow it does not follow, or what we supposed to have preceded something did not precede it, then we err. But when we reason in words and make a false inference, we do not err, but rather produce an absurdity or insignificant sound. For if a man speaks of a round quadrangle, his words are absurd and meaningless.
  • The first cause of absurd conclusions is not beginning from definitions – settled significations of words.
  • The second cause is ascribing names of bodies to accidents, or names of accidents to bodies, as ‘faith is infused, faith is breathed.’
  • The third cause is ascribing names of the accidents of external bodies to the accidents of our own bodies, as the color is in the object, the sound is in the air.
  • The fourth is ascribing the names of bodies to the names of names and speeches, as “a living thing is a genus’ and ‘there are universal things.’
  • The fifth is ascribing names of accidents to names of names and speeches, as ‘a man’s command is his will.’
  • The sixth is the use of metaphors and other rhetorical figures of speech.
  • The seventh is the use of names that signify nothing – i.e. absurdities.

“In what matter soever there is place for addition and subtraction, there also is place for reason; and where these have no place, there reason has nothing at all to do.”

In chapter 5, Hobbes enumerates seven causes of absurd conclusions. This list serves the reader with a reference that can be used to identify false reasoning and inferences in arguments, and thus not blindly accept the absurdities of some authors. I think that the list of seven causes can be reduced to the first cause – i.e. not beginning the process of reasoning from settled definitions of names of things. If one understands the precise definition of words used in assertions, syllogisms, and demonstrations, then one can easily identify any logical mistakes that would lead to false inferences.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

5 thoughts on “HOBBES: Leviathan [Part I Intro-Ch.5]”

  1. I was intrigued when I saw this one on your list because I have a copy but was never able to sit down and really get into reading it.

    1. Hobbes’ writing style leaves something to be desired. His average sentence could easily become a paragraph after careful editing.

      Nevertheless, it’s a fairly interesting read thus far. I thought that the Leviathan was solely a political treatise, but the chapters that I have read are concerned primarily with epistemology and logic, not politics.

    1. Yes, the name of Hobbes’ treatise is derived from the biblical Leviathan. Hobbes uses the name to signify a political society.

      The beginning chapters of this work are primarily concerned with non-political matters, such as the senses, human psychology and experience, and logic. In the later chapters, Hobbes will discuss his political theories.

      1. I’m very happy to be able to get to know these works through your reviews. I would never be able to read them myself, but have always been interested in ancient texts! Thanks for your hard work!

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