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Arp. Re-thinking Hobbes's Materialistic and Mechanistic Projects.pdf

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3 Re-thinking Hobbes's Materialistic and Mechanistic Projects ROBERT ARP I. Introduction In this paper I shall attempt to show that, despite his intention to formulate a thoroughly reductionistic and mechanistic philosophical system, Hobbes actu- ally fails on both accounts. First, I argue that Hobbes fails to be a consistent ontological reductionist, but his attempts at applying methodological reduction- ism fair much better. The
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  3 Re-thinking Hobbes's Materialistic and Mechanistic Projects ROBERT ARP I. Introduction In this paper I shall attempt to show that, despite his intention to formulate a thoroughly reductionistic and mechanistic philosophical system, Hobbes actu- ally fails on both accounts. First, I argue that Hobbes fails to be a consistent ontological reductionist, but his attempts at applying methodological reduction- ism fair much better. Then, I argue that Hobbes fails to be a strict mechanist since at times he seems to implicitly endorse the very Aristotelian/Scholastic categories he has explicitly rejected. Again, Hobbes's methodology appears mechanistic given its Galilean scope; however, his metaphysical views betray his views concerning the physics of the universe. In the end I maintain that such inconsistency, oversight and contradiction in his system is to be expected since Hobbes was, at once, philosopher and philosophical theologian existing on the cusp of the Scholastic and Modem worlds. II. Hobbes's materialistic project A. Materialism, Mechanism, Ontology and Methodology At the outset it is important to define and distinguish versions of materialism and mechanism.' A materialist thinks that all aspects of reality can be account- ed for in material terms. In the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy Simon Blackburn defines materialism as the view that the world is entirely composed of matter. 2 Thomas Spragens saddles Hobbes with materialism when he claims ' I would like to thank the following persons for their valued criticisms, insights and support in the formulation of this paper: Richard Dees, Douglas Jesseph, Jack Marler, George Terzis and Catherine Wilson. 2 Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 233. Besides Blackburn's dictionary, there is a plethora of philosophical dictionar- ies and encyclopedias that define materialism and mechanism. A good place to begin is with a) The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. Robert Audi. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) and b) The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Craig. (London: Routledge, 1998).  4 that Hobbes thought that the basic constituents of the universe, including nature, life and mind were simply matter in motion.3 A mechanist tries to give an account of the basic workings of the universe in purely antecedent-conse- quent terms to the exclusion of teleological or finalistic explanations. This was the procedure generally adhered to by the early Modems; witness the philo- sophical systems of Descartes and Bacon with their poignant criticisms of tele- ology and finality found in Aristotle and the Scholastics.4 We can also distinguish between an ontological materialist and a method- ological materialist. An ontological materialist holds that reality is fundamen- tally material thereby ruling out the existence of anything supernatural or men- tal. Feuerbach, as well as Patricia and Paul Churchland are professed ontolog- ical materialists.' On the other hand, a methodological materialist is someone whose attitude, world-view or epistemic tendency is toward a favoring of onto- logical materialism. Generally, methodological materialists will always try to explain away the immaterial or reduce the immaterial to the material as their first epistemic instinct, even though the project continually resists the reduction (indeed, for example, no one to date has successfully or satisfactorily reduced mind to brain). In general contemporary empirical science proceeds according to methodological materialism and so do, for example, Functionalists in the Philosophy of Mind 6 I Thomas A. Spragens, Jr., The Politics of Motion (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1973), p. 68. 1 Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 236. Blackburn's definition of mechanism is the belief that everything can be explained in ways modeled on 17` -century conceptions of scientific explanation. Thinkers in the 1 7'h-century saw the universe as either one huge machine made up of a variety of inter-working parts, or a set of machines interact- ing with one another. For a general discussion of the relationship between materialism and mechanism during the early Modem endeavor, see the readings in Soul and Mind: Life and Thought in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Daniel Garber. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). See Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 202, 248-9 where he claims that a thinker should focus on efficient causes since only God knows final causes. Also, see Bacon's Novum Organum, trans. Urbach and Gibson. (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1994), Bk. II, Aphorisms 2-3, pp. 134- 5 where he claims that final causes are not applicable to anything but the will, and that focus- ing on such causes has been the source of confusion in the Ancient and Medieval periods. 5 For example, see Luddwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot. (New York: Harper, 1957); Patricia Churchland, The Co-Evolutionary Research Ideology, in Readings in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, ed. Al Goldman. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), pp. 745-59; Paul Churchland, Matter and Consciousness. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984). 6 See, for example, Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991); Kosslyn and Koenig, Wet Mind: The New Cognitive Neuroscience. (New York: The Free Press, 1992).  5 Similarly, we can distinguish an ontological mechanist from a methodolog- ical mechanist. An ontological mechanist confidently dispatches with any talk of finality or teleology in favor of purely mechanical cause-effect and/or antecedent-consequent explanations. We see such attempts being made in the areas of Philosophy of Biology and Philosophy of Mind by thinkers in this cen- tury like Ernest Nagel, Larry Wright and Ruth Millikan.' A methodological mechanist attempts to view reality as mechanical, but allows for non-mechan- ical explanations to be a part of the furniture of existence for much the same rea- son that a methodological materialist allows immaterial things to be a part of reality, viz., non-reducibility. Descartes, Bacon and even Newton were method- ological mechanists: Descartes and Bacon allowed for final causes to exist, albeit they were relegated to the realm of God's will and human will. And in the General Scholium at the end of his Principia, Newton asserts that God is eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect and the ultimate source of motion existing as the one being not subject to the laws of gravity and force.' However, we can see from the general view of the projects of thinkers like Descartes, Bacon and Newton that they were mechanists in methodology. James Lennox, William Lycan, Elliot Sober, Radu Bogdan, William FitzPatrick and Ernst Mayr are examples of contemporary thinkers who allow teleological explanations, under- stood in a non-Aristotelian and non-theistic way, to be legitimate scientific explanations alongside mechanistic explanations.9 Now, these thinkers view the world in contemporary scientific terms utilizing the world as machine model. But, they are not so wed to the model such that they do not see the importance and saliency of teleological explanation. To this extent, these thinkers are methodological mechanists as well. Now, a mechanist can be a materialist, but need not be. Descartes is a mech- anist who posits the immaterial cogito and God, so, he is a not considered a I Ernest Nagel, Teleological Explanation, in The Structure of Science. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961); Larry Wright,Teleological Explanations. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Ruth Millikan, Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984); also see the discussion of teleology in Francisco Ayala, Population and Evolutionary Genetics: A Primer. (Menlo Park: B/C Publications, 1982). 8 Sir Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, trans. Cohen and Whitman. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), p. 940. 9 Lennox, Boyle's Defense of Teleological Inference, in Isis 74: (1983), pp. 38-52; Lycan, Consciousness and Experience. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Sober, Putting the Function Back into Functionalism, in Mind and Cognition. Ed. William G. Lycan. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 97-106; Bogdan, Grounds for Cognition: How Goal-guided Behavior Shapes the Mind. (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994); FitzPatrick, Teleology and the Norms of Nature. (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000). Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1982).  6 materialist. By positing God as the source of the universe's motion, Newton also falls into the category of non-materialist mechanist. Further, there are methodological mechanists who are also methodological materialists. Analytic thinkers such as Alvin Plantinga, Eleonore Stump and Richard Swinburne pro- fess forms of methodological materialism and methodological mechanism since they argue in various ways for the existence of God, the human soul, formal causes and the relevance of teleological explanations while working within the contemporary philosophical and scientific scenes.1O Turning our attention to Hobbes, it would seem that he would fall into the categories of ontological materialist, as well as, ontological mechanist. (I will deal with the claim regarding Hobbes's mechanism in Section III of this paper.) There are obviously strong reasons to think that Hobbes was a thoroughgoing materialist. In his response to the arguments in Descartes's Meditations, Hobbes claims that the cogito is a corpus (LW IV, 2, 254) and that mind  just is movements in an organic body (LW IV, 4, 258). These claims, along with the other claims presented regarding the passions (III, 61-3), the essence of light ((I, 79; VII, 27), the body politic (IV, 122, 132), the science of Geometry (III, 72) and the nature of the universe (III, 381, 672; IV, 349), for example, seem to cor- roborate Spragens's claim (made in the first paragraph of this part) that Hobbes viewed every aspect of reality as body in motion. But Hobbes is inconsistent. Several factors point against interpreting Hobbes as a thoroughgoing ontological materialist. For instance, Keith Campbell has rightly pointed out: Hobbes departed from strict materialism in his introduction of conatus and impe- tus (which are not physical properties) into his account of the initiation of motion and measurement of acceleration. Conatus is also appealed to in Hobbes's account '° See the last chapter of Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); see the Introductions to Eleonore Stump, Faith and the Problem of Evil. (Grand Rapids: Calvin College, 1999) and Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Even a self-proclaimed mate- rialist like Peter van Inwagen (see his Metaphysics. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993) offers versions of methodological materialism and methodological mechanism in The Possibility of Resurrection and Other Essays in Christian Apologetics. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998). van Inwagen is not an ontological mechanist because he sees a place for teleological expla- nation ; and, he is not an ontological materialist because he believes that God (an immaterial reality) will resurrect the body in the Eschaton. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Sir William Wordsworth, Bart. (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1839). All references to Hobbes's works will come from this edition and can be found as volume and page in the text of my paper. Also, any Latin references come from Hobbes's Opera Philosophica, ed. Sir William Wordsworth, Bart. (Londini: Apud Longman Brown Green et Longman, 1839).
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