Bertman. Hobbes on Miracles (and God).pdf

Hobbes Studies 20 (2007) 40–62 © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/187502508X283137 Hobbes on Miracles (and God) Martin A. Bertman International Hobbes Association, Abstract Hobbes accepts only one proof for God’s existence: God as first cause of nature. Tus, the laws of nature express God’s will, nothing else is knowable about God. Te state projects God’s will because it responds to the deepest natural -- security and prosperit
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  Hobbes Studies 20 (2007) 40–62© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/187502508X283137  Hobbes on Miracles (and God) Martin A. Bertman International Hobbes Association,  Abstract Hobbes accepts only one proof for God’s existence: God as first cause of nature. Tus, the laws of nature express God’s will, nothing else is knowable about God. Te state projects God’s will because it responds to the deepest natural -- security and prosperity -- by opposing anti-social tendencies. Tus, the sovereign, by right reason, is the public measurer of religion. In private, religion is a matter of faith. Christianity is based on the sole proposition that salvation comes by Christ. Tat scriptural message was attested to by miracles in the Apostolic era but is now a mat-ter of faith. Te contemporary assertion of miracles is suspect; especially, when it is institutional-ized and endangers the power of the sovereign. Keywords Method, cause, God, nature, religion, Christianity, superstition   I Te title of this article has the word ‘God’ in parenthesis; this seems appropri-ate for Hobbes. Tat he often was called an atheist and, more mildly, a heretic, he, the “monster of Malmsbury,” professed both a personal belief in God and constantly refers to having views in concert with Christianity. Te turn of the matter is his materialist doctrine is more in concert with Epicureanism, which is closer to the voice of the new mechanist physics of matter in motion, the emerging fundamental natural science, than the Platonist tradition of medi-eval theology, whose traces remain strong in the seventeenth century. Tat Platonism emerges in his main competitor: Descartes. Teir mutual problem is to reconcile the new physics of Galileo, Huygens, et al, in its replacement of   M. A. Bertman / Hobbes Studies 20 (2007) 40–62 41  Aristotelian physics. Te Cartesian path is a dualism that elevated the meta-physics of BEING as a rational fundamental for the sciences. Te Hobbesian path is to restrict knowledge to human experience that limits natural science and takes God and his action of creating the natural realm as a matter of belief. In that, Hobbes can say that faith (Greek:  pistis)  or trust (Hebrew: emunah  ) is in concert with the religious tradition. Tus, the holder of science knows, the religious believe. Yet, having said that, I must add that while he claims we can-not know the character of God, Hobbes leaves open the rational possibility of God’s existence on the basis of the creation of nature. ******* Tis is the basis for his discussion of miracles, which I shall attend to from Leviathan  anon. First, I want to justify my view of Hobbes’ posi-tion by the more sophisticated discussion of his de Mundo  , (response to  White’s Tird Dialogue). It is a work in concert with Leviathan  yet one directed to “peers” rather than to a less sophisticated and learned audi-ence. His argument against White’s de Mundo  is, broadly stated, a reflection on the scholastic tradition of metaphysics that reads much of  Aristotle, despite Aristotle’s own equivocal opposition 1 , in a Platonic and neo-Platonic mode, using the word Being as a subject word 2 in a rational relation of the natural world to its srcin, ex nihilo  . Let me begin with Hobbes’ statement about his belief in (or the knowledge of) God, which is suspiciously considered a dodge to those rooting it merely in his fear of persecution. He writes, “Personally, while I hold the nature of God is unfathomable, and that proposition are a kind of language by which we express our concepts of the natures of [material] things, I incline that no proposition about the nature of God can be true save this one: God exists. And that no title correctly describes the nature of God than the word ‘being’ [ ens   ]. Everything else, I say, pertains not to the explanation of philosophical truth, but to proclaim-ing the states of mind that govern our wish to praise, magnify and 1  Among examples for my claim is Alfarabi’s view that both Plato and Aristotle are in funda-mental agreement and such matters as St. Tomas taking neo-Platonic metaphysical texts to be the work or tradition of Aristotle. Of course, there is no end of scholarly debate concerning such a claim; nevertheless, for Hobbes as a materialist the scholastic tradition merges into such a unity of mistaken metaphysics. 2  Martin Bertman “Language and Is-Ought,” Philosophical Studies   XXIV (1978) 146-78, repr. in Hobbes’ Natural Justice , ed Walton and Johnson (Nijhoff: 1987) and in Tomas Hobbes: Critical  Assessements , vol II, ed. P. King (Routledge: 1987) 334-56.  42  M. A. Bertman Hobbes Studies 20 (2007) 40–62 3  Hobbes, Tomas White’s de Mundo Examined   , translated from the Latin by H. W. Jones (Bradford University Press. London: 1976) p. 434. [folio 398]. Henceforth, in reference, I shall say  Anti-White , the page and folio.  White’s book was published in 1642, it is not clear when Hobbes responded, though there is evidence that it was written at least in part soon after, e.g Mersenne‘s Cogitata physico-mathematica   of 1644 refers to Hobbes’ view of ballistics. honor God. Hence those words ‘God sees, understands, wishes, acts, bring to pass’ and other similar propositions, which have only one meaning for us – ‘motion’ – display, not the Divine Nature, but our own piety.” 3 Te statement accommodates knowing God in the fundamental, though sole respect of existence. One might immediately discard that statement as rhetorical despite its clarity because “rationalists” living among religious powers inclined to social obeisance, while hiding their real positions in the complexity of argumentation: the Leo Strauss approach to Hobbes’ age. Indeed, Hobbes’ use of the words ‘personally’ and ‘incline’ seem something of a modification of Hobbes’ usual declar-ative style. Tis is a subtle and ambiguous matter, but what is without doubt is the Epicurean emphasis, that is made of God as Creator of natural law, that the divine does not intercede (directly) in human affairs. Tus, by a rhetorical rather than a necessary implication, – if one considers miracles as a direct supernatural act, – the physical motions of human images of God are divinely ordered in nature. Like Maimonides, Hobbes holds that God is beyond any image that human beings have and this stress on the limits of the human condi-tion; Hobbes’ arguments to assert the cognitive limit of human being in the conceptions of space, time and things, precedes Kant’s critical philosophy. From an Aristotelian orientation, Maimonides, like Hobbes from an Epicurean orientation, believes there is not a logical contradic-tion in the concept of the existence of God outside of nature. For both, “science” does not have the ability to demonstrate the eternity of the  world a parte ante   nor to refute its continuance a parte post   . However, unlike Hobbes, Maimonides has a developed theory of prophecy in a natural mode of understanding God’s will. Te notion of God’s will and the notion of the inability to understand God’s nature is at a ten-sion Hobbes avoids, partially because the Aristotelian physics of   M. A. Bertman / Hobbes Studies 20 (2007) 40–62 43 Maimonide’s argument, underlying prophetic intelligence knowing God’s will, is obsolete for the new physics. 4 Having attended to Hobbes’ person statement at the end of Chapter 35 of his response to White’s third dialogue let us return to Chapter 26,  which deals with the question “Does God exist?” in its relation to “Was the world created?” Here, in examining White’s putative demonstration of God’s existence and creation of the world, Hobbes delineates his own (nominal) method. His principle is truth is a matter of words not of things; thus, Hobbes finds demonstration to be of propositions where subject and predicate provide “demonstration is taken as the name, not of what exists, but of one supposed to exist. A conclusion, therefore, has the force that is not categorical, but is merely hypothetical.” 5 He con-tinues, bring the methodological point forward, “Nothing may be true or false by natural reason, except on supposition, because terms or names are acceptable insofar as we understand them: every reasoning process advances when the meaning of the terms have been already set-tled.” 6 From this viewpoint, Hobbes separates philosophy and theology,  writing in de Corpore   : “deduced from the very definition of philosophy, the function of which is to investigate either the properties from gener-ation or the generation from the properties; therefore where there is no generation or no properties, then no philosophy can be known. Tus, philosophy excludes from itself theology, as I call the doctrine about the nature and attributes of the eternal, ungenerable, and incomprehensi-ble God, and in whom no composition and no division can be estab-lished and no generation can be understood.” 7 Tus, Hobbes locates fundamental generation, (other than the artificial generations of men by contractual rules like the state and games,) within the subject of physics as first philosophy or metaphysics, which is a materialist turn. Consequently, the task is to fix the name or term by one’s interest,  whether it be philosophy or theology. For natural matters the fix is by 4  Cf. the excellent, if brief, discussion of this and related subjects in Maimonides in Kenneth Seeskin,  Maimonides and the Origin of the World   (Cambridge University Press: 2005). Note page 160 on Maimonides view of miracles as dreams or visions. Tis is in concert with Hobbes’ view of the imaginative aspect of God-talk. 5    Anti-White   , p.305 [folio 287] 6  Ibid. p. 207 [folio 289] 7   Part One of de    Corpore   , Hungerland and Vick edition (Abis: 1981) p.189.
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