THOMAS HOBBES and INTELLIGENCE AS A MACHINEJune 28, 2021
In an age when law and life could be endangered, when religion and religious schism dominated, Hobbes dared to come up with a materialist philosophy from head to toe:
“The universe, which is all this heap of things that exists, is the body, that is, the body, and it has dimensions such as size, length, width, and depth.
Again, every part of the body likewise has size and dimensions. Consequently, every part of the universe is the body, and what has no body is not part of the universe. Since the universe is everything, there is no one who is not part of it; therefore, it is nowhere”.
Hobbes went on to say that the philosophers’ and theologians’ concepts such as “incorporeal substance” are self-contradictory and mean nothing. In light of all this, if we dare to ask what is Hobbes’ conception of god, Hobbes’ answer was: It is not within the capabilities of any human being to form a concept of God or of his attributes.
This was a typical strategy Hobbes followed so that freedom of speech was not compromised. While he never softened his thoughts, when asked to explain how they could be matched with the accepted views in Hobbes’ society, he gave an answer that the objectors could not deny without embarrassment.
Asking a question that left the decision to the sovereign was one of his favorite tricks; then he would argue that questions about politics and the law are just as confusing as questions about metaphysics or religion.
While claiming that only matter existed, he began to regard every moving object, including man, as a kind of machine, or rather the whole universe as a gigantic machine. Thus, besides being the founder of what might be called modern metaphysical materialism, he was the first philosopher to propose a purely mechanical view of nature.
The psychology he developed was also part of it. It was a whole new thing to look at the human mind as a machine (a soft machine, of course). But Hobbes thought that all mental processes consist of movements of matter inside a person’s skull.
Over the next three centuries, many thinkers would come up with and develop such ideas—materialism, mechanism, and pure physical psychology.
These thoughts made a huge impact. For those who are not sympathetic to these ideas, it may not be easy to appreciate the originality of Hobbes’ ideas: however, they were important because they contributed to making important strides (even if wrong in the end) in understanding oneself and one’s environment. For example, it is widely accepted today that mental processes have an indisputable physical basis, so they cannot be understood without reference to this physical level. In this way, Hobbes prevented people from thinking of the mind as a purely abstract thing.
Hobbes was fascinated by the idea of motion, especially after his visit to Galileo. In the old Aristotelian worldview, which Galileo was struggling to overthrow, it was obvious that immobility was a natural state for physical bodies.
But, according to Galileo, all physical bodies, without exception, including the earth (hence everything in the world) were in motion, and it was natural for any such body to keep moving in a straight line unless acting by an outside force.
According to his own account, Hobbes could not get the idea out of his mind; it evoked in him the idea that all reality consists of matter in motion, and this became Hobbes’ most indispensable concept.
If anything were to be removed from this view, which held the greatest weight in his eyes, it would be matter, not movement. Hobbes was called “obsessed with movement”. In his material and mechanical world, all causality took the form of repulsion; He believed that he was the one who created all the change.
Hobbes carried this idea into his psychology. He saw all psychological motivation as a kind of push, whether in the form of an ongoing push or pushback. These two aspects of motivation can be called desire and rest.
There are many forms of these: to like, to dislike; love, hate; pleasure, pain, etc. The first of these pairs are not satisfied by their nature as long as life goes on and until it ends, so they point to the infinite human needs and desires. The overwhelmingly dominant form of the other half, or rather, a more powerful and effective form of pushback than the others, is the fear of death. Death is something most of us will do our best to avoid. This fundamental view of human psychology was also carried into political philosophy by Hobbes. In the long run, the part that would have the most influence in Hobbes’ general thought would appear to be his political philosophy.
Bryan Magee; The Story of Philosophy; Friendly Bookstore