Copyright
Andrew Bisset.

Essays on historical truth online

. (page 7 of 40)
Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 7 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the possession of them in the memory were all that even
the most instructed men imagined they had any occa-
sion to desire.' ^ M. Comte has a happy illustration with
respect to the effect of algebra and the calculus now
which will help to explain the effects of the syllogism
tlien. After quoting Lagrange, as saying respecting the
general solution of algebraic equations of any degree
whatever, ' It is one of those problems whose general
solution we cannot hope for,' ^ and saying himself ' We

^ James Mill's Fragment on Mackintosh, p. 19, London, 1835.



2 Ibid. pp. 19, 20, London, 183o.



2 Comte, i. 79. I quote from Miss Martineau's translation, entitled The
Positive Philosophy of Augusta Comte, freely translated and condensed by
Harriet Martineau ; in 2 vols. London, 1853.



HOBBES. 79

must admit, however, that our actual knowledge ob-
tained under this theory (D'Alembert's principle of the
motion of a system of bodies) is extremely imperfect,
owing to insurmountable difficulties in the integrations
required,' ^ M. Comte describes as analogous the effect of
the exclusive employment of a human brain in resolving
equations and in making pins' heads. ^ If solving equations
be analogous to making pins' heads, the performance of
syllogistic gymnastics may be regarded as, if possible, an
operation still less demanding any exertion of thought :
and whatever value be attached to what Hobbes taught,
I would say of him that with regard to the mental and
pohtical sciences, in which Bacon had done nothing,
Hobbes was the firtt man for twenty centuries who dared
to think.

A striking confirmation of the justness of the term
' Aristotelity,' ^ applied by Hobbes to describe the philo-
sophy of the beginning of the seventeenth century, is
furnished by the fact, that when Scheiner the Jesuit —
one of those, Galileo being another, who were the first to
observe the solar spots* — communicated, as he was bound
to do, his discovery to the Provincial of the order of
Jesuits, that functionary refused to believe in the solar
spots, and even to look through Scheiner's telescope at

1 Comte, i. 131. • Ihkl. ii. 144.

' * Since the authority of Aristotle is only current there, that study [viz.
of philosophy in the schools] is not properly philosophy (the nature whereof
dependeth not on authors), but Aristotelity.' — Iluhbes's Leviathan, part iv.
chap. xlvi. p. 370.

* It appears that Thomas Harriot had discovered the solar spots before
any mention had been made of them by Galileo, Scheiner, or Phrysius ;
also that the satellites of Jupiter were observed by Harriot, January 16,
1610, although their first discovery is generally attributed to Galileo, -who
states that he had observed them on the 7th of that month. — Penny Cijclo-
pcedia, art. 'Harriot, Thomas.'



80 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

them, saying that lie had read Aristotle's writings from
end to end many times, and had nowhere found in them
anything like what Scheiner mentioned, and that the
appearances he took for spots were the faults of his
glasses or of his eyes, if not the effect of a disordered
imacrination. When such was the condition of the
human mind, it is not surprising that a man like Hobbes,
who looked at nature through his own eyes and not
through those of Aristotle, should say, as Aubrey has
reported, * that if he had read as much as other men, he
should have continued still as ignorant as other men.' ^
Neither is it surprising that Hobbes should have in-
curred the charge of arrogance by the boldness with
which he refused to subject his mind to the dominion
of Aristotle and of Catholicism ; for, as Hobbes says, the
study of his philosophy in the schools ' had no otherwise
place than as a handmaid to the Koman religion.' ^

Hobbes has been in recent times most ably defended
from this charge of arrogance by a writer who resembles
him in some of the best features of his writing, in the
clearness, conciseness, and simphcity of the style, and
in the boldness and originality of the tone of thought.
' The mind of Hobbes,' says the writer referred to, ' was
a mind of perfect simplicity and truth. What was his
thought he set down as his thought, directly and clearly.^



' Aubrey's Lives, vol. ii. p. 621, London, 1813.

" Leviathan, part iv. chap. xlvi. p. 370.

' Hobbes has thus modestly expressed his own opinion of his style : —

* There is nothing I distrust more than my elocution, which nevertheless I
am confident (excepting the mischances of tlie press) is not obscure.' —
Leviathan, p. 394. Among the reasons Hobbes there gives for having

* neglected the ornament of quoting ancient poets, orators, and philosophers,
contrary to the custom of late time,' are these : — ' Such opinions as are taken
only upon credit of antiquity, are not intrinsically the judgment of those that



nOBBES. 81

. . . Tlie man who louks at opinions through the reasons
of them, when he arrives at a truth which lie sees to
be founded on evidence, and pubhshes because he
beheves it important, is not for that reason arrogant ; he
is only public-spirited and brave. . . . The spirit of
simplicity and sincerity with which a great mind delivers
its thoughts to others in the very shape in which it holds
them, without the affectation of a thousand apologies
for the im})udence of differing a hair's breadth from
those who had never thought upon the subject, is charged
uj)()n Ilobbes as the arrogance of one who despises
mankind. It is clear and conclusive evidence of the
contrary.' ^

Hobbes has stated, at the end of the fifth chapter of
his ' Treatise of Human Nature,' the view he took of the
most urgent intellectual wants of his time, and of the best
mode of supplying those wants.

* As the invention of names hatli been necessary for
drawing men out of ignorance, by calling to their re-
membrance the necessary coherence of one conception to
another, so also hath it on the other side precipitated
men into errour, insomuch, that whereas, by the benefit of
words and ratiocination tliey exceed brute beasts in

cite them, but words that pass (like g-aping) from month to mouth. It is
many times with a fraudulent design that men stick their corrupt doctrine
with the cloves of other men's wit. I find not that the ancients they cite
took it for an ornament, to do the like with those that wrote before them.
It is an argument of indigestion «'hen Greek and Latin sentences unchewed
come up again, as they use to do, unchanged. Lasth% though I reverence
those men of ancient time, that either have written truth perspicuously, or
set us in any better way to find it out ourselves ; yet to the antiquitv itself I
think nothing due, for if we will reverence the age, the present is the oldest.
... If it be well considered, the praise of ancient authors proceeds not
from the reverence of the dead, but from the competition and mutual envy
of the living.' — Leviaf/iav, pp. .'iiU, .''0.").

' James Mill's Fragment on Mackintosh, pp. 27, 31, 32, 33.

G



82 USSAYS ox HISTORICAL TRUTH.

knowledge, and the commodities that accompany the.
same, so they exceed them also in errour, for true and
false are things not incident to beasts, because they
adhere not to propositions and language, nor have they
ratiocination, whereby to multiply one untruth by another,
as men have.^

' It is the nature almost of every corporal thing, being
often moved in one and the same manner, to receive
continually a greater and greater easiness and aptitude
to the same motion, insomuch as in time the same
becometh so habitual, that, to beget it, there needs no
more than to begin it. The passions of men, as they are
the beginning of voluntary motions, so are they the
begimiing of speech, which is the motion of the tongue.
And men desiring to show others the knowledge,
opinions, conceptions, and passions which are in them-
selves, and to that end having invented language, have
by that means transferred all that discursion of their
mind mentioned in the former chapter, by the motion of
their tongues into discourse of words, and ratio now is
but oratio, for the most part, wherein custom hath so great
a power, that the mind suggesteth only the first word ;
the rest follow habitually, and are not followed by the
mind, as it is with beggars when they say their Pater-
noster ; putting together such words and in such

^ In the Leviathan, published about ten years after the Treatise of
Human Mature, Hobbes has expanded what is liere said of names or lan-
guage, and uses the woixis often quoted : — ' As men abound in copiousness of
lano-uao-e, so they become more wise or more mad than ordinary. Nor is it
possible without letters for any man to become either excellently wise or
(unless his memory be hurt by disease, or ill constitution of organs) excel-
lently foolish. For words are wise men's counters ; they do but reckon by
them ; but they are the money of fools that value them by the authority of
an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other Doctor whatsoever, if but
a man.' — Leviathan, part i. chap. iv. p. 15.



noBBEs. 83

manner as in tlieir education tlicy liave learned from
their nurses, from tlieir companies, or from their teachers,
having no images or conceptions in their mind answering
to the words they speak ; and as they have learned
themselves, so they teach posterity. Now, if we consider
the power of those deceptions of the sense, mentioned
chap. 11. section 10, and also how unconstantly names have
been settled, and how subject they are to equivocation,
and how diversified by passion (scarce two men agreeing
what is to be called good and what evil, what liberality,
what prodigality, what valour, what temerity), and how
subject men are to paralogism or fallacy in reasoning,
I may in a manner conclude that it is impossible to
rectify so many errors of any one man, as must needs
proceed from those causes, without beginning anew from
the very first grounds of all our knowledge and sense ;
and instead of books reading over orderly one's own con-
ceptions, in which meaning I take Nosce teipsum for a
precept worthy the reputation it hath gotten.'^

The second chapter of Ilobbes's ' Human Nature ' seems
to contain the germ of all that is now established respect-
ing our knowledge of the external world. In the second
section of the fourth chapter of his ' Human Nature '
Hobbes explained for the first time ' the cause of co-
herence of thouglits,' or of the association of ideas, a
name which has been commonly used since the time of
Locke ; thougli Locke only noticed the accidental rather
than the general phenomena of the sequence in the train
of ideas. The subject was carried farther than Hobbes
had carried it by Hume, by Hartley, and by James Mill,

' Hobbes has repeated the substance of this passage in the introduction
to the Leviathan.

& 2



84 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

who applied the analysis to the more complex phenomena,
which Hartley had not succeeded in explaining.

The justness of James Mill's remark, that ' Hobbes is a
great name in philosophy,' appears, when we consider
not only how much Hobbes did, but the ' benumbed and
torpid state of the human mind ' when he began his
labours. If there had been a succession of such minds as
Hobbes's, mental philosophy would have been in a very
different state from that in which it is. It may be men-
tioned that the latest investigators of psychological science
bear witness to the sagacity of Hobbes. Thus Mr. John
Stuart Mill says, ' That all knowledge is of things plural
and different ; that a thing is only known to us by being
known as different from something else, is one of the
profound psychological observations which the world
owes to Hobbes.' ^

The two great discoveries of Hobbes, the association
of ideas, that is, that the order of the ideas follows the
order of the sensations, and the exposure of the ' entities '
and ' essences' of the ancient philosophers, justly entitle
Hobbes to the character James Mill has bestowed on
him, namely, of a man ' who saw so much further into
the texture of human thought tlian all who had gone
before him.'^ In his essay on education James Mill has
given a succinct but clear account of Hobbes's discovery ;
and he has shown that of the three laws of association of
ideas pointed out by Hume — resemblance, contiguity in
time and place, and cause and effect — the last, the se-
quence according to cause and effect, was very distinctly
conceived, and even the cause of it explained by Hobbes.

' Mr. .T. S. Mill's Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy,
p. 61, 3rd edition, London, 1867.
'^ James Mill's Essay on Education.



HOBBES. 85

And in another of lii.s works James Mill has an impor-
tant remark in connection with Hobbes as the founder of
the analytical school of mental philosophy. ' It is also
but fair,' he says, 'to Ilobbes to remember that, tliough
he was the first to descry the instrument of analysis, he
made but little progress in the use of it, and rather
divined the results than traced them.' ^

What Hobbes has done on the subject of ' essences '
and ' entities ' is so important and so little known, that I
will transcribe the passage : —

' Now to descend to the particular tenets of vain phi-
losophy derived to the imiversities, and thence into the
Church, partly from Aristotle, partly from blindness of
understanding, I shall first consider their principles.'
Hobbes then, after a sentence about what he calls phi-
losophia prima^ proceeds to say that the explication of
certain terms ' is commonly in the schools called meta-
physics^ as being a part of the philosophy of Aristotle,
which hath that for title : but it is in another sense ; for
there (that is in the works of Aristotle) it signifieth as
much, as books written or placed after his natural philoso-
phy.'^ But the schools take them for books of super-
natural philosophy : for the word metaphysics will bear
both these senses. And, indeed, that which is there
written is, for the most part, so far from the possibility of
being understood, and so repugnant to natural reason,
that whosoever thinketh there is anything to be under-
stood by it must needs think it supernatural. From
these metaphysics, which are mingled with the Scripture
to make school divinity, we are told, there be in the

* James Mill's Fragment on Mackintosh, p. 48.

' The italics in this quotation are all copied from the original.



86 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

world certain essences separated from bodies, which they
call abstract essences and snhstantial forms : for the in-
terpreting of which jargon there is need of somewhat
more than ordinary attention in this place. ... To know
upon what grounds they say there be essences abstract or
substantial forms, we are to consider what those words
do properly signify. The use of words is to register to
ourselves, and make manifest to others, the thoughts and
conceptions of our minds. Of which words some are the
names of the things conceived ; as the names of all sorts
of bodies, that work upon the senses, and leave an im-
pression in the imagination. Others are the names of the
impressions in the imagination themselves ; that is to say,
of those ideas or mental images we have of all things we
see or remember. And others, again, are names of
names ; ^ or different sorts of speech : as universal^
■plural, singular, are the names of names ; and definition,
affirmation, negation, true, false, syllogism, interrogation^
promise, covenant, are the names of certain forms of
speech. Others serve to show the consequence or repug-
nance of one name to another ; as when one saith, a man
is a body., he intendeth that the name of body is neces-
sarily consequent to the name of man, as being but
several names of the same thing, man ; which conse-
quence is signified by coupling them together with the
word is. And as we use the verb Is, so the Latins use the

^ Compare with this the section on ' Names of Names ' in James Mill's
Analysis, vol. ii. pp. 3-5.

^ ' It is very easy to see that the word " universal," for example, is not a
name of a thmf/. Things are all individual, not general. The name " man "
is a " universal," because it applies to every individual of a class ; for the same
reason the nartie "ox," the name " horse," the name "■ dog," and so on, are
universals.' — Miir» Anah/sis, ii. 4.



HOliliES. 87

verb Est^ and the Greeks eTTl through all its (IccHiiations.
Wliether all other nations of the world have in their
several languages a word that answereth to it or not I
cannot tell ; but I am sure they have not need of it : for
the placing of two names in order may serve to signify
their consequence, if it were the custom (for custom is it
that gives words their force), as well as the words L% or
Be^ or Are^ and the like.

' And if it were so, that there were a language ^ without
any verb answerable to Est or /<? ; yet the men that used
it would be not a jot the less capable of inferring, con-
cluding, and of all kind of reasoning, than were the
Greeks and Latins. But what, then, would become of
these terms : of Entity^ Essence^ Essential^ Essentialiti/,
that are derived from it, and of many more that depend
on these a})plied, as most commonly they are ? They are,
therefore, no names of things, but signs : by which we
make known that we conceive the consequence of one
name or attribute to another : as when we say, a man is
a living body, we mean not that the man is one thing,
the livi)ig body another, and the Is or being a third ; but
that the man and the living body are the same thing.' ^

This ambiguity of the copula which, from the verb

' Uobbes has expressed himself to the same effect in his Computatio sive
Logica, cap. 3, § 2.

2 Hobbes's Leviathan, part iv. chap. xlvi. pp. 371, 372, London, 105],
Tlobbes has treated the same subject more shortly in his Latin work entitled
Computatio sive Logica, cap. 3, § 4, where he exposes. the source whence
* origineni trahunt quorundam metaphysicorum crassi errores ' in attributing
to properties an existence sep.arate from the substance which manifests
them ; which M. Comte asserts to be ' the essential character of metaphysical
conceptions.' Ilobbes there treats the errors of some metapliysicians as
severely as M. Comte. But Hobbes, being himself a metaphysician, did not
say, as M. Comte says, that all, but only that some, metaphysicians fall into
these errors. Hobbes there says of the abuse of tlie copula : — ' Etiam con-
fusio ilia vocum averbo est derivatarum, ut cs^enfia, es!<c)Uiali/(t.Sf cntitas, citti-



88 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

denoting existence being employed lor the purpose above
described by Hobbes, has given rise to legions of entities
and essences., and, as a consequence, to a vast mass of futile
speculation, having been thus first exposed by Hobbes,
has since been more fully developed by James Mill, in
his ' Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind.' ^

It seems tolei'ably clear that if Locke had taken the
trouble to read this passage of Hobbes, it might have
saved himself the trouble of writing a good many tedious
sections of his ' Essay concerning Human Understanding,'
and the world the trouble of trying to understand those
sections. For I tliink it probable that the disgust which
would naturally be excited in Locke by the monstrous
fictions put forth by Hobbes as historical facts and the
fabric of sophistry constructed thereon as a complete
system of political philosophy, would deter Locke from
examining with due care Hobbes's mental philosophy, and
perhaps from even once reading it.

No one can carefully compare the passages I liave
quoted from Hobbes and the passages in James Mill's
' Analysis ' to which I have referred, with M. Comte's talk
about the ' inquisition into the essence of things always
characterizing the infancy of the human mind ; ' and
about ' the essential character of metaphysical conceptions
being to attri])ute to properties an existence separate from
the substance which manifests them,' without seeing that
M. Comte does not well know what he means either by
' the infancy of the human mind,' or by ' metaphysical con-

tatiman, et realitas, aliqnidditas, quiddita^, qure apud gentes quibus copulatio
non fit per verbum est, sed per verba adjectiva ut currit, lef]it, &c., vel per
meram nominum ci)llocationem audiri non potuissent, quibus tamen genti-
bus, cum pbilosophari ut cseterse possunt, non sunt necessariae ese voces,
essentia, entitas, omnisque ilia barbaries ad philosophiam.'
1 Vol. i. pp. 126-1.30, 1st edition, London, 1829.



IIOIiBKS. 89

ceplioiis.' Iduiiut think tliiil tliu liuinaii mi lul can be accu-
rately said to have been in its infancy, as it was represented
by the minds of Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle
fell into many errors from overlooking this double meaning
of the words to he. Whether that arose from their know-
ing no language but their own may perhaps be doubted,
when we take into consideration the sagacious remark of
Hobbes quoted above : 'Whether all other nations have
a word that answereth to it, or not, I cannot tell, ])ut I
am sure they have no need of it, for the placing of two
names in order may serve to signify their consequence.'^
Yet to talk of the infancy of the human mind in connec-
tion with Plato and Aristotle is as if the stoker of a
modern steam-engine were to talk of Archimedes as an
intellectual infant when compared to himself. ' The fog,'
to borrow the words of a great thinker, ' which rose from
this narrow spot ' [the words to be\ ' difliised itself at an
early period over the whole surface of metaphysics. Yet
it becomes us not to triumph over the gigantic intellects
of Plato and Aristotle because we are now able to preserve
ourselves from many errors into which they, perhaps
inevitably, fell.'



> 2



' Leviathan, part iv. chap. xlvi. p. 372, London, lOol.

" J. S. Mill's Logic, vol. i. p. 104, 1st edition, London, 184.3. From the
words used by Mr. J. S. Mill in the following page, ' The quantity of futile
speculation which had been caused by a misapprehension of the nature of
the copula was hinted at by llobbes,' it might be inferred that Mr. Mill
was thinking of llobbes's Logic, where he has treated the subject much more
shortly than in the fourth part of his Leviathan. What Hobbes says in the
Leviathan amounts to something very much more than a hint. It seems
probable enough that Locke had not read Hobbes. But without charging
Locke with having been 'an unworthy plagiarist,' and even admitting
that his speculations appear to have been wrought out from the materials of
his own mind, I tlunk that llobbes's oxpo.'sition of the vast amount of con-
fusion caused by the misapprehension of the copula may go far to counter-
balance his erroneous or imperfect view of propositions. — See /. «S. MilCs



UU JSaSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

I will give one more passage from Ilobbes, to show to
what use he applied his analysis of those ' entities ' of the
old philosophers which M. Comte calls ' metaphysical
Conceptions,' and treats as if they constituted the science
of modern metaphysics ; whereas that science really is the
science of mental anatomy — a science of which M. Comte
knows nothing, and would substitute for it the so-called
science of phrenology.

' But to what purpose (may some man say) is such
subtilty in a work of this nature ' [his Leviathan], ' where
I pretend to nothing but what is necessary to the doctrine
of government and obedience ? It is to this purpose :
that men may no longer suffer themselves to be abused
by them, that by this doctrine of separated essences,^
built on the vain philosophy of Aristotle, would fright
them from obeying the laws of their country, with empty
names ; as men fright birds from the corn with an empty
doublet, a hat, and a crooked stick. For it is upon this
ground, that when a man is dead and buried, they say his
soul (that is his life) can walk separated from his body,
and is seen by night amongst the graves. Upon the same
ground they say, that the figure and colour and taste of a
piece of bread has a being, there, where they say there is

Logic, book i. chaps, v. and vi. Mr. J, S. Mill says (Logic, i. 154, 1st ed.),
' Nor is anything wanting to render the third book of Locke's essay a
nearly perfect treatise on the connotation of names, except to free its lan-
guage from the assumption of what are called abstract ideas, which unfor-
tunately is involved in the phraseology, although not necessarily connected
with the thoughts, contained in that immortal Third Book.' But the term



Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 7 of 40)