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'abstract ideas' is so inextricably mixed up with the phraseology as to
render Locke's essay almost useless now as a text-book in mental science.
Moreover, while Locke's candour, simplicity, earnestness, and devotion to
truth, are entitled to the respect of all who value truth, his style certainly
does not possess that combination of simplicity, compactness, and perspicuity,
which forms the charm of Ilobbes's style.
' The italics are in the original.



JIOJiJiKS. \) 1

no bread. And upon tlie same ground they say, that
faith and wisdom, and other virtues, are sometimes
poured into a man, sometimes bloivn into him from
heaven, as if tlie virtuous and their virtues could be
asunder; and a great many other things that serve to
lessen the dependence of subjects on the sovereign power
of their country. For who will endeavour to obey the
laws, if he expect obedience to be poured or blown into
him? Or who will not obey a priest that can make a
God, rather than his sovereign, nay than God himself.^
Or who, that is in fear of ghosts, will not bear a great
respect to those that can make the holy water that drives
them from him ? And this shall suffice for an example of
the errors, which are brought into the Church, from the
entities and essences of Aristotle ; which it may be he
knew to be false philosophy, but writ it as a thing conso-
nant to, and corroborative of, their religion, and fearing
the fate of Socrates.' ^

Although Hobbes's political philosophy exhibits such a
tissue of sophistry, no man ever possessed a greater power
than Hobbes of breaking through and exposing the
sophistry of others. Of this power of Hobbes one example
is his solution of the celebrated logical puzzle of Achilles
and the tortoise, a puzzle first propounded by Zeno, which,
observes Mr. J. S. Mill,''^ ' has been too hard for the
ingenuity or patience of many philosophers, and which no
less a thinker than Sir William Hamilton considered as
insoluble ; as a sound argument, though leading to a pal-
pable falsehood. The fallacy, as Hobbes hinted, lies in
the tacit assumption that whatever is infinitely divisible

* Hobbes's Leviathan, part iv. chap. xlvi. pp. ^72, 373, London, lOoL See
also Leviathan, p. -W, a? to the consequences of bnnirin<^ the pliilosopliy of
Aristotle into veligiou. - Logic, vol. ii. p. 303, 7th ediliou.



92 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TliUTH.

is infinite.' Mr. J. S. Mill then gives a solution (to the
invention of which he says he has no claim) which shows
that the argument proves no other infinity of duration of
the time it will take Achilles to overtake the tortoise tlian
may be embraced within five minutes, ' As long,' conti-
nues Mr. Mill/ ' as the five minutes are not expired, what
remains of them may be divided by ten, and again by ten,
as often as we like, which is perfectly compatible with
there being only five minutes altogether. It proves, in
short, that to pass through this finite space requires a time
which is infinitely divisible, but not an infinite time ; the
confounding of wliich distinction Hobbes^ had already
seen to be the gist of the fallacy.'

M. Comte admits the power of Hobbes as a thinker,
though, as will be seen, he had a very inadequate
knowledge of Hobbes's writings. ' We are thus obliged,'
says M. Comte, ' to regard Hobbes as the father of the
revolutionary philosophy. We shall hereafter find that
he held a much higher position than this, as one of the
chief precursors of the true positive polity.' ^ M. Comte

^ Logic vol. ii. p. 394, seventh edition.

' Hobbes says : — * Illud Zenonis celebre argumentum contra motum in-
nitebatur huic propositioni, quicquid dioidi potest in partes numero injinitas
est injinitum, quam ille procul dubio censuit esse veram, tanien falsa est ;
nam dividi posse in partes infinitas nihil aliud est quam dividi posse in partes
quotcunque quis velit. Necesse autem non est, ut linea, etsi possera ipsam
dividere et subdividere quoties voluero, propter earn causara dicatur infinita
esse.' — Hobbes' Computatio sive Lo(jica, cap. v. § 13. See also Hobbes's
Philosophia Prima, cap. vii. §§ 12, 13. Many years ago, and long before I
had read Hobbes, this puzzle was first mentioned to me by a friend who,
though he had been second wrangler, could not solve it. I gave a solution of
it, which as far as [ recollect was similar to Hobbes's, and which my friend
said was due to my being something of a metaphysician, which he was not,
though a vastlv superior mathematician to me. I mention this because it
may perhaps have some bearing on a subject which has often occupied my
thoughts— the relation of metaphysics to mathematics — a relation which is
referred to in several of these essays.

» Comte, ii. 350.



IIOBBES. 03

of course objects to Ilobbes's ' subordination of the
spiritual to the teni])()ral power.' ^ He speaks of Voltaire
as ' the chief of his philosopliical successors,' and then
says, with characteristic ignorance of historical facts, ' In
regard to Hobbes, it seems to me remarkable that not-
withstanding his national predilection for aristocracy
rather than royalty^ he sliould have chosen monarchical
power for the single centre of his political scheme.' ^ M.
Comte further says, in the same page, ' My impression is
that, in the first place, Hobbes was aware that the
monarchical dictatorsliip was better adopted than the
aristocratic to facilitate the necessary decay of the old
system, and the development of new social elements ; and
that, in the second place, he was instinctively aware that
his doctrine, far from being specially English, mustmeetwith
its completest reception and development among nations
in which royalty was the form of political concentration,
instances of insight and foresight to which I believe the
sagacity of the illustrious philosopher to be fully
adequate.' Where did M. Comte find evidence of
Ilobbes's ' national predilection for aristocracy rather
than royalty ' ? Nowhere. In Hobbes's time aristocracy
was extinct in England, and did not again arise till
royalty had been thoroughly humbled by tiie Long
Parliament, which Hobbes feared and hated.

M. Comte then gives the following account — on which
and the preceding extracts it will be necessary to make
some remarks— of the relation of what he calls tlie
school of Hobbes to that of Voltaire, or, as he expresses
it, of the tliinkers to the writers — a distinction which seems
to be well indicated in the expression of D'Alembert,

1 Comte, ii. 352. ^ j/^^^/ jj 335^



94 JESS AYS ON HISTORICAL T HUT 11.

who is not placed by the French in the first rank as regards
style. ' Let us find out the thing,' said D'Alembert ;
' there will be plenty of people to put it into shape.'
However, though it may be quite true that, in the trans-
mission of a doctrine from the thinkers to the writers
who were to popularize it, the title of philosopher must
be lowered before it can be applied to the latter, to
whom the art of expression is more important than the
power of thinking ; at the same time, when we recall to
mind the character given to Hobbes's philosophical style
by James Mill,^ we seem to be led to the conclusion that
it is possible for a great thinker to be also a better
writer, at least a better expositor of his own thoughts,
than even the most accomplished of those masters of the
art of expression in whose minds ' the combination of
secondary intellectual qualities presents so largely the
appearance of strength and genius.' M. Comte says : —

' We thus see how the way was cleared for the propa-
gation of the negative doctrine ; for its transmission from
the pure thinkers to the authors who were to popularize
it. We may discern how the title of philosopher had
been lowered before it could be applied to these last, to
whom the art of expression was more important than the
power of thinking ; but the intellectual and social need of
their office assigns a place in history to the most important
of their class, with Voltaire at their head, the singularly
admirable combination of secondary intellectual qualities
in his mind presenting so largely the appearance of
strength and genius. In its passage from the thinkers to
the writers, the negative philosophy assumed a weaker

' Frajnnent on Mackintosli, pp. .32, .3-3. James Mill's words characterising'
II obbes's philosophical stj'le, will be found quoted, post, p. 98.



HOBBEii. 05

character, both in accommodation to the feebler rationality
of the new organs, and for tlie sake of the universal pro-
pagation of the movement. The school of Voltaire
brought the doctrines of Spinoza, Ilobbes, and Bayle to a
stop at deism, properly so called, wliich was sufTu-ient
for the entire destruction of the religious system, wliile it
was less alarming.' ^

I do not think that there is the slightest evidence in sup-
port of this view of Ilobbes's doctrines taken by M. Comte,
who, if he had possessed a competent knowledge of
Hobbes's writings, would hardly, I think, have styled
Hobbes ' the illustrious philosoplier.' For, though
Hobbes was so far in agreement with M. Comte in the
view he took, and was the first to take, of the theological
stage of the human mind, Hobbes's opinions of Catho-
licism were so far the reverse of M. Comte's that Hobbes's
whole life was one unending strife against the frauds of
those jugglers and impostors whom, as has been shown,
M. Comte calls ' fine theocratic natures.' Moreover,
Hobbes was quite in earnest in his support of monar-
chical power, and that rather because he thought it more
able to secure for him the personal safety which his
constitutional timidity made an object ever present to his
mind, than with any ulterior consideration of its being
better adapted to the purposes mentioned by M. Comte.
The constitutional timidity of Hobbes, notwithstanding
his great intellectual power, coloured and e\en distorted
(for he is sometimes guilty of flagrantly dishonest dealing
with evidence) his political philosophy, which docs not
appear to me to stand on the same intellectual level as
his mental philosophy. How, indeed, couhl a man who

' Comte, ii. 350.



9C ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRl Til.

trusted to the evidence of his senses and his reason as to
observed facts, atteni])t, unless misled by this defect in
his organization, to build a complete philosophy of pohtics
on fear, and to eke out tliis one maxim which he did not
find sufficient to carry him through the whole of his sub-
ject, by what Mr. J. S. Mill calls ' the double sophism of
an orisfinal contract.' ^ And how otherwise could such a
man come to the conclusion that such examples of ' patho-
logical monstrosity ' as the Stuart kings were fit rulers of
mankind ?

As I do not think that there is the slightest evidence
in support of Hobbes's predilection for aristocracy,
alleged by M. Comte ; neither do I see any ground for
the relation alleged by M. Comte, between Hobbes and
Spinoza and Bayle, or between Hobbes and Voltaire,
farther than that Hobbes was hostile to ecclesiastical ty-
ranny and to theological dogmas pretending to explain all
phenomena by supernatural agencies. There is no doubt
that Hobbes's writings gave a great blow to sacerdotal
pretensions, and were the first that did so ; and he is the
first great thinker, not only in England, but in Europe, on
the subject of mental philosophy, which, as far as he
went, he quite cleared of those ' metaphysical abstrac-
tions ' of which M. Comte speaks as still existing. In
fact M. Comte's assertion of relation between Hobbes and
Spinoza seems to show that M. Comte knew as little of
Spinoza as he did of Hobbes. There was a fundamental
distinction between the philosophy of Hobbes and the
philosophy of the school to which Spinoza belonged. For
Hobbes's philosophy was not vitiated by the a priori
fallacies which ' pervade the philosophy not only of

' Mill's Logic, ii. 552, 1st edition.



noBBES. 97

Descartes, but of all the thinkers who received their
impulse mahily from him, in particular the two most re-
markable among them, Leibnitz and Spinoza, from whom
the modern German metaphysical philosophy is essen-
tially an emanation.' ^

It would be easy to give passages from IIol)ljes's
writings to sliow that Hobbes knew at least as well as
M. Comte the diflcrent stages in tlie history of the
human mind, thougli he had not the presumption to
style the conclusions he had himself arrived at ' llobbes's
Positive Philosophy.' Hobbes says : —

' From this ignorance of how to distinguish dreams
and other strong fancies, from vision and sense, did arise
the greatest part of the religion of the gentiles in time
past, that worshipped satyrs, fawns, nymphs, and the
like ; and now-a-days the opinion that rude peoi)]e have
of fairies, ghosts, and goblins. As for fairies and walking
ghosts, the opinion of them has I tliink been on purpose
either taught or not confuted, to keep in credit tlie use
of exorcism, of crosses, of holy water, and other such
inventions of ghostly men.' ^

The third part of Hobbes's ' Leviathan ' is entitled ' Of
a Christian Commonwealth ; ' and the fourth and last part
' Of the Kingdom of Darkness.' In this last part Hobbes
came to a very different conclusion from that of M. Comte,
that ' the aptitude of Catholicism for philosophy is as
remarkable as it is ill-appreciated.'^ For Hobbes comes
to the conclusion that the Ptomish hiearchy is ' the king-
dom of darkness ; ' and that ' the spiritual power of the

^ J. S. INIill's Logic, vol. ii. p. 356, 1st edition, London, 1843 j vol. ii.
p. 310, 7tli edition, Loudon, 1808.
^ Hobbes's Leviathan, part i. cbap. ii. p. 7, London, folio, lOol.
3 Comte, ii. 295.

H



98 ASSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

bishop of Eomc, who had gotten to be acknowledged for
Bishop Universal or Pope, by pretence of succession to St.
Peter, was based upon false miracles, false traditions, and
false interpretations of the Scripture.'^ And Hobbes uses
these remarkable words, which, as has been observed, have
been often quoted, and cannot be quoted too often : —
' And if a man consider the original of this great eccle-
siastical dominion, he Avill easily perceive that the Papacy
is no other than the Ghost of the deceased Eoman Empire,
sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.'^

The power which Hobbes possessed in a pre-eminent
degree of engravino; his words on the minds of others ren-
dered him a most formidable adversary, and explains the
intense hatred borne him by the Eomish priesthood, and
by that part of the Eeformed priesthood which in tyran-
nical pretensions came nearest to the Eomish. It would
appear, from the following passage of Aubrey, that the
latter, who so persistently calumniated him when dead,
would fain have burned him when living. ' There was
a report (and surely true) that in Parliament, not long
after the king was settled, some of the bishops made a
motion, to have the good old gentleman burned for a
heretique ; which he hearing, feared that his papers might
be searched by their order, and he told me that he had
burned part of them.' ^

The opinion commonly entertained that Hobbes was
the enemy of religion was the work of tliose whose frauds
he exposed with such weight of reason and such power of
expression, in language which has been described by
a great authority as ' the very perfection of the philoso-

1 Leviathan, part iv. chap, xlvii. pp. .380, 387.

2 Leviathan, part iv, chap, xlvii. p. 38G. ^ Aubrey's Lives, vol. ii. p. G12.



HOBBES. 99

pliical style, the utmost degree of simplicity, compactness,
and perspicuity, coml)ined, tiie purest transcript of thought
which words seem capable of l)eing rendered.' ^ Tlie result
was, that those whom he had so powerfully attacked
charged him, according to their usage from the beginning
of time, with atheism. ' Of positive atheism ; of mere scep-
ticism concerning the existence of the Deity ; or of, what is
more impious and mischievous than either, a religion im-
puting to the Deity human inhrmities and vices, there is not,
I believe, in any of his writings, the shadow of a shade.' ^
There was a certain resemblance in the fate of Hobbes
to that of his friend Galileo, in so far as they both fell
under the hatred of the same powerfid body of men.
Aubrey says : — ' When he [Hobbes] was at Florence, he
contracted a friendship with the famous Galileo Gahlei,
whom he extremely venerated and magnified ; not only
as he was a prodigious wit, but from his sweetness of
nature and manners. They pretty well resembled one
another. They were not much unlike in the countenance,
as by their pictures may appear. They were both cheer-

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

"^ See the long note on Ilobbes in Austin's Province of Jurisprudence De-
termined, p. 296, et seq., London, John Murray, 1832. Many examples
might be given from Ilobbes's works of the opinions whicli excited against
him the odium theoloyiciuii. The following passage shows Ilobbes neither
in the character of an ' atheist ' or of an ' infidel,' but only as au enemy of
ecclesiastical ambition and rapacity. * 'Tis one article only, which to die for
nieriteth so honourable a name [that of " a martyr of Christ "], and that
article is tliis : that Jesus is the Christ ; that is to say. He that hath redeemed
ua, and shall come again to give us salvation and eternal life in his glorious
kingdom. To die for every tenet that serveth the ambition, or profit of tho
clergy, is not required.' — Leviathan, part iii. chap. xlii. p. 272, London, 1G5L
And as to the charge of atheism, Aubrey says : — ' For his being branded
with atheism, his writings and virtuous life testify against it. And that he
was a Christian is clear, for he received the sacrament ; and in his confession
to r>r. Cosins on his (as he thought) death-bed, declared that he liked the
religion of tlie Church of England best of all other.' — Auhyeys Lives, vol. ii.
pp. 024, G25.



100 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

fill and nielaucliolique-sanguine ; and liad both a consi-
militie of fote, to be bated and persecuted by the
ecclesiastiqiies.'^ Aubrey further says, in a note in the
same page : — ' I have heard Mr. Edm. Waller say that
W. Lord Marquis of Newcastle was a great patron
to Dr. Gassendi and M. Des Cartes, as well as to Mr.
Hobbes, and that he hath dined with them all three at the
marquis's table at Paris. Mr. Hobbes was wont to say,
that had M. Des Cartes (for whom he had a high respect)
kept himself to geometric, he had been the best geometer
in the world ; but he could not pardon him for his
writing in defence of transubstantiation, which he knew
was absolutely against his conscience ; which was done
merely to put a compliment on (flatter) the Jesuits.'^

1 Aubrey's Lives, vol. ii. p. G26, London, 1813.

- Aubrey's Lives, vol. ii. p. 626, note, London, 1813. To show the title of
Aubrey to be regarded as a credible witness in regard to the particulars he
has recorded respecting Hobbes, I will quote the first three sentences of his
introduction to his ' Life of Mr. Thomas Hobbes, of Malmesburie : ' — ' 'Tis
religion to perform the will of the dead. I therefore discharge my pro-
mise, performing the last office to my honoured friend Mr. T. H. Since
nobody knew so many particulars of his life as myself, he desired that if I
survived him it should be handed to posterity by my hands, which I declare
and avow to do ingenuously and impartially.' — Aiibret/s Lives, vol. ii. p. 593.
Aubrey's Life of Hobbes occupies from p. 593 to the end, i.e. to p. 637 of
vol. ii. of the publication usually cited as Aubrey's Letters and Lives, though
that is an inconect description. For the letters are those of various eminent
persons in the 17th and 18th centuries, and have nothing to connect them
with John Aubrey, the Pepys or Boswell of his time, whom Anthony a
Wood, with small gratitude for what he owed to him, describes as ' a shift-
less person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than
erased.' The lives were, says the editor, ' originally designed as memoranda
for the use of Anthony a Wood, when composing his Athense Oxonienses,
and are now submitted to the public as literary curiosities. That they pos-
sess a claim to this title will readily be allowed, since there is scarcely a life
without some anecdote hitherto uupubli.shed ; and the author's description
of the personal appearance and domestic habits of most of the individuals of
whom he writes is singularly interesting. As the lives occupy a much
o-reater space in print than tlie editor expected, it was found necessary to
divide the second voliune into two parts.' Both the letters and the lives are



UOBBES. 101

Hol)bcs's opinion of Descarte?, tliat ' had he kept him-
self to geometry, lie had been the best geometer in the
world,' is in accordance with the i:haracter uf Descartes'
mind, quoted in the preceding essay from Mr. J. S. Mill,
and shows that Hobbes had a just appreciation of Descartes.
But Hobbes had not so just an appreciation of lumself.
As Descartes was an example of the mathematical type
of mind, so Hobbes was an example of the metapliysical
type. As good mathematicians are, like Descartes, apt
to be bad metaphysicians, good metaphysicians are apt
to be bad mathematicians. Hobbes, who dispelled hosts of
phantasies, gained no honour by his controversy with
Wallis, the mathematical professor at Oxford, to whose
writings Newton has been considered to have been more
indebted than to those of Descartes. There is evidence
in their writings that neither Wallis nor Newton could
have dispelled the phantasies that were dispelled by
Hobbes ; and there is evidence that Hobl)es was far
enouirh from discoverino; the law of gravitation that was
discovered by Newton. '

stated on the title-page to be 'now first published from the originals in
the Bodleian I^ibrary and Ashmolean Museum.' In a letter to Aubrey,
dated Qu. Coll. Oxen. May 16, 169.3, the writer, Thomas Tanner, after-
wards bishop of St. Asaph, thas expresses his opinion of Wood's treat-
ment of Aubrey : — ' I shall scorn to be like Ant. Wood, viz. make use of
your papers and acquaintance, and at last not afford you a good word; your
entire originalls shall be deposited hereafter in the Museum according to your
desire, that posterity may see how just we have been to the memory of your
pains.' — Vol. ii. p. 1G6.

^ The apology for himself and his writings in the Dedication to the King
prefixed to Ilobbes's Philosophical Problems, of which chapter i. is headed
* Problems of Gravity,' and chapter ii. ' Problems of Tides,' might lead to the
surmise that Hobbes applied his mind to physical science rather because it
was a safe pursuit as compared with mental and political science, than be-
cause he felt in himself any particular aptitude for it. Berkeley, who was
more of a mathematician than any other metaphysician of equal power, has
some observations in The Analyst, with reference to a distinction b<_'tweeu
comindinij and thinhinij^ which seems to lie at the bottom of the question be-



102 USSATS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

About half a century after the time when Hobbes and
Descartes met at Paris at the table of the Marquis of
Newcastle, a meeting took place at Paris between a re-
presentative of Descartes' school of metaphysics and a
metaphysician who, though he would have protested most
vehemently against being considered as belonging to
Hobbes's school of metaphysics, differed as much from
Descartes in metaphysics as Hobbes. When Berkeley was
in Paris in 1715, he paid a visit to Malebranche, whom
he found in his cell, cooking in a small pipkin a medicine
for an inflammation of the lungs from which he suffered.
A disputation between the two philosophers took place,
in the heat of which Malebranche raised his voice so high
that he brought on a violent increase of his disorder,
which carried him off a few days after. ^

tween metapliysics and mathematics. Berkeley calls ordinary mathema-
ticians, as distinguished from such mathematicians as Newton, who was a
philosopher as well as a mathematician, ' men accustomed rather to compute
than to think:— Berkeley/ s Works, vol. ii. pp. 412,414, London, 1820. Cole-
ridge has a remark on the same subject, which makes the distinction, not
between thinking and computing, but between thought and attention. Cole-
ridge says : ' This is a most important distinction, and in the new light
aflfbrded by it to my mind I see more plainly why mathematics cannot be a
substitute for logic, much less for metaphysics, and why Cambridge has pro-



Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 8 of 40)