Leviathan

by: Thomas Hobbes

Book I, Chapters 4-5

Summary Book I, Chapters 4-5

This program for a reformed science--"Science, that is, Knowledge of Consequences; which is also called PHILOSOPHY"--produces a geometric, deductive philosophy that is demonstrable to everyone. Accordingly, Hobbes's vision of science maintains that there will be no divisiveness within knowledge because such geometric logic is indisputable; consequently there will be no factions, and ultimately, no civil wars. Hobbes thereby suggests that his approach to science is necessary for the preservation of peace.

Commentary

By denying the legitimacy of using nature as the foundation of philosophical knowledge, Hobbes issues a direct challenge to natural philosophy as conceived of by Francis Bacon. According to Bacon, natural philosophy should be based on an experimental natural science grounded in natural history. However, Hobbes suggests that nature does not provide secure first principles, and therefore a science grounded in language, rather than nature, is more adequate for making incontrovertible claims. Hobbes's philosophy makes the radical claim that truth is a social construction and argues that its own conclusions are correct precisely because they, too, are socially constructed. When everyone has agreed upon the foundation of knowledge, there is no room for dispute; in contrast, there can be no truth based on an objective nature, for each individual experiences the world differently, and thus the configuration of "reality" is subject to inevitable disagreement and debate.

For Hobbes, eliminating disagreement is essential to eliminating the conditions for civil war; peace is the ultimate purpose of this philosophical program entirely grounded in social consent. At the same time, Hobbes's notion of reality as a social construction contains a certain element of fascism; his notion of an all-powerful judge of definitions, making decisions that cannot be disputed, resembles the fascists' totalitarian philosophy. It advocates the control of reality through power negotiations, but accepts completely the powerlessness of the individual to change that constructed reality.