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THE EPISTEl\fOLOGY OF THOMAS HOBBES IN his work, De Corpore, Hobbes at last showed the fully developed relationship, which had long lain dormant in his mind, between his mechanistic concept of philosophy and his theory of knowledge. Consequently, with this most mature expression of his epistemology as our basic text, we shall attempt to gain some idea of Hobbes' final status in regard to his theory of knowledge. To orientate ourselves better before beginning a consideration of this work it will be advisable to remark that this synthesis of his mechanistic principles, his methodology, and his cognitive principles did not, as Athena, "spring full-fledged from the head of Jove"; but rather they were presaged in many of his earlier works. De Corpore was the result of a long process of thought which had undergone modifications through reconsideration of many points. We shall, however, find that the modifications did not affect the fundamental Hobbesian tenets, but rather show themselves in different methods of approach to problems. The work De Corpore was published in its finished form in 1655, and was originally a Latin work. First of the antecedents of the De Corpore was the small work which we know as the Little Treatise, a book dealing with the first principles of a natural philosophy. The date of publication of this latter mentioned work is uncertain, but from the available evidence we can say with a fair amount of assurance that it was not written later than 1635. It was not until 1644 that Hobbes again devoted himself to the problem of natural philosophy, the intervening time being occupied with writings of a political nature; and then to the writing of the Tractatus Opticus, a work in which he again dealt with the fundamental problems of the first work, the act of sense and the universality of the principle of motion. In the later work, however, he has advanced, for in 573 574 WILLIAM A. GERHARD the Little Treatise he engages in controversy with Scholastic doctrines on the problems of natural philosophy. Now in the Tractatus Opticus he feels that these problems are solved and he can go on to found his doctrines of mechanism and motion. It is somewhat difficult to ascertain the date of the original composition of the De Corpore, but it appears that this work was in the process of preparation over a period of some thirteen years. In the preface to Mersenne's Ballistica we find a reference apparently to a work of Hobbes entitled De Motu, Loco, et Tempore which is very probably the first draft of the book published in 1655 under the title of De Corpore. Since, therefore, this work was being constantly amended over so long a period of time, we can conclude that it will represent certain changes of viewpoints, that it will evidence vestiges of old and new ideas bound together in this final synthesis of the doctrines of methodology and first principles of philosophy. Hobbes states on the first page of his work that since all men are born with natural reason-philosophy-they are capable of reasoning somewhat; but when questions calling for long and intricate reasoning arise they fail for want of proper method; hence he will attempt to lay out the first elements of philosophy , as seeds from which the full-blown product may derive through a proper methodology. Philosophy is such knowledge of effects or appearances, as we acquire by true ratiocination from the knowledge we have first of their causes or generations; and again of such causes or generations as may be from knowing first their e:tiects.1 Thus does Hobbes define philosophy; and, indeed, it is a noteworthy definition for it contains two important points: (I) only that knowledge is scientific which deals with causal relations; (2) this knowledge is scientific only when arrived at by right reasoning. Of course, the question that immediately 1 Thomas Hobbes, De Corpore, ed. by Wrn. Molesworth (London, John Bolm, 1839)' p. 3. THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF THOMAS HOBBES 575 arises is, "Why does Hobbes limit scientific or philosophical knowledge to knowledge conditioned by these two factors? " In our reply we shall first deal with the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 573-587
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-15
Open Access
No
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