UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Epistemology and linguistics in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes Creet, Patrick Anthony Roger


According to Hobbes sensation is a process in which the organism responds to the stimulation of objects in the external world. Motion is propagated through the nerves and conveyed to the brain. Endeavour is the reaction of the heart towards the surface of the organism which is produced by the transmitted motion. When a stimulating agent is no longer present certain vestiges of previous sensations remain. Imagination is the reproduction of an image in the absence of the original stimulus, and Memory is the ability to recall the relics of past sensations when the sense organs have ceased to operate. From a psychological point of view Prudence is mental discourse in which recollections of associated sensations in the past are combined with a present sensation in order to predict future sensations. We experience not only single images but whole trains of representations in which one member calls up another according to the laws of Contiguity and Similarity. Some sequences of images are random, in that no desire is involved to direct the flow of images that follow upon a given Image. Other trains of conceptions exhibit a high degree of regularity due to some purpose which controls the associations. Names ordered according to rules of syntax allow us to transcend the level of perception, by operating as substitutes for images. A Name functions as a Mark when it is used to recall any one of a number of similar images, and as a Sign when used to communicate the thoughts of the individual to others. However, general appellations do not denote anything "universal" in nature or in our minds. In the external world the extension of a universal term comprises all those singulars to which it refers. In our minds a particular image which represents indifferently any one of the things designated corresponds to the class term. For Hobbes a proposition is true when the extension of the subject is included in that of the predicate and false otherwise. Error differs from falsity in that it arises when an anticipated fact fails to conform to our expectation. Necessary propositions for him are those in which the subject term is always contained in the extension of the predicate due to linguistic conventions. Contingent propositions are those in which the inclusion of the subject term in the extension of the predicate depends on empirical facts, and is liable to exceptions. On the other hand, type confusions are due to the combination in one sentence of two names which belong to logically incompatible kinds. Such expressions Hobbes sometimes regards as devoid of cognitive meaning and therefore Absurd and at other times as merely false. Attention is focused upon the empirical factor which is present in Hobbes’ thought. This tendency is exhibited in at least two ways; in the first place in his emphasis upon images as the content of the analytical and synthetical methods; and in the second place by his estimation of the reliability of induction, which he describes as Prudential reasoning, in terms of the frequency with which past associations of events have been observed to hold.

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