Monthly Archives: November 2014

“For one man calleth Wisdome, what another calleth feare”

Discussions of Hobbes’s views about language seem to proceed on two separate paths. (Neither of these paths is terribly busy, I’ll grant you, but they both seem to be there.) On the one hand there are discussions of Hobbes’s general philosophy of language — signification, nominalism, and the like. On the other hand there are discussions of what Hobbes says about language in his moral and political philosophy — on what he says about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, for example. But it seems to me that these two discussions should be more closely tied together.

One interesting text for starting to think about the link between the two is the final paragraph of chapter 4 of Leviathan. There Hobbes discusses moral language, including the names of virtues and vices. This discussion contributes to the moral and political projects of the book, while also being part of a general account of the workings of language. It uses the terminology of that general account, in particular its notion of signification.

The names of virtue and vices, and others like them, are, Hobbes says, of “inconstant signification”. Moreover, they are words,

which besides the signification of what we imagine of their nature, have a signification also of the nature, disposition, and interest of the speaker; such as are the names of Vertues, and Vices; For one man calleth Wisdome, what another calleth feare; and one cruelty, what another justice; one prodigality, what another magnanimity; and one gravity, what another stupidity, &c. And therefore such names can never be true grounds of any ratiocination. No more can Metaphors, and Tropes of speech: but these are less dangerous, because they profess their inconstancy; which the other do not.

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Spring 2015 course descriptions

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy

PHI2010 is a general introduction to philosophy. It aims to introduce you to some fields and debates in philosophy; to show you something of philosophy’s history; and to develop skills in reading, discussing, and communicating that will be useful in later philosophy classes and elsewhere. The topics considered will include arguments for and against the existence of God; Thomas’s Hobbes’s Leviathan, a famous text in the history of political philosophy; and views and arguments about the meaning of life. This class meets the Humanities general education requirement. It also counts for 4000 words of the writing requirement. The main items of assessed work will be three papers and a final exam. There is one required book: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by A.P. Martinich and Brian Battiste (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2011; ISBN 9781554810031). All other readings, both historical and contemporary, will be made available through the Canvas site for the class.

PHH5405 Modern Philosophy 1

In Modern 1 next semester I plan to focus largely on the philosophy of Leibniz. Before we get to Leibniz, we’ll spend a couple of week looking at the work of Descartes, reading parts of his Principles of Philosophy. After that, I plan to spend around four weeks looking at Leibniz’s 1686 ‘Discourse on Metaphysics’ and associated texts. That will take us almost halfway through the semester. For the second half of the semester, I want to look at a variety of later texts. Some of these are further systematic statements of Leibniz’s views (e.g., the ‘New System’, the ‘Monadology’), while others are engagements with other philosophers (e.g., the correspondences with Arnauld and Clarke). The main focus of these discussions will be on metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language. However, we will also touch on issues in philosophy of religion, natural science, epistemology, and moral philosophy.

The great majority of the Leibniz readings will be from G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Essays, translated by Ariew and Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989). Others will be posted on the Canvas site for the class. The text of the Ariew and Garber volume is also available on the Past Masters database to which UF subscribes. The main pieces of assessed work for the class will be two essays and a final exam.

Parts of Hobbesian ideas

A couple of recent papers (one by Marcus Adams, the other by Arash Abizadeh) have me thinking about Hobbes’s views about ideas, about ideas as images, and about what the parts of ideas are.

Sometimes Hobbesian ideas have what we might call conceptual parts. One example is the discussion of resolution in De Corpore 6.4. The idea square is said to have parts including line and angle, and the idea gold is said to have parts including solid and heavy.

At other times, though, the parts of ideas seem more like the spatial parts of images. One example of this occurs when Hobbes talks of remembering, and the ways memories are less detailed than experiences, in Elements of Law 3.7. This he describes as involving a “missing of parts” and a lack of “distinction of parts”. So on the one hand you look at a city and see the buildings clearly distinguished, on the other you remember it as “a mass of building only”. But here the parts that are missing, or can’t be distinguished, are spatial parts of the image.

I don’t know what to make of this. But I think Hobbes is not alone, among philosophers with a more or less imagistic theory of ideas, in having these two sorts of parts in mind. So Hume usually thinks of ideas as having conceptual parts. But in Treatise 1.2, in the discussion of space, the coloured points into which our visual impressions and ideas are resolved are spatial rather than conceptual parts.

[Cross-posted from modsquad.)