Hobbes makes sense

…if you take it in little bits at a time. When I first started reading Hobbes, the language (somewhat Shakespearean) kind of put me off, and I just wanted to be done with him. But as I forced myself to read on, I found that Hobbes actually has some very interesting ideas that are coherent; although his scientific knowledge might be a bit off, it is still a tolerable and interesting point of view. I liked how he started everything from its beginnings and origins, and then moved a step at a time to the bigger picture. He started with an analysis of man, where and how sense, thoughts, imagination, and reasoning as well as emotions are produced. Then, having built up his argument, he expands from man to society, how desires and aversions of each individual impact society, and how society should be governed so that everyone can live together in peace. Overall, I like Hobbes and I appreciate that he advocates for society’s commoners. He has some good intentions in that he doesn’t want us (ordinary people) to be fooled by any authoritative figure such as priests and philosophers cough Plato cough. We should be able to think for ourselves and not repose our trust on someone else interpreting the material for us. Even though I admit that Hobbes means well, I can’t help thinking that if he really wanted us to not be confused or fooled, then why write such a complicated text that is so annoying and discouraging to read? He wrote the text in Latin so it can be translated into English. At one point Hobbes does say that ‘incorporeal ideas’ such as “the trinity” can’t be translated correctly between languages. Maybe that’s why he writes in Latin, to show us that since his ideas can be translated without error, he must be reliable. Still, I wish he could have written everything in short and concise sentences, but I think that’s up to the translator. Even then, that would really serve Hobbes and the publishing company well and gain popularity for the text and expand its audiences.

2 Thoughts.

  1. I agree, that the archaic language was a bit off putting… It certainly took me a while to get through the readings. I think that’s an interesting idea about why he wrote in Latin, it seems to fit with his obsessive defining of terms. It seems to me that he wants to achieve the purest form of his ideas (if that makes any sense), the last thing he would want, I believe, would be someone misusing/misunderstanding and thus tainting his work.

  2. Actually, he wrote the English version first, and then the Latin version (I’m not sure why he wrote a Latin version, except I think it was common at that time to write scholarly texts in Latin). The English version was published in 1651, the Latin quite a bit later, in 1668. The changes he made in the Latin text are given in footnotes to our version, and it’s interesting at times to see what he left out, what he clarified, added in, etc.

    So what we have here is the text as he actually wrote it, in English! The long and complicated sentences are, alas, his own.

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