Hobbes’ musings on the mind

Despite being over 350 years old, many of Hobbes’ theories still ring true. While his ideas are arguably no more progressive than those expressed in Plato’s Republic, they are more grounded in reality and reflective of how politics and society actually work. His argument that all men are essentially the same with slight variations in terms of physical and mental capacity (with nobody being “untouchable”) is one that I found particularly interesting. It is something that we can often lose sight of even today and something about the way Hobbes communicated this idea resonated strongly with me.

Hobbes says that our ability at things such as art and science (mental abilities) and strength and size (physical ones) can vary from person to person but almost every other facet of the human experience is the same for us all. We grow and get older at the same rate and we are all vulnerable and have to ability to deal out harm. Similarly, we all gain experience as we age – along the lines of what the Ancient Greeks called “prudence”. Common sense, wisdom etc. are things that we are all “getting better at”.

Some might say that people have differing levels of capacity to be good at things such as this, to which Hobbes eloquently responds: “For such is the nature of man, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.” In other words, nobody thinks that their mind is simply inferior to others.

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