Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and Rene Descartes


"Politics should be the application of the science Of man to the construction of the community" Explain this remark and discuss what reasons there might be for thinking it is not true

In this essay I intend to examine the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and Rene Descartes, in particular their ideas relating to the science of man, and attempt to explain why their ideas prove that it is not possible to construct a science of man.

I will also briefly mention the philosophy of Donald Davidson in regards to a science of man.

The theories of Hobbes and the contemporary socio-biologists attempt to recognise how man works and on that basis build a society.

"Hobbes wished to be seen as the inventor of the science of politics" (Sorrell, p45) He went about this by looking at the psychology of man and discovering that man is a mechanism. Hobbes wanted to understand mechanics. He wanted to look at why men live the way that they do in society and therefore, breaks it down. By doing this he discovered that people are cogs in the social machine. Therefore he wants to examine this cogs to achieve an understanding of the social mechanism, and does this by looking at the psychology of the mind.

Hobbes is both an empirist and a materialist. Empirists believe that sense gives all knowledge. Generally, they do not believe in astrology, god, electrons etc. Their philosophy is summed up by saying that all things that give true knowledge can be sensed. Materialists believe that all things in existence are physical matter. In other words, the soul and the spirit do not exist.

Therefore Hobbes believes that thoughts are material, that they are caused by sense and vice versa.

Tom Sorrell suggests in his essay, entitled "Hobbes' scheme of the sciences", that rather than have knowledge of how the mechanics of the mind's passions work, a more successful way of gaining political knowledge is to understand what these passions cause. They cause various degrees of action, with the possessor going to various extents to achieve what they want.

In chapter six of "De Corpere", Hobbes makes a connection between the knowledge of the principles of politics and the knowledge of the motions of the average human mind.

Hobbes' account of political science is an idea of what man must do if his goal is self-preservation. These ideas are not what mankind will do but what it will have to do, in a rational way, to form a political civilisation.

One would assume that as Hobbes identifies both a natural science (that of the work of nature), and a civil science - that of the common wealth - (which makes laws and wills), he would suggest that they are parallels which, in political philosophy, work together.

However, there are a few problems with Hobbes' theory. Hobbes suggests that a monarch makes a better sovereign than an assembly. Yet, surely he would not agree that a monarch who is not dedicated would be better suited than a group of thoughtful representatives.

A politically secure society is built up from its people. Hobbes believes that these people all have one motivation; self-gain, or to be more precise self-preservation. Hobbes suggests that there is a link between voluntary motion and vital motion. He goes on to say that senses work together with the vital motions to produce that which is voluntary, i.e. an endeavour. These endeavours can be categorised in two ways; attractions and aversions. An example of an attraction is to pick up a piece of cake because it looks good. That of an aversion is to run away from a dog because you are scared of dogs.

As it is possible to see these actions are derived from the senses, again agreeing with Hobbes empirist theory.

Endeavours are the small motions within man which occur before he walks, talks, runs or carries out any other voluntary motion. These endeavours are so small that they are undetectable.

By understanding why men act the way that they do, it is easier to come to a conclusion as to how society should be structured.

However, the idea that the existence of a science of man can be questioned suggests that society can be constructed without it. This is due to the fact that many psychological and political theories are founded on the basis that there is a science of man. Without this "science of