Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes on – what Nicolas Humphries calls – “natural psychology”

[Given] the simulitude of the thoughts and passions of one man to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear &c., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions.

Leviathan, Oxford 1946. Cited on p. 6,  Conciousness Regained.

John Stuart Mill: The existence of ‘other’ minds.

“By what evidence do I know, or by what considerations am I led to believe, that there exist other sentient creatures; that the walking and speaking figures, which I see and hear, have sensations and thoughts, or in other words, possess Minds?  . . .

first, they have bodies like me, which I know to be the antecedent condition of feelings …

secondly, they exhibit the acts and other outward signs, which in my own case I know by experience to be caused by feelings.

I am conscious in myself of a series of facts connected by a uniform sequence, of which the beginning is modifications of my body, the middle is feelings, the end is outward demeanor.   In the case of other human beings I have the evidence of my senses for the first and last links of the series, but not for the intermediate link.

I find, however, that the sequence between the first and last is as regular and constant in those other cases as it is in mine.   In my own case I know that the first link produces the last through the intermediate link, and could not produce it without.

Experience, therefore, obliges me to conclude that there must be an intermediate link; which must either be the same in others as in myself, or a different one: I must either believe them to be alive or to be automatons: and by believing them to be alive, that is, by supposing the link to be of the same nature as in the case of which I have experience, and which is in all other respects similar, I bring other human beings, as phenomena, under the same generalizations, which I know by experience to be the true theory of my own existence.”

John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, 1865.  Cited from the Introductory Quotes to the first chapter of Nicholas Humphrey, Consciousness Regained: Chapters in the Development of Mind, Oxford, 1983.


On Lists 03

Breakfast List, from the Paris Review blog. (April 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring)

Piepenbring offers this list made by Donald Barthelme, maker of lists.  Here’s from “The Zombies”.  A (zombie) waiter approaches a table of women and lists the breakfasts for the week:

“Monday!” he says. “Sliced oranges boiled grits fried croakers potato croquettes radishes watercress broiled spring chicken batter cakes butter syrup and café au lait!

Tuesday! Grapes hominy broiled tenderloin of tout steak French-fried potatoes celery fresh rolls butter and café au lait!

Wednesday! Iced figs Wheatena porgies with sauce tartare potato chips broiled ham scrambled eggs French toast and café au lait!

Thursday! Bananas with cream oatmeal broiled patassas fried liver with bacon poached eggs on toast waffles with syrup and café au lait!

Friday! Strawberries with cream broiled oysters on toast celery fried perch lyonnaise potatoes cornbread with syrup and café au lait!

Saturday! Musk-melon on ice grits stewed tripe herb omelette olives snipe on toast flannel cakes with syrup and café au lait!” The zombie draws a long breath.

“Sunday!” he says. “Peaches and cream cracked wheat with milk broiled Spanish mackerel with sauce maitre d’hotel creamed chicken beaten biscuits broiled woodcock on English muffin rice cakes potatoes a la duchesse eggs Benedict oysters on the half shell broiled lamb chops pound cake with syrup and café au lait! And imported champagne!” The zombies look anxiously at the women to see if this prospect is pleasing.

The list was in a continuous block paragraph. I have reparagraphed by day of week to breathe the easier during the reading. Perhaps the Zombie, in Barthelme’s mind, didn’t need to breathe like me. Group the above without breaks for the original effect.

And Piepenbring’s comments, which I value highly:

“List-making is often dismissed as sloppy writing, but in Barthelme’s hands, a list never functions as an elision or a cheap workaround; he makes marvelous profusions of nouns, testaments to the power of juxtaposition. His lists feel noetic—they capture the motion of a mind delighting in how many things there are, and how rampantly they’re proliferating, and how strangely they collide in life, when they do.”


“The list is the ideal vehicle here. It’s an efficient mechanism for comedy, yes, but it also pulls back the curtain a bit, letting the reader share in the wry wonder that I imagine Barthelme might’ve felt as he composed it: How did it come to pass that we, in our kitchens and our restaurants and our fluorescent supermarkets, developed such a sophisticated vocabulary for food, for breakfast? How is it that we eat so many things, that the human experience has come to encompass rice cakes and fried liver, to say nothing of courtship rituals centered on ingestion? I would guess that Barthelme was not so wide-eyed about these things as I am—but what his lists offer, in effect, is the working of a mind, an invitation to join him in doing the math, connecting the dots, asking the questions, and so on.”

Piepenbring connects all this to a larger issue: To what extent is writing really “more about the mind than about the external world?”, and offers this from Barthelme’s Art of Fiction Interview:


Wordsworth spoke of growing up “Fostered alike by beauty and by fear,” and he put fearful experiences first; but he also said that his primary subject was “the mind of Man.” Don’t you write more about the mind than about the external world?


In a commonsense way, you write about the impingement of one upon the other—my subjectivity bumping into other subjectivities, or into the Prime Rate. You exist for me in my perception of you (and in some rough, Raggedy Andy way, for yourself, of course). That’s what’s curious when people say, of writers, This one’s a realist, this one’s a surrealist, this one’s a super-realist, and so forth. In fact, everybody’s a realist offering true accounts of the activity of mind. There are only realists.”

The Soul Thing

I used to ask my IB TOK students to do an imaginary interviewing stint at a mall. No matter which one. Just ask people whether they have souls.

Now tell me in advance what % of the happy interviewees will say “Yes”?

Now I imagine that you, like them, will agree with me that some very high % will say “Yes”.

But why? Why do they say this?  I think that you are thinking that these putative victims of your interviewing – will be be a little at a loss and maybe a lot annoyed. Maybe people think they have souls because they learned it in church (or other variations of “because the Bible tells me so”)  or because they have had ‘spiritual’ experiences, the soul and the spirit being the same. (Are they?)

Or maybe at some point in their lives, they have thought their way through a self deconstruction…if I lose my arm, if I become blind, or paralyzed etc. … there will be still be me. That’s it … there’s a kernel ‘me’, an at-the-core-something which will always be there.. How can it be that all my thoughts and experiences, all my memories , all my family and friends and lovers…etc. should all my “me-ness” should vanish at death?

It’s impossible to believe that this or that relative or loved one is simply gone… even Faithful Fido must still exist somewhere, somehow…?

Do we carry with us a bias in favor of the soul that we carry with us, maybe like the self-preservation thing? Or are we infatuated with ourselves, fascinating things that we are?   I could go on. BUT… the take-away, the take-away I want here, is for you to carry this unanswerable question around with you silently watching, listening, reading, waiting for other people to say or do things that suggest to you their views, or lack of them, on the matter. You to become a soul sleuth. AND, I want you to ask questions to yourself – we don’t want you thought weird by your family and friends – about the question.

Questions like sort of thing a soul is, and what makes it special, and what ‘spirit’ is, and whether it is different from ‘soul’.  Don’t seek answers …gather evidence; no right answer here, just something to ask yourself in line at the Kroger store, or with the car radio off and your phone in the back seat. More later…

And By the Way:
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Introductions to Philosophy.

Of Introductions to Philosophy there are many.

I am smitten by Samuelson, Scott  (2014)  The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone, Chicago: University of ChicagoHe’s a teacher, a word that in this context should be in Bold Caps. More on that later.

Here’s my ‘plug’ for the book :  I’d like to see everyone give this book a chance.

In fact I want to take Samuelson’s book as a guide for structuring the next many remarks I make, all aiming – in the end – as  always – at raising some questions about the minds of others.

The many ‘Introductions to Philosophy’ include those recommended by Samuelson pp. 199-200. I add two to the list, in part to illustrate their variety :  Chrisman, M. and Pritchard, D. (eds)  (2014)  Philosophy for Everyone, New York : Routledge and  Glymour, C. (2015)  Thinking Things Through, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. The first grew out of a MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh, and introduces philosophy through the history of philosophy; the second introduces philosophy through (under the MIT imprint – who would have guessed?) logic and mathematical style reasoning.  Neither is anywhere near as comfortably familiar as Samuelson.



Charles DeGaulle: Noel 1941, An assignment…

From Le Grand Charles, to the French People , Christmas 1941:
to the children of (our Mother) France in simple and elegant words (all the faults of the translation are mine).

(You will remember, I know, that to their permanent shame, the French had been occupied by Germans, and that, on December 7, the Americans had been attacked by Japan. An attack which gave the French the hope that at last the Americans had been shaken out of their sleep.)

“I know that today all is not cheerful for the children of France. But I want to say some things about pride, about glory, and about hope. Once she was – la France! – nations, you know, are like women, more or less beautiful, virtuous, and brave. Well, among my ladies the nations, none has ever been more beautiful, more virtuous, and more brave than our lady France.  And, as for me, I will make you a promise, a Christmas promise. Beloved children of France, you will soon receive a visit, the visit of the Goddess Victory. Oh! How beautiful she will be, you will see !

Oh ! je sais que tout n’est pas gai, aujourd’hui, pour les enfants de France. Mais je veux, cependant, vous dire des choses de fierté, de gloire, d’espérance.

Il y avait une fois : la France ! Les nations, vous savez, sont comme des dames, plus ou moins belles, bonnes et braves. Eh bien ! parmi mesdames les nations, aucune n’a jamais été plus belle, meilleure, ni plus brave que notre dame la France.

Eh bien ! moi, je vais vous faire une promesse, une promesse de Noël. Chers enfants de France, vous recevrez bientôt une visite, la visite de la Victoire. Ah ! comme elle sera belle, vous verrez !…

Charles De Gaulle, le 24 décembre 1941


1) For you the assignment is simple (remember this is a rhetoric assignment): tell me one/or two/or three/ reasons the rhetoric won’t work today. Be specific.

2) DeGaulle calls on his country-men as “children of France” they are “enfants” and she, “La France” is “notre dame,” our lady, implying that France is mother …
Why don’t we talk about America, our “mother” “la plus belle” mère, our most beautiful mother?’

3) This Christmas quote (one pictures listeners – a kitchen helper, the cook, and a barmaid – huddled around a radio after midnight in the kitchen of a closed and shuttered bistro in the maze of Paris streets called the Marais) was republished this Christmas in a very right-wing news and opinion magazine Boulevard Voltaire which regularly opines against what they see as a muslim invasion of la France, in favor of Marine le Pen, and in favor of restoring crèches de Noël to every public space in France. What do they see in this quote?
(Hint: Think of the similarities, if any, for some or many people between religion and patriotism.)

The best answers (should any qualify) will be awarded publication here on the birthday of Socrates who argued to his own great disadvantage that the city of Athens was his mother and life-long parent-teacher and as such had given him life and could decide to take it away.

(Sneering and haughty comments about my translation of the French will be rudely deleted, unless they are correct.)

Arguments that reject my fairly obvious assumptions, arguments that improve my question, arguments that amuse me, be they devious or funny will be very cordially entertained.

Lists 02 … Thomas Hobbes

Hume’s list of the things people do to each other cannot, does not – of course – come up to Hobbes’ famous list of adjectives that describe the life of primitive man before he cooperated to form governments.

Note Well: There are several lists here, not only the world famous “life of man” adjectives, but also the causes of war triplet [Competition, Diffidence (suspicion and fear that rise from lack of trust), and Glory], and the magnificent list of what men lack  in the primitive state of war of all against all (from “no place for Industry” to no “Society”) to “worst of all, continuall feare (sic), and danger of violent death”.

I’ll take you back to the whole passage because Hobbes kindly gives us “the principall causes of quarrell” and a description of the war of all against all that guarantees the misery and wretched poverty of primitive (pre-government) man. Our American Tea Party Patriots seem to want for some reason to return to that sorry condition.

I keep Hobbes’ spelling and punctuation, and quote at length because no small part of the pleasure of reading Hobbes is in the dramatic flow of his paragraphs.

Read ’em aloud, you’ll feel it:

“So that in the nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarell. First, Competition: Secondly, Diffidence; thirdly, Glory. The first maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety; and the third for Reputation. The first use Violence to make themselves Masters of other mens persons, wives, children and cattell; the second to defend them; the third for trifles as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.

” Hereby it is manifest that during the time that men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For Warre consisteth not in Battell only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of foul weather, lyeth not in a showre of two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth;

no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea;

no commodious building;

no Instruments of moving and removing things as require much force;

no Knowledge of the face of the Earth;

no account of Time;

no Arts;

no Letters;

no Society;

and which is worst of all, continuall feare and danger of violent death;

And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chap XIII, Of the NATURALL CONDITION of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery. [62]

On Lists 01

We like the rhetorical use of lists to emphasize a mood or feeling, to extend and expand on an idea, to embellish and elaborate an emotion or idea by pleasing our mental ear with a little musical cache of words, and etc. etc.

Here’s the instance that raises this topic this AM.

From Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion Part X.

The following grim list is from a character in the dialogue, Philo by name, who is arguing that “society” (here, structures like government) is the source of grave woes, woes only barely less than the woes men would bring on themselves by dissolving society:

“Man is the greatest enemy of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely, violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery, fraud; by these they mutually torment each other; and they would soon dissolve that society which they had formed, were it not for the dread of greater ills, which must attend their separation.”

Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely, violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery, fraud …”

Which list reminds us of Hobbes’ adjectives on the life of primitive man … next time

Meanwhile we remind ourselves to say a few words next time about contumely, a word we need but rarely hear, here in the ATL.

The Minds of Others … Visit Blog

Because my neighborhood theatre is doing Hamlet, we’ll make a few random observations about Hamlet in the next few weeks.

If you have not ever run up against the story of the melancholy Dane or need a refresher, here’s the setting for the first act.

Hamlet, King of Denmark and father of our hero Hamlet, has suddenly (and somewhat mysteriously) died while taking his customary afternoon nap in the orchard. His wife Gertrude so quickly marries the dead king’s brother, Claudius, that young Hamlet can complain – no doubt with some exaggeration – that the meats served at the funeral dinner could be served up cold at the marriage feast. “Thrift,” says Hamlet to his visiting friend Horatio.

Young Hamlet is more than ordinarily distressed by the sudden death of the father he loved and revered; he is outraged by his mother’s remarriage, an act he considers shamefully sudden, grossly disrespectful, and vaguely incestuous. (To what extent young Hamlet feels dispossessed of his rightful inheritance by a mother who should have spent the rest of her days in a respectful and reserved celibacy, you’ll have to work out yourself by reading the play – something which is a serious undertaking … My vote – I cannot resist – is that Hamlet doesn’t care at all about his own personal advancement. Although…)

The above-mentioned Horatio, a fellow student of Hamlet’s at the University in Wittenberg, has occupied himself meeting people at court, including some night watchmen who tell him that they have seen a ghost, the very picture of the dead King Hamlet. Horatio, himself the very modern and skeptical  late fourteenth century student, dismisses their story, but agrees to come see for himself.

Now in act 1 scene1 between lines 20 and 80 Horatio does something very ordinary: he changes his mind. Watch the simplicity with Shakespeare carries this off.  I’ll set off in bold red the lines that track the change, in blue italics the comments of others about Horatio.

Horatio and the guard Marcellus meet Barnardo who has been on watch. Here’s the text:

20    BARNARDO      Welcome Horatio, welcome good Marcellus.

MARCELLUS    What, has this thing appeared again tonight?

BARNARDO      I have seen nothing.

MARCELLUS    Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy,

And will not let belief take hold of him

Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us.

Therefore I have entreated him along

With us to watch the minutes of this night,

That if again this apparition come

 He may approve our eyes, and speak to it.

HORATIO         Tush, tush, ’twill not appear.

30     BARNARDO     Sit down awhile,

And let us once again assail your ears,

That are so fortified against our story,

What we two nights have seen.

HORATIO         Well, sit we down,

And let us hear Barnardo speak of this.

BARNARDO     Last night of all,

When yon same star that’s westward from the pole

Had made his course t’illumine that part of heaven

Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,

The bell then beating one –


MARCELLUS   Peace, break thee off. Look where it comes again.

BARNARDO    In the same figure like the king that’s dead.

MARCELLUS   Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.

BARNARDO    Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.

HORATIO        Most like. It harrows me with fear and wonder.

BARNARDO    It would be spoke to.

MARCELLUS                                          Question it, Horatio.

HORATIO       What art thou that ursurp’st this time of night,

Together with that fair and warlike form

In which the majesty of buried Denmark

Did sometimes march? By heaven, I charge thee, speak.

MARCELLUS    It is offended

50      BARNARDO     See, it stalks away.

HORATIO         Stay, Speak, Speak. I charge thee speak.


MARCELLUS   Tis gone and will not answer.

BARNARDO     How now Horatio? You tremble and look pale.

Is not this something more than fantasy?

What think you on’t?

HORATIO  Before my God, I might not this believe

Without sensible and true avouch

Of mine own eyes.

MARCELLUS    Is it not like the king?

59     HORATIO  As thou art to thyself …

65 MARCELLUS  Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,

With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.

HORATIO   In what particular thought to work I know not,

But in the gross and scope of mine opinion

This bodes some strange eruption to our state…