Monday, May 26, 2008

Hobbes: "Essence" is a useless concept

Not all languages join subject and predicate by the verb is. Speakers of such languages will say "man a living creature" rather than "man is a living creature"; those who use the former construction make just as much sense and are just as rational as those who use the latter. Hobbes concludes "it is evident that philosophy has no need of those words essence, entity, and other the like barbarous terms."

Some philosophers incorrectly believe that qualities can be separated or "abstracted" from their bodies or subjects, and unfortunately "from hence proceed the gross errors of writers of metaphysics; for, because they can consider thought without the consideration of body, they infer there is no need of a thinking-body..." Hobbes's statement in favor of the mind's necessary grounding in the body was unusual for his day and remains controversial today, even given recent revolutions in cognitive science.

We human individuals have no essence? Really? Another round of drinks, please.

Thomas Hobbes. Elements of Philosophy Concerning Body. (1655, Latin; 1656, English.)
Part 1: Computation or Logic. Chapter 3: of Proposition.

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