Author: Thomas Hobbes  | Date: 1651



BY philosophy is understood the knowledge acquired by reasoning, from the manner of the generation of anything, to the properties; or from the properties, to some possible way of generation of the same; to the end to be able to produce, as far as matter and human force permit, such effects as human life requireth. So the geometrician, from the construction of figures, findeth out many properties thereof; and from the properties, new ways of their construction, by reasoning; to the end to be able to measure land and water; and for infinite other uses. So the astronomer, from the rising, setting, and moving of the sun and stars in diverse parts of the heavens, findeth out the causes of day and night, and of the different seasons of the year, whereby he keepeth an account of time; and the like of other sciences.

By which definition it is evident that we are not to account as any part thereof that original knowledge called experience, in which consisteth prudence, because it is not attained by reasoning, but found as well in brute beasts as in man; and is but a memory of successions of events in times past, wherein the omission of every little circumstance, altering the effect frustrateth the expectation of the most prudent: whereas nothing is produced by reasoning aright, but general, eternal, and immutable truth.

Nor are we therefore to give that name to any false conclusions; for he that reasoneth aright in words he understandeth can never conclude an error:

Nor to that which any man knows by supernatural revelation; because it is not acquired by reasoning:

Nor that which is gotten by reasoning from the authority of books; because it is not by reasoning from the cause to the effect, nor from the effect to the cause; and is not knowledge, but faith.

The faculty of reasoning being consequent to the use of speech, it was not possible but that there should have been some general truths found out by reasoning, as ancient almost as language itself. The savages of America are not without some good moral sentences; also they have a little arithmetic, to add and divide in numbers not too great; but they are not therefore philosophers. For as there were plants of corn and wine in small quantity dispersed in the fields and woods, before men knew their virtue, or made use of them for their nourishment, or planted them apart in fields and vineyards; in which time they fed on acorns and drank water: so also there have been diverse true, general, and profitable speculations from the beginning, as being the natural plants of human reason. But they were at first but few in number; men lived upon gross experience; there was no method; that is to say, no sowing nor planting of knowledge by itself, apart from the weeds and common plants of error and conjecture. And the cause of it being the want of leisure from procuring the necessities of life, and defending themselves against their neighbours, it was impossible, till the erecting of great Commonwealths, it should be otherwise. Leisure is the mother of philosophy; and Commonwealth, the mother of peace and leisure. Where first were great and flourishing cities, there was first the study of philosophy. The Gymnosophists of India, the Magi of Persia, and the Priests of Chaldaea and Egypt are counted the most ancient philosophers; and those countries were the most ancient of kingdoms. Philosophy was not risen to the Grecians and other people of the West, whose Commonwealths, no greater perhaps than Lucca or Geneva, had never peace but when their fears of one another were equal; nor the leisure to observe anything but one another. At length, when war had united many of these Grecian lesser cities into fewer and greater, then began seven men, of several parts of Greece, to get the reputation of being wise; some of them for moral and politic sentences, and others for the learning of the Chaldaeans and Egyptians, which was astronomy and geometry. But we hear not yet of any schools of philosophy.

After the Athenians, by the overthrow of the Persian armies, had gotten the dominion of the sea; and thereby, of all the islands and maritime cities of the archipelago, as well of Asia as Europe; and were grown wealthy; they that had no employment, neither at home nor abroad, had little else to employ themselves in but either, as St. Luke says, "in telling and hearing news,"* or in discoursing of philosophy publicly to the youth of the city. Every master took some place for that purpose: Plato, in certain public walks called Academia, from one Academus; Aristotle in the walk of the temple of Pan, called Lycaeum; others in the Stoa, or covered walk, wherein the merchants’ goods were brought to land; others in other places, where they spent the time of their leisure in teaching or in disputing of their opinions; and some in any place where they could get the youth of the city together to hear them talk. And this was it which Carneades also did at Rome, when he was ambassador, which caused Cato to advise the Senate to dispatch him quickly, for fear of corrupting the manners of the young men that delighted to hear him speak, as they thought, fine things.

* Acts, 17. 21

From this it was that the place where any of them taught and disputed was called schola, which in their tongue signifieth leisure; and their disputations, diatribae, that is to say, passing of the time. Also the philosophers themselves had the name of their sects, some of them, from these their schools: for they that followed Plato’s doctrine were called Academics; the followers of Aristotle, Peripatetics, from the walk he taught in; and those that Zeno taught, Stoics, from the Stoa: as if we should denominate men from More-fields, from Paul’s Church, and from the Exchange, because they meet there often to prate and loiter.

Nevertheless, men were so much taken with this custom, that in time it spread itself over all Europe, and the best part of Africa; so as there were schools, publicly erected and maintained, for lectures and disputations, almost in every Commonwealth.

There were also schools, anciently, both before and after the time of our Saviour, amongst the Jews: but they were schools of their law. For though they were called synagogues, that is to say, congregations of the people; yet, inasmuch as the law was every Sabbath day read, expounded, and disputed in them, they differed not in nature, but in name only, from public schools; and were not only in Jerusalem, but in every city of the Gentiles where the Jews inhabited. There was such a school at Damascus, whereinto Paul entered, to persecute. There were others at Antioch, Iconium and Thessalonica, whereinto he entered, to dispute. And such was the synagogue of the Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and those of Asia; that is to say, the school of Libertines, and of Jews, that were strangers in Jerusalem: and of this school they were that disputed with St. Stephen.*

* Acts, 6. 9

But what has been the utility of those schools? What science is there at this day acquired by their readings and disputings? That we have of geometry, which is the mother of all natural science, we are not indebted for it to the schools. Plato, that was the best philosopher of the Greeks, forbade entrance into his school to all that were not already in some measure geometricians. There were many that studied that science to the great advantage of mankind: but there is no mention of their schools; nor was there any sect of geometricians; nor did they then pass under the name of philosophers. The natural philosophy of those schools was rather a dream than science, and set forth in senseless and insignificant language, which cannot be avoided by those that will teach philosophy without having first attained great knowledge in geometry. For nature worketh by motion; the ways and degrees whereof cannot be known without the knowledge of the proportions and properties of lines and figures. Their moral philosophy is but a description of their own passions. For the rule of manners, without civil government, is the law of nature; and in it, the law civil, that determineth what is honest and dishonest; what is just and unjust; and generally what is good and evil. Whereas they make the rules of good and bad by their own liking and disliking; by which means, in so great diversity of taste, there is nothing generally agreed on; but every one doth, as far as he dares, whatsoever seemeth good in his own eyes, to the subversion of Commonwealth. Their logic, which should be the method of reasoning, is nothing else but captions of words, and inventions how to puzzle such as should go about to pose them. To conclude, there is nothing so absurd that the old philosophers (as Cicero saith, who was one of them) have not some of them maintained. And I believe that scarce anything can be more absurdly said in natural philosophy than that which now is called Aristotle’s Metaphysics; nor more repugnant to government than much of that he hath said in his Politics, nor more ignorantly, than a great part of his Ethics.

The school of the Jews was originally a school of the law of Moses, who commanded that at the end of every seventh year, at the Feast of the Tabernacles, it should be read to all the people, that they might hear and learn it.* Therefore the reading of the law (which was in use after the Captivity) every Sabbath day ought to have had no other end but the acquainting of the people with the Commandments which they were to obey, and to expound unto them the writings of the prophets. But it is manifest, by the many reprehensions of them by our Saviour, that they corrupted the text of the law with their false commentaries, and vain traditions; and so little understood the prophets that they did neither acknowledge Christ, nor the works he did, of which the prophets prophesied. So that by their lectures and disputations in their synagogues, they turned the doctrine of their law into a fantastical kind of philosophy, concerning the incomprehensible nature of God and of spirits; which they compounded of the vain philosophy and theology of the Grecians, mingled with their own fancies, drawn from the obscurer places of the Scripture, and which might most easily be wrested to their purpose; and from the fabulous traditions of their ancestors.

* Deuteronomy, 31. 10

That which is now called a University is a joining together, and an incorporation under one government, of many public schools in one and the same town or city, in which the principal schools were ordained for the three professions; that is to say, of the Roman religion, of the Roman law, and of the art of medicine. And for the study of philosophy it hath no otherwise place than as a handmaid to the Roman religion: and since the authority of Aristotle is only current there, that study is not properly philosophy (the nature whereof dependeth not on authors), but Aristotelity. And for geometry, till of very late times it had no place at all, as being subservient to nothing but rigid truth. And if any man by the ingenuity of his own nature had attained to any degree of perfection therein, he was commonly thought a magician, and his art diabolical.

Now to descend to the particular tenets of vain philosophy, derived to the Universities, and thence into the Church, partly from Aristotle, partly from blindness of understanding; I shall first consider their principles. There is a certain philosophia prima on which all other philosophy ought to depend; and consisteth principally in right limiting of the significations of such appellations, or names, as are of all others the most universal; which limitations serve to avoid ambiguity and equivocation in reasoning, and are commonly called definitions; such as are the definitions of body, time, place, matter, form, essence, subject, substance, accident, power, act, finite, infinite, quantity, quality, motion, action, passion, and diverse others, necessary to the explaining of a man’s conceptions concerning the nature and generation of bodies. The explication (that is, the settling of the meaning) of which, and the like terms, is commonly in the Schools called metaphysics; as being a part of the philosophy of Aristotle, which hath that for title. But it is in another sense; for there it signifieth as much as "books written or placed after his natural philosophy": but the Schools take them for books of supernatural philosophy: for the word metaphysics will bear both these senses. And indeed that which is there written is for the most part so far from the possibility of being understood, and so repugnant to natural reason, that whosoever thinketh there is anything to be understood by it must needs think it supernatural.

From these metaphysics, which are mingled with the Scripture to make School divinity, we are told there be in the world certain essences separated from bodies, which they call abstract essences, and substantial forms; for the interpreting of which jargon, there is need of somewhat more than ordinary attention in this place. Also I ask pardon of those that are not used to this kind of discourse for applying myself to those that are. The world (I mean not the earth only, that denominates the lovers of it "worldly men," but the universe, that is, the whole mass of all things that are) is corporeal, that is to say, body; and hath the dimensions of magnitude, namely, length, breadth, and depth: also every part of body is likewise body, and hath the like dimensions; and consequently every part of the universe is body, and that which is not body is no part of the universe: and because the universe is all that which is no part of it is nothing, and consequently nowhere. Nor does it follow from hence that spirits are nothing: for they have dimensions and are therefore really bodies; though that name in common speech be given to such bodies only as are visible or palpable; that is, that have some degree of opacity: but for spirits, they call them incorporeal, which is a name of more honour, and may therefore with more piety be attributed to God Himself; in whom we consider not what attribute expresseth best His nature, which is incomprehensible, but what best expresseth our desire to honour Him.

To know now upon what grounds they say there be essences abstract, or substantial forms, we are to consider what those words do properly signify. The use of words is to register to ourselves, and make manifest to others, the thoughts and conceptions of our minds. Of which words, some are the names of the things conceived; as the names of all sorts of bodies that work upon the senses and leave an impression in the imagination: others are the names of the imaginations themselves; that is to say, of those ideas or mental images we have of all things we see or remember: and others again are names of names, or of different sorts of speech; as universal, plural, singular, are the names of names; and definition, affirmation, negation, true, false, syllogism, interrogation, promise, covenant, are the names of certain forms of speech. Others serve to show the consequence or repugnance of one name to another; as when one saith, "a man is a body," he intendeth that the name of body is necessarily consequent to the name of man, as being but serval name of the same thing, man; which consequence is signified by coupling them together with the word is. And as we use the verb is; so the Latins use their verb est, and the Greeks their esti through all its declinations. Whether all other nations of the world have in their several languages a word that answereth to it, or not, I cannot tell; but I am sure they have not need of it: for the placing of two names in order may serve to signify their consequence, if it were the custom (for custom is it that gives words their force), as well as the words is, or be, or are, and the like.

And if it were so, that there were a language without any verb answerable to est, or is, or be; yet the men that used it would be not a jot the less capable of inferring, concluding, and of all kind of reasoning, than were the Greeks and Latins. But what then would become of these terms, of entity, essence, essential, essentiality, that are derived from it, and of many more that depend on these, applied as most commonly they are? They are therefore no names of things; but signs, by which we make known that we conceive the consequence of one name or attribute to another: as when we say, "a man is a living body," we mean not that the man is one thing, the living body another, and the is, or being, a third; but that the man and the living body is the same thing, because the consequence, "If he be a man, he is a living body," is a true consequence, signified by that word is. Therefore, to be a body, to walk, to be speaking, to live, to see, and the like infinitives; also corporeity, walking, speaking, life, sight, and the like, that signify just the same, are the names of nothing; as I have elsewhere more amply expressed.

But to what purpose, may some man say, is such subtlety in a work of this nature, where I pretend to nothing but what is necessary to the doctrine of government and obedience? It is to this purpose, that men may no longer suffer themselves to be abused by them that by this doctrine of "separated essences," built on the vain philosophy of Aristotle, would fright them from obeying the laws of their country, with empty names; as men fright birds from the corn with an empty doublet, a hat, and a crooked stick. For it is upon this ground that, when a man is dead and buried, they say his soul, that is his life, can walk separated from his body, and is seen by night amongst the graves. Upon the same ground, they say that the figure, and colour, and taste of a piece of bread has a being, there, where they say there is no bread: and upon the same ground they say that faith, and wisdom, and other virtues are sometimes poured into a man, sometimes blown into him, from heaven; if the virtuous and their virtues could be asunder; and a great many other things that serve to lessen the dependence of subjects on the sovereign power of their country. For who will endeavour to obey the laws, if he expect obedience to be poured or blown into him? Or who will not obey a priest, that can make God, rather than his sovereign; nay, than God Himself? Or who that is in fear of ghosts will not bear great respect to those that can make the holy water that drives them from him? And this shall suffice for an example of the errors which are brought into the Church from the entities and essences of Aristotle: which it may be he knew to be false philosophy, but wrote it as a thing consonant to, and corroborative of, their religion; and fearing the fate of Socrates.

Being once fallen into this error of "separated essences," they are thereby necessarily involved in many other absurdities that follow it. For seeing they will have these forms to be real, they are obliged to assign them some place. But because they hold them incorporeal, without all dimension of quantity, and all men know that place is dimension, and not to be filled but by that which is corporeal, they are driven to uphold their credit with a distinction, that they are not indeed anywhere circumscriptive, but definitive: which terms being mere words, and in this occasion insignificant, pass only in Latin, that the vanity of them may be concealed. For the circumscription of a thing is nothing else but the determination or defining of its place; and so both the terms of the distinction are the same. And in particular, of the essence of a man, which, they say, is his soul, they affirm it to be all of it in his little finger, and all of it in every other part, how small soever, of his body; and yet no more soul in the whole body than in any one of those parts. Can any man think that God is served with such absurdities? And yet all this is necessary to believe, to those that will believe the existence of an incorporeal soul, separated from the body.

And when they come to give account how an incorporeal substance can be capable of pain, and be tormented in the fire of hell or purgatory, they have nothing at all to answer, but that it cannot be known how fire can burn souls.

Again, whereas motion is change of place, and incorporeal substances are not capable of place, they are troubled to make it seem possible how a soul can go hence, without the body, to heaven, hell, or purgatory; and how the ghosts of men (and I may add, of their clothes which they appear in) can walk by night in churches, churchyards, and other places of sepulture. To which I know not what they can answer, unless they will say, they walk definitive, not circumscriptive, or spiritually, not temporally: for such egregious distinctions are equally applicable to any difficulty whatsoever.

For the meaning of eternity, they will not have it to be an endless succession of time; for then they should not be able to render a reason how God’s will and pre-ordaining of things to come should not be before His prescience of the same, as the efficient cause before the effect, or agent before the action; nor of many other their bold opinions concerning the incomprehensible nature of God. But they will teach us that eternity is the standing still of the present time, a nunc-stans, as the Schools call it; which neither they nor any else understand, no more than they would a hic-stans for an infinite greatness of place.

And whereas men divide a body in their thought, by numbering parts of it, and in numbering those parts, number also the parts of the place it filled; it cannot be but in making many parts, we make also many places of those parts; whereby there cannot be conceived in the mind of any man more or fewer parts than there are places for: yet they will have us believe that by the Almighty power of God, one body may be at one and the same time in many places; and many bodies at one and the same time in one place; as if it were an acknowledgement of the Divine Power to say, that which is, is not; or that which has been, has not been. And these are but a small part of the incongruities they are forced to, from their disputing philosophically, instead of admiring and adoring of the divine and incomprehensible Nature; whose attributes cannot signify what He is, but ought to signify our desire to honour Him with the best appellations we can think on. But they that venture to reason of His nature, from these attributes of honour, losing their understanding in the very first attempt, fall from one inconvenience into another, without end and without number; in the same manner as when a man ignorant of the ceremonies of court, coming into the presence of a greater person than he is used to speak to, and stumbling at his entrance, to save himself from falling, lets slip his cloak; to recover his cloak, lets fall his hat; and, with one disorder after another, discovers his astonishment and rusticity.

Then for physics, that is, the knowledge of the subordinate and secondary causes of natural events, they render none at all but empty words. If you desire to know why some kind of bodies sink naturally downwards toward the earth, and others go naturally from it, the Schools will tell you, out of Aristotle, that the bodies that sink downwards are heavy; and that this heaviness is it that causes them to descend. But if you ask what they mean by heaviness, they will define it to be an endeavour to go to the center of the earth: so that the cause why things sink downward is an endeavour to be below; which is as much as to say that bodies descend, or ascend, because they do. Or they will tell you the center of the earth is the place of rest and conservation for heavy things, and therefore they endeavour to be there: as if stones and metals had a desire, or could discern the place they would be at, as man does; or loved rest, as man does not; or that a piece of glass were less safe in the window than falling into the street.

If we would know why the same body seems greater, without adding to it, one time than another; they say, when it seems less, it is condensed; when greater, rarefied. What is that condensed and rarefied? Condensed is when there is in the very same matter less quantity than before; and rarefied, when more. As if there could be matter that had not some determined quantity; when quantity is nothing else but the determination of matter; that is to say, of body, by which we say one body is greater or lesser than another by thus, or thus much. Or as if a body were made without any quantity at all, and that afterwards more or less were put into it, according as it is intended the body should be more or less dense.

For the cause of the soul of man, they say, creatur infundendo and creando infunditur: that is, "It is created by pouring it in," and "poured in by creation."

For the cause of sense, an ubiquity of species; that is, of the shows or apparitions of objects; which when they be apparitions to the eye is sight; when to the ear, hearing; to the palate, taste; to the nostril, smelling; and to the rest of the body, feeling.

For cause of the will to do any particular action, which is called volitio, they assign the faculty, that is to say, the capacity in general, that men have to will sometimes one thing, sometimes another, which is called voluntas; making the power the cause of the act: as if one should assign for cause of the good or evil acts of men their ability to do them.

And in many occasions they put for cause of natural events, their own ignorance, but disguised in other words: as when they say, fortune is the cause of things contingent; that is, of things whereof they know no cause: and as when they attribute many effects to occult qualities; that is, qualities not known to them, and therefore also, as they think, to no man else: and to sympathy, antipathy, antiperistasis, specifical qualities, and other like terms, which signify neither the agent that produceth them, nor the operation by which they are produced.

If such metaphysics and physics as this be not vain philosophy, there was never any; nor needed St. Paul to give us warning to avoid it.

And for their moral and civil philosophy, it hath the same or greater absurdities. If a man do an action of injustice, that is to say, an action contrary to the law, God, they say, is the prime cause of the law and also the prime cause of that and all other actions; but no cause at all of the injustice; which is the inconformity of the action to the law. This is vain philosophy. A man might as well say that one man maketh both a straight line and a crooked, and another maketh their incongruity. And such is the philosophy of all men that resolve of their conclusions before they know their premises, pretending to comprehend that which is incomprehensible; and of attributes of honour to make attributes of nature; as this distinction was made to maintain the doctrine of free will, that is, of a will of man not subject to the will of God.

Aristotle and other heathen philosophers define good and evil by the appetite of men; and well enough, as long as we consider them governed every one by his own law: for in the condition of men that have no other law but their own appetites, there can be no general rule of good and evil actions. But in a Commonwealth this measure is false: not the appetite of private men, but the law, which is the will and appetite of the state, is the measure. And yet is this doctrine still practised, and men judge the goodness or wickedness of their own and of other men’s actions, and of the actions of the Commonwealth itself, by their own passions; and no man calleth good or evil but that which is so in his own eyes, without any regard at all to the public laws; except only monks and friars, that are bound by vow to that simple obedience to their superior to which every subject ought to think himself bound by the law of nature to the civil sovereign. And this private measure of good is a doctrine, not only vain, but also pernicious to the public state.

It is also vain and false philosophy to say the work of marriage is repugnant to chastity or continence, and by consequence to make them moral vices; as they do that pretend chastity and continence for the ground of denying marriage to the clergy. For they confess it is no more but a constitution of the Church that requireth in those holy orders, that continually attend the altar and administration of the Eucharist, a continual abstinence from women, under the name of continual chastity, continence, and purity. Therefore they call the lawful use of wives want of chastity and continence; and so make marriage a sin, or at least a thing so impure and unclean as to render a man unfit for the altar. If the law were made because the use of wives is incontinence, and contrary to chastity, then all marriage is vice: if because it is a thing too impure and unclean for a man consecrated to God, much more should other natural, necessary, and daily works, which all men do, render men unworthy to be priests, because they are more unclean.

But the secret foundation of this prohibition of marriage of priests is not likely to have been laid so slightly as upon such errors in moral philosophy; nor yet upon the preference of single life to the estate of matrimony; which proceeded from the wisdom of St. Paul, who perceived how inconvenient a thing it was for those that in those times of persecution were preachers of the gospel, and forced to fly from one country to another, to be clogged with the care of wife and children; but upon the design of the popes and priests of after times, to make themselves, (the clergy, that is to say,) sole heirs of the kingdom of God in this world, to which it was necessary to take from them the use of marriage, because our Saviour saith that at the coming of his kingdom the children of God "shall neither marry, nor be given in marriage, but shall be as the angels in heaven"; that is to say, spiritual. Seeing then they had taken on them the name of spiritual, to have allowed themselves, when there was no need, the propriety of wives, had been an incongruity.

From Aristotle’s civil philosophy, they have learned to call all manner of Commonwealths but the popular (such as was at that time the state of Athens), tyranny. All kings they called tyrants; and the aristocracy of the thirty governors set up there by the Lacedaemonians that subdued them, the thirty tyrants: as also to call the condition of the people under the democracy, liberty. A tyrant originally signified no more, simply, but a monarch. But when afterwards in most parts of Greece that kind of government was abolished, the name began to signify, not only the thing it did before, but with it the hatred which the popular states bore towards it: as also the name of king became odious after the deposing of the kings in Rome, as being a thing natural to all men to conceive some great fault to be signified in any attribute that is given in despite, and to a great enemy. And when the same men shall be displeased with those that have the administration of the democracy, or aristocracy, they are not to seek for disgraceful names to express their anger in; but call readily the one anarchy, and the other oligarchy, or the tyranny of a few. And that which offendeth the people is no other thing but that they are governed, not as every one of them would himself, but as the public representant, be it one man or an assembly of men, thinks fit; that is, by an arbitrary government: for which they give evil names to their superiors, never knowing (till perhaps a little after a civil war) that without such arbitrary government, such war must be perpetual; and that it is men and arms, not words and promises, that make the force and power of the laws.

And therefore this is another error of Aristotle’s politics, that in a well-ordered Commonwealth, not men should govern, but the laws. What man that has his natural senses, though he can neither write nor read, does not find himself governed by them he fears, and believes can kill or hurt him when he obeyeth not? Or that believes the law can hurt him; that is, words and paper, without hands and swords of men? And this is of the number of pernicious errors: for they induce men, as oft as they like not their governors, to adhere to those that call them tyrants, and to think it lawful to raise war against them: and yet they are many times cherished from the pulpit, by the clergy.

There is another error in their civil philosophy (which they never learned of Aristotle, nor Cicero, nor any other of the heathen), to extend the power of the law, which is the rule of actions only, to the very thoughts and consciences of men, by examination and inquisition of what they hold, notwithstanding the conformity of their speech and actions. By which men are either punished for answering the truth of their thoughts, or constrained to answer an untruth for fear of punishment. It is true that the civil magistrate, intending to employ a minister in the charge of teaching, may enquire of him if he be content to preach such and such doctrines; and, in case of refusal, may deny him the employment: but to force him to accuse himself of opinions, when his actions are not by law forbidden, is against the law of nature; and especially in them who teach that a man shall be damned to eternal and extreme torments, if he die in a false opinion concerning an article of the Christian faith. For who is there (that knowing there is so great danger in an error) whom the natural care of himself compelleth not to hazard his soul upon his own judgement, rather than that of any other man that is unconcerned in his damnation?

For a private man, without the authority of the Commonwealth; that is to say, without permission from the representant thereof, to interpret the law by his own spirit, is another error in the politics: but not drawn from Aristotle, nor from any other of the heathen philosophers. For none of them deny but that in the power of making laws is comprehended also the power of explaining them when there is need. And are not the Scriptures, in all places where they are law, made law by the authority of the Commonwealth and, consequently, a part of the civil law?

Of the same kind it is also when any but the sovereign restraineth in any man that power which the Commonwealth hath not restrained; as they do that impropriate the preaching of the gospel to one certain order of men, where the laws have left it free. If the state give me leave to preach or teach; that is, if it forbid me not, no man can forbid me. If I find myself amongst the idolaters of America, shall I that am a Christian, though not in orders, think it a sin to preach Jesus Christ, till I have received orders from Rome? Or when I have preached, shall not I answer their doubts and expound the Scriptures to them; that is, shall I not teach? But for this may some say, as also for administering to them the sacraments, the necessity shall be esteemed for a sufficient mission; which is true. But this is true also, that for whatsoever a dispensation is due for the necessity, for the same there needs no dispensation when there is no law that forbids it. Therefore to deny these functions to those to whom the civil sovereign hath not denied them is a taking away of a lawful liberty, which is contrary to the doctrine of civil government.

More examples of vain philosophy, brought into religion by the doctors of School divinity, might be produced; but other men may if they please observe them of themselves. I shall only add this, that the writings of School divines are nothing else, for the most part, but insignificant trains of strange and barbarous words, or words otherwise used than in the common use of the Latin tongue; such as would pose Cicero, and Varro, and all the grammarians of ancient Rome. Which, if any man would see proved, let him (as I have said once before) see whether he can translate any School divine into any of the modern tongues, as French, English, or any other copious language: for that which cannot in most of these be made intelligible is not intelligible in the Latin. Which insignificancy of language, though I cannot note it for false philosophy, yet it hath a quality, not only to hide the truth, but also to make men think they have it, and desist from further search.

Lastly, for the errors brought in from false or uncertain history, what is all the legend of fictitious miracles in the lives of the saints; and all the histories of apparitions and ghosts alleged by the doctors of the Roman Church, to make good their doctrines of hell and purgatory, the power of exorcism, and other doctrines which have no warrant, neither in reason nor Scripture; as also all those traditions which they call the unwritten word of God; but old wives’ fables? Whereof, though they find dispersed somewhat in the writings of the ancient Fathers, yet those Fathers were men that might too easily believe false reports. And the producing of their opinions for testimony of the truth of what they believed hath no other force with them that, according to the counsel of St. John,* examine spirits than in all things that concern the power of the Roman Church (the abuse whereof either they suspected not, or had benefit by it), to discredit their testimony in respect of too rash belief of reports; which the most sincere men without great knowledge of natural causes, such as the Fathers were, are commonly the most subject to: for naturally, the best men are the least suspicious of fraudulent purposes. Gregory the Pope and St. Bernard have somewhat of apparitions of ghosts that said they were in purgatory; and so has our Bede: but nowhere, I believe, but by report from others. But if they, or any other, relate any such stories of their own knowledge, they shall not thereby confirm the more such vain reports, but discover their own infirmity or fraud.

* I John, 4. 1

With the introduction of false, we may join also the suppression of true philosophy by such men as neither by lawful authority nor sufficient study are competent judges of the truth. Our own navigations make manifest, and all men learned in human sciences now acknowledge, there are antipodes: and every day it appeareth more and more that years and days are determined by motions of the earth. Nevertheless, men that have in their writings but supposed such doctrine, as an occasion to lay open the reasons for and against it, have been punished for it by authority ecclesiastical. But what reason is there for it? Is it because such opinions are contrary to true religion? That cannot be, if they be true. Let therefore the truth be first examined by competent judges, or confuted by them that pretend to know the contrary. Is it because they be contrary to the religion established? Let them be silenced by the laws of those to whom the teachers of them are subject; that is, by the laws civil: for disobedience may lawfully be punished in them that against the laws teach even true philosophy. Is it because they tend to disorder in government, as countenancing rebellion or sedition? Then let them be silenced, and the teachers punished, by virtue of his power to whom the care of the public quiet is committed; which is the authority civil. For whatsoever power ecclesiastics take upon themselves (in any place where they are subject to the state) in their own right, though they call it God’s right, is but usurpation.


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Chicago: Thomas Hobbes, "Chapter XLVI," Leviathan Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4831RB47LI59M7P.

MLA: Hobbes, Thomas. "Chapter XLVI." Leviathan, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4831RB47LI59M7P.

Harvard: Hobbes, T, 'Chapter XLVI' in Leviathan. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4831RB47LI59M7P.