Made with Words

Made with Words: Hobbes on Language, Mind, and Politics

Philip Pettit
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Made with Words
    Book Description:

    Hobbes's extreme political views have commanded so much attention that they have eclipsed his work on language and mind, and on reasoning, personhood, and group formation. But this work is of immense interest in itself, as Philip Pettit shows inMade with Words, and it critically shapes Hobbes's political philosophy.

    Pettit argues that it was Hobbes, not later thinkers like Rousseau, who invented the invention of language thesis--the idea that language is a cultural innovation that transformed the human mind. The invention, in Hobbes's story, is a double-edged sword. It enables human beings to reason, commit themselves as persons, and incorporate in groups. But it also allows them to agonize about the future and about their standing relative to one another; it takes them out of the Eden of animal silence and into a life of inescapable conflict--the state of nature. Still, if language leads into this wasteland, according to Hobbes, it can also lead out. It can enable people to establish a commonwealth where the words of law and morality have a common, enforceable sense, and where people can invoke the sanctions of an absolute sovereign to give their words to one another in credible commitment and contract.

    Written by one of today's leading philosophers,Made with Wordsis both an original reinterpretation and a clear and lively introduction to Hobbes's thought.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2822-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    I argued in a previous book that Thomas Hobbes was one of the earliest critics, and perhaps the most significant opponent, of the republican way of thinking about freedom and government (Pettit 1997). His ideas about freedom, although fashioned to fit with an absolutist view of the state, were entirely original and played a crucial part in the development of classical liberalism—a later, nonabsolutist alternative to republican theory—in the nineteenth century. It was that fact about his views that led me to become interested in Hobbes’s thought. And it is a good reason for being interested, since he...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Mind in Nature
    (pp. 9-23)

    The theory of mind and nature that came down to philosophers of the seventeenth century from medieval scholasticism, and ultimately from Aristotle, depicted the mind of animal and human as a hierarchical system of faculties. At the base, there were the faculties of the senses whereby, so it was thought, sensory properties and objects were grasped and reproduced, brought to life in the mind in much the way a television set brings to life the pictures and sounds produced by a broadcasting station. The color and texture of things, their smell, taste, and sound, were given an intentional existence in...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Minds with Words
    (pp. 24-41)

    This picture of the mental life with which nature furnishes human beings, according to Hobbes, has two striking features. The first is that every process that takes place within the mind, cognitive or appetitive, is entirely particularistic. People will see and remember, represent and desire, only concrete things and situations. They will have no capacity to hold by general claims about how things are, or by general policies or principles for the direction of action. They will be prisoners of the imagined particular. Presented with a triangle, they will register just the individual figure contemplated, not any general aspect of...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Using Words to Ratiocinate
    (pp. 42-54)

    The wordreasoning, both in Hobbes or more generally, refers to a particular variety of active, general thought: that in which our thinking leads us, not to recognize one or another truth, as for example in classifying objects of perception, memory, or imagination, but to recognize the connection that ties different truths together. The exercise of reason in this usage is inherently inferential. It consists in seeing that one proposition entails another, and on that ground, in moving from an acceptance of the first proposition to an acceptance of the second, or from a rejection of the second to a...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Using Words to Personate
    (pp. 55-69)

    I have documented one way in which speech expands the horizons of human beings, giving them a capacity for thinking and reasoning. But there is quite a distinct capacity that it also underpins, according to Hobbes. This is the ability to assume the mutual commitments and contracts that mark them not just as centers of reasoning but as persons—in Hobbes’s terminology, as centers of personation (L 16.3). This second benefit is just as dramatic in its implications as the first, though it receives less explicit attention in his work; it is brought to the fore only late in the...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Using Words to Incorporate
    (pp. 70-83)

    There is a third benefit that speech confers on the mind, apart from the capacity to reason and personate. This is the ability of people to incorporate: to come together and act as a single corporate person. Hobbes thinks that individuals are constituted as natural persons by the role they play in self-personation, giving and taking one another’s word. And this role theory allows him to make room for the possibility that groups of people might be constituted as something like corporate persons on a parallel basis.

    Medieval legal theory had much to say on the nature of incorporation since,...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Words and the Warping of Appetite
    (pp. 84-97)

    But words are not a certain good. For the linguistic capacity that makes reasoning, personating, and incorporating possible has negative effects as well. It creates havoc in the realm of human passion, making monsters out of the simple animals that human beings might otherwise be. We must now explore this dark side of what language, according to Hobbes, does for human beings.

    Speech connects up with the passions in two ways, each of them a source of problem and disorder. First of all, as we saw in chapter 2, it enables people to give expression to their passions, putting evaluative...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The State of Second, Worded Nature
    (pp. 98-114)

    If the argument so far is reliable, then the message is clear. By words human beings are lifted out of the passive, particularistic mentality of animals, being given the capacity to reason, personate, and incorporate. But by words human beings are also cast out of the garden of animal innocence, and reduced to a life of quarrel and distrust, unknown among other living creatures. Hobbes refers to the “condition of men outside civil society” as “the state of nature” (DCv preface). What my argument shows is that the state of nature in his sense is not the precultural state in...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Commonwealth of Ordered Words
    (pp. 115-140)

    And so we come to the commonwealth that Hobbes hails as the salvation of humankind. Although human beings are born in animal quietude, the invention of words leads them into inevitable strife, putting them at motivational loggerheads and making it impossible for them to agree on any common, normative currency for the regulation of their affairs. But the invention of words provides the solution for the very problem it creates, enabling human beings to enter into a contract for incorporation that creates a sovereign sufficiently powerful to embody the commonwealth: “that great Leviathan,” “that Mortal God to which we owe,...

  12. Summary
    (pp. 141-154)

    The itinerary we have followed in tracking Hobbes’s ideas is built around some clear landmarks. The theory of the natural mind marks out Hobbes as a convert to the new science who thinks that the motions of matter found in human and nonhuman animals give rise to a passive, particularistic sort of mentality. But what of the complex mentality that distinguishes human beings, giving them a capacity for active, general thought? Where Descartes thinks that this is the only sort of mentality, and that it is due to the presence of a nonmaterialres cogitans—a thinking thing—Hobbes’s theory...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 155-168)
  14. References
    (pp. 169-176)
  15. Index
    (pp. 177-183)