Thomas Hobbes and the constraints that enable the imitation of God

Inquiry 42 (2):149 – 176 (1999)
Abstract
Hobbes promises to teach philosophers how to imitate God. With this bold claim as its basis, the paper questions the widely accepted view that Hobbes authored an early instance of a modern social science. It focuses on the constraints that Hobbes imposes on the language of philosophical practitioners. He restricts its truth-claims to the closed circle of language; he does not philosophize to describe, model, predict, or mirror empirical reality. He nevertheless makes claims for a useful science, one that can construct a stable commonwealth. The restrictive claims concerning truth and Hobbes's claim to a practical philosophy are reconciled through an investigation of his distinction between 'a posteriori' and 'a priori' sciences. Hobbes teaches philosophers to imitate God as a creator : as a 're-creator' of divinely produced effects (a posteriori), or (like an architect) by manipulating matter to create things we design ourselves (a priori). The science of politics is a priori. It dictates the motions (of men) so as to create a well-ordered commonwealth, an artificial man, a creation made in our own image.
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