Title: "Hobbes’s Mechanico-Perspectivalist Epistemology"
Scholars frequently identify Hobbes as a reductionist or, if not a reductionist, as holding that explanations of macroscopic phenomena should *ideally* appeal only to minute bodies in motion, such as corpuscles. Evidence for claims like these highlights Hobbes’s refusals to countenance any occult powers, his identification of substance with body, or his denials of final causation. However, although Hobbes clearly holds the metaphysical thesis that only bodies exist, it is less clear what “level,” to use an anachronism, of complexity counts as a Hobbesian body. Indeed, Hobbes comfortably appeals to entities at varying levels of complexity, such as geometric lines, bodily organs, human persons, and artificial commonwealths, as well as to the activities that those entities undertake. For example, geometric lines are moved (DCo VI.6), sense organs vibrate (Lev I), human persons authorize (Lev XVI), and artificial commonwealths procreate (Lev XXIV). These all count as Hobbesian bodies, but why?
The strict reductionist could claim that talk of these complex entities as bodies is metaphorical, or perhaps that these entities are placeholders until a reduction to corpuscles becomes possible, but Hobbes did not make either of these claims. In this paper, I argue that thinking about Hobbes’s claim that knowledge (scientia) comes only by making in construction will help make some headway toward understanding his metaphysical commitments.
First, I show, against thinking of Hobbes as a corpuscularian, that Hobbes was committed to the infinite divisibility of body (DialPhys, OL IV.244–245; DCo 27.1, OL I.362–364, EW I.445–448), a view of his Boyle criticized in Examen. Second, I argue that Hobbes did not privilege any particular “level”, as it were. Instead, one can consider a body in one way for one explanation but in another way for another. For example, if interested in Earth’s annual path, “consider” the Earth as if it were a single point (OL I.98–99), but if interested in Earth’s diurnal motion, then consider it as a body moving with “simple circular motion” (OL IV.252). Third, I claim that this flexibility of “level” is a feature of what I call Hobbes’s mechanico-perspectivalist epistemology. Here ‘mechanico’ is meant to signal Hobbes’s commitment to scientia as making in construction, from geometry through civil philosophy, and ‘perspectivalist’ that the principles one adopts at the beginning of a construction depend upon one’s interests. In the end, what counts as a Hobbesian body depends upon both the external world and a knower’s aims.