Leviathan Paraphrased – Part 1, Chapter 1



In our discussion of a person’s thoughts, I will first talk about them separately, and then how they link and depend upon each other.

Separately, each individual thought is a representation of some quality or aspect of a body outside of ourselves. A general term for any body outside of ourselves is an object, and objects work on our eyes and ears and other parts of our bodies. The different ways an object has to work upon our senses produces the differences of appearances in the world.

The origin of all thought is what we call consciousness or sense (because every single concept in a person’s mind has been put there via the organs of sense). All thoughts are derived from sense.

In this discussion, it’s not necessary to examine where sense comes from, and I’ve written a lot about it elsewhere. But I will share a summary of that past writing to be complete.

The cause of sense is that external object, which presses against each of our sense organs in appropriate ways. Objects press immediately against our organs of touch and taste. They use a medium to press against our other organs (sight, sound, and smell). From there, all impressions use the mediation of nerves to continue into the brain and heart. That pressure causes a counter-pressure, a resistance – the heart pushes back against this pressure. It’s this counter-pressure that seems to be some matter outside the body. This “seeming”, or fancy, is what we call Sense – in the eye, sense looks like light or color; in the ear, like sound; to the nose, sense is an odor; to the tongue and palate, a savor; and to the rest of the body, sense is heat, cold, hardness, softness, and other qualities or aspects that the body recognizes in sensation.

Now all these sensible qualities that appear separate to us are just different motions in the body that causes the sensation. Even inside us, the pressures produced inside us are just different kinds of motions as well (motion produces nothing but motion). But the way they appear to us is what we call fancy, and fancy is the same whether sleeping or awake. If you press your eye, you will think you see a strange light, and when you press your ear, you fancy that you hear a whirring sound. The bodies we see or hear are producing a fancy within us exactly the same way, by pressing against our various organs of sense in ways appropriate to them.

LensIf those colors and sounds were inside the bodies that cause them, they couldn’t be severed from them – as for example, when by using a lenses you can see the thing in one place and an appearance of the thing in another. Sometimes at the proper distance it seems impossible to think anything else but that the real object is exactly the same as the fancy we have received from it – but the object is always one thing, and the image or fancy is another. Conciousness, then, in every case is nothing else but the original fancy caused by the pressure, that is, the motion of external things upon our eyes, ears, and other organs.

Philosophy schools in all the universities of Christendom say differently, because they rely on certain passages found in Aristotle’s writings. To explain vision, they say that the “visible” thing sends out on all sides a visible “species”, or in plain English, a visible show or apparition, or a being seen. Receiving this thing in our eyes is called seeing. The same is said about hearing – a audible “species”, an audible being seen, is sent out which is received in the ear, that is called hearing. If you can believe it, they even explain understanding the same way – the thing understood sends out an “intelligible” species, an intelligible being seen, that goes into our understanding, and makes us understand.

I’m not telling you this to make anyone swear off universities. I have to speak of them later, when I talk of their proper place in the Commonwealth. As we go along, I want you to see the various things that must be fixed in them – one being, their habitual use of unintelligible speech.


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