Leviathan Paraphrased – Part 1, Chapter 3


This is what I’m calling “consequence” or “train” of thoughts: the succession of thoughts from one to another. Another term is Mental Discourse, a different discourse from a discourse of words.

Suppose a person thinks on anything at all. The next thought this person has isn’t such a casual affair. Any possible thought isn’t going to randomly show up after a particular thought. We just saw that we have no imagination without the impression of sense, either wholly or in part. It’s also true that we don’t have a transition from one imagination to another, without a comparable transition to be found previously in our experienced sense.

This is why: all fancies (imaginations) are motions inside us, relics of those previous motions experienced directly (sense). As motion follows motion in sense, they remain connected after sense. If the first impression upon sense returns again and dominates sense, we expect that the second will follow again. The cohesion of these impressions is like a small drop of water that can be moved along a table by a person’s fingertip – no drop of water remains behind; it all flows together. This isn’t always the case in sense – sometimes the first impression is followed by the second, sometimes by another altogether. This leads to an uncertainty what we shall imagine next, but it remains certain that the next imagination will be a transition observed before, at one time or other.

There are two types of mental discourse. The first is unguided, without design, and random. Here there is no passionate thought that would govern and direct the thoughts that follow to a specific goal or desire. The thoughts are wandering, and seem irrelevant to each other, like a dream. A person without company frequently has a train of thoughts like this, and so does a person without any problems in the world. Their thoughts are just as busy as anyone else’s, but there is no harmony, like someone playing an out-of-tune lute, or better yet, someone unpracticed playing a tuned lute. Even so, you can sometimes catch the drift of thoughts, and how they are dependant on each other. In a recent essay on the present civil war, a random statement was made: “What was the value of a Roman penny?” Yet I saw the coherence of thought – thinking about the war led to the thought of giving the King up to his enemies, that thought flows to the betrayal of Christ, and from there to the 30 pence price of that treason, and so easily comes that malicious question. All of this happened in a moment of time, because thought is quick.

The second type of mental discourse is more constant, for it is regulated by some desire and design. Anything we desire or fear makes a strong and permanent impression upon us, and if distracted from it, we find it comes back quickly, even to the point of disturbing our sleep. Desire causes us to think of some plan we have seen that can produce the goal we seek. That thought makes us consider a plan to access that plan, and so on, until we come to a place that we ourselves can begin. The desired goal is so powerful that if our thoughts wander, they quickly return to the way. One of the seven wise men observed this, and so gave us this old worn-out saying: Respice finem (Look to the end). In other words, in everything you do, keep your eyes on what you would have, that powerful impression that will guide your thoughts in the way to attain it.

There are two types of regulated thought sequences. One, we see a desired effect and search for the causes to produce it (this is common to both humans and animals). Two, as we consider any possible thought whatsoever, we also look at all the possible effects that can be produced by this thought – we imagine what we can do with it once we have it. I have only ever seen this ability in people. It’s not fundamental to the nature of any other living creature with only sensual passions like hunger, thirst, lust, and anger. In short, the mind’s discourse, when governed by design, is nothing but seeking – it is that faculty called Invention. The Latins use the words sagacitias and solertis for this: a hunt for either the causes of some effect, past or present, or the effects of some past or present cause. For example, a person searches for something lost. The mind starts from the place where the thing was missed, and searches backwards and forwards, from place to place, from time to time, to find the last place it was present, some certain and limited place and time in which to start methodical seeking. The person will also think about what action or occasion might have caused the loss. This we call Remembrance, or calling to mind; the Latins call it reminiscentia, a reconnaissance of our former actions.

Sometimes the person knows a specific place that should be searched, and the mind’s thoughts will run over all parts of that place just like you would sweep a room to find a jewel, or as a dog runs about until it finds a scent, or as a poet runs through the alphabet to find a rhyme.

Sometimes we want to know the outcome of an action, and so we think of some similar action in the past, and the following sequence of events. We suppose that similar events will follow similar actions. To foresee what will happen to a criminal, we recall what has happened to criminals guilty of the same crime, and follow it through to the end – the crime, the officer, the prison, the judge, and the gallows. We call this sequence of thoughts foresight, prudence, providence, and sometimes wisdom, even though such conjecture could be very wrong indeed, seeing that we can’t foresee every circumstance. However, this is certain enough: the more experience a person has of past actions, the more this person is prudent. Expectations fail this person less often. The present exists in nature alone, the past exists only in our memories, but future events don’t exist at all. The future is a fiction of the mind, composed by applying the outcome of past actions to present ones. This is done with the most certainty by someone with the most experience, but even then the certainty is not enough. Yes, we call it prudence when the event happens as we foresaw it! But considered by itself, prudence is only presumption. The true foresight of things to come, which we call providence, belongs solely to the one by whose will those events are to come. From that one, and supernaturally, comes prophecy. The best prophet is quite naturally the best guesser, and the best guesser will always be the person most experienced and studied in the events being guessed, for that person has the most signs to guess by.

A Sign is an event that happens before another event that is determined to be the cause of that second event by repeated observation. The more the events are observed together, the less uncertain the sign. So anyone with the most experience in any kind of business has the most signs to use in guessing at the future. That person will be much more prudent than someone new to that business, and therefore won’t be equaled by some advantage of natural and spontaneous wit. Perhaps young people think the contrary.

However it’s not prudence that separates humans from animals. Some year old animals observe and pursue good conditions more prudently than a child of ten.

Prudence, then, is a presumption of future events, built from past experiences. There is also a presumption of past events, taken not from future events, but from past experience as well. If anyone has seen the paths and degrees by which a flourishing nation falls into civil war, and then to ruin, then upon the sight of another state’s ruins, that person will guess the same kind of wars and endeavors to have happened there as well. This conjecture has almost the same uncertainty as conjecture about the future, both being grounded only upon experience.

Is there any other activity of our minds, naturally planted within us, which needs anything more to be exercised but that we are born and live with the use of our five senses? I can’t think of a single one. I shall speak of other faculties which seem properly human ones, but they are acquired and grow strong by study and industry. They are learned by instruction and discipline, and they all proceed from the invention of words and speech. That is the sum total of the motion of a human mind: speech, separate thoughts, and sequences of thoughts. However, with speech and method, these faculties can be improved so greatly so that humans can be distinguished from all other living creatures.

Anything at all that we imagine is finite. Therefore, there is no actual idea or conception of anything we call infinite. No person could have in their mind an image of infinite magnitude. We can’t think of infinite speed, time, force, or power. When we say that something is infinite, we only mean that we can’t conceive of the ends or limits of this thing. We have no concept of this thing but our own inability. And so we use the name of God, not to say that we conceive God – God is incomprehensible! God’s power and greatness are inconceivable! – but so that we can honor God. Furthermore, since, as I said before, we can conceive nothing except what has been placed in our consciousness in some way, therefore no one can have a thought representing anything not subject to sense. We aren’t able to think of anything unless we give it some context, grant it a specific magnitude, and possibly divide it into parts. Also, we can’t conceive of something completely in two different places at the same time or two different things in the same place at once – how could such a thing form itself through our senses into our sense? Such talk is foolish speech, taken at face value without any sensibility at all from deceived philosophers and deceived or deceiving Scholars.


1 Comment

  1. October 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    These are really well done. They are really helping me to understand the Leviathan. Do you have more for chapter 4,5, or 6? Thanks!

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