Mechanical Epistemology and Mixed Mathematics: Descartes’ Problems and Hobbes’ Unity


ACLS Fellowship Program , Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Thomas Hobbes offers a remarkably consistent, unified philosophy, but there has been little consensus on how to characterize the unity of his philosophy. This project provides a new way to understand it that sheds light on the structure of the Leviathan and exposes the source of Hobbes’ objections to Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and Cartesian philosophy more generally. The project articulates Hobbes’ unity by arguing that his commitment to mechanical philosophy permeated all aspects of his philosophy, from a ‘mechanical epistemology’ to his later views on causal explanation in natural philosophy and politics. It argues, moreover, that Hobbes provided a unified philosophy in which causal explanations in politics and natural philosophy depend upon, but are not deduced from or reducible to, causal principles from geometry and first philosophy. It characterizes this dependence by showing that Hobbes viewed natural philosophy and politics as mixed mathematical disciplines, akin to astronomy and optics.