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

Adams, Marcus P (2014) Mechanical Epistemology and Mixed Mathematics: Descartes’s Problems and Hobbes’s Unity. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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My dissertation answers what appears to be a simple question: How is Hobbes's politics related to his physics and metaphysics? However, answering this question has proved more difficult for scholars than it appears at first glance, and there has there has been no consensus in the literature over the past fifty years. Two well-represented extremes dominate the literature: the first view claims that Hobbes's politics is deduced from his physics and ultimately his metaphysics; and the second view claims that the politics arose independently of Hobbes's other work. My dissertation argues that Hobbes does in fact provide a unified systematic philosophy, and I contrast this unity with problems in Descartes's epistemology and optics. To make this argument, I carve a middle way between the two extremes in the literature by situating Hobbes within mechanical philosophy and 17th century mathematics. I use three concepts to clarify Hobbes's project: mechanical explanation, maker's knowledge, and mixed mathematical science. First, I show that for Hobbes a mechanical explanation involves tracing the motions of bodies at various levels of complexity, from simple points in geometry to human bodies in the state of nature and to commonwealth bodies. This view provides Hobbes with resources for a naturalized epistemology, which I show is the point at issue in Hobbes's Objections to Descartes's Meditations. Second, Hobbes says that we have "maker's knowledge" in geometry and politics. I show that "maker's knowledge" is Hobbes's empiricist answer to (1) how we have causal knowledge in politics and mathematics by constructing and (2) how mathematics is applicable to the world. Finally, I show that the mixed mathematical sciences, e.g., optics, were Hobbes's inspiration for a unified philosophical system. I argue that the physics in De corpore, the optics in De homine, and the politics in Leviathan are treated by Hobbes as mixed mathematical sciences, which provides a new way to see Hobbes as a consistent and non-reductive naturalist. Viewed in this light, the Leviathan turns out to have more methodological similarities to optics than to geometry.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Adams, Marcus
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMachamer, Peterpkmach@pitt.eduPKMACH
Committee MemberEngstrom, Stephenengstrom@pitt.eduENGSTROM
Committee MemberGarber,
Committee MemberJesseph,
Committee MemberPalmieri, Paolopap7@pitt.eduPAP7
Committee MemberRescher, Nicholasrescher@pitt.eduRESCHER
Date: 26 May 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 April 2014
Approval Date: 26 May 2014
Submission Date: 10 April 2014
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 202
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes, unity of science, systematic philosophy, optics, epistemology, mechanical philosophy, politics, mixed mathematics
Date Deposited: 26 May 2014 22:43
Last Modified: 26 May 2019 05:15


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