The Elements of Law/Part I/Chapter 13

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The Elements of Law
by Thomas Hobbes
Part I, Chapter 13

Chapter 13: How by Language Men Work Upon Each Other's Minds[edit]

1. Having spoken of the powers and acts of the mind, both cognitive and motive, considered in every man by himself, without relation to others; it will fall fitly into this chapter, to speak of the effects of the same powers one upon another; which effects are also the signs, by which one taketh notice of what another conceiveth and intendeth. Of these signs, some are such as cannot easily be counterfeited; as actions and gestures, especially if they be sudden; whereof I have mentioned some for example sake in the ninth chapter, at the several passions whereof they are signs; others there are that may be counterfeited: and those are words or speech; of the use and effect whereof I am to speak in this place.

2. The first use of language, is the expression of our conceptions, that is, the begetting in another the same conceptions that we have in ourselves; and this is called TEACHING; wherein if the conceptions of him that teacheth continually accompany his words, beginning at something from experience, then it begetteth the like evidence in the hearer that understandeth them, and maketh him know something, which he is therefore said to LEARN. But if there be not such evidence, then such teaching is called PERSUASION, and begetteth no more in the hearer, than what is in the speaker, bare opinion. And the signs of two opinions contradictory one to another, namely' affirmation and negation of the same thing, is called a CONTROVERSY; but both affirmations, or both negations, CONSENT in opinion.

3. The infallible sign of teaching exactly, and without error, is this: that no man hath ever taught the contrary; not that few, how few soever, if any. For commonly truth is on the side of the few, rather than of the multitude; but when in opinions and questions considered and discussed by many, it happeneth that not any one of the men that so discuss them differ from another, then it may be justly inferred, they know what they teach, and that otherwise they do not. And this appeareth most manifestly to them that have considered the divers subjects wherein men have exercised their pens, and the divers ways in which they have proceeded; together with the diversity of the success thereof. For those men who have taken in hand to consider nothing else but the comparison of magnitudes, numbers, times, and motions, and their proportions one to another, have thereby been the authors of all those excellences, wherein we differ from such savage people as are now the inhabitants of divers places in America; and as have been the inhabitants heretofore of those countries where at this day arts and sciences do most flourish. For from the studies of these men hath proceeded, whatsoever cometh to us for ornament by navigation; and whatsoever we have beneficial to human society by the division, distinction, and portraying of the face of the earth; whatsoever also we have by the account of times, and foresight of the course of heaven; whatsoever by measuring distances, planes, and solids of all sorts; and whatsoever either elegant or defensible in building: all which supposed away, what do we differ from the wildest of the Indians? Yet to this day was it never heard of, that there was any controversy concerning any conclusion in this subject; the science whereof hath nevertheless been continually amplified and enriched with conclusions of most difficult and profound speculation. The reason whereof is apparent to every man that looketh into their writings; for they proceed from most low and humble principles, evident even to the meanest capacity; going on slowly, and with most scrupulous ratiocination (viz.) from the imposition of names they infer the truth of their first propositions; and from two of the first, a third; and from any two of the three a fourth; and so on, according to the steps of science, mentioned chap. VI, sect. 4. On the other side, those men who have written concerning the faculties, passions, and manners of men, that is to say, of moral philosophy, or of policy, government, and laws, whereof there be infinite volumes have been so far from removing doubt and controversy in the questions they have handled, that they have very much multiplied the same; nor doth any man at this day so much as pretend to know more than hath been delivered two thousand years ago by Aristotle. And yet every man thinks that in this subject he knoweth as much as any other; supposing there needeth thereunto no study but that it accrueth to them by natural wit; though they play, or employ their mind otherwise in the purchase of wealth or place. The reason whereof is no other, than that in their writings and discourses they take for principles those opinions which are already vulgarly received, whether true or false; being for the most part false. There is therefore a great deal of difference between teaching and persuading; the signs of this being controversy; the sign of the former, no controversy

4. There be two sorts of men that be commonly called learned: one is that sort that proceedeth evidently from humble principles, as is described in the last section; and these men are called mathematics; the other are they that take up maxims from their education, and from the authority of men, or of custom, and take the habitual discourse of the tongue for ratiocination; and these are called dogmatics. Now seeing in the last section, those we call mathematics are absolved of the crime of breeding controversy; and they that pretend not to learning cannot be accused; the fault lieth altogether in the dogmatics, that is to say, those that are imperfectly learned, and with passion press to have their opinions pass everywhere for truth, without any evident demonstration either from experience, or from places of Scripture of uncontroverted interpretation.

5. The expression of those conceptions which cause in us the expectation of good while we deliberate, as also of those which cause our expectation of evil, is that which we call COUNSELLING. And as in the internal deliberation of the mind concerning what we ourselves are to do, or not to do, the consequences of the action are our counsellors, by alternate succession in the mind; so in the counsel which a man taketh from other men, the counsellors alternately do make appear the consequences of the action, and do not any of them deliberate, but furnish amongst them all him that is counselled, with arguments whereupon to deliberate within himself.

6. Another use of speech is the expression of appetite, intention, and will; as the appetite of knowledge by interrogation; appetite to have a thing done by another, as request, prayer, petition; expressions of our purpose or intention, as PROMISE, which is the affirmation or negation of some action to be done in the future; THREATENING, which is the promise of evil; and COMMANDING, which is that speech by which we signify to another our appetite or desire to have any thing done, or left undone, for reason contained in the will itself: for it is not properly said, Sic volo, sic jubeo, without that other clause, Stet pro ratione voluntas: and when the command is a sufficient reason to move us to the action, then is that command called a LAW.

7. Another use of speech is INSTIGATION and APPEASiNG, by which we increase or diminish one another's passions; it is the same thing with persuasion: the difference not being real. For the begetting of opinion and passion is the same act; but whereas in persuasion we aim at getting opinion from passion; here, the end is, to raise passion from opinion. And as in raising an opinion. from passion, any premises are good enough to infer the desired conclusion; so, in raising passion from opinion, it is no matter whether the opinion be true or false, or the narration historical or fabulous. For not truth, but image, maketh passion; and a tragedy affecteth no less than a murder if well acted.

8. Though words be the signs we have of one another's opinions and intentions: because the equivocation of them is so frequent, according to the diversity of contexture, and of the company wherewith they go (which the presence of him that speaketh, our sight of his actions, and conjecture of his intentions, must help to discharge us of): it must be extreme hard to find out the opinions and meanings of those men that are gone from us long ago, and have left us no other signification thereof but their books; which cannot possibly be understood without history enough to discover those aforementioned circumstances, and also without great prudence to observe them.

9. When it happeneth that a man signifieth unto us two contradictory opinions whereof the one is clearly and directly signified, and the other either drawn from that by consequence, or not known to be contradictory to it; then (when he is not present to explicate himself better) we are to take the former of his opinions; for that is clearly signified to be his, and directly, whereas the other might proceed from error in the deduction, or ignorance of the repugnancy. The like also is to be held in two contradictory expressions of a man's intention and will, for the same reason.

10. Forasmuch as whosoever speaketh to another, intendeth thereby to make him understand what he saith; if he speak unto him, either in a language which he that heareth understandeth not, or use any word in other sense than he believeth is the sense of him that heareth; he intendeth also to make him not understand what he saith; which is a contradiction of himself. It is therefore always to be supposed, that he which intendeth not to deceive, alloweth the private interpretation of his speech to him to whom it is addressed.

11. Silence in them that think it will be so taken, is a sign of consent; for so little labour being required to say No, it is to be presumed, that in this case he that saith it not, consenteth.