The Elements of Law/Part I/Chapter 4

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The Elements of Law
by Thomas Hobbes
Part I, Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Of the Several Kinds of Discursion of the Mind[edit]

1. The succession of conceptions in the mind, their series or consequence of one after another, may be casual and incoherent, as in dreams for the most part; and it may be orderly, as when the former thought introduceth the latter; and this is discourse of the mind. But because the word discourse is commonly taken for the coherence and consequence of words, I will (to avoid equivocation) call it DISCURSION.

2. The cause of the coherence or consequence of one conception to another, is their first coherence, or consequence at that time when they were produced by sense. As for example: from St. Andrew the mind runneth to St. Peter, because their names are read together; from St. Peter to a stone, for the same cause; from stone to foundation, because we see them together; and for the same cause, from foundation to church, from church to people, and from people to tumult. And according to this example, the mind may run almost from any thing to any thing. But as to the sense the conception of cause and effect succeed one another. so may they after sense in the imagination. And for the most part they do so. The cause whereof is the appetite of them, who, having a conception of the end, have next unto it a conception of the next means to that end. As when a man, from the thought of honour to which he hath an appetite, cometh to the thought of wisdom, which is the next means thereto; and from thence to the thought of study, which is the next means to wisdom, etc.

3. To omit that kind of discursion by which we proceed from any thing to any thing, there are of the other kind divers sorts. As first in the senses: there are certain coherences of conceptions, which we may call RANGING. Examples whereof are: a man's casting his eye upon the ground, to look about for some small thing lost; the hounds casting about at a fault in hunting; and the ranging of spaniels. And herein we take a beginning arbitrarily.

4. Another sort of discursion is, when the appetite giveth a man his beginning, as in the example before adduced: where honour, to which a man hath appetite, maketh him to think upon the next means of attaining it, and that again of the next, &c. And this the Latins call sagacitas, SAGACITY, and we may call it hunting or tracing, as dogs trace the beast by the smell, and men hunt them by their footsteps; or as men hunt after riches, place, or knowledge.

5. There is yet another kind of discursion beginning with appetite to recover something lost, proceeding from the present backward, from the thought of the place where we miss it, to the thought of the place from whence we came last; and from the thought of that, to the thought of a place before, till we have in our mind some place, wherein we had the thing we miss: and this is called REMINISCENCE.

6. The remembrance of the succession of one thing to another, that is, of what was antecedent, and what consequent, and what concomitant, is called an EXPERIMENT; whether the same be made by us voluntarily, as when a man putteth any thing into the fire, to see what effect the fire will produce upon it; or not made by us, as when we remember a fair morning after a red evening. To have had many experiments, is that we call EXPERIENCE, which is nothing else but remembrance of what antecedents have been followed with what consequents.

7. No man can have in his mind a conception of the future, for the future is not yet. But of our conceptions of the past, we make a future; or rather, call past, future relatively. Thus after a man hath been accustomed to see like antecedents followed by like consequents, whensoever he seeth the like come to pass to any thing he had seen before, he looks there should follow it the same that followed then. As for example: because a man hath often seen offences followed by punishment, when he seeth an offence in present, he thinketh punishment to be consequent thereto. But consequent unto that which is present, men call future. And thus we make remembrance to be prevision or conjecture of things to come, or EXPECTATION or PRESUMPTION of the future.

8. In the same manner, if a man seeth in present that which he hath seen before, he thinks that that which was antecedent to what he saw before, is also antecedent to that he presently seeth. As for example: he that hath seen the ashes remain after the fire, and now again seeth ashes, concludeth again there hath been fire. And this is called CONJECTURE of the past, or presumption of fact.

9. When a man hath so often observed like antecedents to be followed by like consequents, that whensoever he seeth the antecedent, he looketh again for the consequent; or when he seeth the consequent, he maketh account there hath been the like antecedent; then he calleth both the antecedent and the consequent, SIGNS one of another, as clouds are a sign of rain to come, and rain of clouds past.

10. This taking of signs from experience, is that wherein men do ordinarily think, the difference stands between man and man in wisdom, by which they commonly understand a man's whole ability or power cognitive. But this is an error; for these signs are but conjectural; and according as they have often or seldom failed, so their assurance is more or less; but never full and evident; for though a man hath always seen the day and night to follow one another hitherto; yet can he not thence conclude they shall do so, or that they have done so eternally. Experience concludeth nothing universally. If the signs hit twenty times for once missing, a man may lay a wager of twenty to one of the event; but may not conclude it for a truth. But by this it is plain, that they shall conjecture best, that have most experience: because they have most signs to conjecture by; which is the reason that old men are more prudent, that is, conjecture better, caeteris paribus, than young. For, being older, they remember more; and experience is but remembrance. And men of quick imagination, caeteris paribus, are more prudent than those whose imaginations are slow: for they observe more in less time. And PRUDENCE is nothing else but conjecture from experience, or taking signs of experience warily, that is, that the experiments from which one taketh such signs be all remembered; for else the cases are not alike, that seem so.

11. As in conjectural things concerning past and future, it is prudence to conclude from experience, what is likely to come to pass, or to have passed already; so is it an error to conclude from it, that is so or so called. That is to say, we cannot from experience conclude, that any thing is to be called just or unjust, true or false, nor any proposition universal whatsoever, except it be from remembrance of the use of names imposed arbitrarily by men. For example: to have heard a sentence given (in the like case the like sentence a thousand times) is not enough to conclude that the sentence is just (though most men have no other means to conclude by); but it is necessary, for the drawing of such conclusion, to trace and find out, by many experiences, what men do mean by calling things just and unjust, and the like. Farther, there is another caveat to be taken in concluding by experience, from the tenth section of the second chapter., that is, that we conclude not such things to be without, that are within us.