Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
Chapter IOf Sense
The original of them all is that which we call ‘sense,’ for there is no conception in a man’s mind which hath not at first, totally or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of sense. The rest are derived from that original.
To know the natural cause of sense is not very necessary to the business now in hand; and I have elsewhere written of the same at large. Nevertheless, to fill each part of my present method I will briefly deliver the same in this place.
The cause of sense is the external body, or object, which presseth the organ proper to each sense, either immediately, as in the taste and touch, or mediately, as in seeing, hearing, and smelling; which pressure, by the mediation of the nerves and other strings and membranes of the body continued inwards to the brain and heart, causeth there a resistance, or counter-pressure, or endeavour of the heart to deliver itself, which endeavour, because ‘outward,’ seemeth to be some matter without. And this ‘seeming’ or ‘fancy’ is that which men call ‘sense’ and consisteth, as to the eye, in a ‘light’ or ‘colour figured’; to the ear, in a ‘sound’; to the nostril, in an ‘odour’; to the tongue and palate, in a ‘savour’; and to the rest of the body, in ‘heat,’ ‘cold,’ ‘hardness,’ ‘softness,’ and such other qualities as we discern by ‘feeling.’ All which qualities, called ‘sensible’ are in the object that causeth them but so many several motions of the mater, by which it presseth our organs diversely. Neither in us that are pressed are they anything else but divers motions; for motion produceth nothing but motion. But their appearance to us is fancy, the same waking that dreaming. And as pressing, rubbing, or striking the eye, makes us fancy a light, and pressing the ear produceth a din, so do the bodies also we see or hear produce the same by their strong, though unobserved, action. For if those colours and sounds were in the bodies, or objects that cause them, they could not be severed from them, as by glasses, and in echoes by reflection, we see they are, where we know the thing we see is in one place, the appearance in another. And though at some certain distance the real and very object seem invested with the fancy it begets in us, yet still the object is one thing, the image or fancy is another. So that sense in all cases is nothing else but original fancy, caused, as I have said, by the pressure, that is by the motion, of external things upon our eyes, ears, and other organs thereunto ordained.
But the philosophy schools through all the universities of Christendom, grounded upon certain texts of Aristotle, teach another doctrine, and say, for the cause of ‘vision,’ that the thing seen sendeth forth on every side a ‘visible species,’ in English, a ‘visible show,’ ‘apparition,’ or ‘aspect,’ or ‘a being seen’; the receiving whereof into the eye is ‘seeing.’ And for the cause of ‘hearing,’ that the thing heard sendeth forth an ‘audible species,’ that is an ‘audible aspect,’ or ‘audible being seen,’ which entering at the ear maketh ‘hearing.’ Nay, for the cause of ‘understanding’ also, they say the thing understood sendeth forth an ‘intelligible species,’ that is, an ‘intelligible being seen,’ which, coming into the understanding, makes us understand. I say not this as disproving the use of universities; but, because I am to speak hereafter of their office in a commonwealth, I must let you see on all occasions by the way what things would be amended in them, amongst which the frequency of insignificant speech is one.