A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: “The New Men”: Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes

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The Renaissance begins at the end of the fifteenth century and the weeds of modernism begin to flourish and take their various forms, determining the cultural landscape. We noted in the previous lecture that the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were times of trouble and general challenges to authority left many institutions mortally wounded.

The Art of the early 16th century Renaissance, however, was a positive phenomenon and embodied memories of the importance of the human soul, but these memories were fading fast over the centuries. By the time we come to the twentieth century, we find art critics like Adrian Stokes needing to appeal to Psychoanalytical theory in his efforts to explain what he called “The Image in Form” and the relation of the image of the body in Art to the image of the soul in Art. Renaissance Art, in his view, is best illustrated in the mother of all Arts, Architecture. His view of Art begins with the pure outwardness of Space which he finds best symbolized in buildings such as Laurana’s courtyard of the ducal palace in Urbino. Stokes analyses the mass effect of this work and compares it to Roman and Baroque works which reek of manic grandiose intentions. There is the suggestion that what he classifies as “QuattroCento Art” is best expressed by those Italian artists who were perhaps more inspired by the Hellenic and Stoic view of Naturalism rather than the modern form of Scientific Naturalism that was establishing itself in the culture. The science of this time appeared to be dedicating itself to a mission of denuding the particular of all reference to the human soul. The QuattroCento spirit is, it could be argued, founded in an Aristotelian idea of the form that is being organized in material. Michelangelo, in the context of this discussion, is an interesting exemplification of this QuattroCento spirit. Responding to the mania of his time with his depressive tendencies and Aristotelian spirit he produced human sculptures in worked marble(“the warm stone” that bore the projection of his humanistic fantasies. All of this rings a strange chord to us Northerners accustomed to the temporal play of light in amongst the branches of the trees of the woods we dwell in. Our gazes are pulled in Gothic fashion upwards following the soaring trees. Not for us this steadfast horizontally planted steadfast gaze at what is in front of our eyes and in the front of our minds. Our Northern thoughts must flow like music and embellish our perceptions and “express” our personalities. This is the environment of the craftsman rather than the QuattroCento artist: a craft that follows not the categorical aesthetic imperative of the QuattroCento artist but a craft that follows the technological(scientific) imperative with an interested attitude that disqualifies it as an aesthetic activity, in the eyes of Kant. Even in the Renaissance, we encounter the battle of the imperatives.

Bertrand Russell in his “History of Western Philosophy” claims that the mental outlook of the modern is best characterised by two structural factors: the diminishing authority of the Church and the increasing influence of Science. Russell is undoubtedly correct in his reference to these macro-systemic processes but we wish to maintain that at certain periods in the history of the modern period(the Enlightenment) philosophical and aesthetic attitudes such as those expressed in the Renaissance and which originated in Greece are also factors to be considered in our modern accounts of modern man.

We have reflected much upon the erosion of authority in the church but worse was to come in the sixteenth century. Science and its “Northern naturalistic spirit” was going to make itself felt in no uncertain terms. Professor Brett notes the beginnings of the seismic shift to come in a work from 1501:

“in 1501 Magnus Hundt, Professor in Leipzig wrote a book on the “nature of man”, and made use for the first time of the term “Anthropologia“. In these words we see the process by which the naturalistic treatment of man developed its later forms.It is impossible to read Hundt’s book without feeling that it belongs to a new period….The soul is treated briefly and in epitome only: the centre of interest seems to have shifted from soul to body and in place of psychology we have the rudiments of descriptive zoology.”

The trend continued and as the concept of the soul was found guilty by association with religion, gradually the same kind of explanation was demanded both for physical and mental phenomena. This in its turn contaminated ethical discussions. In another work from 1574 by Levinas Lemnius entitled De Occultae Naturae we are exposed to a form of relativism that surely must have astonished the clergy and the religiously inclined. Lemnius maintained in this work that moral conscience varies with mode of life, age, and state of health. His account was purely an explanation in relation to a totality of facts without any recourse to either principle or the effect of principles on one’s mode of life.

Bertrand Russell in the section of his work cited above pointed to an interesting “modern” distinction between practical and theoretical science, a distinction he makes in terms of the difference between trying to understand the world and trying to change the world. He argues, probably correctly, that the latter view has increased in influence and that science has become more pragmatic, more utilitarian. This development, together with an interesting emphasis upon self-reliance and individualism connected in some way with casting aside the “chains” of religion produced an interesting Renaissance cocktail that not only resulted in the ethical relativism of Lemnius but also produced the political relativism of Machiavelli who undertook “to study life as he found it before our eyes”(Brett “History of Psychology” p.306). Machiavelli in his writings resembled a sociologist or a social psychologist more than a philosopher, and as Brett pointed out:

“For him the individual is the first object to be considered: man and circumstance are the two factors which explain all events and all social conditions. Society appears here only as a repressive agency from which the genius or the man of power escapes.”

Bertrand Russell praises Machiavelli’s honesty in a time of political dishonesty and appears not to recognise in him the modern image of Thrasymachus from Book 1 of Plato’s Republic. Thrasymachus was perhaps the first political realist to claim that when the stronger rule a state in their own interests such a state is just. The justification Thrasymachus gives for his position an argument based on the observation of past and present states and the behaviour of the politicians ruling these states. He argues that is, from something that is the case to something that ought to be the case. Machiavelli provided us with a modern variation on this theme based on the same poisonous observation that what is the case ought to be the case. Machiavelli was very much a child of the Italian Renaissance. He would dress in special clothes in the evenings and retire to read about ancient courts and statesmen, imagining himself in discourse with them about their times and his. Platonic philosophical cities or Augustinian Cities of God were not for him: “He who thinks that what should be instead of what is, learns his ruin rather than his preservation”(“The Prince”). The Prince, his individual par excellence should in his eyes, pay more heed to the people than to the Nobles whom he shall murder if they stand in his way. But listening to the people is only for the purposes of manipulating and deceiving them in order to keep their allegiance. This is Political Realism(Naturalism) at its worst but it was a clear expression of the process of the dissolution of Morality that inevitably accompanied the dissolution of religious authority and Aristotelian learning. Political realism of this kind requires of the Prince that he by sly as a fox and as fierce and cruel as a lion. These were the qualities necessary if one was to exercise power over Modern man whom he characterized as unscrupulous egoists. It is almost as if Machiavelli believes (as is perhaps the case with Russell too) that conscience insofar as it belongs to the realm of what one ought to do is not as real as what is the case(what they actually do). The world of intentions is very uncertain in chaotic political environments where the power game and the predictions that follow from it has replaced the ethical attitude of what ought ethically to be the case. Not for Machiavelli, the Greek attitude that it is exactly in such power-laden environments that Knowledge of the Good and good intentions are crucial for the stability of social and political life. For Machiavelli, as for Thrasymachus, practical reasoning has only one objective form and that is the form of what Kant called the technological imperative which can only view actions as means to an end, placing necessity not at the end of the chain but at those points where the means physically and causally bring about their effects. The technological imperative is a chain of efficient causes and is the practical correlate of the theoretical/causal reasoning of Science. These two forms of reasoning formed an unholy alliance in the minds of many many ethical and political “realists” in the “modern period”. This instrumental form of reasoning is contrasted in Kant with the Categorical imperative in which good intention is what is logically related to the good consequence. The Categorical Imperative can be seen as the Kantian response to Glaucon´s challenge to Socrates in the Republic to prove that justice is both good in itself and good in its consequences. The Categorical Imperative, that is, embraces both forms of the good. Machiavelli’s reduction of the good in itself to good consequences ruled by the realm of the technological imperative would have been met with the Socratic objection that such a position confuses Justice with Power.

Bertrand Russell claims that Francis Bacon was regarded as the originator of the expression “Knowledge is power”: and he points to the phenomenon we are attempting to highlight: namely the shift from a categorical form of theoretical reasoning to an instrumental form of practical reasoning in many regions of our discourse, including Science. Bacon was truly one of the “new men” combining political ambition with Science. As a young man, Bacon was supposedly subjected to the teachings of Aristotle at University though we do not know to what extent his teachers understood the intricacies of Aristotelian thinking. Shortly after this experience he entered Parliament and became an advisor to the Earl of Essex and it was not long before he displayed his Machiavellian disposition in matters of state. We find him both advising Queen Elisabeth 1st to be more tolerant to the Catholics and later being part of the committee drawing up the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. As Attorney General Bacon was not above using torture in order to obtain convictions. His “illustrious” career(Solicitor General, Attorney General, Lord Chancellor) ended under a cloud of suspicion when he was fined and shortly imprisoned in the Tower of London for taking bribes(23 charges of corruption)– a situation that Bertrand Russell in Thrasymachian fashion excused with the words, “the ethics of the legal profession in those days, were somewhat lax”(History of Western Philosophy, p526). Bacon is also reputed to have participated in the treason trial of the Earl of Essex(presumably testifying against him).

Francis Bacon is described by D W Hamlyn in his Penguin History of Western Philosophy as one of the “new men”. This is in many respects a true and important observation. He was both a man of Science and a man of Politics underlying these roles was a Sceptic and suspicion was the prevailing spirit of his life. Educated at Cambridge University he studied Aristotle as we mentioned but irrespective of the quality of the understanding of Aristotle by his teachers it might also be the case that his skepticism prevented the viewing of Aristotle’s Philosophy in the humanistic spirit in which it was conceived. Two typically skeptical criticisms leveled by Bacon at Aristotle were, firstly the questioning of the claim that sense experience presents things we perceive as they are in reality, and secondly, that the Aristotelian system of categories also does not correspond in any objective way to the things we encounter in our sense experiences. Aristotle did not merely rely on his categories or the four kinds of change in his complete account of change in the world, he also relied on his fourfold system of “causes/explanations” to further articulate his account. He claimed, for example, that some explanations for things being as they involve so-called material explanations, i.e. are explanations of sensible phenomena in terms of what things are made of. It is true that there existed no table of elements during the times of Aristotle and he conceived of the elements as earth, water, air and fire being combined and separated by the processes of hot and cold, wet and dry. In this context, it should also be pointed out that Aristotle was no stranger to atomistic thinking and whilst he might have thought that the sensible form of a thing was more of a guide to its real nature than the swarm of atoms theory, he understood that matter might be infinitely divisible( composed of smaller and smaller elements. He might not have conceded, however, that this was any ground for believing that there are atoms in the sense of indivisible elements. Insofar as the criticism that categories of thinking about things do not “correspond” with these things is concerned, Aristotle’s later conception of substance(substantial change for his is one of the categories of change) was transformed into that of “form” or “principle” and principles for him occur in a context only of explanation or justification: a very different context to that of the “description” of a thing in which one might well include, qualities, quantities, and sensible relations.

Bacon ignores much of the above account and approaches Aristotle with reductionist tendencies and this spirit is manifested in his discussion of how he believed heat could be reduced to motion. By motion he did not of course mean what Aristotle meant by “change”. Change, for Aristotle,included apart from substantial change, quantitative change, qualitative change, and locomotion(change of place). Bacon in his reflections appears to ignore substantial and qualitative change as well as the Aristotelian notions of formal and final “causes/explanations”. He produces no convincing argument for the elimination of these aspects of Aristotelian theory, merely a sceptical frame of mind that refuses to find any space for the toleration of theories that were abstract and needed deduction to bring them down to the physical, concrete level of physical reality where motion could be unmistakenly experienced in the way that principles involved in the practical context of discovery could not. The new men with their new science emerging from the era of scholasticism had become weary of abstract distinction occurring in debates and discussions of the inhabitants from Academia although one would have thought that the Aristotelian distinction referred to earlier, namely that between contexts of explanation/justification and the contexts of exploration/description would have been sufficient not to evoke the spirits of Plato and Neo-Platonism.

Bacon was in favour of a separation of Science and Philosophy on the grounds of induction which for him was defined not in terms of the enumeration of individual cases(e.g. Plato is mortal, Aristotle is mortal, Therefore all men are mortal) but rather defined via a methodical process of tabulating phenomena in order to eliminate irrelevant elements– a method of falsification rather than a method of confirmation: a method, namely, that relies on arriving inductively at a principle in a context of discovery rather than proceeding from a principle in a context of explanation/justification. Science and empiricism are fellows from the same society and both are skeptical toward certain forms of philosophizing. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that Bacon found no difficulty in believing that nature is revelatory of a divine purpose. Balking at the idea that induction needed Logic and Metaphysical theory as part of the process of hypothesis formation and testing is in need of further explanation. Russell claims that Bacon did not sufficiently emphasize hypothesis formation and points to the importance of the deductive journey from hypotheses to their consequences(the logic of the technological imperative).

Bacon the skeptic, the Machiavellian believed that there were 4 kinds of habits of mind in society that cause people to stray from the truth. he refers to these habits in terms of “idols”: “Idols of the tribe” are related to reliance upon senses, feelings or beliefs, “idols of the cave” are of a more personal nature and relate to an individuals personal happiness, “idols of the marketplace arise from the ambiguity or meaninglessness of the language men use in their discourse with one another, and finally “idols of the public theatre” in which philosophical theories are presented misleadingly as true. In this final category, he places Aristotelian theory, arguing that this kind of theory removes us from the arena of experience and the new inductive methodology of the new science which he called Instauratio Magna. In spite of his Bacon’s skepticism Hamlyn insists that Bacon’s conception of science presupposes metaphysical assumptions of its own which are thinly veiled in his use of the Aristotelian term “form”. Paradoxically, in spite of the quantitative bias of Baconian science we also find the curious suggestion that there is some kind of relation between forms and the qualities of things, It is important to add here, however, that Bacon was not yet a modern Scientist because he did not use or master the tool of modern science, namely mathematics which the rationalist thought to be essential to both the context of exploration/description as well the context of explanation/justification. For Bacon, however, Mathematics was a part of a Platonic realm that has been sealed off from concrete experience and for that reason would not survive the skeptical guillotine.

Bacon believed that Scientists have different roles in what he called the Mansion of Solomon. The science of the soul has a room in this mansion as part of the department of what he called “Philosophia Humanitatis et Civilis” where we will find men studying the body and the soul as well as the study of man as a citizen. The workers working in this mansion are, in accordance with the inductive method, engaged in a laborious collection of evidence that Brett describes in the following manner::(p350)

“a laborious collection of evidence about individuals should result in a concept of man formed in a purely empirical fashion and designed to show the actual nature and limits of human capacity. This part of the scheme reflects the influence of that movement toward scientific anthropology which had already begun. After these should come the study of the union of soul and body, including the study of expression(physiognomics) and the interpretation of dreams. The general object of these two branches of study is to determine in what way and to what extent the humours and temperament of the body affect the soul: also how the soul affects the body.”

Bacon’s inductive investigations resulted in the division of the faculties of the soul into three : memory, imagination, and reason and these three faculties in turn formed the basis of the subject areas of history, poetry and philosophy, each of which attempted to avoid the detrimental influence of the 4 “idols”.

Kant in his work “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view” divides the Mansion of Solomon in a different way, arguing that the study of the human being results in only two kinds of knowledge: Physiological knowledge of what nature makes of man(Bacon’s effect of the body upon the soul is part of this) and Pragmatic knowledge which is:

“the investigation of what he as a free-acting being makes of himself or can and should make of himself.”(Introduction p. Xiii).

It is not clear whether this idea of what man “should make of himself” would count as the kind of investigation that Brett would count as Scientific. This kind of investigation which Kant engages upon is a conceptual and theoretically-laden affair that is not tied directly to observation. Indeed Kant specifically claims that observation even of the most systematic kind is not sufficient to establish or found the kind of knowledge we encounter in his “pragmatic” investigations.

In his work “Novum Organum” Bacon recommended amongst other advice following the path of Galileo in the rejection of Aristotelian assumptions whilst he also paradoxically suggested rejecting any appeal to abstract mathematics as part of the scientific tribunal of justification. The path of the scientist, Brett argues on behalf of Bacon is:

“he must collect countless instances under different conditions. All the realms of nature must be scoured by teams of sedulous research workers. Well attested facts must be recorded in a central clearing house without any “anticipations of nature” or provisional hypotheses. Rather, these facts must await the judgment of the man who can give an “interpretation of nature”. Method is the key. Method will guard against our inveterate tendency to generalise too soon, to “anticipate” nature.”(p351)

Brett’s conclusion, like Russell’s, is that Bacon failed to understand the role of hypotheses in Science to generate deductions that can be tested. Both Philosophers and Bacon failed to understand how Aristotelian principles could produce an Anthropology that was largely faithful to Aristotelian principles: e.g. the Kantian “Anthropology”. For Brett, it appears that Psychology is a disguised form of epistemology that is fundamentally scientific in its essence: it is, that is, a matter of collecting all the well-attested facts and allowing scientific laws to “emerge” in the process of exploration. Such an approach is, of course, antagonistic toward the approach in which hypotheses are generated from what we know apriori about the soul or the mind. This seems to ignore a well-known distinction characterized in both Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy which the new men with their new science disregarded: the distinction, namely, between proceeding from a principle in order to explain(the context of explanation) and proceeding towards forming a principle in one’s practical investigations (the context of exploration/discovery). Bacon refuses to recognize this distinction because it leads, he fears, to “hasty” generalizations. The major consequences of his program, however, were an obsession with a largely instrumental method using technological imperatives. Bacon’s political influence was undoubtedly a major factor in the preference of what Brett called Bacon’s “dogmatic methodism” over the empirically-rational Aristotelian approach that both acknowledged the importance of induction and its limitations in physical investigations, classification systems, and concept formation. The rational element in Aristotle’s theorising also acknowledged the importance of intellectually based a priori assumptions.

Hobbes(1588-1679) was also an empiricist but he differed with Bacon over the importance of Mathematics which he began to appreciate whilst he was studying at Paris University. On one of his later sojourns to Paris Hobbes also came into contact with Descartes’ “Meditations”. Hobbes is reputed to have taught mathematics to Charles second before he became King. His scholarly abilities in this field, however, have been questioned in debates he had with a professor at Oxford over the “possibility” of squaring the circle. D W Hamlyn does not believe that Hobbes was a true revolutionary in the field of philosophy in the way in which Descartes clearly was(History of Western Philosophy p129-130). Hobbes views, it has been maintained are merely a natural development of ways of thinking that began earlier in Renaissance times. Whereas Descartes’ thought was original in its acknowledgment of the relations of reason, thought, mathematics and God, Hobbes was a straightforward materialist, a determinist, and an atheist who wished to square the circle of politics with an epistemological anti-metaphysical attitude toward philosophical psychology and social phenomena. Hobbes may have been the originator of the concept of artificial intelligence when he claimed that life is nothing but motion of beings possessing parts such as limbs, organs etc. and if this is the case there is nothing to prevent us from considering the movement of machine parts in the same way, as an artificial form of life. Motion in its turn causes sensations and all the qualities of objects are reducible to motion. Our sensory life and imagination are also reducible to motions of the body as is thought and the succession of thoughts which Hobbes believed was subject to the laws of association. Reason was regarded skeptically as being merely a means of calculating the motions developed in the history of man by his industrious activity. Emotions such as desire are merely motions towards and away from things. The will, or intention to do something was for Hobbes, the same as desire and this entailed a denial of the existence of free will. Both the world and the will are determined. We see this philosophical psychology clearly at play in the application of these ideas to social and political phenomena. Men, he argues, live naturally in a state of nature, in a state of war of all against all, a state of fear for one’s life until that point when they cooperate to form communities in accordance with a social contract with a sovereign or a leader. For Aristotle, the formation of communities is a natural organic phenomenon but this is not the case for Hobbes: the whole process is artificial. Only bees and ants cooperate naturally, Hobbes argues. The human sovereign in this highly artificial state of affairs must both possess and exercise power with overwhelming force: “Covenants without the sword are but words”. Is Hobbes’s sovereign a despot? He clearly believes that despotism is better than anarchy and there is nothing of the nuanced account of Aristotle where we find accounts of six kinds of government of which tyranny and monarchy are but two. Indeed, Hobbes even denies the distinction between tyranny and monarchy: a tyrant, he argues, in the spirit of Machiavelli is but a monarch that is unpopular. Hobbes’ description of political activity and institutions is very clinical and bears a great deal of resemblance to his account of artificial life. Russell claims that Hobbes is the first of modern writers on political theory. Even the Hobbesian account of language is in the same spirit and remind one very much of the doctrines of later logical atomists. All words are the names of individuals. Names combine to form sentences. There is a clear resemblance of these thoughts to the Logical Atomism of the Early Wittgenstein. Words function as signs that can mislead and deceive if not used correctly. Unlike Wittgenstein, however, Hobbes never distinguished the causal relations of signs to things outside in the world and to each other from the logical and conceptual questions of the relation of the signs to the world. For Hobbes, reasoning about how to use language would be merely a matter of instrumental calculation: the calculation of means to ends. Brett summarizes Hobbes’ contribution to the development of Psychology in the following terms:

“Hobbes saw that it was mans capacity for using symbols in deductive reasoning and in descriptive language which distinguishes him from animals, together with the theoretical curiosity that goes along with it. But he even suggested a mechanical explanation of language in his crude causal theory of signs. This was a grotesque failure because he never properly distinguished logical questions and the reference of signs from causal questions of their origin. Similarly, he gave a mechanical explanation of choice. Will, he held, simply is the last desire in deliberating which emerges after the oscillation of impulses. Here again in his writings on the free will he never properly distinguished questions about the justifications of actions(their reasons) from questions about their causes. A person who deliberates rationally about means to an end will be influenced by logically relevant considerations. For him, there is a difference between good and bad reasons for a course of action. Now any mechanical theory, even if it has recourse to minute motions, must face the glaring inappropriateness of giving causal explanations of such transitions which involve insight and the grasp of relevance.”

Hobbes like Bacon desired power and knowledge was merely an instrumental means to this highest end. He projected this attitude onto mankind:

“So that in the first place I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death”

This could indeed be the motto for the new society of new men that was forming before our eyes. Hobbes was also one of the modern thinkers responsible for postulating a middle class whose instinct is to desire commodious forms of life and much modern political liberalism has attempted to create political and economic policies designed to create the conditions for leading such a life. This cannot but remind one of Hannah Arendt’s characterization of modern man in her work “Origins of Totalitarianism. She points to the combination of the attitude of “Anything is possible” and the desire of new men like Cecil Rhodes to “colonize the planets he saw in the sky” as being at the roots of totalitarianism. Knowledge in such a world is a means to a diffuse striving that probably does not have an end.

These modern men are in a sense, a different kind of man compared to Aristotelian man gazing at the heavens and the phenomena of life and wondering”Why?”: wondering why we live and die or wondering how to live. For the latter man beginnings and endings are important in our attempted explanations and justifications, for the former “new men” life is infinitely continuous, which is of course a kind of denial of the relations between beginnings and endings, livings and dyings. Freud is a thinker that springs to mind in these kinds of discussions as does his image of the clash of the cultural giants, Eros and Thanatos: the life and the death “instincts”. Freud’s work “Civilisation and its Discontents” poses the question as to whether the work we put into maintaining and creating our civilisations is worth the effort. Presumably behind the posing of this question lies a view of the modern world and its “new men”. In the early work of one of his countrymen, Ludvig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico Philosophicus” we encounter the intriguing challenge to consign to silence all those philosophical matters of which we cannot speak. A sterling challenge considering the fact that all value, aesthetic, ethical, and religious fall into this category of what cannot be said. Wittgenstein of course later abandoned much of this logical atomism and even the scientific spirit of philosophising in a work which no longer saw the use of language as the work of bringing atoms together into meaningful configurations. “Philosophical Investigations” looked upon language as an Aristotelian form of life and attempted to restore the work of Aristotle and perhaps also the work of Kant to contemporary debate: attempting , in other words to replace the “new men” with classical or enlightenment men.

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