3.3—Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke & Hume (21 min video)
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In today’s lecture, we’re actually going to take a look at four different philosophers. You’re going to see some similarities between these guys and also some distinctive differences, and actually they’ll kind of sandwich each other in ideas and thoughts and how we begin. We’re gonna take a look at four of them, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume. We’ll start of course with Baruch Spinoza, who was born in 1632 and died in 1677. He lived and he was Dutch. He was also Jewish. He originally was a lens maker, someone who made and crafted lenses for glasses and so forth. He was excommunicated, however, by his own synagogue based upon his ideas. He also was offered, based upon his ideas, the role of being a professor at the University of Heidelberg, which had been one of actually the great centers of the Reformation.
But he denied all that and gave all that up and preferred to have a quiet life of thought, really with someone who did deep reflections, who read widely, and was quite brilliant in his own right.
That’s why, of course, people still read him. What’s curious about Spinoza, and what you really need to understand in terms of understanding the Enlightenment, is that he made an argument that God has no existence apart from the world.
In other words, all that we see around us is in essence in God, or even perhaps a part of God. We would most commonly call this pantheism, but as it’s been pointed out about Spinoza, It wasn’t really that he believed necessarily in a god. He really believed there kind of was no god. There was just the physical universe. So in that sense, he was more atheistic than he was pantheistic. But to give you an idea of this, I’ll give you one of his quotes. He said famously that “God is the indwelling, and he is not the transient cause of all things. All things which are, are in God. Besides God, there can be no substance. That is, nothing in itself can be external to God. So you don’t have a creator and his creation. You don’t have that distinction. The two are blended together and ultimately it elevates the creation and completely derides the whole notion of who God is. One of his great mottos is “Deus suve natura,” which simply means “God or nature,” which is basically like saying it doesn’t matter which one you say, God or nature, They both basically mean the same thing in my worldview and in my mind. It’s interesting, he looked at the scriptures, specifically the Old Testament, which he as a Jew would have been taught was the Word of God, and he denied them.
He believed that they were completely invalid and not to be trusted because miracles were impossible. There was only nature and natural law, the whole concept of natural law being put aside And for example, things being created out of nothing, or the Red Sea parting into two, or Christ walking on water, or turning water into wine for that matter, all of those things are ridiculous because they violated natural law.
They violated what we can see with our own eyes. It’s also curious, it’s often argued that he really saw no real distinction of good from evil. Now we’ll talk about this a little bit again with the philosopher Nietzsche later on. Nietzsche goes a lot further than Spinoza ever went, but I’ll read a quote to you from Spinoza, give you an idea of what he was thinking. He said this, he said, “The perfection of things “is to be reckoned only from their own nature “and their power. “Things are not more or less perfect “according as they delight or offend human senses, “or according as they are serviceable “or repugnant to mankind.” What he’s basically saying is that if you wanna evaluate something is worthwhile, you just have to kind of evaluate it on its own terms. So you really don’t assume that anything could actually be evil in and of itself. Anything that happens, if somebody enjoys something that we would call sin, he would just say you just have to evaluate it on its own terms or on whatever the terms the person says about it are.
In terms of the mind, he also of course loved the elevation of human reason and the mind, something common throughout the Enlightenment era thinkers.
He said this, he said, “The intellectual love of the mind “towards God is part of the infinite love “wherewith God loves himself.” In other words, when we think well, when we reason well, that is essentially the same as God’s love. Now, there’s an element of truth there in the sense that we’re made in God’s image and we’re the only creature that actually thinks and reasons in a way that’s different. We don’t reason the same way as animals do. Animals essentially operate according to instinct. They may be able to use tools on occasion. They may be able to solve certain problems, like hyenas for example will hunt in a pack and they can actually use strategy and so forth.
But they’re still limited to how they actually do things based upon their instincts. I mean, one of my favorite examples is the fact that yes, you do have different birds that build different kinds of nests, but the same species always builds the same kind of nest.
You don’t see this development in the the art or the architecture of nest building by say the hummingbird over time. It’s like the hummingbird goes through say a classical period and then a Georgian period and then a modern period. It’s not anything like that. Only man does that. Only man reasons in such a way that he actually creates things. So Spinoza is pointing out something important about man, the fact that he is able to think, he is able to reason. He He goes on, he says, “The love of God towards men and the intellectual love of the mind towards God are identical.” My point here is that he may be pointing out some things that are correct, but he’s really elevating the mind. You have to remember, too, when he’s talking about God, he’s not talking about our concept of God as being separate from creation, but also present in creation. His God is the same thing as nature. His God is the same thing as creation itself. That’s very, very different. mention at the same time that Spinoza was writing, this is not one of the main guys we’re looking at today, but I do want to mention this briefly. At the same time a certain book came out it was called the Critical History of the Old Testament and it was actually somewhat ironically by a French priest named Richard Simon and he argued that the Old Testament is not reliable.
He argued that it’s filled with contradictions and he argued like Spinoza and like other philosophers of this time would argue often that miracles cannot happen because nature only works according to constant laws that we can observe and that we can test.
In other words, everything boils down to reason and to observation. That’s key in understanding how the philosophers actually thought or at least how many of them actually thought. The next main character though we’ll look at is the character of Thomas Hobbes. His dates are 1588 to 1679 and if you’re thinking of Calvin and Hobbes there might actually be something appropriate to that. It’s been said that the characters of Calvin and Hobbes are loosely based upon John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes only that the two are reversed.
So Calvin thinks more like Hobbes supposedly and Hobbes thinks more like Calvin. I don’t know if that’s entirely true or not you can make your own opinion based upon that. Anyway, Thomas Hobbes himself was an English philosopher. He was the son of an English pastor. He was actually trained by a Puritan by the name of John Wilkinson. So he was given a very thorough training in Christianity, a very thorough understanding of the Scriptures. He understood, or he believed, that self-defense, the defense of our own wants and actions, and especially our own safety and health, was the highest human necessity.
But he also understood, based upon the teachings of the Puritans and the teachings of the Bible, that men are completely fallen, that they’re not actually trustworthy, and they’re not able to govern themselves. And so he argued the natural state of man is to always be at war, that man is always in conflict with others, that man is always fighting over scarce materials.
He He argued that essentially everything that happens in this world has been determined from beforehand. And so he believed that the only solution to this, he did argue ultimately for the faith, but he believed the only real solution in this world at least for these problems was for all men to serve some kind of greater good.
Essentially serve a government that had an absolute ruler, essentially a dictator or what you might call a tyrant, who governed and ruled all things according to human reason, and made certain that there was no war, made certain there was no misery, made certain that there was no form of want.
This is a common idea. Napoleon had the same idea. Alexander the Great, even Julius Caesar, it’s argued, had the same idea. If you like Star Wars, Darth Sidious, or the Emperor, has the same idea. If one man can just rule everything, he can end all suffering by making everybody get along. I’ve been trying this at home with my kids, by just trying to rule them so fiercely they get along with each other. It’s not working. Anyway, going on to this, he actually called this form of government, he actually wrote a book by the name of Leviathan. And the Leviathan, of course, is this ancient mythological creature, actually shows up in the Book of Job. at least it’s translated as Leviathan in some translations. Whatever it was or is, it’s this monstrous sea creature often represented in art as having multiple arms or tentacles that can essentially grab on to multiple areas of life or multiple areas of government or multiple people all at once.
In other words, Hobbes is all about force and regulation. So come to think of it, it doesn’t really sound much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes at all. So take what you will from that. He said this in the Viathon. He said, “In the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceases only in death.
” In other words, the nature of us is to always desire power. There actually might be some truth to that. I mean, that is the nature of the fall, that we always want more and we’re not actually satisfied with what we have. He said, “The cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power.
It happens because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he has present, without the acquisition of more.” In other words, he’s saying the only way we can feel safe is if we have more and more power. So he would have argued for an intense security. He goes on in Leviathan, he says that, “Art goes imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature. It imitates man. For by art is created that great Leviathan, which we call the Commonwealth or the State, which is like an artificial man, though it’s of the greater stature that is and the greater strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended, and which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, giving life and motion to the whole body.
In other words, he talks about the state as being like a man with a soul who provides all good things to the people that it rules over with something like an iron fist.
So as a result, Hobbes ends up giving a great excuse for the great powers or dictatorships of the modern world. Now, the next character we’re going to take a look at is the character of John Locke, who’s often seen as very different from Hobbes in his conclusions. He lived from 1632 to 1704. He was also English, he was also a philosopher, he was also raised by Puritans. In fact, his parents were Puritans. He grew up during the English Civil War. He was educated at Westminster Abbey while they were actually writing the Westminster Confession of faith as well as the catechisms of Westminster. Initially he was trained in medicine and became very interested in other parts of science and ideas, especially the works of Isaac Newton, and then turned himself to philosophy.
He argued that man himself, because he was a creature of reason, he could be reasonable, he could therefore be trusted to govern himself. So Hobbes is all kind of about control, he’s all about a greater power of the state, Locke is very different, he’s all kind of what we would call libertarian, he’s all about just kind of letting people go and do what they want to do. He argued, like most of the other philosophers, that you derive truth from experience and observation. He’s often called the father of modern empiricism, where you essentially do tests, you gather data to determine what is true. He disagreed with many of the previous philosophers, especially René Descartes, who said that we have ideas and thoughts that are innate to us, that they kind of begin with us.
And Locke argued instead that we are a tabula rasa, which basically means we are a blank slate. When we are born, we have no previous ideas. We have no concept of the truth. So what this means is we come to know truth, we come to know goodness, we come to know God himself entirely based upon our experiences.
So for him, he was all about controlling the environment around you, controlling circumstances around you. He believed if you just kind of gave people, if people were free to do whatever they needed to do, then people would be naturally good.
So he tended to deny the effects of the fall in this regard. He also believed that you could improve society by improving the government, by essentially letting there be just laws and so forth. He ended up becoming a very influential figure in the history of our own government. There were many founding fathers that looked to Locke when they wrote founding documents, especially Thomas Jefferson and so forth, who believed that man, at least on some level, could be naturally good.
But anyway, whatever the case may be, he often had a very limited view on what liberty actually was because he had a limited view on what the Fall actually did to us.
Now the next character I want to take a look at, the last one for this lesson, is the Scottish philosopher, and historian for that matter, David Hume.
Hume comes a little bit later, his dates are 1711 to 1776. He was friends both with another famous Scotsman and economist, Adam Smith, and also a famous French philosopher we’ll talk about later this week, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. David Hume is considered not the father of empiricism, like Locke was. Locke was, of course, the person who said you base reason or you base truth upon what you experience and what you can clearly see.
Hume is often considered the father of skepticism. Not skepticism in the sense that Descartes talked about doubt of everything, but skepticism in the sense that it was really difficult to know if anything was true at all.
I’ll unpack that a little bit more as we progress through this bit on David Hume. Hume kind of began with an interest in memory, kind of asking the question, “How do we remember what we remember?” or “Why do we remember certain things more than other things?” or how do we know what we know? In fact, a lot of these guys ask that same question. It’s called the idea of epistemology. How do we know what we know? How do we know it’s actually true? How do we know that we can trust it and so forth? And like all the other Enlightenment philosophers we’ve talked about, Hume argued that we understand truth, we understand what we know based upon our experiences. And his primary experience that he talked about, the thing that causes the greatest memory, the thing that causes the greatest knowledge, is cause and effect.
He said that we essentially develop a habit of expecting certain things, like we expect the sun to rise in the morning. We expect that when we see storm clouds that rain will follow. We expect that when we see lightning that we’ll hear thunder after that. So he argued that this is really kind of our best hope of actually discovering truth. He tended to dismiss the whole concept of the scriptures as being useful for discovering any kind of truth. He understood that when you look at cause and effect, you have to look for certain things, such as, you know, if cause A, for example, the appearance of storm clouds, and the effect B, the appearance of rain, they have to happen close together for you to connect the two.
He argued that the cause, the storm clouds, have to happen before the effect, the rain, for them to be considered connected. He argued that the rain has to actually follow the storm clouds for them to be connected. All that makes sense. But then he went on, he says, “The problem is, are we actually assigning the right effect to the cause that we observe?” So an example of this that R.C. Sproul gives, if you hear the rooster crowing right before the sunrise, do you actually associate the rooster’s crowing with the effect of the sun rising? In other words, do you mistakenly believe that the rooster, through his crowing, caused the sun to rise? That was Hume’s concern. He argued that maybe there is no necessary connection, ultimately, between cause and effect. In fact, his real concern is that we can observe cause and effect, we can observe storm clouds appearing and then rain following, we can observe lightning happening and then thunder following that, but we really have no certain way of ever knowing that it will always be that way.
That’s why he’s called the father of skepticism. Who knows? Maybe the sun won’t rise tomorrow. As a result, he not only undermined the whole concept of Christianity, he also undermined science and the idea that you could study things through regular experimentation.
He’s actually famous for basically promoting the idea that anything can produce or cause anything else. He argued there’s really no way we can truly know if there is a God or truly know this world or truly know ourselves. As a result, whenever he looked at things like natural law or miracles, this is kind of where it gets all kind of funny. Even though he argued we can’t really know if things are true, he still had kind of a natural trust in natural laws. And so he argued, like many other Enlightenment philosophers, against miracles. He said that miracles are impossible because we only ever experience and observe natural laws. So suddenly his skepticism relies upon empiricism. Suddenly his doubt in whether or not you can trust natural laws is trumped by his doubt in whether or not God actually raises people from the dead.
The other problem with this is he argued you can only trust whatever you can see happening multiple times. Well, we can see things like a storm happening multiple times or a sunrise happening multiple times, times, but we have to argue that there must have been a beginning to those things.
And if there was a beginning to those things, then that means they happened for the first time sometime in the distant past. Creationists and evolutionists both argue for this. Hume, based upon his ideas, had to argue against it. Something had to be observable multiple times for it to actually be true. And even then, he had skepticism whether or not it would actually appear that way over and over and over again. So we see that Descartes’ doubt, which was kind of a doubting of everything to find truth, turns into an outright skepticism in David Hume where he really questions the validity or the reliability of anything whatsoever.
We’ll talk more about further philosophers in the next lesson.