Western Thought for Avid Atheists and Sucker MCs

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Leviathan (Chapter II: Imagination)

So I need help today, more than usual. Let's start here:


....Imagination, therefore, is nothing but decaying sense; and is found in men and many other living creatures, as well sleeping as waking. 

The decay of sense in men waking is not the decay of the motion made in sense, but an obscuring of it, in such manner as the light of the sun obscureth the light of the stars; which stars do no less exercise their virtue by which they are visible in the day than in the night. But because amongst many strokes which our eyes, ears, and other organs receive from external bodies, the predominant only is sensible; therefore the light of the sun being predominant, we are not affected with the action of the stars. 

And any object being removed from our eyes, though the impression it made in us remain, yet other objects more present succeeding, and working on us, the imagination of the past is obscured and made weak, as the voice of a man is in the noise of the day. From whence it followeth that the longer the time is, after the sight or sense of any object, the weaker is the imagination. For the continual change of man's body destroys in time the parts which in sense were moved: so that distance of time, and of place, hath one and the same effect in us. 

For as at a great distance of place that which we look at appears dim, and without distinction of the smaller parts, and as voices grow weak and inarticulate: so also after great distance of time our imagination of the past is weak; and we lose, for example, of cities we have seen, many particular streets; and of actions, many particular circumstances. This decaying sense, when we would express the thing itself (I mean fancy itself), we call imagination, as I said before. But when we would express the decay, and signify that the sense is fading, old, and past, it is called memory. So that imagination and memory are but one thing, which for diverse considerations hath diverse names.

I was not prepared for so much science in a work of philosophy. More precisely, I am amazed by the hardness--the relentless physicality--of Hobbes' world. I keep thinking of that line from Angeir in The Prestige, "The world is simple, miserable, solid all the way through."

This is Hobbes' world--solid all the way through. Imagination is not some airy thing. It is the impression of some motion against your organs (sense) decaying. And this can be expounded upon by referencing still other physical phenomena--as when the stars in the sky are obscured by the sun, and we can only recall them through "decaying sense." Thus "decay" is not the removal of an impression but its obscuring by some greater force of motion. 

I don't know if I have that right, but my larger point is that Hobbes is not abstract. Reading Leviathan is like watching a mechanic take a part an engine, lay it on the ground and explain how every piece interacts with all the others.

More:

Nevertheless, there is no doubt but God can make unnatural apparitions: but that He does it so often as men need to fear such things more than they fear the stay, or change, of the course of Nature, which he also can stay, and change, is no point of Christian faith. 

But evil men, under pretext that God can do anything, are so bold as to say anything when it serves their turn, though they think it untrue; it is the part of a wise man to believe them no further than right reason makes that which they say appear credible. If this superstitious fear of spirits were taken away, and with it prognostics from dreams, false prophecies, and many other things depending thereon, by which crafty ambitious persons abuse the simple people, men would be would be much more fitted than they are for civil obedience. 

And this ought to be the work of the schools, but they rather nourish such doctrine. For (not knowing what imagination, or the senses are) what they receive, they teach: some saying that imaginations rise of themselves, and have no cause; others that they rise most commonly from the will; and that good thoughts are blown (inspired) into a man by God, and evil thoughts, by the Devil; or that good thoughts are poured (infused) into a man by God, and evil ones by the Devil. 

Some say the senses receive the species of things, and deliver them to the common sense; and the common sense delivers them over to the fancy, and the fancy to the memory, and the memory to the judgement, like handing of things from one to another, with many words making nothing understood.

This reads a lot like the wonderings of a closet atheist. 

Do we have any info on the history of atheism and philosophy? When did it become OK to attack the idea of God? Was Hobbes accused of atheism in his own time? What came out of it, if so? How does his view of God compare to the view of his contemporaries? Descartes comes up a lot here in reference to Hobbes. Any links?

And can I say that "with many words making nothing understood" is awesome?

Last week's discussion here.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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