Monday, May 3, 2004

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Random quote of the day

While reading a Philip Pettit paper for the U of C's Political Theory Workshop (a forum I attend maybe once a year), I came across a priceless quote. It's by John Wallis, a 17th century mathemetician at Oxford, about one of his rivals, a Mr. Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan and, in many important ways, the father of modern political science. It would be safe to say that Wallis was not a real Hobbes fan. The quote reads:

Mr. Hobs is very dexterous in confuting others by putting a new sense on their words rehearsed by himself: different from what the words signifie with other Men. And therefore if you shall have occasion to speak of Chalk, He'll tell you that by Chalk he means Cheese: and then if he can prove that what you say ofChalk is not true of Cheese, he reckons himself to have gotten a great victory.

posted by Dan on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM


Mr. Thomas Hobbes wrote in a very mealy mouth manner. However, there might be a good reason for this. He lived during an age when brutal frankness might get one tortured, or even killed. Today a scholar may merely not be invited to attend the liberal white wine and brie cheese get-togethers. A mathematician like John Wallis probably didn’t worry about upsetting the authorities. How cautious was Hobbes? A friend of mine, someone who eventually abandoned his attempt to earn a Political Science Phd, argued that Hobbes was a very religious man, an intensely devout Christian. I personally doubt this very much. However, how can anyone ultimately know for sure? My guess is that Hobbes was somewhat hostile to religious denominations on a personal basis and primarily approached his studies in a thoroughly secular manner. There is even an outside chance he was an atheist. But once again, who can tell by reading his works?

posted by: David Thomson on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM [permalink]

"Forum" is singular; "fora" is plural. The noun is second declension, neuter gender, sharing a form with "stadium".

posted by: Jim on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM [permalink]

Whoops!! Fixed now.

posted by: Dan on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM [permalink]

Wallis's comment is hilarious. Reminds me of the benighted UseNet.

Still, I always thought Hobbes's greatest STRENGTH was that he defined his terms up front ("sovereign", "commonwealth" &c). If he goes and defines "chalk" up front, and then writes an essay on "chalk" and how it is got from cows and processed - at least you can trace his arguments re "chalk" from first principles. So what if I disagree with the particular word he chose for it?

I'd rather have that, than some unethical @#$% on UseNet talking about "chalk" that sometimes means chalk and sometimes means cheese, depending on what suits his argument best at any given time.

posted by: David Ross on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM [permalink]

mmmmmmm... tasty Chalk.

posted by: Carleton Wu on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM [permalink]

The State of Nature is a war of Chalk against Cheese?

posted by: Sean O'Hara on 05.03.04 at 04:13 PM [permalink]

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