In Support of Thomas Hobbes’ ‘Theory of Everything As Body in Motion’


Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) argued systematically for materialism as a solution to the mind-body problem. Hobbes argued that everything in the world, including our thoughts and the states of our minds, can in principle be explained in terms of one thing and one thing only: matter in motion. Thoughts, for example, can be explained, he argued, as matter in motion in the brain. A perception of the world arises in a person’s brain when motion in the external world causes motion in the brain, which is then experienced as an external object, and so on. If everything can be explained as matter in motion, including the mental, then there is no good reason to suppose mind and matter are two fundamentally different kinds of things. Rather, it is more reasonable to suppose that if everything can be explained in material terms then everything is material. So argued Hobbes.


This view was an opposition to Rene Descartes’ “Mind-body dualism”. Descartes stated that a view is dualistic if it maintains that two fundamentally different kinds of things exist; a view is monistic if it posits that only one kind of thing exists. Descartes argued that mind and matter are two radically different types of things. Our conscious mind is one thing, argued Descartes, and our physical brain, which is made of matter, is another thing entirely. How did he reach this conclusion?

Descartes lived at a time when people were questioning many traditional beliefs. Setting off in search of something that could be known with absolute certainty, Descartes began his philosophy by systematically and deliberately doubting everything it is rationally possible to doubt. His plan was to see how far this would go. If we carry the process of systematic doubt as far as it can go, he reasoned, perhaps we will eventually reach beliefs that cannot be rationally doubted. If we do, then we will have reached something we can know with complete and absolute certainty. Among the propositions he eventually claimed to have proven with certainty were two pertaining to the mind-body problem:

1. The essence of matter is nothing but to be extended in space, that is, to occupy a volume of space.

2. The essence of mind is nothing but the activity of thinking.

From this he concluded:

1. Since matter and mind have differing essences, the mind is not the brain, for the brain, being made of matter, is a purely material entity, and mind is not material in nature.

2. Thus, the brain must be one thing and the mind must be another thing entirely.

3. The mind is therefore a nonmaterial or nonphysical entity.


Personally, I agree with Thomas Hobbes’ view. He stated that a matter in motion stays that way unless altered by another force, which is very true.

It is of particular interest, the way Hobbes deals with the materiality of the human subject As noted earlier, Hobbes states specifically that all things, including thoughts, are material; however, his model of cognition still predicates a strange type of division between the individual thinking subject and the rest of the material world; for, according to Hobbes we never actually experience the true materiality of the thing we sense. Hobbes both inherits and proliferates many of the standard divisions of mental function from his period. Several interesting and important observations and theories arise as Hobbes explains his model of cognition and attempts to extrapolate a theory of politics from it.

I intentionally included the ‘mind-body dualism’ as a catalyst to help see the logical explanation given by Hobbes which opposes Descartes’ confusing argument. If Descartes doubted everything, with what did he doubt? Mind? Body?

Hobbes’ view was logical and the analysis was orderly and step by step. In his argument, we see the seeds of later Skeptical thought which argued similarly that all experience is really perception and that we have known real knowledge of the material world. In Hobbes, this philosophy becomes particularly interesting because he insists, in the face of this skepticism, in maintaining that all thought is still material. It should also be noted that although his use of these terms is quite different than many other mainstream authors.

Hobbes didn’t use twisted language as he sought not to confuse anyone. This approach helps the comprehension of the theory. Also of interest to scholars of Cultural Studies and literature in particular is Hobbes’ treatment of language. Hobbes devotes an entire chapter to language and its right usage, during which he espouses an interesting model of the function of language in political society one in which metaphorical language is specifically derided.

Hobbes’ theory encompasses mind, reasoning, Fancy, Imagination, including a subsequent two part sub- division, Reason, Understanding and Will. And thus, settles any question that opposes materialism.