Friday, 14 December 2012

The Leviathan, Second Nature, and the Artificial Man

Our society is populated by cyborg discourses, robotics, genetic modification, zombie studies and newly emergent teratologies. But Hobbes' reconstruction of the traditional notion of the body politic as a man machine makes fascinating reading. It also provides a dark allegory of human nature, greed and self-interest.

If you ever imagined that political theory was a dull, disembodied discourse, take another look at  the introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan, published in 1651.

NATURE, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the ‘art,’ of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all ‘automata’ (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the ‘heart’ but a ‘spring’; and the ‘nerves’ but so many ‘strings’; and the ‘joints’ but so many ‘wheels,’ giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer? ‘Art’ goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, ‘man.’

For by art is created that great ‘Leviathan’ called a ‘Commonwealth’ or ‘State,’ in Latin civitas, which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the ‘sovereignty’ is an artificial ‘soul,’ as giving life and motion to the whole body; the ‘magistrates’ and other ‘officers’ of judicature and execution, artificial ‘joints’; ‘reward’ and ‘punishment,’ by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty every joint and member is moved to perform his duty, are the ‘nerves,’ that do the same in the body natural; the ‘wealth’ and ‘riches’ of all the particular members are the ‘strength’; salus populi, the ‘people’s safety,’ its ‘business’; ‘counsellors,’ by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the ‘memory’; ‘equity’ and ‘laws,’ an artificial ‘reason’ and ‘will’; ‘concord,’ ‘health’; ‘sedition,’ ‘sickness’; and ‘civil war,’ ‘death.’ Lastly, the ‘pacts’ and ‘covenants’, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that ‘fiat,’ or the ‘let us make man,’ pronounced by God in the creation.

Text: Hobbes' Leviathan (1651)

Militarism and Colonialism: Monster cartography. See below! More here.


Also worth exploring is L'homme Machine / The Man Machine (1748) by La Mettrie (1709-1751), discussed by Karl Popper:

"Yet the doctrine that man is a machine was argued most forcefully in 1751, long before the theory of evolution became generally accepted, by de La Mettrie; and the theory of evolution gave the problem an even sharper edge, by suggesting there may be no clear distinction between living matter and dead matter. And, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory, and the conversion of so many physicists to indeterminism de La Mettrie's doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man in a computer."

"Of Clouds and Cuckoos", in Objective Knowledge (1978), p. 224.

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