Hobbes and the “Artificial Animal”

Thomas Hobbes, in his book The Leviathan (1651) dubs “nature” the “[mechanical] art whereby God hath made and governs the world.”  For Hobbes “nature is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal.”  In the age of empirical sciences and rational understanding man can mimic God’s ability to create autonomous machines that, in the new Puritan sense I emphasis in my Crusoe blog, run without the mystery associated with divine intervention. 

See full size image

 From: www.cherryorchardstudio.com

The image above depicts Hobbes’s notion of the imitable quality of God’s nature quite well.  The grayscale coloring equalizes the steam locomotive with nature for the two are not differentiated by contrasting colors.  In this way, the locomotive is situated comfortably amongst the serene hilltops and trees.  Moreover, the front right shrub and the front left tracks are equally detailed.  Metaphorically, just we can see the clear outline/mechanics of one, we can see the clear outline/mechanics of the other.   Furthermore, the drawing’s clear lines allow us to copy the picture (although I would not try it) in the same way that the mechanics or empirical understanding of nature has allowed itself to be “artificially” copied by human machines.   Hobbes takes this notion further by arguing that if “all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) [that] have an artificial life” than mechanical art should be able to go “further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of Nature, man.”   Thus, the mechanical arts can create “that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man.”

As a side note, Hobbes seems to be differentiating between God’s natural art and man’s “artificial” mimicry.  It appears that, in this sense, there is still something more real and natural in God’s art.   

Excepts from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-a.html#INTRODUCTION

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