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The Money of Fools: Hobbes on the Mind and Its Relation to Language


The importance of language to Hobbes’s philosophy is well-known and well-established. A recent book by Philip Pettit—Made with Words—has popularized a particular interpretation of Hobbes’s views on the relationship between our natural cognitive faculties and language-use. According to the “made with words” thesis, the human cognitive faculties are radically altered and augmented by the acquisition of language: the natural cognitive faculties are incapable of yielding the sort of active, classificatory thinking that (allegedly) only language-use makes possible. The proponents of this view claim that Hobbes denies that, properly speaking, animals and pre-linguistic humans are capable of fully-fledged thinking.

However, as I argue in this dissertation, the “made with words” thesis overestimates the extent to which the human mind is actually made with words. In particular, I argue that this “language forward” view gets the relationship between the natural cognitive powers and language reversed. Hobbes holds that all cognition reduces to the conceptions of sense experience and the operations of imagination—he is an empiricist, after all—and that the non-worded, natural mind is capable of engaging in the sort of active, classificatory thought in which the “made with words” thesis asserts it cannot. I make the case by arguing for a novel functionalist interpretation of Hobbes’s philosophy of the mind according to which he is a (proto-)functionalist about the cognitive mental states, but holds a mind-body identity theory of phenomenal states. I apply this interpretation to various aspects of Hobbes’s philosophy of mind, exploring his causal-functional characterizations of the distinction between memory and imagination, the passions, deliberation, and reasoning. What emerges is a view of the natural, non-linguistic mind at odds with the “made with words” interpretation—according to Hobbes’s philosophy of mind thinking is not essentially linguistic. The capacity for active, classificatory thought is a natural power of the mind: any creature with the capacity for sensation and imagination can think. Thus, the ability to think is common to language-competent humans, humans lacking linguistic ability, and the nonhuman animals.

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