Hobbes Psychological Theory

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), often referred to as the founder of British empiricism (cf., Locke's psychological theory), asserted in his primary principle of psychology that all knowledge is derived through sensations. By suggesting that nothing exists internal or external to the individual (except matter and motion), Hobbes grounded his psychology firmly in the philosophical positions called "materialism" and "mechanism" (cf., Brennan, 1991). The materialistic approach stresses that the only means through which reality is known is through an understanding of physical matter (cf., mental-ism which emphasizes the necessity for using mental units or phenomena in explaining human behavior, and vitalism which maintains that a nonchemical, nonphysical, and non-mechanical "vital force" is responsible for life). The mechanistic approach holds that all events, phenomena, or behavior may be explained in mechanical terms; for instance, Hobbes' theory of sensation states in Newtonian mechanistic terms that one's sense organs are agitated by external motions without which there could be no sensations, and emphasizes the belief that "all is body or body in motion." In his psychological treatment of the process of imagination, Hobbes echoes Aristotle who earlier described memories as motions within the body and who treated associations as following the sequence in which the original events occurred; and in his theory of motivation, Hobbes argues that humans behave in the long run so as to maximize pleasure and minimize pain - an idea that was later developed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) in his "reality principle." In his philosophy of materialistic monism (i.e., there is only one type of ultimate reality; cf., dualism which asserts that there are two separate states of reality or two sets of basic principles in the universe), Hobbes found no evidence for the existence of a soul and, thereby, had no need to explain the way in which body and soul (mind) interacted. Like the later behaviorists, Hobbes simply ignored the question of conscious awareness as a matter of concern to psychologists. Thus, Hobbes' psychology portrayed the individual as a machine operating in a mechanized world where sensations arise from motion and result in ideas, according to the laws of association. However, a major inconsistency in Hobbes' position lies in explaining consciousness: his sequence of thought implies an awareness of a cognitive content, but he is unclear on the manner of movement from physically-based sensations to nonphysical thought. See also ASSOCIATION, LAWS/PRINCIPLES OF; BEHAV-IORIST THEORY; EMPIRICAL/EMPIRICISM, DOCTRINE OF; FREUD'S THEORY OF PERSONALITY; LOCKE'S PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORY; LOEB'S TROPISTIC THEORY; VITALISM THEORY. REFERENCES

Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan. Cambridge,

UK: Cambridge University Press. Stagner, R. (1988). A history of psychological theories. New York: Macmillan. Brennan, J. (1991). History and systems of psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

HOBBES' THEORY OF HUMOR AND LAUGHTER. The "sudden-glory" and "superiority" theory of humor by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) represents the first systematic psychological theory of laughter ever proposed. In general, Hobbes' philosophy proceeds from a mechanistic view of life where humans by nature are selfish and are constantly at war with each other. Moreover, the fear of violent death is the principle motive that causes men to create a state by contracting to surrender their natural rights and to submit to the absolute authority of a sovereign power. Specifically, Hobbes' theory of humor declares that there is a passion which "has no name" (and its outward sign is a distortion of the face known as laughter) and which is always joy. Hobbes' humor theory - which is basically a "superiority/social-comparison" theory - states that this passion is nothing else but the "sudden glory" arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, or by comparing ourselves with the infirmity of others, or by comparing our present with our past infirmities. Such a superiority theory of laughter (which originated in the humor theories of Plato and Aristotle) was cast into its strongest form by Hobbes where individuals are all constantly watching for signs that they are better off than others, or that others are worse off than oneself. In this analysis, the behavior of laughter is nothing but an expression of our "sudden glory" where we realize that in some way we are "superior" to someone else. According to Hobbes' humor/laughter theory, those things which cause laughter must be new and unexpected; also, a person who is laughed at essentially is "triumphed over" and, thus, we do not laugh when we or our friends are made the subjects/targets or the butt of jokes and jests. Hobbes disputes the older theory that laughter is mere appreciation of wit; people laugh at indecencies and mishaps where there is no apparent jest or wit at all. Involved in such an analysis, as some of Hobbes' critics have pointed out, is a potential logically-circular argument: Hobbes suggests that there must be some inner reason in laughter itself to account for it. However, on the positive side, it was only after some 2,000 years of recorded history concerning the theories of laughter that Hobbes' unique viewpoint emerged. Thus, Hobbes' theory of humor and laughter was novel and thought-provoking in that he located - in a psychological sense - the "gravitational center" of the laugh within the laugher himself or herself. See also ARISTOTLE'S THEORY OF HUMOR; HUMOR, THEORIES OF; PLATO'S THEORY OF HUMOR; SUPERIORITY THEORIES OF HUMOR. REFERENCES

Molesworth (Ed.), Hobbes' English works. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hobbes, T. (1651/1839/1904). Leviathan.

Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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Responses

  • Ellie-louise
    What was theory hobbesian model in relation to human psychology?
    1 year ago
  • Rosa
    Why does hobbes describe the state of nature as a state of war?
    2 months ago

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