Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 11, Issue 1, Fall 2006

Gordon Hull
Pages 201-223

Hobbes’s Radical Nominalism

This paper analyzes Hobbes’s understanding of signification, the process whereby words come to have meaning. Most generally, Hobbes develops and extends the nominalist critique of universals as it is found in Ockham and subsequently carried forward by early moderns such as Descartes. Hobbes’s radicality emerges in comparison with Ockham and Descartes, as, unlike them, Hobbes also reduces the intellectual faculty entirely to imagination. According to Hobbes, we have nothing in which a stabilizing, pre-discursive mental language could inhere. Hobbes thus concludes that all thinking is affective and semiotic, and depends on the regulation of conventionally established regimes of signs. Establishing this regulation is one of the central functions of the Hobbesian commonwealth.