Optics in Hobbes’s Natural Philosophy

In: Hobbes Studies
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  • 1 University of Bergamo, Italy

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The aim of this paper is to give an overview of the place that Hobbes assigns to optics in the context of his classification of sciences and disciplinary boundaries. To do this, I will begin with an account of Hobbes’s conception of philosophy or science, and particularly his distinction between true and hypothetical knowledge. I will also show that in his demarcation between mathematics or geometry and natural philosophy Hobbes was influenced by Galileo’s Dialogue. I then analyse the consequences of this distinction for optics, and conclude by clarifying its status among the scientific disciplines.

  • 3

     See Alan E. Shapiro, ‘Kinematic Optics: A Study of the Wave Theory of Light in the Seventeenth Century’, Archive for the History of Exact Sciences, 11 (1973), pp. 134–266: pp. 172–181; Franco Giudice, Luce e Visione: Thomas Hobbes e la scienza dell’ottica (Florence: Olschki, 1999), pp. 109–128; Franco Giudice, ‘The Most Curious of Sciences: Hobbes’s Optics", in Al P. Martinich and Kinch Hoekstra (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Hobbes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 146–165.

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  • 9

     See Marin Mersenne, Universae geometricae mixtaeque mathematicae synopsis (Paris: Antoine Bertier, 1644), pp. 567–589. This work was also published in ol, vol. V, pp. 215–248. On Mersenne’s relationship with Hobbes, see Armand Beaulieu, ‘Les relations de Hobbes et de Mersenne’, in Yves-Charles Zarka and Jean Bernhardt (eds.), Thomas Hobbes: Philosophie première, théorie de la science et politique (Paris: Press Universitaire de France, 1990), pp. 81–90.

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  • 18

     See Frank Horstmann, ‘Hobbes on Hypotheses in Natural Philosophy’, The Monist, 84 (2001), pp. 487–501: p. 487.

  • 41

     See Malcolm, ‘Hobbes and Roberval’, in Aspects of Hobbes, p. 184.

  • 45

     See Jesseph, Squaring the Circle, p. 222.

  • 46

     See Antoni Malet, ‘The Power of Images: Mathematics and Metaphysics in Hobbes’s Optics’, in Studies in the History and Philosophy of science, 31 (2001), pp. 303–333 : pp. 317–318.

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  • 47

     See Jan Prins, ‘Kepler, Hobbes and Medieval Optics’, in Philosophia naturalis, 3 (1987), pp. 289–310: pp. 289–290.

  • 55

     See Horstmann, ‘Hobbes on Hypotheses in Natural Philosophy’, p. 493.

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