Descartes vs. Hobbes: Comparing Philosophies

Descartes was continuously striving for certainty of the beliefs being held. Only with certainty can these be claimed as knowledge. However, in terms of the human mind, Descartes argued that each person is foremost a thinking being, free in decision-making as God, and therefore as thinkers, humans escape mechanical causality. Descartes sought to establish that ideas and thought must be clear and distinct in order to be logical, certain, and eventually identified as knowledge. To Descartes, the thinking was the essence of human beings and existence, summarized with the famous philosophical magnitude “Cogito, ergo sum” coined by the philosopher (Melchert and Morrow 373).

Hobbes viewed the mind as a thing that cannot be thought of as independent of the body, it is one of the ways that the body functions and thought can be conceived only after a corporeal fashion. Hobbes similarly promote noted cognitive activity of analyzing, taking conceptions, and resolving them through inductive and deductive methods. Knowledge cognitiono) is a simple conception where the human cognitive power apprehends the simplest conclusion after the analysis. Cognitive activity synthesizes conceptions back together in a synthesis of complex conceptions to create scientific knowledge (Melchert and Morrow 406).

Descartes saw imagination as an aspect that compounds the uncertainties discovered through sensation. While sensation may sometimes be unreliable, imagination is almost always guaranteed not to correspond to reality. However, Descartes viewed imagination as a useful tool to pursue certain thoughts and consider consequences that produce possibilities but not certainties. Hobbes believed imagination holds a critical place in the workings of the mind. In his argument, Hobbes suggest that sensations remain after the act of sensing is done, and through imagination, we are able to recreate it, although potentially inaccurate. To him, imagine and memory are virtually the same concept described as decaying sense, where one can take ideas, faded sensations from various experiences and combine them together (Melchert and Morrow 406).

Descartes held the view that dreams which occur in all people are sequences of experiences that are a reflection of waking life. However, due to the realism of dreams, Descartes indicates that it is difficult to determine with full certainty whether one is awake or asleep when perceiving reality. Since certainty of perceptions, which can only then be claimed as knowledge, was critical to Descartes, dreaming became sort of a paradox for the philosopher, but also a method of doubt used to critically analyze any perceptual or introspective knowledge (Melchert and Morrow 366). Hobbes described dreams as imaginations of those that sleep, building on the decaying sense argument of his perception of imagination. Similar to Descartes, Hobbes viewed dreams as natured and stemming from former thoughts and experiences, but highly susceptible to the absurdity that distinguishes dreams from reality (Melchert and Morrow 408).

For Descartes, wibeing lling was part of the meditating mind as much as awareness. Since thinking cannot be eliminated from himself and is part of his essence, Descartes could not separate willing from the meditating thought. Willing is doing, but going beyond an attitude of a favorable occurrence, but a mental activity, an act of volition. Since thinking is an inherent part of the human being, the activity willing activates the gland which produces physiological responses to produce the effect that corresponds to the said volition. Descartes describes it as an activity of the soul that is performed freely. Hobbes did not believe in the voluntary act of willing but rather perceived it as a mental act. He believed that one does not voluntarily choose which particular desire to act on, but rather a specific desire results in a voluntary action because of the internal motion of passions, which is strong enough that when unopposed by a contrary motion, can result in external bodily action ((Melchert and Morrow 417).

It is difficult to identify which of these viewpoints is correct as both philosophers present strong arguments. Hobbes seems more relatable representing more modern views on these concepts of the mind, while Descartes argues paradoxes such as the inability to fully certainly distinguish what is real and not. However, in terms of imagining, dreaming, and being willing, Hobbes presents more comprehensible and pragmatic arguments.


Melchert, Norman, and David R. Morrow. The Great Conversation, 8th Edition. Oxford University Press, 2018.

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