Woodcut of the second astronomical clock of Strasbourg Cathedral, English, 1574.
Woodcut of the second astronomical clock of Strasbourg Cathedral (constructed 1571-4; replaced by present clock, constructed 1838-42), English, 1574.
Mechanical Philosophy, which has its origins in Pre-Socratic thought, was deeply involved in the emerging theories and methodologies of the Scientific Revolution, which was unfolding during Hobbes’s lifetime. At its core, it is committed to a materialist understanding of the natural world, in which all objects are comprised and determined by atomistic component parts that operate and interact together to form a functional whole. The great Strasbourg Cathedral Clock provides an example of this mechanistic approach to understanding. Here, one comes to understand what the clock is as well as its function by breaking it down into the various elements that comprise it—its cogs, springs, and wheels. For Hobbes, such a mechanistic understanding of things was equally applicable to humans themselves and their modes of social organization as to such more obviously, humanly contrived artifacts like the Stasbourg Cathedral Clock. In the Introduction to the Leviathan, Hobbes writes, “For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE…which is but an artificial man” (Hobbes, Leviathan, Intro.1.).
via Wikimedia Commons.