Leviathan: Or, The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil

by Thomas Hobbes
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"Words Are Wise Men's Counters"

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Last Updated on May 22, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

Context: After treating of matters such as the senses, fancy, and memory, Hobbes takes up the subject of speech. As truth consists in the right ordering of words, a person using words must bear in mind what each one means. Similarly, one who reads books must understand how his author uses his words. Thus in the correct definition of words lies the first use of speech, the acquisition of science or knowledge. And in wrong definitions or none at all lies the first abuse of speech, for when a man does not understand what he reads, the conclusions he draws must certainly be mistaken. Men who take all their instruction from books without meditating upon what they read are actually inferior to the merely ignorant, because their minds are filled with error, whereas the minds of the ignorant are empty. Wise men use words as the instruments of thought, but fools value them for themselves, accepting the authority of Cicero or Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas without reflecting upon what these men actually said. The passage as Hobbes expresses it is:

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For words are wise men's counters,–they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools. . . .

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