Article ID: CBB914272593

French Eighteenth-Century Materialists and Natural Law (2016)


This article looks at the discussions of natural law by the eighteenth-century French materialists Julien Offray de La Mettre, Denis Diderot, Paul Thiry d'Holbach and Claude-Adrien Helvétius. It is particularly concerned with their discussion of moral values and their attempt to find a materialistic basis for them as part of their rejection of religion. The discussion brings out the différences between them and analyses their dialogues on this question, including the other materialists' rejection of La Mettrie's amoralism, which threatened to undermine their attempt to found a natural law taught by experience and based on human nature. Particular attention is paid to Diderot's many writings which grapple with the subject, beginning with his Encyclopédie article droit naturel, probably written in 1754. He discussed the question in many of his later writings, including in his annotations on the works of Helvétius, who based natural law on the general interest. These writings reveal a tension between Diderot's emphasis on the search for individual happiness and the interests of society as he, together with d'Holbach, attempted to provide a natural basis for morality and government from which to criticise existing institutions.

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Authors & Contributors
Wolfe, Charles T.
Kaitaro, Timo
Rogister, John
Mensching, Günther
Giovanni Cristiani
Cristani, Giovanni
History of European Ideas
Dix-huitième siècle
Corpus: Revue de Philosophie
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Dianoia: Annali di storia della filosofia
College Publications
Universitat de Barcelona
Syracuse University
Encyclopedias and dictionaries
Encyclopedias (history)
Moral philosophy
Diderot, Denis
Holbach, Paul Henri Dietrich, Baron d'
La Mettrie, Julien Offray de
Helvétius, Claude Adrien
Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
20th century
Université de Montpellier
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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