« AnteriorContinuar »
in Rabbi Schmiedl's "Studien' and in Kaufmann's Attributenlehre.'
Note XI., page 83.
MATERIALISM OF THE SEVENTEENTH AND
Lange's account of the relation of Gassendi to materialism seems to me to be one-sided. The learned and worthy priest, by distinctly maintaining that the atoms of matter were not eternal, and by elaborately arguing that they merely explained physical things—by representing them as created ex nihilo by the Divine Willand by strenuously defending both the immateriality and the immortality of the soul,—did at least as much to dissociate atomism from materialism as to further the cause of materialism by his atomism. He may be fairly held to have been rather the precursor of that long series of rational assailants of materialism, which included in England such men as Cudworth, Henry More, John Smith, Richard Bentley, &c., of whom, strangely enough, Lange appears never to have heard—than the coryphæus of modern materialism itself. The account given of the system of Gassendi by Damiron in his “Essai sur l’Histoire de la Philosophie en France au xviio. siècle,' (t. i.), is fuller and truer.
Lange does not seem to have been aware of the attempts made by Overton, Dodwell, and Coward, during the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth century, to prove the soul material and natu
rally mortal, or of the discussions to which these attempts gave rise.
It is a pleasure to be able to recognise that Lange's account of the French materialism of the eighteenth century is at once extremely able and generally correct.
Among the French writers belonging to the latter half of the eighteenth century who may fairly be classed as atheists were, besides La Mettrie (1709-1751) and Von Holbach (1723-1789), Diderot (1713-1784), Helvetius (1715-1771), D'Alembert (1717-1783), Lalande (17321807), Naigeon (1738-1810), Condorcet (1743-1794), and Maréchal (1750-1803). La Mettrie, Diderot, Helvetius, and D'Alembert may be regarded as forming an earlier, and Lalande, Naigeon, Condorcet, and Maréchal a later group, with Von Holbach as the connecting link.
Diderot's scepticism assumed the form of materialistic atheisin, or materialistic pantheism, only after he became an associate of Holbach. He is the subject of two elaborate and excellent works--the one by Rosenkranz and the other by J. Morley. Almost half a century ago, when the materials for forming an estimate of his character were much less abundant than now, and wholly unassorted, it was divined by Mr Carlyle with the true insight of genius, and portrayed with a skill which has not since been matched.
Helvetius avoided a frank avowal of materialism, but his entire doctrine—one deeply stained with sensual and selfish principles—implied it. Perhaps the best exposition and criticism of it will be found in Cousin's 'Hist. de la Phil. Mor. au dix-huitième siècle,' leçons iv., v.
D'Alembert gave expression to his views regarding religion only in his private conversation and correspondence. He had a clear perception of some of the difficulties to an acceptance of materialism. And hence, notwithstanding his intimacy with Diderot, his unbelief assumed rather an agnostic than a materialistic form. He was the only morally worthy, or even morally decent man, belonging to the older atheistical group. Its three other members had some good qualities, but they were shamelessly impure, licentious, and untruthful. It is a significant but lamentable fact that sympathy with their sceptical views should have of late led many literary men to eulogise their characters, to exaggerate their good qualities, and to ignore or excuse their vices.
Lalande is known almost entirely by his distinguished services to science; but he actively assisted his friend Maréchal in propagating atheism. He contributed largely to the Dictionnaire des Athées.'
Condorcet—a man of noble and generous nature—was an enthusiast for the philosophy which explains everything by matter and sensation. In my article “Condorcet," in the ‘Ency. Brit.,' a general view of his life and teaching will be found, with references to the best sources of information regarding him.
Naigeon and Maréchal were fanatical preachers of the gospel according to Diderot and Holbach. The numerous writings of both are at present deservedly forgotten ; but of course, in a time when the literary discoveries of materialists are not less remarkable than their scientific achievements, no one can be sure but that Naigeon may be speedily announced to have been equal to Newton-and Maréchal to have really been, what he aspired to be, another Lucretius.
Laplace was reputed to be an atheist by some of his contemporaries. In his writings he seems to have studiously refrained from the expression of religious opinion; and this, it must be remembered, at a time when the profession of atheism was a passport to popularity.
In the 'De la Nature' (4 tom. 1761-66) and other works of Robinet, an ingenious and grandiose theory of evolution was expounded. Although not materialistic, and still less atheistic, it was of such a character that it must have helped to swell the stream of eighteenth-century materialism. It has been well treated of by Damiron in his "Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de la Philosophie au xviiie. siècle,' and by Rosenkranz in the 'Z'. Der Gedanke,' Bd. i.
Note XII., page 86.
The Eloge of Frederick the Great on La Mettrie is reprinted in Assezat's edition of 'L'homme machine' (1865). M. Assezat initiated the process of rehabilitating the memory of La Mettrie. Lange followed in 1866. M. Nérée Quepat published in 1873 his “Essai sur La Mettrie, sa vie et ses æuvres. Although it gives far too favourable a view, both of the conduct of La Mettrie and of his writings, it can be commended as an industriously and intelligently composed production. Du BoisReymond's eulogium was pronounced before the Royal Academy of Prussia in 1875.
Lange, in the chapter dedicated to La Mettrie, has collected, reproduced in a clear and condensed form, and skilfully combined the most plausible and judicious views enunciated in that author's writings. This gives as result a most flattering reflection of La Mettrie's character as a thinker. Unfortunately the real La Mettrie was rambling, incoherent, and self-contradictory to the last degree. It would, in consequence, not be difficult to make about as truthful a picture of him as Lange's, and from materials likewise supplied by his own books, yet which should represent him, in accordance with the description of D'Argens, as "fou, au pied de la lettre.” “Sa tête," says Diderot, “est si troublée et ses idéess ont à tel point décousues, que, dans la même page, une assertion sensée est heurtée par une assertion folle, et une assertion folle par une assertion sensée."
Note XIII., page 96.
MIRABAUD AND VON HOLBACH.
J. B. de Mirabaud died in 1760, ten years before the publication of the ‘Système de la Nature' which bore his name on its title-page. Naigeon says that he had seen a MS. of Mirabaud, entitled 'Des Lois du monde physique et du monde morale,' in which views similar to those in the "Système' were advocated. If this statement could be relied on, the conjecture might be permitted that the MS. was made use of by Holbach and his friends. Mirabaud was, undoubtedly, a materialist and an enemy of Christianity, although, perhaps, not an atheist. His Sentiments des philosophes sur la nature de l'âme' (1743), and 'Le Monde, son origine et son antiquité' (1751), show quite clearly to what school of