Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723–89) was a French philosopher during the Enlightenment. He was an author, and one of the Encyclopedists (French Encyclopédie) who advocated naturalistic and materialistic ideas.
His most well known work was Système de la nature (The System of Nature) published in 1770, which was first published under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud (a former secretary of the Académie française who had died about ten years previously).
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Paul-Henri Thiry
See also: French atheism
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy declares concerning Paul-Henri Thiry:
|“||Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach was a philosopher, translator, and prominent social figure of the French Enlightenment. In his philosophical writings Holbach developed a deterministic and materialistic metaphysics which grounded his polemics against organized religion and his utilitarian ethical and political theory. As a translator, Holbach made significant contributions to the European Enlightenment in science and religion. He translated German works on chemistry and geology into French, summarizing many of the German advances in these areas in his entries in Diderot's Encyclopedia. Holbach also translated important English works on religion and political philosophy into French. Holbach remains best known, however, for his role in Parisian society. The close circle of intellectuals that Holbach hosted and, in various ways, sponsored produced the Encyclopedia and a number of revisionary religious, ethical, and political works that contributed to the ideological basis for the French Revolution. Despite the radical views of many members of his coterie, however, Holbach's broader visiting guest list included many of the most prominent intellectual and political figures in Europe. His salon, then, was at once a shelter for radical thought and a hub of mainstream culture.||”|
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says concerning the work of Paul-Henri Thiry/Baron d'Holbach:
|“||Although indeed Holbach devotes the entire second volume of Système de la nature and all of Le Bon Sens to the defense of atheism and the criticism of particular claims about God, his views do not hold great philosophical interest. They emphasize well worn topics such as the problem of evil, the impossibility of discussing intelligibly what is unknowable, the suspect psychological origins of religious belief, and the confusion of traditional descriptions of God in terms that are simply the negation of genuine descriptive terms: for example, to say that God is infinite is just to deny that God is finite. None of these arguments is unique to Holbach or especially well presented by him.||”|
Additional encyclopedia biography of Paul-Henri Thiry
Encyclopedia.com provides a short biography of Paul-Henri Thiry which indicates:
|“|| Born in December 1723 in Edesheim not far from Karlsruhe in the Palatinate, Paul Henri Thiry was baptized a Roman Catholic. When he was 12 years old, his father took him to an ennobled and financially successful uncle, Franciscus Adam d'Holbach, a naturalized Frenchman living in Paris. From him the young Thiry received his upbringing, a fortune, and a new surname. After an early education in Paris, Paul Henri d'Holbach went in 1744 to the university at Leiden. By 1749 the young man had returned to France and become naturalized, and in 1753 he inherited his uncle's title and fortune.
At his town house in Paris and on his country estate at Grandval, D'Holbach entertained writers, philosophers, and other men of influence. His salon contributed much to the development and communication of 18th-century thought; but D'Holbach himself made a more direct contribution. This master of five languages wrote and studied continuously. In the 1750s he translated German scientific articles, and he contributed almost 400 such articles to Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie.
In 1761 began D'Holbach's written attacks on theologians and religious power. Under the name of his deceased friend N. A. Boulanger, D'Holbach published Le Christianisme dévoilé, a critical examination of Christianity. D'Holbach often resorted to pseudonyms or anonymity to protect himself from the conservative and repressive authorities. In the 1770s D'Holbach produced his positive substitutes for the religious and political dogmas he despised: Système de la Nature (1770), a secular ethics detailing the interrelation of ethics and government; Le Bon sens (1772; Good Sense), a very readable restatement of the radical ideas of the 1770 work; Politique naturelle (1773), a discussion of the moral influences exercised by government; and Morale universelle (1776), regarded by some as his ethical masterpiece.
D'Holbach taught that most of man's woes stemmed from religion. "Ignorance and fear, " he claimed, "are the two hinges of all religion." He taught that morals were quite possible without religion: "Let … reason be cultivated … and there will be no need of opposing to the passions such a feeble barrier as the fear of the gods." D'Holbach, a provocative, freethinking iconoclast, died in January 1789.
Système de la nature online (English translation)
- Baron D'Holbach: A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France by Max Pearson Cushing (1914)