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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

Which has its muscles of thought


The Encyclopedists had a more decidedly sceptical relation to the principles and the basis of spiritualism. The philosophical Encyclopedia established by _Diderot_ (1713-1784), and published by him in connection with d'Alembert, is a memorable monument of the ruling spirit in France in the time before the revolution. It was the pride of France at that age, because it expressed in a splendid and universally accessible form the inner consciousness of the French people. With the keenest wit it reasoned away law from the state, and freedom from morality, and spirit and God from nature, though all this was done only in scattered, and, for the most part, timorous intimations. In Diderot's independent writings we find talent of much philosophic importance united with great earnestness. But it is very difficult to fix and accurately to limit his philosophic views, since they were very gradually formed, and Diderot expressed them always with some reserve and accommodation. In general, however, it may be remarked, that in the progress of his speculations he constantly approached nearer the extreme of the philosophical direction of his age. In his earlier writings a Deist, he afterwards avowed the opinion that every thing is God. At first defending the immateriality and immortality of the soul, he expressed himself at a later period decidedly against these doctrines, affirming that the species alone has an abiding being while the individual passes away, and that immortality is nothing other
than to live in the thoughts of coming generations. But Diderot did not venture to the real extreme of logical materialism; his moral earnestness restrained him from this.

4. The last word of materialism was spoken with reckless audacity by _La Mettrie_ (1709-1751), a contemporary of Diderot: every thing spiritual is a delusion, and physical enjoyment is the highest end of men. Faith in the existence of a God, says La Mettrie, is just as groundless as it is fruitless. The world will not be happy till atheism becomes universally established. Then alone will there be no more religious strife, then alone will theologians, the most odious of combatants, disappear, and nature, poisoned at present by their influence, will come again to its rights. In reference to the human soul, there can be no philosophy but materialism. All the observation and experience of the greatest philosophers and physicians declare this. Soul is nothing but a mere name, which has a rational signification only when we understand by it that part of our body which thinks. This is the brain, which has its muscles of thought, just as the limbs have their muscles of motion. That which gives man his advantage over the brutes is, first, the organization of his brain, and second, its capacity for receiving instruction. Otherwise, is man a brute like the beasts around him, though in many respects surpassed by these. Immortality is an absurdity. The soul perishes with the body of which it forms a part. With death every thing is over, _la farce est jouee_! The practical and selfish application of all this is--let us enjoy ourselves as long as we exist, and not throw away any satisfaction we can attain.

5. The _Systeme de la Nature_ afterwards attempted to elaborate with greater earnestness and scientific precision, that which had been uttered so superficially and so superciliously by La Mettrie, viz., the doctrine that matter alone exists, while mind is nothing other than matter refined.

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