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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

Whether the Baron Holbach himself


The

_Systeme de la Nature_ appeared in London under a fictitious name in 1770. It was then published as a posthumous work of Mirabaud, late secretary of the Academy. It doubtless had its origin in the circle which was wont to assemble with Baron Holbach, and of which Diderot, Grimm, and others formed a part. Whether the Baron Holbach himself, or his tutor Lagrange is the author of this work, or whether it is the joint production of a number, cannot now be determined. The _Systeme de la Nature_ is hardly a French book: the style is too heavy and tedious.

There is, in fact, nothing but matter and motion, says this work. Both are inseparably connected. If matter is at rest, it is only because hindered in motion, for in its essence it is not a dead mass. Motion is twofold, attraction and repulsion. The different motions which we see are the product of these two, and through these different motions arise the different connections and the whole manifoldness of things. The laws which direct in all this are eternal and unchangeable.--The most weighty consequences of such a doctrine are:

(1.) _The materiality of man._ Man is no twofold being compounded of mind and matter, as is erroneously believed. If the inquiry is closely made what the mind is, we are answered, that the most accurate philosophical investigations have shown, that the principle of activity in man is a substance whose peculiar nature cannot be known, but

of which we can affirm that it is indivisible, unextended, invisible, &c. But now, who should conceive any thing determinate in a substance which is only the negation of that which gives knowledge, an idea which is peculiarly only the absence of all ideas? Still farther, how can it be explained upon such a hypothesis, that a substance which itself is not material can work upon material things; and how can it set these in motion, since there is no point of contact between the two? In fact, those who distinguish their soul from their body, have only to make a distinction between their brain and their body. Thought is only a modification of our brain, just as volition is another modification of the same bodily organ.

(2.) Another chimera, the belief in the being of a God, is connected with the twofold division of man into body and soul. This belief arises like the hypothesis of a soul-substance, because mind is falsely divided from matter, and nature is thus made twofold. The evil which men experienced, and whose natural cause they could not discover, they assigned to a deity which they imagined for the purpose. The first notions of a God have their source therefore in sorrow, fear, and uncertainty. We tremble because our forefathers for thousands of years have done the same. This circumstance awakens no auspicious prepossession. But not only the rude, but also the theological idea of God is worthless, for it explains no phenomenon of nature. It is, moreover, full of absurdities, for, since it ascribes moral attributes to God, it renders him human; while on the other hand, by a mass of negative attributes, it seeks to distinguish him absolutely from every other being. The true system, the system of nature, is hence atheistic. But such a doctrine requires a culture and a courage which neither all men nor most men possess. If we understand by the word atheist one who considers only _dead_ matter, or who designates the _moving power_ in nature with the name God, then is there no atheist, or whoever would be one is a fool. But if the word means one who denies the existence of a spiritual being, a being whose attributes can only be a source of annoyance to men, then are there indeed atheists, and there would be more of them, if a correct knowledge of nature and a sound reason were more widely diffused. But if atheism is true, then should it be diffused. There are, indeed, many who have cast off the yoke of religion, who nevertheless think it is necessary for the common people in order to keep them within proper limits. But this is just as if we should determine to give a man poison lest he should abuse his strength. Every kind of Deism leads necessarily to superstition, since it is not possible to continue on the standpoint of pure deism.


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