Baron d'Holbach

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (French: [dɔlbak]) (8 December 1723 – 21 January 1789), was a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and prominent figure in the French Enlightenment. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, near Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate, but lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he kept a salon. He was well known for his atheism[3] and for his voluminous writings against religion, the most famous of them being The System of Nature (1770).

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach
Paul Heinrich Dietrich Baron d'Holbach Roslin
Portrait by Alexander Roslin
Paul Heinrich Dietrich

8 December 1723
Died21 January 1789 (aged 65)
Paris, France
Era18th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolFrench materialism
Main interests
Atheism, Determinism, Materialism
Edesheim-Ludwigstrasse 1940
Insight into the Ludwigstrasse in Edesheim (Rhineland-Palatinate). The birthplace of Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach was in the house n° 4. Old picture postcard from 1940.
Holbach - Baptism Certificate
Segment of his baptism certificate
Edesheim-Paul Henri Thiry d’Holbach-haus-2
Franz Adam Holbach's, or Adam François d'Holbach's house in Edesheim, Schloss Kupperwolf
Kasteel Heeze te Heeze, since the year 1733 in possession of François Adam d'Holbach. In 1735 additional buildings were erected. Paul Henri Thiry Holbach inherited this estate in 1750.
Alexander Roslin-889958
Portrait of Mme Charlotte Suzanne d´Holbach, his second wife. Oil painting from Alexander Roslin (1718-1793)
Sucy-en-Brie - Château du Grand-Val, façade sur le Parc
Le Château de Grand-Val; view of the park site
St. Roch Paris
Church of Saint-Roch, front view of the church in which he and his friend Denis Diderot were buried.


Sources differ regarding d'Holbach's dates of birth and death. His exact birthday is unknown, although records show that he was baptised on 8 December 1723. Some authorities incorrectly give June 1789 as the month of his death.

D'Holbach's mother Catherine Jacobina née Holbach (1684–1743) was the daughter of Johannes Jacobus Holbach (died 1723) the Prince-Bishop's tax collector for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Speyer. His father, Johann Jakob Dietrich, (with other notations: ger.: Johann Jakob Dirre; fr.: Jean Jacques Thiry) (1672–1756) was a wine-grower.

D'Holbach wrote nothing of his childhood though it is known he was raised in Paris by his uncle Franz Adam Holbach, (or Adam François d'Holbach or Messire François-Adam, Baron d'Holbach, Seigneur de Heeze, Leende et autres Lieux)[4] (approx. 1675–1753), who had become a millionaire by speculating on the Paris stock-exchange. With his financial support, d'Holbach attended the Leiden University from 1744 to 1748. Here he became friends with John Wilkes.[5] Later he went on to marry his second cousin, Basile-Geneviève d'Aine (1728–1754), on 11 December 1750. In 1753, a son was born: Francois Nicholas who left France before his father passed. Francois moved through Germany, Holland, and England before arriving in USA (per American family bible/German and Italian references). In 1753 both his uncle and his father died, leaving d'Holbach with an enormous inheritance, such as Heeze Castle, Kasteel Heeze te Heeze.

D'Holbach would remain wealthy throughout his life.[6] In 1754, his wife died from an unknown disease. The distraught d'Holbach moved to the provinces for a brief period with his friend Baron Grimm and in the following year received a special dispensation from the Pope to marry his deceased wife's sister, Charlotte-Suzanne d'Aine (1733–1814).[7] They had a son, Charles-Marius (1757–1832) and two daughters Amélie-Suzanne (13 January 1759) and Louise-Pauline (19 December 1759 – 1830).[8]

During the summer months, when Paris was hot and humid, Baron d'Holbach retreated to his country estate at Grandval, Le Château de Grand-Val[9] (Sucy-en-Brie today N° 27 rue du Grand-Val on the outskirts of Paris (Département Val-de-Marne).[10][11] There he would invite friends to stay for a few days or weeks, and every year he invited Denis Diderot.[12]

D'Holbach was known for his generosity, often providing financial support discreetly or anonymously to his friends, amongst them Diderot. It is thought that the virtuous atheist Wolmar in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse is based on d'Holbach.[6]

Holbach died in Paris on 21 January 1789, a few months before the French Revolution.[13] The authorship of his various anti-religious works did not become widely known until the early 19th century. Ironically, he was buried in the Church of Saint-Roch, Paris. The exact location of the grave is unknown.[14]

D'Holbach's salon

From c. 1750 to c. 1780, Baron d'Holbach used his wealth to maintain one of the more notable and lavish Parisian salons, which soon became an important meeting place for the contributors to the Encyclopédie.

Meetings were held regularly twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, in d'Holbach's home in rue Royale.[15][16] Visitors to the salon were exclusively males, and the tone of discussion highbrow, often extending to topics more extensive than those of other salons.[17] This, along with the excellent food, expensive wine, and a library of over 3000 volumes, attracted many notable visitors. Among the regulars in attendance at the salon—the coterie holbachique—were the following: Diderot, Grimm, Condillac, Condorcet, D'Alembert, Marmontel, Turgot, La Condamine, Raynal, Helvétius, Galiani, Morellet, Naigeon and, for a time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[18] The salon was also visited by prominent British intellectuals, amongst them Adam Smith, David Hume, John Wilkes, Horace Walpole, Edward Gibbon, David Garrick, Laurence Sterne; the Italian Cesare Beccaria; and the American Benjamin Franklin.[19][20]

Morellet, a regular attendee at D'Holbach's salon, described it as

the place to hear the freest, most animated, and most instructive conversation that ever regard to philosophy, religion, and government; light pleasantries had no place there.[21]

In a frequently narrated story about a discussion that had taken place in D'Holbach's salon, David Hume had questioned whether atheists actually existed whereupon D'Holbach had clarified that Hume was sitting at a table with seventeen atheists.[22]


Contributions to the Encyclopédie

For the Encyclopédie d'Holbach authored and translated a large number of articles on topics ranging from politics and religion to chemistry and mineralogy. As a German who had become a naturalised Frenchman, he undertook the translation of many contemporary German works of natural philosophy into French. Between 1751 and 1765, D'Holbach contributed some four hundred articles to the project, mostly on scientific subjects, in addition to serving as the editor of several volumes on natural philosophy. D'Holbach may also have written several disparaging entries on non-Christian religions, intended as veiled criticisms of Christianity itself.[23]

Anti-religious works

Despite his extensive contributions to the Encyclopédie, d'Holbach is better known today for his philosophical writings, all of which were published anonymously or under pseudonyms and printed outside France, usually in Amsterdam by Marc-Michel Rey. His philosophy was expressly materialistic and atheistic and is today categorised into the philosophical movement called French materialism. In 1761 Christianisme dévoilé[a] appeared, in which he attacked Christianity and religion in general as an impediment to the moral advancement of humanity. The deistic Voltaire, denying authorship of the work, made known his aversion to d'Holbach's philosophy, writing that "[the work] is entirely opposed to my principles. This book leads to an atheistic philosophy that I detest."[24] Christianity Unveiled was followed by others, notably La Contagion sacrée ,[b] Théologie portative[c] and Essai sur les préjugés.[d] D'Holbach was helped in these endeavours by Jacques-André Naigeon, who would later become his literary executor.

The System of Nature

In 1770, d'Holbach published his most famous book, The System of Nature (Le Système de la nature), under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud, the secretary of the Académie française who had died ten years previously. Denying the existence of a deity, and refusing to admit as evidence all a priori arguments, d'Holbach saw the universe as nothing more than matter in motion, bound by inexorable natural laws of cause and effect. There is, he wrote "no necessity to have recourse to supernatural powers to account for the formation of things."[25]

The System of Nature is a long and extensive work presenting a thoroughly naturalistic view of the world. Some d'Holbach scholars have pointed out that Denis Diderot was a close personal friend of d'Holbach's, and that it is unclear to what extent d'Holbach was influenced by him. Indeed, Diderot may possibly have been the author of parts of the System of Nature.[26] Regardless, however, of the extent of Diderot's contribution to the System of Nature, it is on the basis of this work that d'Holbach's philosophy has been called "the culmination of French materialism and atheism."[27]

D'Holbach's objectives in challenging religion were primarily moral: He saw the institutions of Christianity as a major obstacle to the improvement of society. For him, the foundation of morality was to be sought not in Scripture but in happiness: "It would be useless and almost unjust to insist upon a man's being virtuous if he cannot be so without being unhappy. So long as vice renders him happy, he should love vice."[28] D'Holbach's radicalism posited that humans were fundamentally motivated by the pursuit of enlightened self-interest, which is what he meant by "society," rather than by empty and selfish gratification of purely individual needs. Chapter 15 of Part I of System of Nature is titled "Of Man's true Interest, or of the Ideas he forms to himself of Happiness.--Man cannot be happy without Virtue."[29]

It is quite natural in man, it is extremely reasonable, it is absolutely necessary, to desire those things which can contribute to augment the sum of his felicity. Pleasure, riches, power, are objects worthy his ambition, deserving his most strenuous efforts, when he has learned how to employ them; when he has acquired the faculty of making them render his existence really more agreeable. It is impossible to censure him who desires them, to despise him who commands them, but when to obtain them he employs odious means; or when after he has obtained them he makes a pernicious use of them, injurious to himself, prejudicial to others; let him wish for power, let him seek after grandeur, let him be ambitious of reputation, when he can show just pretensions to them; when he can obtain them, without making the purchase at the expense of his own repose, or that of the beings with whom he lives: let him desire riches, when he knows how to make a use of them that is truly advantageous for himself, really beneficial for others; but never let him employ those means to procure them of which he may be ashamed; with which he may be obliged to reproach himself; which may draw upon him the hatred of his associates; or which may render him obnoxious to the castigation of society: let him always recollect, that his solid happiness should rest its foundations upon its own esteem,--upon the advantages he procures for others; above all, never let him for a moment forget, that of all the objects to which his ambition may point, the most impracticable for a being who lives in society, is that of attempting to render himself exclusively happy.[30]

Paul Heinrich Dietrich Baron d'Holbach
Baron d'Holbach

The explicitly atheistic and materialistic The System of Nature presented a core of radical ideas which many contemporaries, both churchmen and philosophes found disturbing, and thus prompted a strong reaction.

The Catholic Church in France threatened the crown with withdrawal of financial support unless it effectively suppressed the circulation of the book. The list of people writing refutations of the work was long. The prominent Catholic theologian Nicolas-Sylvestre Bergier wrote a refutation titled Examen du matérialisme ("Materialism examined"). Voltaire hastily seized his pen to refute the philosophy of the Système in the article "Dieu" in his Dictionnaire philosophique, while Frederick the Great also drew up an answer to it. Its principles are summed up in a more popular form in d'Holbach's Good Sense, or Natural Ideas Opposed to Supernatural[e]

Politics and morals

D'Holbach by Louis Carmontelle

In his last works, d'Holbach's attention largely shifted away from religious metaphysics towards moral and political questions. In the Système social (1773), the Politique naturelle (1773–1774) and the Morale universelle (1776) he attempted to describe a system of morality in place of the Christian one he had so fiercely attacked, but these later writings were not as popular or influential as his earlier work. D'Holbach was strongly critical of abuses of power in France and abroad. Contrary to the revolutionary spirit of the time however, he called for the educated classes to reform the corrupt system of government and warned against revolution, democracy, and mob rule.

His political and ethical views were influenced by British materialist Thomas Hobbes. D'Holbach had personally translated Hobbes' work De Homine ("Of Man") into French.[31]

Economic views

In his System de la nature, the three volume Système social (1772), two volume Politique naturelle (1772) and Ethiocratie(1776), d'Holbach gave his economic views. Following Locke, d'Holbach defended private property, and stated that wealth is generated from labor and all should have the right to the product of their labor.[32] He endorsed the theory of laissez-faire:

The government should do nothing for the merchant except to leave him alone. No regulations can guide him in his enterprise so well as his own interest...The state owes commerce nothing but protection. Among commercial nations those that allow their subjects the most unlimited liberty may be sure of soon excelling all others.[33]

However, D'Holbach also believed that the state should prevent a dangerous concentration of wealth amongst a few individuals from taking place.[32] According to him hereditary aristocracy should be abolished on the ground that it breeds indolence and incompetence.[33] He criticized the then prevailing policy of the French government to let private individuals collect tax on the ground that the tax collectors often extort double the money they are supposed to collect from the citizens.[34] He also believed that religious groups should be voluntary organizations without any government support.[32]


D'Holbach is believed to have died shortly before the French Revolution. He was buried on 21 January, 1789, in the ossuarium beneath the altar in the parish church of Saint-Roch, Paris. This ossuarium has been ransacked twice, once during the French Revolution, and again during the 1871 Paris Commune.[35]

D'Holbach and his contemporaries

D'Holbach and Diderot

It is not clear when d'Holbach and Diderot first met, but by 1752 they definitely knew each other. This was the year when Volume II of the Encyclopédie, containing contributions by d'Holbach, appeared. The two were in substantial agreement on questions related to religion and philosophy. They also shared similar interests like gourmandizing, taking country walks, and collecting fine prints, and beautiful paintings.[36]

When d'Holbach's radically atheistic and materialistic The System of Nature was first published, many believed Diderot to be the actual author of the book. Based on the writing style, the Durants opine that the book was not written by Diderot although he may have composed the flowery address to Nature towards the end of the book.[37]

D'Holbach and Rousseau

The attendees at d'Holbach's dinners included Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau stopped attending the salon for some time after an incident in February 1754. Diderot had arranged for an acquaintance of his, the Abbé Petit, to read a tragedy composed by the Abbé at d'Holbach's. When the Abbé presented his work, he preceded it by reading his treatise on theatrical composition which the attendees at d'Holbach's found so absurd that they could not help being amused.The attendees—Diderot, Marmontel, Grimm, Saint-Lambert, and others—then proceeded to direct lavish praise at the Abbé which made him happy.[38][39] D'Holbach later narrated what happened:

I will confess that, half-laughingly, half-soberly, I myself strung the poor curé along. Jean-Jacques hadn't said a word, hadn't smiled an instant, hadn't moved from his armchair. Suddenly he rose up like a madman and, springing towards the curé, took his manuscript, threw it on the floor, and cried to the appalled author, "Your play is worthless, your dissertation an absurdity, all these gentlemen are making fun of you. Leave here, and go back to do curate's duty in your village." Then the curé got up, no less furious, spewed forth all imaginable insults against his too sincere advisor, and from insults would have passed to blows and to tragic murder if we had not separated them.Rousseau left in a rage, which I believed to be temporary, but which has never ceased and which has done nothing but increase since that time.[39]

Later in 1754, when he learnt that Mme d'Holbach had died,[40][note 1] Rousseau wrote a tender condolence letter to d'Holbach, and the friendship between the two men was rekindled. For three more years, Rousseau would frequent the salon of d'Holbach.[41]

D'Holbach later arranged, along with Grimm and Diderot, for an annuity of 400 livres for Rousseau's common-law wife Thérèse Levasseur and her mother, pledging them not to reveal this to Rousseau for fear of wounding Rousseau's pride. When Rousseau eventually found out about this, he was furious with his friends for humiliating him.[42] [note 2]

Appreciation and influence

According to Marmontel, d'Holbach "had read everything and never forgotten anything of interest."[43] Jean-Jacques Rousseau commented that d'Holbach could hold his own among scholars since he was learned and knowledgeable.[43] Diderot enthusiastically endorsed d'Holbach's book System of Nature.[44]

D'Holbach's philosophy influenced Marat, Danton, and Camille Desmoulins. According to Faguet: "d'Holbach, more than Voltaire, more than Diderot, is the father of all the philosophy and all the anti-religious polemics at the end of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century."[45]

During the French Directory, a book of d'Holbach was circulated to all departmental heads in a bid to rein in religious revivalism. In England, d'Holbach's views influenced Priestly, Godwin, and Shelley. In Germany, d'Holbach's views influenced Immanuel Kant.[45][note 3] It is speculated that d'Holbach's views influenced the historical materialism of Karl Marx.[45][46]

See also


  1. ^ D'Holbach, Baron. Good Sense paragraph 206
  2. ^ D'Holbach, Baron. Good Sense paragraph 119
  3. ^ Cliteur, Paul (2010). The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 21. ISBN 978-1444335217. Retrieved August 29, 2013.
  4. ^ Cushing, Max Pearson: Baron D'holbach A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism. Kessinger Pub. Co. (2004), p.5
  5. ^ Arthur M. Wilson (175). Diderot. Oxford University Press. p. 620.
  6. ^ a b Michael LeBuffe, "Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron) d'Holbach", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)[1]
  7. ^ Max Pearson Cushing, Baron d’Holbach: A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France
  8. ^ Charlotte Daine (2012-01-18). "Genealogy Charlotte d'Aine". Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  9. ^ "Old photograph of the 1949 destroyed building". Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  10. ^ Cushing, Max Pearson: Baron D'holbach A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism. Kessinger Pub. Co. (2004), p.11
  11. ^ "Pictures and a short presentation of the history of the building in french language". Archived from the original on 2012-01-03. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  12. ^ Blom, Philipp: A Wicked Company. The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment. Basic Books, New York, (2010), p. 181, ISBN 978-0-465-01453-8.
  13. ^ Sources differ regarding d'Holbach's dates of birth and death. His exact birthday is unknown, although records show that he was baptised on 8 December 1723. Some authorities incorrectly give June 1789 as the month of his death.
  14. ^ Blom, Philipp: A Wicked Company. The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment. Basic Books, New York, (2010), p. 302, ISBN 978-0-465-01453-8.
  15. ^ Today the address is 10, rue des Moulins, which is near The Louvre and the Jardin Royal, and not 500 meters from the parish church Saint-Roche where he, Denis Diderot, and many other notables would be buried. The address was changed during Haussmann's renovation of Paris.
  16. ^ Blom, Philipp: A Wicked Company. The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment. Basic Books, New York, (2010), pp. xi, xii, 1, ISBN 978-0-465-01453-8.
  17. ^ For an in-depth discussion of d'Holbach's "coterie", see Alan Charles Kors, D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris (Princeton University Press, 1976). Also Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Cornell University Press, 1996)
  18. ^ Frank A. Kafker: Notices sur les auteurs des dix-sept volumes de « discours » de l'Encyclopédie. Recherches sur Diderot et sur l'Encyclopédie. 1989, Volume 7, Numéro 7, p. 143–144
  19. ^ Blom, Philipp, Enlightening the world: Encyclopédie, the book that changed the course of history, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 124, ISBN 1-4039-6895-0.
  20. ^ Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 149.
  21. ^ Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. pp. 695–6.
  22. ^ Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 696.
  23. ^ T. C. Newland, "D'Holbach, Religion, and the 'Encyclopédie'", Modern Language Review, Vol. 69, No. 3, (Jul., 1974), pp. 523–533.
  24. ^ Voltaire, Oeuvres, xxxvii. 23.
  25. ^ Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, System of Nature; or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World (London, 1797), Vol. 1, p. 25
  26. ^ Virgil V. Topazio, "Diderot's Supposed Contribution to D'Holbach's Works", in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, LXIX, 1, 1954, pp. 173-188.
  27. ^ Virgil W. Topazio, D'Holbach's Moral Philosophy: Its Background and Development (Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1956), p. 117.
  28. ^ Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, System of Nature; or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World (London, 1797), Vol. 1, p. 109
  29. ^ "Chapter XV, Pt I, English translation, 1820". Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  30. ^ System of Nature, Chapter 15, Part I.
  31. ^ Baron d'Holbach, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  32. ^ a b c Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 707.
  33. ^ a b Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 708.
  34. ^ Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 709.
  35. ^ Blom, Philipp: A Wicked Company. The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment. Basic Books, New York, (2010), pp. xii, 302, ISBN 978-0-465-01453-8.
  36. ^ Arthur M. Wilson (1972). Diderot. Oxford University Press. pp. 175–6.
  37. ^ Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. pp. 699–700.
  38. ^ Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 10: Rousseau and Revolution. Simon & Schuster. p. 18,27.
  39. ^ a b Arthur M. Wilson (1972). Diderot. Oxford University Press. p. 182.
  40. ^ a b Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 697.
  41. ^ Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 10: Rousseau and Revolution. Simon&Schuster. pp. 27–8.
  42. ^ a b Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 10: Rousseau and Revolution. Simon & Schuster. p. 153.
  43. ^ a b Arthur M. Wilson (1972). Diderot. Oxford University Press. p. 177.
  44. ^ Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon & Schuster. p. 700.
  45. ^ a b c d Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 713.
  46. ^ Mehring, Franz, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (Routledge, 2003) pg. 75


  1. ^ This was d'Holbach's first wife. Two years later he would marry her sister.[40]
  2. ^ According to Rousseau, most of this money was pocketed by Therese's mother for herself, and for her other daughters.[42]
  3. ^ It was the combination of d'Holbach's materialism and Hume's skepticism that awoke Kant from his "dogmatic slumber".[45]
  1. ^ Christianity Unveiled
  2. ^ 1768 - "The Sacred Contagion"
  3. ^ 1768 - "Portable Theology"
  4. ^ 1770 - "Essay on prejudice"
  5. ^ Bon Sens, on idées naturelles opposees aux idées surnaturelles Amsterdam, 1772



Secondary literature


  • Mark Curran, Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in pre-Revolutionary Europe (Royal Historical Society, 2012).
  • Jonathan Israel, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton University Press 2010).
  • David Holohan (Translator), Christianity Unveiled by Baron d'Holbach: A Controversy in Documents, (Hodgson Press, 2008).
  • Max Pearson Cushing, Baron d'Holbach: a study of eighteenth-century radicalism in France (New York, 1914).
  • Alan Charles Kors, D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris (Princeton University Press, 1976).
  • Alan Charles Kors, "The Atheism of D'Holbach and Naigeon", Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).
  • John Lough, "Helvétius and d'Holbach", Modern Language Review, Vol. 33, No. 3. (Jul., 1938).
  • T. C. Newland, "D'Holbach, Religion, and the 'Encyclopédie'", Modern Language Review, Vol. 69, No. 3, (Jul., 1974), pp. 523–533.
  • Virgil W. Topazio, D'Holbach's Moral Philosophy: Its Background and Development (Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1956).
  • Everett C. Ladd, Jr., "Helvétius and d'Holbach", Journal of the History of Ideas (1962) 23(2): 221-238.
  • Virgil V. Topazio, "Diderot's Supposed Contribution to D'Holbach's Works", in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, LXIX, 1, 1954, pp. 173–188.
  • S. G. Tallentyre (pseud. for Evelyn Beatrice Hall), The Friends of Voltaire (1907).
  • W. H. Wickwar, Baron d'Holbach: A Prelude to the French Revolution (1935)
  • G. V. Plekhanov, Essays in the History of Materialism (trans. 1934)
  • John Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert (London : Oxford University Press, 1968)


  • Blom, Philipp (2011). Böse Philosophen: Ein Salon in Paris und das vergessene Erbe der Aufklärung (in German). Hanser, München. ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6.


  • René Hubert, D'Holbach et ses amis (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1928).
  • Paul Naville, D'Holbach et la philosophie scientifique au XVIIIe siècle. Rev. ed. Paris, 1967
  • J. Vercruysse, Bibliographie descriptive des écrits du baron d'Holbach (Paris, 1971).
  • A. Sandrier, Le style philosophique du baron d'Holbach, Honoré Champion (Paris, 2004).

External links

Agnostic existentialism

Agnostic existentialism is a type of existentialism which makes no claim to know whether there is a "greater picture"; rather, it simply asserts that the greatest truth is that which the individual chooses to act upon. It feels that to know the greater picture, whether there is one or not, is impossible, or impossible so far, or of little value. Like the Christian existentialist, the agnostic existentialist believes existence is subjective.

Atheist's Wager

The Atheist's Wager, popularised by the philosopher Michael Martin and published in his 1990 book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, is an atheistic response to Pascal's Wager regarding the existence of God.

One version of the Atheist's Wager suggests that since a kind and loving god would reward good deeds – and that if no gods exist, good deeds would still leave a positive legacy – one should live a good life without religion. Another formulation suggests that a god may reward honest disbelief and punish a dishonest belief in the divine.

Atheistic existentialism

Atheistic existentialism is a kind of existentialism which strongly diverged from the Christian existential works of Søren Kierkegaard and developed within the context of an atheistic world view. The philosophies of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche provided existentialism's theoretical foundation in the 19th century, although their differing views on religion proved essential to the development of alternate types of existentialism. Atheistic existentialism was formally recognized after the 1943 publication of Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre and Sartre later explicitly alluded to it in Existentialism is a Humanism in 1946.

Augustin Roux

Augustin Roux (French: [ʁu]; 26 January 1726 – 28 June 1776) was a French doctor, encyclopedist and man of letters during the Age of Enlightenment.

Roux was born in Bordeaux, where he studied medicine. He received his doctorate in 1750 and then came to Paris where, on the recommendation of Montesquieu, he was able to obtain the financial support that his family had refused him as punishment for not pursuing an ecclesiastical career.

After learning English, Roux translated several English books into French, taught a course of medicine and worked as doctor at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. He succeeded Vandermonde as editor of the Journal of Medicine in 1762.

His extensive knowledge of chemistry resulted in his appointment as professor of science at the Faculty in 1771.

Roux regularly attended the salon of Baron d'Holbach. He died on September 1, 1776 in Paris.

Christianity Unveiled

Christianity Unveiled, or examination of the principles and effects of the Christian religion (Le christianisme devoile, ou examination of principes et des effets de la religion chrétienne) is a book that criticizes Christianity attributed to Baron d'Holbach, probably published in 1766.In his religious criticism, Holbach focuses on aspects of the Christian faith which he considers inconsistent, and is particularly critical of the moral and political influence of the Christian religion. The findings of the book are numerous correspondences in Holbach's later works, however, contain only latent atheistic utterances and are mainly focused at Christianity than to religion in general.

Unlike previous publications critical of religion, the book has no analysis of the historical origins of religions or the project of a deistic religion alternative to the content, but is seen as an outspoken anti-Christian propaganda piece. The book sparked in philosophical and enlightened circles and the lively reaction it received caused it to be seized immediately after its release by the French authorities.

D'Holbach's Coterie

D'Holbach's Coterie (la coterie holbachique was the phrase coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau) was a group of radical French Enlightenment thinkers who met regularly at the salon of the atheist philosophe Baron d'Holbach in the years approximately 1750–1780. An enormously wealthy man, the Baron used his wealth to maintain one of the more notable and lavish Parisian salons, which soon became an important meeting place for philosophes and their guests, and where Diderot recruited at least a few of the contributors to the Encyclopédie. Meetings were held regularly twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, in d'Holbach's home in rue Royale, butte Saint-Roche. Visitors to the salon were exclusively males, and the tone of discussion was both lively and quite philosophical, extending to topics more extensive and generally more candid and more earnest than those of other salons. Few subjects were taboo, and sharp disagreements were welcomed.On every Thursday and Sunday, twelve guests--not always the same--would meet at the salon from two o'clock to seven or eight at night. Regulars at the salon included Diderot, Helvetius, d'Alembert, Raynal, Boulanger, Morellet, Saint-Lambert, Marmontel; and, occasionally, Buffon, Turgot, and Quesnay. Others who attended the salon included Rousseau,Abbe Galiani, Le Roy, Duclos, Venel, Barthez, Rouelle, Roux, and Suard. Foreigners in Paris would try to get an invitation to the salon due to its fame; in due course the salon was frequented by Hume, Sterne, Garrick, Horace Walpole, Franklin, Priestly, Adam Smith, Beccaria, and Gibbon.


The Encyclopédistes were members of the Société des gens de lettres, a French writers' society, who contributed to the development of the Encyclopédie from June 1751 to December 1765 under the editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. The composition of the 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates of the Encyclopédie was the work of over 150 authors belonging, in large part, to the intellectual group known as the philosophes. They promoted the advancement of science and secular thought and supported tolerance, rationality, and open-mindedness of the Enlightenment.

More than a hundred encyclopédistes have been identified. They were not a unified group, neither in ideology nor social class. Below some of the contributors are listed in alphabetical order, by the number of articles that they wrote, and by the identifying "signature" by which their contributions were identified in the Encyclopédie.

Beyond the known collaborators – at least in name – many articles are not signed and certain authors expressed a desire to remain anonymous. Other authors, Allard or Dubuisson for example, remain a mystery to us. Moreover, the sporadic research into the quotations, borrowings, and plagiarisms in the Encyclopédie – the illustrations as well as the text – illuminate a group of "indirect" collaborators.

Among some excellent men, there were some weak, average, and absolutely bad ones. From this mixture in the publication, we find the draft of a schoolboy next to a masterpiece.

A machine-generated and incomplete list of authors sorted by number of posts can be found at the project ARTFL. There are list by frequency and by letter.

French materialism

French materialism is the name given to a handful of French 18th-century philosophers during the Age of Enlightenment, many of them clustered around the salon of Baron d'Holbach. Although there are important differences between them, all of them were materialists who believed that the world was made up of a single substance, matter, the motions and properties of which could be used to explain all phenomena.

Prominent French materialists of the 18th century include:

Julien Offray de La Mettrie

Denis Diderot

Baron d'Holbach

Claude Adrien Helvétius

Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis

Jacques-André Naigeon

Implicit and explicit atheism

Implicit atheism and explicit atheism are types of atheism. In George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, "implicit atheism" is defined as "the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it", while "explicit atheism" is "the absence of theistic belief due to a conscious rejection of it". Explicit atheists have considered the idea of deities and have rejected belief that any exist. Implicit atheists, though they do not themselves maintain a belief in a god or gods, have not rejected the notion or have not considered it further.

Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud

Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud (1675, Paris – 24 June 1760, Paris) was a French writer and translator.

Jean Meslier

Jean Meslier (French: [melje]; also Mellier; 15 June 1664 – 17 June 1729), was a French Catholic priest (abbé) who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism and materialism. Described by the author as his "testament" to his parishioners, the text criticizes and denounces all religions.

John Needham

John Turberville Needham FRS (10 September 1713 – 30 December 1781) was an English biologist and Roman Catholic priest.

He was first exposed to natural philosophy while in seminary school and later published a paper which, while the subject was mostly about geology, described the mechanics of pollen and won recognition in the botany community.

He did experiments with gravy and later, tainted wheat, in containers. This was in order to experiment with spontaneous generation. Needham was curious on how this term was relevant. The experiments consisted of briefly boiling a broth mixture and then cooling the mixture in an open container to room temperature. Later, the flasks would be sealed, and microbes would grow a few days later. Those experiments seemed to show that there was a life force that produced spontaneous generation. Today, it is now known that the boiling time was insufficient to kill any endospores of microbes and the cooling of flasks left open to the air could cause microbial contamination. It could also be ascertained that Needham did not use proper sterile technique. His experiments were later challenged and repeated by Lazzaro Spallanzani, an Italian scientist. Using a slightly different protocol (with a longer boiling time), Spallanzani did not have any microbes grow in his sealed flasks, contradicting Needham's findings.

He is frequently believed to be an Irish Jesuit, a myth which was created by Voltaire during a feud regarding spontaneous generation in which Voltaire was against Needham and his theories.

He became a member of the Royal Society in 1747 and was the first Catholic priest to do so.

Needham's experiments with the spontaneous generation of life were cited by French Enlightenment philosopher Baron d'Holbach in his atheist work, the System of Nature.

Leiden University

Leiden University (commonly abbreviated as LEI; Dutch: Universiteit Leiden) is a public research university in Leiden, Netherlands. Founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange, leader of the Dutch Revolt in the Eighty Years' War, it is the oldest university in the Netherlands. It is known for its historic foundations, emphasis on the social sciences, and student-run societies.

The university came into particular prominence during the Dutch Golden Age, when scholars from around Europe were attracted to the Dutch Republic due to its climate of intellectual tolerance and Leiden's international reputation. During this time, Leiden became the home to individuals such as René Descartes, Rembrandt, Christiaan Huygens, Hugo Grotius, Baruch Spinoza and Baron d'Holbach.

Leiden University has seven academic faculties and over fifty subject departments, while housing more than 40 national and international research institutes. Its historic primary campus, scattered across the college town of Leiden, is considered among the most beautiful in Europe. The university also operates a secondary campus in The Hague, which consists of a liberal arts college and one of its faculties. It is a member of the Coimbra Group, the Europaeum, and a founding member of the League of European Research Universities.

The university is closely associated with the Dutch Royal Family, with Queen Juliana, Queen Beatrix and King Willem-Alexander being former alumni. Its alumni include ten leaders and Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, including current Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Internationally, it is associated with nine foreign leaders, among them John Quincy Adams; the 6th President of the United States; a Secretary General of NATO, a President of the International Court of Justice, a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and sixteen recipients of the Nobel Prize (including Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi).

Nicolas La Grange

Nicolas La Grange (1707–1775) was a French playwright and translator, notable for his 1768 translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura and for several plays.

La Grange served as private tutor to the children of the French Enlightenment philosopher Baron d'Holbach and collaborated with Jacques-André Naigeon in translating the works of Seneca.

René Hubert

René Hubert (22 July 1885 - 13 October 1954) was a French historian of philosophy and educational theorist.Hubert was born in Dammartin-en-Serve. He gained his agrégé in philosophy in 1908. He became professor of Morals, Sociology and Philosophy of Science at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lille in 1923, and in 1936 Rector of the Academy of Poitiers.He wrote on the eighteenth-century Enlightenment - the Encyclopédie, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Baron d'Holbach - as well as on educational theory.

The Libertine (2000 film)

Le Libertin (The Libertine) is a French comedy film directed by Gabriel Aghion and released in 2000. It is an adaptation of a 1997 play by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

The System of Nature

The System of Nature or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World (Système de la Nature ou Des Loix du Monde Physique et du Monde Moral) is a work of philosophy by Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789). It was originally published under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud, a deceased member of the French Academy of Science. D'Holbach wrote and published this book – possibly with the assistance of Diderot but with the support of Jacques-André Naigeon – anonymously in 1770, describing the universe in terms of the principles of philosophical materialism: The mind is identified with brain, there is no "soul" without a living body, the world is governed by strict deterministic laws, free will is an illusion, there are no final causes, and whatever happens takes place because it inexorably must. Most notoriously, the work explicitly denies the existence of God, arguing that belief in a higher being is the product of fear, lack of understanding, and anthropomorphism.

Though not a scientist himself, d'Holbach was scientifically literate and he tried to develop his philosophy in accordance with the known facts of nature and the scientific knowledge of the day, citing, for example, the experiments of John Needham as proof that life could develop autonomously without the intervention of a deity. It makes a critical distinction between mythology as a more or less benign way of bringing law ordered thought on society, nature and their powers to the masses and theology. Theology which, when it separates from mythology raises the power of nature above nature itself and thus alienates the two (i.e. "nature", all that actually exists, from its power, now personified in a being outside nature), is by contrast a pernicious force in human affairs without parallel. Its principles are summed up in a more popular form in d'Holbach's Bon Sens, ou idées naturelles opposees aux idées surnaturelles.

Theological noncognitivism

Theological noncognitivism is the position that religious language – specifically, words such as "God" – are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered synonymous with ignosticism.

William Dowdeswell (politician, born 1721)

William Dowdeswell PC (12 March 1721 – 6 February 1775) was a British politician. He went abroad to recover his health in 1774 but died the next February in Nice.

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