November 15, 2005

Hartley, Priestley, Helvétius, Holbach

Hartley, David (1705-1759): English physician and philosopher. Hartley's Observations on Man: his Frame, his Duty, and his Expectations (1749) {Amazon} offered a physiological explanation for the association of ideas in purely mechanistic terms. His classification of various types of pleasure experienced by individual human beings was the basis for the later work of Bentham.
The great men of science of today stand on the shoulders of giants. Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) was one such intellectual "giant" whose works laid the foundation for that branch of science which we now call Chemistry. Although Priestley is best known for his experiments with gases especially that which we now call oxygen, he was extraordinarily prolific in his writings on other areas of intellectual endeavors. He had important contributions in the fields of education, moral philosophy, theology, metaphysics, political economy, history and physical science.
Helvétius, Claude-Adrien (1715-1771): French philosopher, Encyclopedist, and committed hedonist. Both De l'esprit (Of Mind) (1758) and De l'homme (Of Man) (1773) {Amazon} use empiricist methods to defend a strictly materialist account of human life, according to which ethical egoism is generated by the natural desire to maximize pleasure.
Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789) 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. 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.

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