Charles Batteux  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Charles Batteux (May 6, 1713 – July 14, 1780) was a French philosopher and writer on aesthetics, best-known for his Les Beaux-Arts réduits à un même principe, a treatise on the beaux arts.

Life and writings

Batteaux was born near Vouziers (Ardennes), and studied theology at Reims. In 1739 he came to Paris, and after teaching in the colleges of Lisieux and Navarre, was appointed to the chair of Greek and Roman philosophy in the Collège de France. In 1746 he published his treatise Les Beaux-Arts réduits à un même principe, an attempt to find a unity among the various theories of beauty and taste, and his views were widely accepted.

The reputation thus gained, confirmed by his translation of Horace (1750), led to his becoming a member of the Académie des Inscriptions (1754) and of the Académie Française (1761). His Cours de belles lettres (1765) was afterwards included with some minor writings in the large treatise, Principes de la littérature (1774). His philosophical writings were La morale d'Épicure tirée de ses propres écrits (1758), and the Histoire des causes premières (1769). In consequence of the freedom with which in this work he attacked the abuse of authority in philosophy, he lost his professorial chair. His last and most extensive work was a Cours d'études à l'usage des élèves de l'école militaire in forty-five volumes.

In the Beaux-Arts, Batteux developed a theory which is derived from John Locke through Voltaire's sceptical sensualism. He held that Art consists in the faithful imitation of the beautiful in nature. Applying this principle to the art of poetry, and analysing, line by line and even word by word, the works of great poets, he deduced the law that the beauty of poetry consists in the accuracy, beauty and harmony of individual expression. This theory had at least the merit of insisting on propriety of expression. His Histoire des causes premières was among the first attempts at a history of philosophy, and in his work on Epicurus, following on Gassendi, he defended Epicureanism against the general attacks made against it.

See Dacier et Dupuy, Éloges, in Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions.


Il est notamment l'auteur d'une série d'ouvrages consacrés à l'esthétique :

  • Les Quatre Poétiques d'Aristote, d'Horace, de Vida, de Despréaux, *Les Beaux-arts réduits à un même principe(1747),
  • Cours de belles-lettres (1765),
  • Traité de la construction oratoire (1763).

Ces trois derniers livres sont plus tard réédités en six volumes en 1774 sous le titre Principes abrégés de la littérature. L'art doit selon lui imiter le Beau dans la nature.

Outre des traductions d'Horace et d'Aristote, les Quatre poétiques d'Aristote, d'Horace, de Vida et de Boileau (1771), Charles Batteux a publié aussi des ouvrages philosophiques, parmi lesquels :

  • La Morale d'Épicure tirée de ses propres écrits
  • Histoire des causes premières (1769) (2 vol.) où il esquisse une histoire de la philosophie,
  • Cours d'études à l'usage des élèves de l'École royale militaire qui ne compte pas moins de 45 volumes.

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