From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In France, Enlightenment was based in the salons and culminated in the great Encyclopédie (1751–72) edited by Denis Diderot (1713–1784) with contributions by hundreds of leading philosophes (intellectuals) such as Voltaire (1694–1778), Rousseau (1712–1778) and Montesquieu (1689–1755). Some 25,000 copies of the 35 volume set were sold, half of them outside France.
Precursors: Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) published the newsletter "Nouvelles de la république des lettres" and his powerful Dictionnaire historique et critique. He was one of the earliest influences on the Enlightenment thinkers to advocate tolerance between the different religious beliefs.
The French Encyclopédie was a quintessential summary of thought and belief of the Enlightenment. It tried to destroy superstitions and provide access to human knowledge. In ancien régime France it caused a storm of controversy, however. This was mostly due to its religious tolerance (though this should not be exaggerated; the article on "Atheism" defended the state's right to persecute and to execute atheists). The encyclopedia praised Protestant thinkers and challenged Catholic dogma. The entire work was banned; but because it had many highly placed supporters, work continued and each volume was delivered clandestinely to subscribers.
During the Enlightenment, many of the French free-thinkers began to exploit pornography as a medium of social criticism and satire. Libertine pornography such as Thérèse Philosophe (1748) was a subversive social commentary and often targeted the Catholic Church and general attitudes of sexual repression. The market for the mass-produced, inexpensive pamphlets soon came to the bourgeoisie, making the upper class worry, as in England, that the morals of the lower class and weak-minded would be corrupted since women, slaves and the uneducated were seen as especially vulnerable during that time. The stories and illustrations (sold in the galleries of the Palais Royal, along with services of prostitutes) were often anti-clerical and full of misbehaving priests, monks and nuns, a tradition that in French pornography continued into the 20th century. In the period leading up to the French Revolution, pornography was also used as political commentary; Marie Antoinette was often targeted with fantasies involving orgies, lesbian activities and the paternity of her children, and rumors circulated about the supposed sexual inadequacies of Louis XVI.
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 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 high-brow, extending to topics more extensive and often more radical and subversive than those of other salons. 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 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. The salon was also well-frequented by British intellectuals, amongst them Adam Smith, David Hume, John Wilkes, Horace Walpole and Edward Gibbon.
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.
French materialism combined the associationist psychology and Empiricism of John Locke with the Totality of Isaac Newton to create a complex world view in diametrical opposition to the Cartesian dualist world view.
- Man a Machine by La Mettrie led the materialist charge.
- Helvetius brought about the materialist moral realm by introducing his rational ethics.
- Diderot proved the dynamic philosophé, presenting the world in constant flux and nature as creative.
- Combined with the new order of facts of Baron d'Holbach, the popularization of progress as a natural law by the Marquis de Condorcet, and the Physiocrats belief in the Laws of Economy, these thinkers defined the French Materialist movement.
Prominent French materialists of the 18th century include:
- Julien Offray de La Mettrie
- Denis Diderot
- Baron d'Holbach
- Claude Adrien Helvétius
- Jacques-André Naigeon
The philosophes (French for philosophers) were the intellectuals of the 18th century Enlightenment. Few were primarily philosophers; rather, philosophes were public intellectuals who applied reason to the study of many areas of learning, including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics and social issues. They had a critical eye and looked for weaknesses and failures that needed improvement. They promoted a "republic of letters" that crossed national boundaries and allowed intellectuals to freely exchange books and ideas. Most philosophes were men, but some were women.
They strongly endorsed progress and tolerance, and distrusted organized religion (most were deists) and feudal institutions. They faded away after the French Revolution reached a violent stage in 1793.
- D'Holbach's Coterie
- 18th century French literature
- 18th century French philosophy
- French Revolution
- French Materialism