Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach

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Paul-Henri Thiry d'Holbach around 1785, oil painting by Alexander Roslin

Paul-Henri Thiry d'Holbach [ pɔlɑ̃ˈriː tiˈriː dɔlˈbak ], Baron d'Holbach , (born or baptized on December 8, 1723 in Edesheim near Landau - died on January 21, 1789 in Paris ) was a philosopher of the French Enlightenment who is known above all for his theses critical of religion and atheistic .

Holbach was a contributor to the Encyclopédie , where he wrote numerous articles on metallurgy , chemistry, and related topics. His book System der Natur , which he published in 1770 under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud , who had died ten years ago, achieved fame . In this work he expressly advocated atheism and viewed nature as a materialistic - deterministic chain of processes. Later on, Holbach wrote primarily moral-philosophical and political works. Because of the fierce criticism of the existing absolutist regime and the church, this enlightener published anonymously or pseudonymously , which is why his authorship is not clearly clarified in several of the works attributed to him. His Paris house was a meeting place and an important center for the exchange of ideas among the Enlightenment philosophers, the " philosophes ".

life and work

Origin, studies and first years in Paris

Ludwigstrasse in Edesheim . Postcard from 1940. House n ° 4 is the house where Paul Thiry d'Holbach was born.
Baptism entry of Paul Thiry d'Holbach

Holbach's parents, Johann Jakob Dietrich (different spelling: Johann Jakob Dirre, the name Dirre was also entered in the local church register as Tirri or Tyrry; French: Jean Jacques Thiry) (1672–1756) and Catherine Jacobina Holbach (1684–1743) Edesheim , were winemakers. Edesheim was then part of the Speyer Monastery under Damian Hugo Philipp von Schönborn-Buchheim , who resided in Bruchsal .

Sign on the house where Paul Thiry d'Holbach was born in Edesheim, today Ludwigstrasse 4
Castle in Heeze , Kasteel Heeze te Heeze , owned by François Adam d'Holbach from 1733. In 1735 more buildings were erected. Paul Thiry d'Holbach inherited this property in 1750.

The maternal grandfather Johannes Jacobus Holbach († 1723) was a tax collector for the Prince-Bishop of Speyer . Johannes Jacobus Holbach had three children: Franciscus Adam Holbach (or Adam François d'Holbach) (approx. 1675–1753), Margarita Holbach and Jacobaea Holbach (or Catherine Jacobina Holbach). Margarita Holbach was married to Christianus Westerberg since 1705.

Franz Adam Holbach's country estate in Edesheim : Kupperwolf Castle , named after its future owner

The young Paul was about eight years old to his maternal uncle Franz Adam Holbach (approx. 1675-1753) (or François Adam d'Holbach, more precisely Messire François-Adam, Baron d'Holbach, Seigneur de Heeze, Leende et autres Lieux) entrusted had him instructed in his stately home in Edesheim by a cleric named François Bellemont.

This clergyman, who came from Paris, was an avowed Jansenist , as the Edesheim pastor Philipp Krelein reported in August 1731. Bellemont should have the bull Unigenitus Dei filius Pope Clement XI. from 1713 in a summons to the responsible bishop Heinrich Hartard von Rollingen or Damian Hugo Philipp Reichsgraf von Schönborn-Buchheim , Prince-Bishop of Speyer and Prince-Provost of Weissenburg in the years 1719-1743, but refused and was therefore persecuted. Although Franz Adam Holbach vehemently opposed the attacks of the Catholic clergy, François Bellemont preferred to flee to the Lutheran neighboring town of Rhodt . His documents and books were then confiscated by the episcopal commission.

Château du Grand-Val, illustration from an old postcard (1907) of the building destroyed in 1949

Franz Adam Holbach had emigrated to Paris at a young age and acquired an office as a finance broker in 1713. At that time, the Banque générale (from 1718 also Banque Royale ) , founded by John Law on May 2, 1716, was located on Rue Quincampoix in Paris. Due to his skill he had great success there at the French West India Company , also founded by John Law in August 1717 , Compagnie des Indes Occidentales Françaises , which he converted from other companies into the Compagnie des Indes (English "Company of the West"). He is said to have acquired around 20 million livres . Although the Compagnie des Indes went bankrupt, Franz Adam Holbach was able to secure his capital in real estate and survive the crisis unscathed. In 1720 he was in Vienna as the Imperial Knight knighted and in 1728 the baron charged.

With the acquired through purchase ennobling he belonged in France for the so-called noblesse commerçante (for acting needle). D'Holbach grew up in the art-historical epoch of Rococo , a style of European art (from around 1730 to 1770/1780) that had developed from the late baroque (around 1700–1720) and began in France.

A manor Franz Adam d'Holbach was in Heeze-Leende . Paul Thiry d'Holbach received other possessions from his uncle as a wedding present, for example in Heeze , Leende and Zesgehuchten (in the province of Noord-Brabant ) with Heeze Castle. In 1760 he sold the castle to the Dutch nobleman Jan Maximiliaan van Tuyll van Serooskerken (1710–1762).

After François Bellemont, suspected of being a Jansenist, failed to comply with a summons to the bishop in Speyer (Damian Hugo Philipp von Schönborn-Buchheim) and the uncle's private library was also confiscated by the police in 1731, he and his nephew moved to Paris.

In 1744, Holbach enrolled as Paulus Holbach Baro Palatinus (Palatinate baron) to study law and natural science at the Dutch University of Leiden . Here he studied until 1748 and entered into a lifelong friendship with the later British Whig politician, journalist and writer John Wilkes . He spent the summer of 1746 at Heeze-Leende with William Dowdeswell , also a fellow student at Leiden University and later an English politician who would succeed as Chancellor of the Exchequer . Also to be mentioned is the acquaintance of Mark Akenside , who studied medicine in Leiden in 1744 and whose poem The Pleasures of the Imagination (1744) appeared during his study stay in Leiden and was translated into French by d'Holbach in 1759.

Other companions who later joined him for life were the Regensburg pastor's son Friedrich Melchior Grimm and Denis Diderot .

Back in Paris, Paul Thiry received his name and title through the adoption of his uncle, who had been ennobled in Vienna, and he was admitted to the parlement in Paris, a position that did not fill him. At times he stayed at his uncle's spacious country estate in Heeze-Leende .

A year later he and his uncle took on French nationality; at the same time he was officially adopted by him. He never practiced as a lawyer, rather he led the life of a private scholar. In Paris, Holbach first lived in Rue St. Nicaise , then from 1759 in a five-story palace in №. 8 Rue Royale Saint Roch (now Rue des Moulins ).

Entrance area №. 8 Rue Royale Saint Roch (now Rue des Moulins )

Parisian life and the coterie holbachique

After the death of his first wife shortly after the birth of a son in 1754, he remarried in 1756 and had three children with his second wife. On December 11, 1750, he married a daughter of his cousin, Basile Geneviève Suzanne d'Aîne (1728–1754) ( second cousin ), his first wife. Three years later he and his cousin inherited the uncle's fortune and officially took over his uncle's title of baron.

When his father-in-law Jean-Baptiste Nicolas d'Aîne († 1755) died a year later, d'Holbach acquired his office of Conseiller-secrétaire du Roi , a sinecure that gave him access to the higher French nobility.

The annual income of 5500 livres associated with the item is likely to have been around 5% of the purchase price. According to André Morellet , Holbach had a fortune that generated a pension of 60,000 livres a year.

When his wife died in 1754 soon after the birth of their first child François Paul Nicolas (* 1753), Holbach was deeply affected. Two years later, with a dispensation from the Pope , he married the sister of his late wife, Charlotte Suzanne d'Aîne (1733-1814), with whom he had three children, the son Charles-Marius (1757-1832) and the two daughters Amélie-Suzanne (Born January 13, 1759) and Louise-Pauline (born December 19, 1759; † 1830). His wife Charlotte Suzanne was close friends with Marie-Françoise de Saint-Belin-Malain (1732–1769), wife of Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon . Holbach's brother-in-law was Marius-Jean-Baptiste Nicolas d'Aîne (1730–1804), chevalier, conseiller du roi, intendant de Justice en la généralité de Tours . The French author and translator Nicolas de la Grange worked as a private tutor for his children .

Portrait of the second wife M me Charlotte Suzanne d'Holbach. Painting in oil by Alexander Roslin (1718–1793)

D'Holbach led a local life between Paris and the estate Le Château de Grand-Val , which was only interrupted by a few trips. After the death of his first wife in 1754, he traveled with Friedrich Melchior Grimm to the south of France, in 1765 he visited England and several times he went to Contrexéville in the Vosges for spa stays . Contrexéville is known for its thermal springs. His mother-in-law Suzanne d'Aîne was the owner of the property.

D'Holbach built an extensive private library where he lived, but he also brought together various works of art. His great interest in mineralogy found expression in an extensive collection of rock samples.

The entanglements of M me Charlotte Suzanne d'Holbach around 1762 were spicy ; some of the guests of the Coterie holbachique were obviously interested in Madame la baronne herself. The journalist Jean Baptiste Antoine Suard and Charles-Georges Le Roy should be mentioned here. The covetous harassment of the journalist Suard and the resulting difficulties with her husband Paul brought Charlotte Suzanne d'Holbach into an emotional mood. Her doctor recommended a milk diet and regular horse rides, and was accompanied by the lieutenant of the royal hunts, the lieutenant des chasses royales Charles-Georges Le Roy. But now, in addition to the journalist's initial desires, there were those of the lieutenant of the royal hunts. In addition, their uncomfortable situation was made worse by an intrigue by M me Louise d'Épinay , who was courted by the writer and historian Charles Pinot Duclos (1704–1772). Duclos tried to win the trust of M me d'Épinay by claiming that M me Charlotte Suzanne d'Holbach had a relationship with her partner, Friedrich Melchior Baron von Grimm. In her outrage, she confronted Paul Thiry d'Holbach with the rumor and gave the drama its climax. The consequences were a sometimes very tense mood in the house d'Holbach.

David Garrick , a British Shakespearean actor and theater entrepreneur, had mutual acquaintances in Paris with d'Holbach and Diderot. During his first stay in 1763 as well as in 1765 he regularly attended the Coterie holbachique ("Holbach'sche Clique "). Incidentally , this salon was also referred to as the café de l'europe and he himself as the chef of the café de l'europe . The connection to Garrick allowed d'Holbach to travel to London in 1765, where he visited his friend Garrick and made a very ambivalent impression of the England of his time.

D'Holbach was a member of several learned societies of his day, he was in 1754 in the Sciences Royal Prussian Academy appointed, in 1766 was followed in only 1764 Mannheim founded Kurpfälzische Academy of Sciences and in 1780, the inclusion in the Russian Academy of Sciences to Saint Petersburg . Until the death of Claude Adrien Helvétius , who died in 1771, d'Holbach was not only frequently at his residence in the Château de Voré , ( Collines des Perches , today Loir-et-Cher ) or in the rue Sainte-Anne in Paris, but both were lifelong friends. But even later he regularly took part in the salon life around Anne-Catherine de Ligniville Helvétius, the widow of Helvetius. However, starting in 1772, the community moved to n ° 59 rue d'Auteuil and since then has also been called the Auteuil Society, société d'Auteuil or Auteuil district, cercle d'Auteuil .

D'Holbach was buried in the church of Saint-Roch (Paris) .

Like Denis Diderot, D'Holbach found his final resting place in the church of Saint-Roch (Paris).

The d'Holbach family on Grand Val

Paul Thiry d'Holbach owned an estate Le Château de Grand-Val at the Marne estuary in Sucy-en-Brie , today N ° 27 Rue du Grand-Val on the outskirts of Paris ( Val-de-Marne department ), more precisely it belonged to his mother-in-law, M me Suzanne d'Aîne, née Westerberg (* 1706). Denis Diderot, who was a friend of his, was often a guest here in the summer months, along with others. Diderot lived on the first floor of the right wing. This is where he often withdrew.

For a long time, the "Father Hoop" from Scotland, le père Hoop , who studied medicine, lived with the d'Holbach family on Grand Val.

Works as a translator and encyclopaedist

Diderot's original text in the foreword to volume 2 of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers in which Holbach is presented without naming his name

D'Holbach's work can be roughly divided into three stages:

  • 1752–1760 his contributions to the Encyclopédie are in the foreground. He translates and edits more than 400 articles on scientific and technical topics such as mineralogy, mining and chemistry. For example, he translated works by Johannes Kunckel on glass production and the two-volume work on mineralogy by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius . But also works by chemists and metallurgists such as Antonio Neri , Christopher Merret , Johann Friedrich Henckel , Johann Christian Orschall and Georg Ernst Stahl , to specify a few more, were translated into French by him. At the same time, however, he also deals - from English and French sources - with intellectual and religious history. For example writings by the English deist and philosopher Anthony Collins .
  • 1760–1770 was the time of works critical of religion, all of which were published under pseudonyms in Holland because of the strict censorship in France, such as Christianity unveiled , Le christianisme dévoilé ( 1761 ), letters to Eugenie, Lettres à Eugénie or means of protection against prejudice , Lettres à Eugénie, ou Préservatif contre les préjugés ( 1768 ) and The Spirit of Judaism, L'Esprit du judaïsme ( 1769 ).
  • 1770–1780 the third decade of his work was the phase of his major works: An experiment on prejudices: Essai sur les préjugés, ou De l'influence des opinions sur les mœurs & le bonheur des hommes ( 1770 ), System der Natur ( 1770 ), Système de la nature ou des loix du monde physique & du monde moral , Common sense , Le Bon Sens ( 1772 ), The social system, or natural principles of morality and politics, Politique Naturelle, ou Discours sur les vrais principes du Gouvernement ( 1773 ), The universal morality, or man's duties, based on his nature, La Morale Universelle, ou Les devoirs de l'homme fondés sur la Nature ( 1776 ).

Little is known about the circumstances under which d'Holbach met Denis Diderot , as much of the correspondence between the two has been lost. Presumably they were initially connected by their common interest in music. Holbach's work for the Encyclopédie begins with its second volume in 1752, in the foreword of which Diderot introduces his new colleague - at Holbach's express request without naming his name. Despite occasional upsets, Diderot and d'Holbach always remained on friendly terms. For this and the following volumes, d'Holbach wrote 427 signed “-” and an unknown number of anonymous articles on the fields of mining, metallurgy, geology, chemistry, mineralogy and glass production. According to an inventory made by John Lough, there should have been more than 1,100 articles. There were not only the above-mentioned subject areas, but also articles on German politics, history and law, as well as on topics relating to the history of religion, myths, beliefs and superstitions. D'Holbach owned an extensive library with more than 3000 volumes which were auctioned off after his death in 1790.

In addition to his contributions to the Encyclopédie , d'Holbach wrote translations of scientific and technical works from German into French, including those by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius ( Minéralogie , 1753), Johann Friedrich Henckel ( Introduction à la minéralogie , 1756), Christlieb Ehregott Gellert ( Chimie métallurgique , 1758), Johann Gottlob Lehmann ( Traités de physique , 1759) and Georg Ernst Stahl ( Traité du soufre , 1766). He is also said to have heard and witnessed lectures and demonstrations by the chemist Guillaume-François Rouelle in the Jardin du Roi .

The Lettre à une dame d'un certain âge (1752) is considered to be the first independent publication generally attributed to d'Holbach . In a few pages he ironically describes the argument between two music lovers over the newly emerging Italian opera.

Holbach's "Coterie"

The coterie holbachique ("Holbach clique ") was of particular importance for the exchange of views in Holbach's environment . The word referred to a group of people who were close to the Enlightenment and who during the second half of the 18th century met regularly on Thursdays and Sundays for several decades for dinner at Holbach's in order to freely discuss various topics. In 1759 he moved from the rue Saint-Nicaise in the 1st arrondissement de Paris to the rue Royale Saint-Roch also in the 1st arrondissement. His then in the Rue Royale Saint-Roch situated residence is today, after the transformation of Paris by Georges-Eugène Haussmann , Rue de Moulins . The Rue Saint-Honoré is located in the immediate vicinity.

Although a group of people, the regular meetings could not be assigned to a fixed group of participants, rather it was an open, fluctuating group in every respect, but also with regular guests, hôte principal . The evening discussion topics were just as open. Another advantageous feature of the meeting is said to have been the excellent cuisine and the well-stocked wine cellar.

The originally negative term was introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau , who accused some of the members of a conspiracy against him and his reputation. In contrast to Holbach's salon, in which changing guests frequented, the coterie consisted of a solid core of people. For d'Holbach himself, the meetings were simply chez moi , while his friend Denis Diderot spoke of chez le baron in his correspondence , but also of the boulangerie , an allusion to the d'Holbach pseudonym par feu M. Boulanger under which he was the unveiled Christianity published. David Hume, a regular visitor and friend of d'Holbach, called the participants les cheiks de la rue Royale .

In high society it was considered impolite to argue hard about the matter; the piety of the women present was also a taboo that could not be violated. Holbach's coterie was unusual in that it offered its members the opportunity to debate freely without regard to established conventions.

In addition to Holbach himself, the following people were members of the coterie from 1750 to 1780 , a selection: Denis Diderot , Claude Adrien Helvétius , Friedrich Melchior Grimm , Charles-Georges Le Roy , Jean-François Marmontel , Guillaume Thomas François Raynal , Augustin Roux , Jean-François de Saint-Lambert and Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Suard (1732-1817). Three other men - François-Jean de Chastellux , André Morellet and Jacques-André Naigeon - only attended the meetings from 1760 to 1780.

The coterie was very often visited by guests. Abbé Galiani, also a frequent visitor, jokingly referred to the baron as maître d'hôtel de la philosophie . Many foreign intellectuals, but also numerous diplomats and ambassadors, took the opportunity to discuss in the coterie during their stays in Paris, including David Hume , Laurence Sterne , John Wilkes and Horace Walpole . Women were generally not welcome at the meetings. The tone prevailing in the coterie surprised many guests, for example Samuel Romilly , whom Diderot's openly pronounced atheism shocked. Among the guests of the coterie were critics such as the apologist Nicolas-Sylvestre Bergier , who had argued against several of Holbach's works. Diderot wrote in 1765 that Holbach was once upset that 27 or 28 guests had come when he was only set to 20. As a result, guests seem to have required a formal invitation.

Philosophical contributions

In his philosophical work, influences clearly of Baruch de Spinoza's critique of the concept of God (compare rationalism of), Claude Adrien Helvetius moral principle of Julien Offray de La Mettrie materialism teaching and of Étienne Bonnot de Condillac formulated sensualist epistemology .

Central points in the considerations of this radical enlightener are religion-critical and materialistic theses. It was his endeavor, by showing the errors and the blockages through metaphysics , to enable the human consciousness to gain access to real knowledge . Consequently, his criticism turns to all types of religions and their moral claim to absoluteness. Instead of an ethics revealed by a creed , he would like to see a form that is oriented towards societal usefulness and empirically verifiable.

D'Holbach developed a system of sensualistic, monistic materialism .

Jacques-André Naigeon was a regular at the Baron d'Holbach's house, as a secretary he edited and edited his texts and thus helped to clandestine distribution of his writings. D'Holbach, however, was concerned about his safety, and that is why he never gave his own handwritten texts for printing from the house. Naigeon's brother, a food controller from Sedan , was the copyist and wrote Holbach's manuscripts. Holbach's writings were published anonymously or under the pseudonym feu Mirabaud .

D'Holbach's world of thought

D'Holbach regards nature as a deterministic system. In this conception of nature , all human implications that are derived from his will and desire should be rejected . Nature has no system of values ​​or assumptions about what is just or unjust, good or bad. In nature there is an equivalence or equivalence of all being. Everything arises out of necessity , and no being can act otherwise than it actually does. Thus there is no evil in nature , therefore no evil and consequently no guilt and no disorder.

Humans as part of nature are formed by the arrangement of atoms. Only these create the conditions that determined man's being and directed his fate. If the human being now considers himself to be a free being, this is nothing more than a dangerous self-deception and a spiritual weakness. Man in search of explanation forms assumptions about nature with a considerable proportion of errors, illusions and false assumptions. One form are the religions, which blinded and hindered everything. For d'Holbach they are just superstitions . People are unhappy because they don't understand the essence of nature. Your ideas are so massively impaired by errors, illusions, superstitions and prejudices that the individual would only be able to break free from them with the greatest possible effort. For one such embossed man disregards the study and understanding of the nature and would run after phantoms that it will-o' abbrächten equal to the simple way of truth and knowledge.

For d'Holbach, nature represents the “big picture” in which all phenomena are indispensably interwoven according to laws and are therefore accessible to human knowledge and ultimately to technical use.

Works critical of religion

Holbach and his second wife Charlotte Suzanne d'Aîne (watercolor by Louis Carmontelle , 1766)

After 1760, Holbach's interest increasingly shifted to criticism of religion. In the work Le christianisme dévoilé (“Christianity unveiled”), probably clandestine and pseudonymously published in 1766 , he condemns the moral and political influence of the Christian religion with harsh words, which he rejects as absurd and prone to conflict. The manuscript became evident, according to Antoine-Alexandre Barbier , a good friend of d'Holbach's, Jean-François de Saint-Lambert , who had it printed by the publisher Le Clerc in Nancy. By indiscretion, the publisher almost got the author of the book and his messenger into trouble.

The book was recognized by Diderot and Friedrich Melchior Grimm , but met with criticism from Voltaire , who, as a Deist, disapproved of the work's latent atheism. This was followed by La Contagion Sacrée, ou Histoire naturelle de la superstition (1768), where he dealt with the natural history of superstition as a type of epidemic. In addition to his own writings critical of religion, he translated a number of English authors and representatives of Deism from the early 18th century, such as Anthony Collins , John Toland , John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Thomas Woolston (1669-1731).

Since writings critical of religion were mostly published anonymously or under pseudonyms at that time, the author is often difficult to determine. The anti-clerical work La contagion sacrée , published in 1768, is generally attributed to Holbach. Less clear, on the other hand, is his contribution to the writings Lettres à Eugénie and La Théologie portative dating from the same year, as well as to the works Essai sur les préjugés and Histoire critique de Jésus-Christ published in 1770 . In addition, Holbach worked as a translator and editor of religious and historical works by other authors, including by John Toland . He took a large part of these deist writings with him from England, which he visited once in 1765.

In 1770, Holbach's Système de la nature caused a sensation, both among the reconnaissance and among their opponents . The pseudonym published work - he published it under the name of the French philosopher Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud , who died in 1760 out of fear of political persecution - represents a mechanistic worldview in which nature works by itself and all processes are deterministic . The work explicitly propagates atheism, which it considers morally superior. The author argues against various proofs of God . Belief in higher beings can be traced back to ignorance, fear and habit, and the religiously based ethics should be replaced by a “rational” moral system. Thanks to the discretion of his colleagues, Holbach was always spared from persecution by the French authorities who took action against the authors of such writings. In the follow-up work Le bon sens , published in 1772 , Holbach succinctly summarized the theses formulated in the Système de la nature .

Altogether, a series of developments in his texts and writings can be traced in d'Holbach, from a confrontation with deism to atheism and finally to a materialistic view that changes from a deist criticism of religion to a materialism critical of religion.

Political Philosophy and Ethics

In 1770 the "Essai sur les préjugés ou de l'influence des opinions sur les mœurs et sur le bonheur des hommes" was published anonymously in London with the initials Mr. DM. This essay on prejudice called for a general, state school system as well as an amalgamation of the first and third classes under the aegis of philosophy. It was Frederick II of Prussia who contradicted this work with his own essay, Examen de l'Essai sur les préjugés par le philosophe de Sans-Souci (1772). This reply, published in Berlin by Voss, was submitted by the King to Voltaire on May 24 and to Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert on May 17, 1772 for assessment. Friedrich rejected the assertion, which was more reflective of French conditions, that kings, for example, were the support of the church and of superstition. He wrote to d'Alembert and Voltaire a. a. the following lines:

“They are surprised that there is a war in Europe that I don't know about. You know that the philosophers with their constant declamations against what they usually call robbers made me peaceable. The Empress of Russia may wage war as much as she will; She has received a dispensation from Diderot for a fair price to let the Russians and Turks beat each other. I, who fear the philosophical censorship, the encyclopedic excommunication and do not want to commit any crime of the Laesio philosophiae, keep quiet. And since no book against subsidies has yet been published, I believe that I am permitted under civil and natural law to pay my ally the contribution owed to him; and I am quite right with those teachers of the human race who presume the right to scourge princes, kings and emperors who do not obey their rules. - I have recovered from the work: 'An Experiment on Prejudices', and I am sending you a few remarks that a friend of mine made about it while I was alone. I think the views of this hermit very often coincide with the way you think, as well as with the moderation you see in all of your writings. "

- Friedrich II.

The reaction of the Prussian philosopher king did not go unanswered, Diderot wrote the Lettre de M. Denis Diderot sur l'Examen de l'Essai sur les préjugés in 1774 .

In his lesser-known late works , d'Holbach mainly dealt with moral and political questions. The writings Système social (1773), Politique naturelle (1773), Ethocratie (1776) and La Morale universelle (1776), whose authorship is not clearly established, advocate a moral system based on an analysis of human needs and behavior . He sharply criticized the abuse of power and called for a reform of the political system. However, he warned of revolutionary upheavals and radical democracy that would plunge the state into chaos.

Visiting salons, freemasonry

Like the other enlighteners, Holbach also attended salons such as that of Anne-Catherine de Ligniville Helvétius . Madame Helvétius maintained the circle of Auteuil , cercle d'Auteuil or société d'Auteuil , a circle of intellectuals that she named after her salon at N ° 59 rue d'Auteuil . Many of her guests were Freemasons and members of the Neuf Sœurs Lodge, but membership of the Freemasons was not mandatory. Well-known guests of the group included Paul Thiry d'Holbach, Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert , Denis Diderot , Nicolas Chamfort , Mirabeau , Étienne Bonnot de Condillac , Constantin François Volney , Dominique Joseph Garat , Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, and Marquis de Condorcet , Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, baron de l'Aulne and Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis . There is no evidence that Paul Thiry d'Holbach received his light in the Neuf Sœurs Lodge.


Isaac de Pinto , who lives in The Hague , dealt with the work of d'Holbach in his Précis des arguments contre les matérialistes: avec de nouvelles réflexions sur la nature de nos connoissances, l'existence de dieu, l'immatérialité de l ' ame (1775) apart. The materialistic texts and thoughts of d'Holbach experienced an effective transfer - albeit not in a unanimously positive way - through reviews in contemporary Enlightenment magazines in Germany, for example by Albrecht von Haller in the Göttingische Schehrten advertisements .

Frederick II of Prussia, for example, accuses the author of the Système de la nature , unknown to him, of abandoning the path of human experience with his work on nature and God, morality and religion as well as states and princes and against the labyrinth of System philosophy.

Even Goethe had d'Holbach natural system in 1771 in Strasbourg started to read it but not brought to an end and rejected his statements.

List of works attributed to Holbach

  • Arrêt rendu à l'amphithéâtre de l'opéra. 1752 (anonymous)
    attribution by Barbier u. a .; Rudolf Besthorn's authorship contested
  • Lettre à une dame d'un certain age sur l'état présent de l'opéra. 1752 (anonymous)
    attribution by Barbier u. a.
  • Le christianisme dévoilé, ou Examen des principes et des effets de la religion chrétienne , 1766 (?) (As " M. Boulanger ")
    attributed by Barbier, Morellet a . a .; Authorship by Besthorn a. a. accepted
  • La Contagion sacrée, ou Histoire naturelle de la superstition. 1768 (anonymous)
    attribution by barber; Authorship by Besthorn a. a. accepted
  • Lettres à Eugénie, ou Préservatif contre les préjugés, 1768 (anonymous)
    ascription by barber contradicting (Holbach and Fréret ); Reluctant recognition of Holbach's authorship by Besthorn
  • Theologie Portative, ou Dictionnaire abrégé de la religion chrétienne. 1768 (as " M. l'Abbé Bernier ")
    attributed by Barbier; Besthorn and a. accept a collective work with a predominant participation by Holbach
  • Essai sur les préjugés, ou De l'influence des opinions sur les mœurs & le bonheur des hommes. 1770 (as "Mr. DM")
    attributed by Barbier; Authorship unclear (see Vercruysse, 1768)
  • Système de la nature ou des loix du monde physique & du monde moral. 1770 (as " M. Mirabaud ")
    attributed by Barbier, Morellet a. a .; Authorship by Besthorn a. a. recognized . German translation:
  • Histoire critique de Jésus-Christ, ou Analyze raisonnée des évangiles. 1770 (anonymous)
    attribution by barber; Holbach's share in the work is unclear
  • Tableau des Saints, ou Examen de l'esprit, de la conduite, des maximes & du mérite des personnages que le christiannisme révère & propose pour modèles, 1770 (anonymous)
    attribution by barber
  • Le Bon Sens du Curé Jean Meslier suivi de son testament. 1772 (anonymous)
    According to an edition from 1772 by the author of the Système de la nature; Attribution by barber; Authorship by Besthorn a. a. accepted
  • Politique Naturelle, ou Discours sur les vrais principes du Gouvernement. 1773 (anonymous)
    attribution by Barbier, Morellet a. a.
  • Système Social, ou Principes naturels de la morale et de la Politique, avec un examen de l'influence du gouvernement sur les mœurs. 1773 (anonymous)
    attribution by Barbier a. a.
  • Ethocratie, ou Le gouvernement fondé sur la morale. 1776 (anonymous)
    attribution by Barbier u. a.
  • La Morale Universelle, or Les devoirs de l'homme fondés sur la Nature. 1776
    attribution by Barbier a. a.
  • The common sense or the supernatural concepts at odds with the natural ones . 1788 (anonymous) attribution by SUB Göttingen , online
  • Eléments de la morale universelle, ou Catéchisme de la Nature. 1790 (posthumously, as "feu M. le Baron d'Holbach")
  • Holy Plague & Common Sense. La contagion sacrée, ou histoire naturelle de superstition (1768) & Le bon sens ou idées naturelles opposées aux idées surnaturelles (1772). Edited by Heiner Jestrabek , Freiheitsbaum edition Spinoza, Reutlingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-922589-62-4


  • Rudolf Besthorn: Text-critical studies on the work of Holbach. Rütten & Loening, Berlin 1969.
  • Philipp Blom : Evil Philosophers: A Salon in Paris and the Forgotten Legacy of the Enlightenment . Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6 .
  • François Theodore Claudon: Le baron d'Holbach. C. Allardin, Paris 1835 ( ).
  • Sabine Diezinger: Paris in German travelogues of the 18th century (until 1789). In: German Historical Institute in Paris, Institut Historique Allemand de Paris (Ed.): Francia - Research on Western European History. Volume 14. 1986. Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Sigmaringen 1987, pp. 263-330 ( ).
  • Frederick II: Examen de l'Essai sur les préjugés par le philosophe de Sans-Souci. Voss, Berlin 1772.
  • Hartmut Harthausen, Hans Mercker, Hans Schröter: Paul Thiry von Holbach: Philosopher of the Enlightenment 1723–1789. Catalog for the exhibition from June 11th – 2nd 7. 1989 in Hambach Castle on the occasion of the bicentenary of his death. Palatinate State Library, Speyer 1989.
  • Alan Charles Kors : D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1976, ISBN 0-691-05224-7 .
  • Michael LeBuffe:  Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron) d'Holbach. In: Edward N. Zalta (Ed.): Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . September 6, 2002; substantive revision August 25, 2010.
  • Katharina Lübbe: Nature and Polis. The idea of ​​a “natural society” among the French materialists in the run-up to the revolution. Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden 1989, ISBN 3-515-05502-9 .
  • Manfred Naumann: Holbach and the materialism problem in the French Enlightenment. In: Werner Krauss, Hans Mayer (Hrsg.): Basic positions of the French enlightenment. (= New Contributions to Literary Studies Volume 1). Berlin 1955, pp. 83-128.
  • Pierre Naville : D'Holbach et la philosophie scientifique au XVIII e siècle. Gallimard, Paris 1967.
  • Peter Olson: The Hotel of the Philosophers .
  • Carl von PrantlHolbach, Paul Heinrich Dietrich Freiherr von . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 12, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1880, pp. 710-713.
  • Emanuel Rádl: History of Biological Theories in Modern Times. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig 1915, p. 183 f. (Reprint ).
  • Werner Raupp:  Holbach, Paul-Henri Thiry Baron d '. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 15, Bautz, Herzberg 1999, ISBN 3-88309-077-8 , Sp. 716-726.
  • Hermann Sauter:  Holbach, Paul T (h) iry von. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 9, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1972, ISBN 3-428-00190-7 , pp. 510-512 ( digitized version ).
  • Richard Reschika: The Bible of Materialism - Paul Thiry d'Holbach's 'System of Nature'. In: Rebels of the Spirit. Sieben Profiles, Arnshaugk Verlag, Neustadt an der Orla 2014, ISBN 978-3-944064-21-5 , pp. 17-52.
  • Hermann Sauter, Erich Loos (ed.): Paul Thiry Baron d'Holbach: The entire preserved correspondence. (= Investigations into the language and literary history of the Romance peoples XI). Franz Steiner, Wiesbaden 1986, ISSN  0083-4580
  • Virgil M. Topazio: D'Holbach's Moral Philosophy. Its Backgrounds and Development. Institut et Musée Voltaire, Geneva 1956.
  • Virgil W. Topazio: D'Holbach, Man of Science. In: The Rice University Studies. Volume 53, No. 4, 1967, pp. 63-68 ( PDF).
  • Jeroom Vercruysse: Bibliography descriptive des écrits du Baron d'Holbach. Minard, Paris 1971.
  • Hardy W. Wickwar: Baron d'Holbach; a prelude to the French Revolution. G. Allen & Unwin, London 1935. (Reprinted by Kelley Publishers, New York 1968, OCLC 442426 )

Web links

Commons : Baron d'Holbach  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Paul-Henri Thiry  - Sources and full texts (French)

Individual evidence

  1. December 8, 1723 is the date of baptism according to the church register; the board at the birth house states it as the date of birth. In official and ecclesiastical documents, the family name is given as Tiry, Tirry, Thiry or Tyerry (Tierry is a French equivalent of "Dietrich"); since 1754 he has always signed notarial papers with Paul Thiry d'Holbach. Cf. Sauter, Loos: Paul Thiry Baron d'Holbach: The entire preserved correspondence. P. 7.
  2. ^ The house where he was born in Edesheim
  3. Genealogy of the parents
  4. The local history of Edesheim in the Palatinate ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (accessed December 2, 2013). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Data from the Holbach Foundation ( Memento of the original from June 16, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  6. Hermann Sauter: The Palatine Baron Paul Tiry von Holbach, a central figure of the French Enlightenment. Special edition of the Literary Association of the Palatinate for its members. 1972, pp. 2-4.
  7. ^ Max Pearson Cushing: Baron D'holbach A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism. (Original 1886). Kessinger Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-4191-0895-6 , p. 5. Genealogy Johannes Jacobus Holbach
  8. Hermann Sauter: The Palatine Baron Paul Tiry von Holbach, a central figure of the French Enlightenment. Special edition of the Literary Association of the Palatinate for its members. Landau 1972, pp. 3-4.
  9. ^ Herbert Lüthy : Les Mississipiens de Steckborn et la fortune des barons d'Holbach. Swiss contributions to general history, Etudes suisses d'hist. gene. 13, 1955, pp. 143-163.
  10. Hermann Sauter: The Palatine Baron Paul Tiry von Holbach, a central figure of the French Enlightenment. Special edition of the Literary Association of the Palatinate for its members. Landau 1972, p. 2.
  11. Jacqueline Hecht: Unproblemème de population active au XVIII e siècle en France. La querelle de la noblesse commerçante. Population Année (1964) Volume 19 Numéro 2, pp. 267-290
  12. ^ Official website of Kasteel Heeze in Brabant
  13. Liber. The first book d'Holbach. Editorial notes online ( Memento of the original dated December 28, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 462 kB). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. Philipp Blom: Evil Philosophers: A Salon in Paris and the Forgotten Legacy of the Enlightenment . Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6 , p. 63; 221. Stewart J. Brown; Timothy Tackett (Ed.): Cambridge History of Christianity. Volume 7: Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution 1660–1815. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006, ISBN 0-521-81605-X , pp. 277-280. Stephen Carruthers (Thesis): John Wilkes and the Enlightenment. Dublin Institute of Technology, online November 1, 2001.
  15. ^ David Holohan: Christianity unveiled by Baron d'Holbach. A controversy in documents. Hodgson Press, Kingston upon Thames 2008, ISBN 978-1-906164-04-1 , p. 29.
  16. Mark Curran: Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in Pre-Revolutionary Europe. Royal Historical Society Studies in History New 2012, ISBN 0-86193-316-8 , p. 24
  17. Jeroom Vercruysse: Holbach et les Pays-Bas. Vrije Universiteit Brussel, online.
  18. Entrance of the building in the №. 8 Rue Royale Saint Roch
  19. Biographical data in English
  20. ^ Genealogy of d'Holbach's parents and in-laws
  21. Pierre Naville: D'Holbach et la philosophie scientifique au XVIIIe siècle. Paris 1967, p. 32.
  22. Pierre-Édouard Lémontey: Mémoires de l'Abbé Morellet ... Vol. 1, p. 127. Paris 1821 ( online at Google Books )
  23. Portrait of Charlotte Suzanne d'Holbach by Alexandre Roslin ( Memento of the original from November 5, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  24. ^ Genealogy Charlotte d'Aîne ; Profile of Basile-Genevieve d'Aîne
  25. Emma C. Spary: Utopians Garden. French Natural History from Old Regime to Revolution. University of Chicago Press, 2000; ISBN 0-226-76863-5 ; P. 31.
  26. ^ François Lebrun: Les intendants de Tours et d'Orléans aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. In: Annales de Bretagne Année. 1971, Volume 78, Number 78-2, pp. 301-302.
  27. Hermann Sauter: The Palatine Baron Paul Tiry von Holbach, a central figure of the French Enlightenment. Special edition of the Literary Association of the Palatinate for its members. 1972, p. 14.
  28. ^ Max Pearson Cushing: Baron D'Holbach A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism. (Original 1886). Kessinger Pub. Co., 2004; ISBN 1-4191-0895-6 ; P. 11.
  29. ^ Catalog des livres de la bibliothèque de feu M. le baron d'Holbach. (Ed. 1789). de Chardon, Paris, 1789, reprint: Hachette livre. BnF, ISBN 978-2-01-263987-4 .
  30. Philipp Blom: Evil Philosophers: A Salon in Paris and the Forgotten Legacy of the Enlightenment. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6 , pp. 212-215.
  31. Philipp Blom: Evil Philosophers: A Salon in Paris and the Forgotten Legacy of the Enlightenment. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6 , p. 225 ff.
  32. ^ Max Pearson Cushing: Baron D'holbach A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism. (Original 1886). Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish MT 2004, ISBN 1-4191-0895-6 , p. 13.
  33. ^ Photograph of the building destroyed in 1949
  34. ^ Max Pearson Cushing: Baron D'holbach A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism. Kessinger Pub., 2004, p. 11. Pictures of the facility and its history in French ( Memento of the original from January 3, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  35. ^ Friedrich Melchior Grimm: Correspondance littéraire. Tome IV (1757) p. 271 online (PDF; 1.4 MB).
  36. Philipp Blom: Evil Philosophers: A Salon in Paris and the Forgotten Legacy of the Enlightenment. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6 , pp. 228–246.
  37. ^ Remnants of the Château du Grand-Val ; Contemporary outlook
  38. Denis Diderot: Letters to Sophie Volland. Verlag Philipp Reclam jun., Leipzig 1986, ISBN 3-379-00001-9 , pp. 91-92.
  39. L. Scott: The Foreign Quarterly Review. Vol. 11, Treuttel, Würtz, Richter, London 1833 p. 293.
  40. ^ The metallurgical work Ars Fusoria Fundamentalis Et Experimentalis written by Johann Christian Orschall . (1689) was published by d'Holbach in the French edition Œuvres métallurgiques. Transferred to Hardy, Paris 1760.
  41. ^ Hermann Sauter:  Holbach, Paul T (h) iry von. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 9, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1972, ISBN 3-428-00190-7 , pp. 510-512 ( digitized version ).
  42. Mladen Kozul: D'Holbach et les déistes anglais: la construction of the 'lumières radicales' à la fin des années 1760. In Stefanie Stockhorst (ed.): Cultural transfer through translation. The Circulation of Enlightened Thought in Europe by Means of Translation. Rodopi, 2010, ISBN 978-90-420-2950-7 , pp. 274-297.
  43. ^ Vercruysse: Bibliography descriptive des écrits du Baron d'Holbach. 1751.
  44. ^ John Lough: Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert. Oxford University Press, London 1968, pp. 111-129.
  45. ^ Guillaume Debure : Catalog des livres de la bibliotheque de feu M. le baron d'Holbach. Chez de Bure l'âiné, 1789.
  46. Mi Gyung Kim: Affinity, that elusive dream. A Genealogy of the Chemical Revolution. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge Massachusetts / London England 2003, ISBN 0-262-11273-6 , pp. 161-218. Elizabeth A. Williams: A Cultural History of Medical Vitalism in Enlightenment Montpellier (The History of Medicine in Context). Ashgate Publishing, Hants UK 2003, ISBN 0-7546-0881-6 , pp. 119 ff.
  47. ^ Vercruysse, 1752.
  48. ^ John Lough: Le baron d'Holbach. Quelques Documents inédits ou peu connus. In: Revue d'Histoire littéraire de la France. 57e Année, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec., 1957), pp. 524-543.
  49. Philipp Blom: Evil Philosophers. A salon in Paris and the forgotten legacy of the Enlightenment. Hanser, 2010, p. 13; 378.
  50. ^ Emanuel Peter: Sociability: Literature, group formation and cultural change in the 18th century. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-484-18153-2 , p. 126 ff.
  51. ^ Adrian Room: Dictionary of Pseudonyms. NC: McFarland, Jefferson, 2010 ISBN 0-7864-4373-1 , p. 71 ( digitized version )
  52. Philipp Blom: Evil Philosophers: A Salon in Paris and the Forgotten Legacy of the Enlightenment. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23648-6 , pp. 217-218.
  53. ^ Charles Avezac-Lavigne: Diderot, Denis, 1713–1784. E. Leroux, Paris 1875 (PDF; 12.6 MB).
  54. Helmut Holzhey; Vilem Mudroch; Friedrich Ueberweg; Johannes Rohbeck: Outline of the history of philosophy: The philosophy of the 18th century. 2 half floors. Schwabe-Verlag, Basel 2008, ISBN 978-3-7965-2445-5 .
  55. Lecture Epistemology (PDF; 606 kB). Script prepared by Gerhard Schurz. 1995, pp. 48-49.
  56. ( Page no longer available , search in web archives: biographical data from )@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  57. Helmut Holzhey, Vilem Mudroch, Friedrich Ueberweg, Johannes Rohbeck: Outline of the history of philosophy: The philosophy of the 18th century. 2 half floors. Schwabe-Verlag, Basel 2008, ISBN 978-3-7965-2445-5 , p. 568.
  58. ^ David Holohan: Christianity unveiled by Baron d'Holbach. A controversy in documents. Hodgson Press, Kingston upon Thames 2008, ISBN 978-1-906164-04-1 , p. 463.
  59. La Contagion Sacrée, or Histoire naturelle de la superstition. 1768. (PDF; 392 kB).
  60. Hermann Sauter: The Palatine Baron Paul Tiry von Holbach, a central figure of the French Enlightenment. Special edition of the Literary Association of the Palatinate for its members. 1972, p. 11.
  61. System of nature.
  62. Hpd. Representation of the first page, System der Natur, in the German translation from 1791
  63. ^ Adrienne D. Hytier: Le philosophe et la despote: histoire d'une inimitié. In Otis Fellows (Ed.): Diderot Studies VI. Librairie Droz, Gèneve 1964 p. 67.
  64. Pierre Lepape: Denis Diderot. A biography. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1994, ISBN 3-593-35150-1 , p. 378.
  65. Heinrich Merkens: Selected war-science writings of Frederick the Great. Hermann Costenoble, Jena 1876, II, pp. VII – VIII.
  66. Denis Diderot: Lettre de M. Denis Diderot sur l'Examen de l'Essai sur les préjugés. 1774.
  67. ^ Schmeisser, Martin: Baron d'Holbach in Germany. Reactions in German Enlightenment Magazines. In Christine Haug; Franziska Mayer; Winfried Schröder (Ed.): Secret literature and secret book trade in Europe in the 18th century. Harrassowitz Wiesbaden 2011, pp. 85-108.
  68. Friedrich II: Critique of the System of Nature. In Friedrich Volz: The Works of Frederick the Great. (see note 24), Vol. 7, pp. 258–269, precisely p. 262 f.
  69. ^ Gero von Wilpert : Goethe-Lexikon (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 407). Kröner, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-520-40701-9 , p. 482.
  70. ^ Andrew Hunwick (ed.): Histoire critique de Jésus Christ, ou, Analysis raisonnée des Evangiles (= Textes littéraires français 485). Droz, Geneva 1997.