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Censorship (18/02/15 19:25:10) Reply
    Last week Die Zeit had a whole page about the pre-revolutionary French philosopher Helvétius.

    "In 1758, Helvétius published his philosophical magnum opus, a work called De l'esprit (On Mind). Its atheistic, utilitarian and egalitarian doctrines raised a public outcry and Helvétius was forced to issue several retractions."

    "The work attracted immediate attention and aroused the most formidable opposition, especially from the dauphin Louis, son of King Louis XV. The Advocate General Joly de Fleury condemned it in the Paris Parlement in January 1759. The Sorbonne condemned the book, while the priests persuaded the court that it was full of the most dangerous doctrines. The book was declared to be heretical – so atheistic that it was condemned by Church and State and was burned. Helvétius, terrified at the storm he had raised, wrote three separate and humiliating retractions. In spite of his protestations of orthodoxy, the book was publicly burned by the Paris hangman.

    It had far-reaching negative effects on the rest of the philosophes, in particular, Denis Diderot, and the great work he was doing on the Encyclopedie. The religious authorities, particularly the Jesuits and the new pope began to fear the spread of atheism and wanted to clamp down on the 'modern thought' hard and quickly. De l'esprit became almost a scapegoat for this.[3]
    Cover page of a 1759 English translation of De l'Esprit

    This great publicity resulted in the book being translated into almost all the languages of Europe. Voltaire said that it lacked originality. Rousseau declared that the very benevolence of the author gave the lie to his principles. Grimm thought that all the ideas in the book were borrowed from Diderot. Madame du Deffand felt that Helvétius had raised such a storm by saying openly what every one thought in secret. Madame de Graffigny claimed that all the good things in the book had been picked up in her own salon."


    And then there is Spinoza, who died in 1677. Well worth a reminder.

Errors, stupidity and crime (18/02/15 20:24:30) Reply
    There is another side to Hélvetius: He is a spokesman for a disgusting totalitarian model: not much room for individuality. The Zeit article cites the difference of opinion between Diderot and Hélvetius and refers to Diderot, who thought there is a specific organ for morality, nowadays designated "prefrontal cortex".

    It is worth remembering that Egas Moniz got the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1949 for inventing lobotomy, the disconnection of the prefrontal cortex from the remainder of the brain.

    Real expertise is having insight tenough to prevent the worst errors. In that sense neither Hélveticus nor Moniz were real experts.

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