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The Presence of Lucretius in Eighteenth-Century French and German Philosophy

  • Catherine Wilson
Part of the The New Antiquity book series (NANT)

Abstract

Lucretius! His principal teachings were that everything—matter, life, and mind—arises from the motion and entanglement of atoms; that the soul is material; that there is no superhuman designer, fabricator, supervisor, or judge of the world; that human intelligence was behind the invention of language, law, and government; and that religious piety is a threat to human happiness.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Spontaneous Emergence Human Happiness Religious Piety Immortal Soul 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    C. A. Fusil, “Lucrèce et les litterateurs, poètes et artistes du XVIIIe siècle,” Revue d ‘histoire litteraire de la France 37 (1930): 175–76; see also C. A. Fusil, “Lucrèce et les philosophes du XVIIIe siècle,” Revue d ‘histoire litteraire de la France 35 (1928): 194–210.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Wolfgang Fleischmann, “The Debt of the Enlightenment to Lucretius,” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 15 (1963): 643.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    From a bibliographic perspective, the highlights include Thomas Creech’s admired Latin edition, used as the basis for many subsequent translations, and his English translations, which went through six editions. The French translation of Marolles (1650) was followed by Coutures (1692, 1708), Coustelier (1713), LaGrange (1768), and Le Blanc de Guillet (1788). A German translation of 1795 is listed. But, for the most part, we can suppose that people were reading Lucretius in Latin. A bibliography is given by Cosmo Alexander Gordon, A Bibliography of Lucretius (Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1985).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Melchior de Polignac, Anti-Lucrèce, sive de Deo et Natura libri novem posthumum (Paris: Guerin, 1747), 5.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Wolfgang Philipp, Das Werden der Aufklärung in theologiegeschichtlicher Sicht (Goettingen: Vanderhoeck and Ruprecht, 1957).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Hermann Samuel Reimarus, The Principal Truths of Natural Religion Defended and Illustrated, in Nine Dissertations; wherein the Objections of Lucretius, Buffon, Maupertuis, Rousseau, La Mettrie, and Other Ancient and Modern Followers of Epicurus Are Considered, and Their Doctrines Refuted, trans. Richard Wynne (London: B. Law, 1766).Google Scholar
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    Francis Hutcheson, An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (1742; repr., Hildesheim: Olms, 1990).Google Scholar
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  10. 11.
    As reported by Galen, “On Medical Experience,” in Three Treatises on the Nature of Science, trans. and ed. Richard Walzer and Michael Frede (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1985), 47–108, 62.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    John Lyon and Philip R. Sloan, From Natural History to the History of Nature (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 278.Google Scholar
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    In addition to Lyon and Sloan, From Natural History, see Jacques Roger, Buffon: A Life in Natural History, trans. Sarah Lucille Bonnefoi (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), and J.-C. Beaune et al., eds., Buffon 88: Actes du Colloque international pour le bicentenaire de la mort de Buffon (Paris: J. Vrin, 1992).Google Scholar
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    George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, “Discours preliminaire,” in Histoire Naturelle générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy, 15 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie du Roi, 1749–57), vol. 1: 1–64; trans. Lyon and Sloan, From Natural History, 101.Google Scholar
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    Buffon, “De la Nature: Première Vue,” Histoire Naturelle XII:iij, trans. James Smith Barr, in Buffon’s Natural History Containing a Theory of the Earth, a General History of Man, of the Brute Creation, and of Vegetables, Minerals, &c., 10 vols. (London: J. S. Barr, 1792), vol. 10: 325–26. See Lyon and Sloan, From Natural History, 270: “No more primordial germs, no more unfolding. Nature herself enjoys the right of forming herself, of organizing herself, and of passing freely from the inanimate state to that of a plant or an animal.”Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    As when, for Lucretius in Book 2, “the assimilable elements in the food are absorbed into the system, united, and perform the appropriate motions,” Lucretius: On the Nature of Things, trans. Martin Ferguson Smith (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1969), 2.711–14. Further citations of Lucretius are to this translation. The parallel is noted by Roger, Buffon, 668, n. 114. On Buffon’s version of epigenesis, see François Duchesneau, “Haller and the Theories of Buffon and C. F. Wolff on Epigenesis,” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 1 (1979): 65–100.Google Scholar
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    Thomas-Maurice Royou, Le monde de verre réduit en poudre: Ou Analyse et réfutation des Epoques de la nature de M. Le Comte de Buffon (Paris: Mérigot, 1780), 60.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    Jean Morel, “Recherches sur les Sources du Discours sur l’Origine de l’Inégalité,” Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau 5 (1909): 119–98.Google Scholar
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    Jean de Castillon, Discours sur l’origine de l’inegalité (1756; repr., Amsterdam: J. F. Jolly 2006), vi.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    Nicolas Antoine Boulanger, Oeuvres de Boullanger, 8 vols. (Paris, Jean Servieres, Jean-Francois Bastien, 1792), vol. 1: 241.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    Ibid., vol. 4: 30.Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    Ibid., vol. 3: 280.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    William Wordsworth, “To Upon the Birth of her First-Born Child, March 1833,” in William Wordsworth: Last Poems 1821–1850, ed. Jared Curtis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 252, l. 12.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Pierre Bayle, General Dictionary, Historical and Critical, 10 vols., trans. John Peter Bernard, Thomas Birch, John Lockman, and other hands (London: Roberts, 1734–41), footnote (D), Art. “Manichaeans,” vol. 7: 400.Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Art. “War,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764), 3 vols., by Voltaire, trans. J. G. Gurton (London: Hunt, 1824), vol. 3: 344. Voltaire’s antimilitarism is characteristic of the Encyclopedists, and of Rousseau and Diderot. “Every practice,” says Diderot, “tending to stir up the people, to arm nations and soak the soil with blood is impious” (Denis Diderot, Political Writings, trans. and ed. John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 29). The article “Guerre” in the Encylopédie (1751–72) of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D’Alembert, ascribed to Louis de Jaucourt, is similar in tone. See Encyclopédie, our Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers, 2 vols., ed. A Pons (Paris: Flammarion, 1993), vol. 2: 157.Google Scholar
  26. 36.
    See Henry Vyverberg, Historical Pessimism in the French Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 37.
    Friedrich Karl Casimir Freyherr von Creuz, Versuch über die Seele (Frankfurt and Leipzig: Knoch und Esslinger, 1754), 186.Google Scholar
  28. 38.
    Ibid., 12.Google Scholar
  29. 39.
    Johann Joachim Spalding, Die Bestimmung des Menschen, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Weidmann: 1768), 31. For none of the respected eighteenth-century philosophers, says Brandt, “was the theory of La Mettrie unknown, for in every school the materialistic didactic poem of Lucretius De rerum natura was read, so that everyone as well, recognized Spalding’s message as counter work to materialism or indeed to nihilism. It was a recapitulation of the Stoics vs. Epicurean debates known to every schoolboy through Cicero and Seneca” (Rheinhard Brandt, Die Bestimmung des Menschen bei Kant [Hamburg: Meiner, 2007], 143).Google Scholar
  30. 42.
    H. B. Nisbet, “Lucretius in Eighteenth Century Germany,” Modern Language Review 81 (1986): 97–115, citing Hermann Hettner, Gesch. der deutschen Literatur im Achtzehnten Jahrhundert, ed. George Witowski, 4 vols. (Leipzig: P. List, 1928), vol. 2: 160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 43.
    Friedrich Karl Casimir Freyherr von Creuz, Die Gräber: Ein Philosophisches Gedicht in Sechs Gesaengen (Frankfurt: Maynz, 1760), vol. 2: 144. As Sloan remarks, Kant “departs most markedly from Buffon [despite taking over his cosmogenesis] in asserting an inherent teleology behind the self-organisation of the universe, his differential reply to an Epicurean cosmology,” Lyon and Sloan, From Natural History, 131.Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1965), A 745/B 773.Google Scholar
  33. 45.
    Pierre Bayle, Continuation des pensées diverses, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: Herman Uytwerf, 1722), vol. 2: 338.Google Scholar
  34. 49.
    Thus Haller: “We should not ask after God’s intentions, the state of the soul before birth and after death, what was the first origin of thought, how the revolution of first eternity was made subject to the beginning of time. These are hypotheses of which the knowledge is forbidden to me and which no creature should presume to search. Philosophy has its limits.” Virtue is the object of the philosopher’s desire and leads to God. Albrecht Haller, Briefe über die wichtigsten Wahrheiten der Öffenbarung (Bern: Neue Buchhandlung, 1772), trans. as Letters from Baron Haller to his Daughter: On the Truths of the Christian Religion, Translated from the German (London: John Murray, 1780), 47–49.Google Scholar
  35. 54.
    Kant, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5: 452; English translation from Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987), 342.Google Scholar
  36. 55.
    Kant, “Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History,” in Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H. B. Nisbet, 221–34 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 233; Gesammelte Werke, vol. 8: 122.Google Scholar
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    Catherine Wilson, Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford: Clarendon, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Catherine Wilson 2016

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  • Catherine Wilson

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