Diderot and the Development of Materialist Monism
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In the much maligned and neglected philosophy of eighteenth-century France, Diderot stands out as the leading, most creative, and revolutionary force. This essay, reworked from a longer unpublished work, attempts to indicate some of the roots of Diderot’s materialism and also the developments which his own thinking produced. Acknowledging his debt to Descartes and to the mechanist tradition in France and England, we are here most concerned with Diderot’s struggle to break through the limits of this reductionist mechanism, to cope with the contradiction in the materialism of the mechanists, which gave rise to the idealist critique of mechanism and to the idealist solutions of vitalism and hylozoism. Therefore we deal here with Diderot’s relation to Spinoza and Leibniz, and to Robinet, Maupertuis, and La Mettrie. The logic of change, motion, transformation, which had been developed in the main by the idealist philosophers and whose absence was the Achilles’ Heel of mechanism, is grasped by Diderot not in its idealist form, but rather, as the logic of a material universe, which itself changes, moves, is in constant transformation. In a sense, Diderot puts the idealistic logic of change back on its feet, starting from the outermost limits of mechanism.
KeywordsPrime Mover Material World Qualitative Level Material Universe Cartesian Dualism
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