Synopses & Reviews
A leading figure of the French Enlightenment, Paul Henri Thiry, Baron dHolbach (1723-1789), was an acquaintance of Diderot, Rousseau, and David Hume, among others, and a prolific contributor of scientific articles to Diderots famous Encyclopédie. A man not only of considerable wealth and influence, but great generosity, he was known among friends as the "maitre dhotel of philosophy" because he so often entertained noted philosophers and intellectuals of the day at his home. Nonetheless, when he published his radical views on religion, he felt constrained to use pseudonyms. Advocating a philosophy of atheistic materialism, he harshly lambasted all religious interpretations of life as rank superstition, taking special aim at the Christian worldview of his day.
This work, originally published in 1772, was intended as a popular digest of the more elaborately developed philosophy presented by Holbach in his magnum opus, Système de la nature (The System of Nature, 1770). In 206 very brief chapters, Holbach systematically presents the atheistic challenge to religion, critiquing point by point every contention of religion from the nature of God to the existence of the soul, belief in miracles, heaven and hell, the divine right of kings, the role of the priesthood, and many other points of dogma and tradition.
Though the extreme materialism and determinism of his philosophy was disturbing to even some of his colleagues (Voltaire accused Holbach of "snatching consolation and hope" from humanity), Holbachs work remained influential after his death and seems in many respects a forerunner of much contemporary philosophy.