The Romantic Reaction

  • C. U. M. Smith


Man a Machine: a famous title, a famous book. La Mettrie, who published his work in 1748 (1), was in many ways a typical thinker of the European enlightenment. Like Voltaire, he attracted the wrath of churchmen. Like Voltaire, he was forced to flee from his orthodox enemies to a secular protector. Like Voltaire, he created enemies among his conservative countrymen by pointing out the seeming illogicalities of their thought, by poking fun at the absurdities in their intellectual position. And the conservatives, not as deeply schooled as they might have been, attempting to defend a position whose origins and structure had been almost forgotten, or perhaps never been made explicit, reacted with anger to hide their bafflement: reacted with anger at what seemed to be the easy superficiality of la Mettrie’s philosophy, and yet were mostly unable to show exactly where it was wrong and why it was not a profound alternative to their own thought. For la Mettrie seemed merely to have taken the Cartesian system to its logical terminus. Whereas Descartes conceived the living world to be composed of two categories of beings — animals which were (mere) mechanisms, and humans which had superadded to the mechanism a soul — la Mettrie saw animals and humans as one creation: machines all.


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Copyright information

© C.U.M. Smith 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. U. M. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Aston in BirminghamUK

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