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Claude Adrien Helvetius

Helvétius, Claude Adrien

Claude Adrien Helvétius (hĕlvē´shəs, Fr. klōd ädrēăN´ ĕlvāsyüs´), 1715–71, French philosopher, one of the Encyclopedists. He held the post of farmer-general (i.e., tax collector), an exceedingly remunerative position. In 1751 he retired to the country, devoting himself to writing and philanthropic enterprises. His book De l'esprit (1758, tr. Essays on the Mind, 1807) was regarded as a godless book and was condemned by the pope and by the Parlement of Paris. Agreeing with Locke's doctrine that the minds of men are originally blank tablets, Helvétius maintained that all men are born with equal ability and that distinctions develop from the totality of educational influences. Like Condillac he maintained that all forms of intellectual activity have their beginning in sensation. In ethics a utilitarian, he judged the good in terms of self-satisfaction and regarded self-interest as the sole motive for action. Both Jeremy Bentham and James Mill acknowledge his influence. Another book, De l'homme, posthumously published (1772) and translated, is called in English A Treatise on Man: His Intellectual Faculties and His Education (1777, tr. 1810, repr. 1969). The complete works of Helvétius were published in 1796 and 1818.

See study by D. W. Smith (1965).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Claude Helvetius: Philosopher of Democracy and Enlightenment
Irving Horowltz Louis.
Paine-Whitman, 1954
The Authority of Experience: Sensationist Theory in the French Enlightenment
John C. O'Neal.
Pennsylvannia State University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Helvetius's Seminal Concept of Physical Sensibility"
Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill
Frederick Rosen.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Helvetius, the Scottish Enlightenment, and Bentham's Idea of Utility"
History of Political Ideas: Crisis and the Apocalypse of Man
David Walsh; Eric Voegelin.
University of Missouri Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Helvetius"
National Character and Public Spirit in Britain and France, 1750-1914
Roberto Romani.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "The Widening of Societe: Helvetius, Mably again, and Holbach" begins on p. 51
Ideology
David Hawkes.
Routledge, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "The French Connection: Condillac, Helvetius, and Holbach" begins on p. 51
Utilitarianism
Geoffrey Scarre.
Routledge, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Chastellux and Helvetius" begins on p. 50
The Classical Moralists
Benjamin Rand.
Houghton, Mifflin, 1937
Librarian’s tip: "Claude Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771): De L'Esprit, or, Essays on the Mind" begins on p. 471
Les Philosophes: The Philosophers of the Enlightenment and Modern Democracy
Norman L. Torrey.
Capricorn Books, 1960
Librarian’s tip: "Helvetius (1715-1771)" begins on p. 185
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