Helvétius, Claude Adrien

Helvétius, Claude Adrien hĕlvēˈshəs, Fr. klōd ädrēăNˈ ĕlvāsyüsˈ [key], 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).

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