Philipp Blom

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In existographies, Philipp Blom (15- AE) (1970- ACM) (LH:1) is a German-born American enlightenment era historian, noted for []

Overview

In 2010, Blom, in his Wicked Company: the Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment, after visiting Paris, looking for Baron Holbach's home, and searching for his grave, etc., detailed the background of the Holbach salon.[1]

Difficulties | Inaccuracies

Blom gives a number of glaring inaccuracies in his Wicked Company. Firstly, Blom (pg. 157) anachronistic misattributes the following quote, about Hume describing how he had read Lucretius On the Nature of Things (60BC), into the false datum that Hume had read Holbach's System of Nature (1770), which had not yet been written:

De la Nature is prolix, and in many parts whimsical; but contains some of the boldest reasonings to be found in print.”
David Hume (1764), “Letter to Hugh Blair”, Apr 26[2]

Secondly, Blom puts a number of incorrect misinterpretations into the mouth and views of Holbach. These include Holbach arguing that people were "intelligent machines"; that humans evolved over time by "chance"; that Holbach believed that existence was "meaninglessness" (pg. 161) and "purposelessness"; that Holbach argued that the forces and workings of nature were "blind", that Holbach believed in the "spontaneous generation of life" (pg. 161). These are all key Holbach anchor terms, that Blom flips upside down, in respect to Holbach's views. Either (a) Blom never read Holbach's System of Nature, or (b) Blom is interjecting his own beliefs into Holbach's mouth?

Dates?

Blom gives several date and age confusions of key events, that seem to go beyond simple typos? Blum, e.g., says: "In Feb 1779, the eighty-four-year-old Voltaire returned to Paris after a lifetime's exile" (pg. 300) and met Diderot, as Blom conjectures? Correctly, Voltaire died on 30 May 1783 at age "83". Similarly, Blum says that Pierre Chaumette was guillotined for the crime of atheism on 13 Apr 1793 by order of Maximilien Robespierre. Correctly, Chaumette was guillotined in "1794".

Blind?

Blom incorrectly states that Holbach argued in favor of blind workings, blind necessity, blind mechanism, and blind forces at play in nature:

“Science bullet eventually simply replace the former superstition by explaining the powers at work in nature and showing the clear link of cause and effect, but it may be harder for us to accept the blind workings of necessity then the hidden purpose of divinely inspired creation, he writes. Nature is not a moral universe; it is a blind mechanism of which humans are and ever-changing part, just like the organisms are.”
— Phillip Blom (2010), A Wicked Company (pg. 160)
“Holbach argues that nature exists independently of any moral judgments, that what we experience as pleasure or painful, is good or bad, is nothing but the blind play of natural forces.”
— Phillip Blom (2010), A Wicked Company (pg. 185)

The is what Holbach exactly said:

“He refuses to ascribe it to those beings who do not act after his own manner; he accords it to all those who may supposes to act like himself: the latter he calls intelligent  agents; the former blind causes; that is to say, intelligent agents who act by ‘chance’ — a word void of sense, but which is always opposed to that of intelligence, without attaching to it any determinate or certain idea.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pg. 37)
“In refusing to nature the intelligence he himself enjoys — in rejecting the intelligent cause which is supposed to be the contriver of this nature, or the principle of that order he discovers in his course, nothing is given to ‘chance’, nothing to a blind cause, but every thing he behold is attributed to real two known causes, or two such as are easy of comprehension. All that exists is acknowledged to be a consequence of the inherent properties of eternal matter, which, by contact, by blending, by combination, by change of form, produces order and confusion, and all those varieties which assail his sight, it is himself who is blind, when he imagines blind causes — man only manifests because ignorance of the powers and laws of nature, when he attributed any of its effects to chance.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pg. 39)
“Man has occasion for truth; it consists in a knowledge of the true relations he has with those things which can have an influence on his welfare: these relations are to be known only by experience: without experience, there can be all no reason; without reason man is only a blind creature who conducts himself by chance.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pg. 85)
“As for blind necessity, as his elsewhere said, it is that of which we ignore the energy, or of which, being blind ourselves we have no knowledge of the mode of action.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pg. 230)

Holbach, in addition, states directly (pg. 262) that the choices are not the following

  1. Believe in a wise god
  2. Believe in blind nature

Rather, he says neither of these are correct, but rather that "nature, duly studies, furnishes us with ever thing necessary to render us happy as our essence admits".

Chance?

Blom says that Holbach believed that the world "evolved through chance and natural selection"? Correctly, Holbach, in his §4: “Of the Laws of Motion common to all the Beings of Nature—of Attraction and Repulsion—of Inert Force—of Necessity” (System of Nature, 1770) presented the most anti-chance view in recorded history.[3] In fact, Holbach's anti-chance views were so persuasive, that Pierre Laplace, after studying under Holbach, ended up copying him to make his famous "Laplace's demon". Moreover, "evolution" and "natural selection" are 19th century concepts, being hardly even crude ideas in Holbach's time.

Meaninglessness?

Blom says that Holbach believed in meaninglessness and purposelessness, save "life" itself as the sole focus? He states:

“Beginning with the idea, so brilliantly exposed by Holbach, that it is simply narcissistic to believe that there must be a providence, a higher intelligence, because otherwise life would be meaningless, the thinkers of the rue Royale [Holbach salon] believed we must accept the meaninglessness of existence of homo sapiens. Only then can each individual's quest to seek pleasure and flee pain become the beginning of a common story. The realization that no one is completely autonomous, coupled with our strong feeling of empathy, leads strictly to a morality of mutual solidarity, to a social meaning.”
— Philipp Blom (2010), A Wicked Company (pgs. xix-xx)

This is a way-distorted view, as compared to what Holbach actually presented. Correctly, Holbach, in his System of Nature (1770), never used the term "meaningless" or "meaninglessness" once! Moreover, Holbach ends his magnum opus, with an appendix entitled: "The True Meaning of the System of Nature", wherein he explains that nature not only has a system, but that this system has meaning, and in fact a "true meaning".

Machines

Blom says that Holbach believed people were "intelligent machines"? Correctly, this is Julien Mettrie's view. While Holbach does employ the machine model, e.g. speaking about how a person as a "human machine" (pg. 36) gets sick, to some extent, it is not his main focus; Holbach tends to employ the term: "intelligence being".

Quotes

Quotes | Employed

The following are quotes employed by Blom:

“Nil igitur mors est ad nos.”
Death, therefore, is nothing to us.”
Lucretius (60BC), On the Nature of Things (chapter three) (§:831); cited by Philipp Blom (2010) in A Wicked Company (pg. 156)
“Our earth, our skies, everything contributes to the formation of species. The uniformity of organisms is not surprising, because all animals and plants are formed under the same circumstances; but it must be true that in the same measure as our knowledge of mechanics will increase, the necessity of metaphysics will diminish and when one is perfect the other will be zero, that is to say nil.”
— Henri Boulainvilliers (c.1710), “Origin of Beings and Species”; cited by Philipp Blom (2010) in A Wicked Company (pg. 19)[4]; see: Holbach (1770) with similar quote
“Oh you whom the itch to write torments like a demon and who would give all the mines of Peru for a grain of reputation: abandoned that vile heard of vulgar authors who run after the others or who root in a dust of erudition, abandoned the fastidious savants whose works are like endless plains without flowers and without end. Either don't write at all, or take another way: be great in your writings, as in your actions, show the world a soul that is lofty, independent.
Julien Mettrie (1748), Discourse on Happiness (pg. #); cited by Philipp Blom (2010) in A Wicked Company (pg. vi)

Quotes | By

The following are quotes by Blom:

“After a seminar I gave in 2007 in Bogota, Colombia, I was approached by a boy of fourteen or fifteen years of age who wanted to know, then and there, everything about Diderot, Holbach, and Rousseau, and the radical enlightenment. I was not able then to give him the reply he was looking for, but this book is partly an attempt to answer him now.”
— Philip Blom (2010), “dedication page” to A Wicked Company (pg. v)
“The flourishing of radical philosophy in Baron Holbach's Paris salon from the 1750s to the 1770s stands as a seminal event in Western history. Holbach's house was an international epicenter of revolutionary ideas and intellectual daring, bringing together such original minds as: Denis Diderot, Laurence Sterne, David Hume, Adam Smith, Ferdinando Galiani, Horace Walpole, Benjamin Franklin, Guillaume Raynal, and Jean Rousseau.”
— Philipp Blom (2010), A Wicked Company (pg. #)

End matter

See also

References

  1. Blom, Philipp. (2010). A Wicked Company: Holbach’s Salon and the Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment (Amz). McClelland, 2011.
  2. Burton, John H. (1846), Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume Two (pg. 196). Tate.
  3. System of Nature – Hmolpedia 2020.
  4. (a) Boulainvilliers, Henri. (c.1710). “Origin of Beings and Species: Fruit of an Imperfectly Retained Conversation” (“Origine des etres et especies, fruit d’une conversation retenue imparfaitement”), Rivista di Storia della Filosofia (1994), 1:169-92.
    (b) Note: Blom says that his quote appeared in an anonymous publication; but cited Boulainvilliers in quotes.

Works

  • Blom, Philipp. (2010). A Wicked Company: Holbach’s Salon and the Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment (Amz). McClelland, 2011.

External links

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