The Philosophes’ Criticism of Religion and d’Holbach’s Non-Hedonistic Materialism

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Hasse Hämäläinen


Baron d’Holbach was a critic of established religion, or a philosophe, in late 18th-century France. His work is often perceived as less inventive than the work of other materialist philosophes, such as Helvétius and Diderot. However, I claim that d’Holbach makes an original, unjustly overlooked move in the criticism of religious moral teaching. According to the materialist philosophes, this teaching claims that true happiness is only possible in the afterlife. As an alternative, Helvétius and Diderot offer theories according to which the experience of pleasure constitutes happiness, the end of all human desire. In contemporary terms, these theories would represent psychological hedonism. But, as Diderot himself admits, they have a problem in accounting for why people seem to naturally regard some pleasures as preferable to others. I argue that in response to this challenge, instead of accepting the psychological hedonism of his fellow materialists, d’Holbach shows how one can abstain from reducing happiness to pleasure and yet remain a materialist.

Author Biography

Hasse Hämäläinen, Jagiellonian University

Dr. Hasse Hämäläinen
Researcher in the project:
The Enlightenment Ideas of the Freedom of Thought and Conscience and Contemporary Secularism
Institute of Philosophy
Jagiellonian University
ul. Grodzka 52
31-044 Kraków, Poland



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How to Cite
HÄMÄLÄINEN, H. The Philosophes’ Criticism of Religion and d’Holbach’s Non-Hedonistic Materialism. Diametros, v. 54, n. 54, p. 56-75, 6 jan. 2018.
Special Issue "Enlightenment and Secularism"