Claude Adrien Helvétius

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Helvétius, Claude Adrien


Born Jan. 31, 1715, in Paris; died there Dec. 26, 1771. French materialist philosopher, ideologist of the revolutionary 18th-century French bourgeoisie.

Helvétius was born into the family of a court physician and was a graduate of a Jesuit college. Until 1751 he was a farmer-general, and later he became friendly with Montesquieu and Voltaire and devoted himself to scholarly pursuits. One of his principal works, De l’sprit (1758; Russian translations, 1917, 1938), was proscribed and burned.

Helvétius maintained that the world was material, infinite in time and space, and in constant motion and that thought and sensation were properties of matter that have evolved as its most complex forms. Helvétius was one of the first of the 18th-century French materialists to overcome the inconsistency in the English philosopher J. Locke’s theory of knowledge by imparting to its sensualism an openly materialist character; he was an opponent of agnosticism. He was sharply critical of the ideas of the existence of god, creation of the world, and immortality of the soul, but he did not go beyond metaphysical thinking and left unresolved the problem of spontaneous motion. He absolutized the all-around importance of the laws of mechanics and reduced thought to its sensory basis.

As a critic of the theological view of societal life, Helvétius explained it without recourse to supernatural forces, but he did not transcend an idealistic understanding of history. He began the study of social phenomena with the isolated individual, declaring the consciousness and passions of the human being to be the prime motive force of societal development. Helvétius criticized the doctrine of the innate inequality of people’s intellectual capacities, explaining the differences in their psychological and moral makeup primarily in terms of peculiarities of the environment in which they were reared. Criticizing religious and spiritualist ethics based on acceptance of the innateness of moral feelings and conceptions, Helvétius argued for the experiential origin of moral conceptions and their derivation from the individual’s interests. He sought to unite his individualism with the interest of society, which actually was the idealized class interest of the bourgeoisie.

Helvétius called for the complete abolition of feudal relations and feudal ownership. Considering the republican form of government to be unsuitable for large states, he was a proponent of enlightened absolutism, a concept he invested with bourgeois-democratic content.

The work of Helvétius played an important role in the ideological preparation for the French bourgeois revolution of the late 18th century and the Utopian socialism of the early 19th and in the development of philosophical thought.


Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1-14. Paris, 1795.
In Russian translation:
Schast’e: Poema. Moscow, 1936.
O cheloveke, ego umstvennykh sposobnostiakh i ego vospitanii. Moscow, 1938.


Plekhanov, G. V. Ocherki po istorii materializma: Izbr. filosofskie soch., vol. 2. Moscow, 1956.
Voronitsyn, I. P. K. A. Gel’vetsii. Moscow, 1934.
Momdzhian, Kh. N. Filosofiia Gel’vetsiia. Moscow, 1955.
Silin, M. A. K. A. Gel’vetsii—vydaiushchiisia frantsuzskii filosof-materialist 18 v. Moscow, 1958.
Shishkin, A. F. Iz istorii eticheskikh uchenii. Moscow, 1959. Chapter 4.
Keim, A. Helvétius, sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris, 1907.
Grossman, M. The Philosophy of Helvetius. New York, 1926.
Horowitz, I. L. Claude Helvetius. New York, 1954.


References in periodicals archive ?
No hay mucho escepticismo en Helvetius, Holbach, La Mettrie, o de hecho el admirable Condorcet, uno de los mejores hombres que han vivido; en Diderot, si, en Lessing tambien; y eso lleva a las ambivalencias de Tocqueville, Humboldt, J.
In the 1796 edition, Godwin added a reference to Boscovich to the second note on PJ 1:24-25 (1796, 3:141), which previously contained references only to Locke, Helvetius, Rousseau's Emile, and Hartley's Observations on Man (PJ 1793, 3:142).
Helvetius hablo del Esprit para demostrar que no existe el espiritu; pero esta presentacion de su tesis fue equivoca, porque nunca renuncio al Esprit para abandonarse a los hechos.
Mientras los gruesos volumenes de Emilio Mitre (2004) o Jose Sanchez Herrero (2005) venian a renovar el panorama editorial espanol, en Francia los trabajos dirigidos por Alain Corbin (2007), Anne-Marie Helvetius (2008) o Jean-Robert Armogathe (2010), ofrecian otro tipo de sintesis particularmente atentas a los marcos sociales.
Contrairement a Helvetius qui, jusqu'a la publication de L'esprit, avait mene une vie tranquille et publia son oeuvre dans une heureuse inconscience de son potentiel de scandale, Vanini savait tres bien qu'il risquait a tout moment de glisser dans l'abime; (ce qui ne l'empecha pas d'essayer de toutes ses forces de ne pas y sombrer, allant jusqu'a simuler la devotion pendant son emprisonnement).
El mito fundador senala que, en Paris, Court de Gebelin observo a otros jugar en casa de madame Helvetius --esposa de uno de los enciclopedistas--con cartas traidas del sur y, al mirar detenidamente figuras tan llamativas, comprendio rapidamente que el tarot era en realidad un libro egipcio anterior a la era cristiana, concebido como juego para lograr que sobreviviera al fuego de la censura.
Contrariamente a quanto sostenevano gli ideologi illuministi--ad esempio, Helvetius, che riteneva possibile formare uomini virtuosi con un'eccellente legislazione, tanto da renderli <<sempre giusti gli uni verso gli altri>>, <<facendo leva sul sentimento dell'amor di se stessi>> (Claude-Adrien Helvetius, De l'Esprit [1758], texte etabli d'apres l'edition Didot, Paris 1795, Introd.
16) In discussing the China cult in Enlightenment Europe, Clarke refers to the enthusiasms for China of these authors: (English) Sir William Temple, John Webb, Sir William Chambers, the deists (David Hume and Matthew Tindal), Alexander Cozens and his son John, and Oliver Goldsmith (1762); (French) Montaigne (late sixteenth century), La Mothe le Voyer (1642), Isaac Vossius (1660), Malebranche (late seventeenth century), Pierre Bayle (late seventeenth century), the works of the French Jesuits, Jean-Baptiste Du Halde (1735), Marquis d'Argens (1739), Voltaire (1755), Diderot, Helvetius, and Francois Quesnay (1767); (German) Leibniz (late seventeenth and early eighteenth century) and Christian Wolff (eighteenth century).
this an original view at the time; the French philosopher Helvetius, who
En el siglo XVII Esparta continuaria dejando su huella en la literatura utopica de James Harrington o Francois Fenelon, hasta que en el XVIII se torne en genuino modelo politico para ilustrados como Mably, Rousseau o Helvetius, preludio del relevante protagonismo que adquirira en la Revolucion Francesa de la mano de los jacobinos (33).
19) The majority of the book focused on various thinkers from the seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries, such as Bacon, Helvetius, and Spencer.
Helvetius, and visiting Britons such as Gibbon, Hume, Smith and John Wilkes.