Man a Machine French: L'homme Machine is a work of materialist philosophy by the 18th-century French physician and philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie , first published in He denies existence of the soul as a substance separate from matter. Karl Popper discusses de La Mettrie's claim in relation to evolution and quantum mechanics. And, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory, and the conversion of so many physicists to indeterminism de La Mettrie's doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man is a computer. La Mettrie cites how the body and soul are one in sleep, how humans must nourish their bodies, and the intense effects of drugs on both the body and the soul, or mind, noting that "diverse states of the soul are always correlated with those of the body.
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It is not enough for a wise man to study nature and truth; he should dare state truth for the benefit of the few who are willing and able to think. As for the rest, who are voluntarily slaves of prejudice, they can no more attain truth, than frogs can fly. The first and older system is materialism; the second is spiritualism. The metaphysicians who have hinted that matter may well be endowed with the faculty of thought have perhaps not reasoned ill.
For there is in this case a certain advantage in their inadequate way of expressing their meaning. In truth, to ask whether matter can think, without considering it otherwise than in itself, is like asking whether matter can tell time.
It may be foreseen that we shall avoid this reef upon which Locke had the bad luck to shipwreck. The Leibnizians with their monads have set up an unintelligible hypothesis. They have rather spiritualized matter than materialized the soul. How can we define a being whose nature is absolutely unknown to us? Descartes and all the Cartesians, among whom the followers of Malebranche have long been numbered, have made the same mistake.
They have taken for granted two distinct substances in man, as if they had seen them, and positively counted them. The wisest men have declared that the soul cannot know itself save by the light of faith. And if in their investigation, they do not agree with the theologians on this point, are the theologians more in agreement among themselves on all other points? Here is the result in a few words of all their reflections. If there is a God, he is the Author of nature was well as of revelation.
He has given us the one to explain the other, and reason to make them agree. To distrust the knowledge that can be drawn from the study of animated bodies, is to regard nature and revelation as two contraries which destroy each other, and consequently to dare uphold the absurd doctrine, that God contradicts Himself in His various works and deceives us.
If there is a revelation, it cannot then contradict nature. By nature only can we understand the meaning of the words of the Gospel, of which experience is the only truly interpreter. In fact, the commentators before our time have only obscured the truth. We can judge of this by the author of the Spectacle of Nature.
Not only do these reflections fail to elucidate faith, but they also constitute such frivolous objections to the method of those who undertake to interpret the Scripture, that I am almost ashamed to waste time in refuting them. The excellence of reason does not depend on a big word devoid of meaning immateriality , but on the force, extent, and perspicuity of reason itself.
A man is not a philosopher because, with Pliny, he blushes over the wretchedness of our origin. But as man, even though he should come from an apparently still more lowly source, would yet be the most perfect of all beings, so whatever the origin of his soul, if it is pure, noble, and lofty, it is a beautiful soul which dignifies the man endowed with it.
Of the two alternatives, only one is possible: either everything is illusion, nature as well as revelation, or experience alone can explain faith. But what can be more ridiculous than the position of our author! I have shown how vicious the reasoning of Pluche is in order to prove, in the first place, that if there is a revelation, it is not sufficiently demonstrated by the mere authority of the Church, and without any appeal to reason, as all those who fear reason claim: and in the second place, to protect against all assault the method of those who would wish to follow the path that I open to them, of interpreting supernatural things, incomprehensible in themselves, in the light of those ideas with which nature has endowed us.
Experience and observation should therefore be our only guides here. Both are to be found throughout the records of the physicians who were philosophers, and not in the works of the philosophers who were not physicians. The former have traveled through and illuminated the labyrinth of man; they alone have laid bare those springs [of life] hidden under the external integument which conceals so many wonders from our eyes. They alone, tranquilly contemplating our soul, have surprised it, a thousand times, both in its wretchedness and in its glory, and they have no more despised it in the first estate, than they have admired it in the second.
Thus, to repeat, only the physicians have a right to speak on this subject. What could the others, especially the theologians, have to say? Is it not ridiculous to hear them shamelessly coming to conclusions about a subject concerning which they have had no means of knowing anything, and from which on the contrary they have been completely turned aside by obscure studies that have led them to a thousand prejudiced opinions, — in a word, to fanaticism, which adds yet more to their ignorance of the mechanism of the body?
But even though we have chosen the best guides, we shall still find many thorns and stumbling blocks in the way. Man is so complicated a machine that it is impossible to get a clear idea of the machine beforehand, and hence impossible to define it. Let us then take in our hands the staff of experience, paying no heed to the accounts of all the idle theories of the philosophers. To be blind and to think one can do without this staff if the worst kind of blindness.
How truly a contemporary writer says that the only vanity fails to gather from secondary causes the same lessons as from primary causes! One can and one even ought to admire all these fine geniuses in their most useless works, such men as Descartes, Malebranche, Leibnitz, Wolff and the rest, but what profit, I ask, has any one gained from their profound meditations, and from all their works?
Let us start out then to discover not what has been thought, but what must be thought for the sake of repose in life. There are as many different minds, different characters, and different customs, as there are different temperaments. Even Galen knew this truth which Descartes carried so far as to claim that medicine alone can change minds and morals, along with bodies.
It is true that melancholy, bile, phlegm, blood etc. In disease the soul is sometimes hidden, showing no sign of life; sometimes it is so inflamed by fury that it seems to be doubled; sometimes, imbecility vanishes and the convalescence of an idiot produces a wise man.
Sometimes, again, the greatest genius becomes imbecile and looses the sense of self. Adieu then to all that fine knowledge, acquired at so high a price, and with so much trouble!
Here is a paralytic who asks is his leg is in bed with him; there is a soldier who thinks that he still has the arm which has been cut off. The memory of his old sensations, and of the place to which they were referred by his soul, is the cause of this illusion, and of this kind of delirium. The mere mention of the member which he has lost is enough to recall it to his mind, and to make him feel all its motions; and this causes him an indefinable and inexpressible kind of imaginary suffering.
What was needed to change the bravery of Caius Julius, Seneca, or Petronius into cowardice or faintheartedness? Merely an obstruction in the spleen, in the liver, an impediment in the portal vein. Because the imagination is obstructed along with the viscera, and this gives rise to all the singular phenomena of hysteria and hypochondria.
What can I add to the stories already told of those who imagine themselves transformed into wolf-men, cocks or vampires, or of those who think that the dead feed upon them?
Why should I stop to speak of the man who imagines that his nose or some other member is of glass? The way to help this man to regain his faculties and his own flesh-and-blood nose is to advise him to sleep on hay, lest he beak the fragile organ, and then to set fire to the hay that he may be afraid of being burned — a far which has sometimes cured paralysis.
But I must touch lightly on facts which everybody knows. Neither shall I dwell long on the details of the effects of sleep.
Here a tired soldier snores in a trench, in the middle of the thunder of hundreds of cannon. His soul hears nothing; his sleep is as deep as apoplexy. A bomb is on the point of crushing him. He will feel this less perhaps than he feels an insect which is under his foot.
On the other hand, this man who is devoured by jealousy, hatred, avarice, or ambition, can never find any rest. The most peaceful spot, the freshest and most calming drinks are alike useless to one who has not freed his heart from the torment of passion. The soul and the body fall asleep together. As the motion of the blood is calmed, a sweet feeling of peace and quiet spreads through the whole mechanism.
The soul feels itself little by little growing heavy as the eyelids droop, and loses its tenseness, as the fibres of the brain relax; thus little by little it becomes as if paralyzed and with it all the muscles of the body. These can no longer sustain the weight of the head, and the soul can no longer bear the burden of thought; it is in sleep as if it were not. Is the circulation too quick? The soul cannot sleep. Is the soul too much excited? The blood cannot be quieted: it gallops through the veins with an audible murmur.
Such are the two opposite causes of insomnia. A single fright in the midst of our dreams makes the heart beat at double speed and snatches us from needed and delicious repose, as a real grief or an urgent need would do.
For if the soul is not fast asleep, it surely is not far from sleep, since it cannot point out a single object to which it has attended, among the uncounted number of confused ideas which, so to speak, fill the atmosphere of our brains like clouds.
Opium is too closely related to the sleep it produces, to be left out of consideration here. This drug intoxicates, like wine, coffee, etc. It makes a man happy in a state which would seemingly be the tomb of feeling, as it is the image of death. How sweet is this lethargy! The soul would long never to emerge from it.
For the soul has been a prey to the most intense sorrow, but now feels only the joy of suffering past, and of sweetest peace. Opium alters even the will, forcing the soul which wished to wake and to enjoy life, to sleep in spite of itself.
I shall omit any reference to the effect of poisons. Coffee, the well-known antidote for wine, by scourging the imagination, cures our headaches and scatters our cares without laying up for us, as wine does, other headaches for the morrow. But let us contemplate the soul in its other needs. The human body is a machine which winds its own springs.
It is the living image of perpetual movement. Nourishment keeps up the movement which fever excites. Without food, the soul pines away, goes mad, and dies exhausted. The soul is a taper whose light flares up the moment before it goes out. But nourish the body, pour into its veins life-giving juices and strong liquors, and then the soul grows strong like them, as if arming itself with a proud courage, and the soldier whom water would have made to flee, grows bold and runs joyously to death to the sound of drums.
Thus a hot drink sets into stormy movement the blood which a cold drink would have calmed. What power there is in a meal!
Joy revives in a sad heart, and infects the souls of comrades, who express their delight in the friendly songs in which the Frenchman excels. The melancholy man alone is dejected, and the studious man is equally out of place [in such company]. Raw meat makes animals fierce, and it would have the same effect on man. This is so true that the English who eat meat red and bloody, and not as well done as ours, seem to share more or less in the savagery due to this kind of food, and to other causes which can be rendered ineffective by education only.
Julien Offray de La Mettrie
Man a Machine French: L'homme Machine is a work of materialist philosophy by the 18th-century French physician and philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie, first published in In this work, La Mettrie extends Descartes' argument that animals were mere automatons or machines to human beings, denying the existence of the soul as a substance separate from matter. Parents, teachers, and students: Visit our new K Student Library. Last edited by Clean Up Bot. July 31, History. Go to the editions section to read or download ebooks.
He is best known for his work L'homme machine Machine Man. La Mettrie was born at Saint-Malo in Brittany on November 23, , and was the son of a prosperous textile merchant. His initial schooling took place in the colleges of Coutances and Caen. In , La Mettrie entered the College d'Harcourt to study philosophy and natural science, probably graduating around
Man a Machine
It is not enough for a wise man to study nature and truth; he should dare state truth for the benefit of the few who are willing and able to think. As for the rest, who are voluntarily slaves of prejudice, they can no more attain truth, than frogs can fly. The first and older system is materialism; the second is spiritualism. The metaphysicians who have hinted that matter may well be endowed with the faculty of thought have perhaps not reasoned ill. For there is in this case a certain advantage in their inadequate way of expressing their meaning.