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La Mettrie, Julien Offroy de (1709–51)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB051-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 11, 2021, from

Article Summary

La Mettrie is best known as the author of the eighteenth-century materialist manifesto, L’Homme machine (1747). His interest in philosophical issues grew out of his preoccupation with medicine, and he developed a tradition of medical materialism within the French Enlightenment. Born in St Malo, into the family of a prosperous textile merchant, La Mettrie pursued a medical career in Paris. He also studied for two years with the renowned Hermann Boerhaave in Leiden. After a brief period of medical practice, La Mettrie devoted his efforts to his translations and commentaries on Boerhaave’s medical works. He also began to publish the works that made him a pariah to both the Faculty of Medicine of Paris and to the orthodox – that is, his medical satires and his first work of materialist philosophy, L’Histoire naturelle de l’âme (1745). Because of the outrage provoked by these works, he was exiled to Holland in 1745. But L’Homme machine, the text in which he applied his materialism thoroughly and explicitly to human beings, was too radical even for the unusually tolerant Dutch, and La Mettrie was forced to seek asylum at the court of Frederick the Great where he later died. His willingness to publish ideas his contemporaries considered too dangerous led the philosophes to repudiate him.

Citing this article:
Wellman, Kathleen. La Mettrie, Julien Offroy de (1709–51), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB051-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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