The Atheist s Bible
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‘Love is harder to explain than hunger, for a piece of fruit does not feel the desire to be eaten’: Denis Diderot’s Éléments de physiologie presents a world in flux, turning on the relationship between man, matter and mind. In this late work, Diderot delves playfully into the relationship between bodily sensation, emotion and perception, and asks his readers what it means to be human in the absence of a soul.

The Atheist’s Bible challenges prevailing scholarly views on Diderot’s Éléments, asserting its contemporary philosophical importance, and prompting its readers to inspect more closely this little-known and little-studied work. In this timely volume, Warman establishes the place of Diderot’s Éléments in the trajectory of materialist theories of nature and the mind stretching back to Epicurus and Lucretius, and explores the fascinating reasons behind scholarly neglect of this seminal work. In turn, Warman outlines the hitherto unacknowledged dissemination and reception of Diderot’s Éléments, demonstrating how Diderot’s Éléments was circulated in manuscript-form as early as the 1790s, thus showing how the text came to influence the next generations of materialist thinkers.

This book is accompanied by a digital edition of Jacques-André Naigeon’s Mémoires historiques et philosophiques sur la vie et les ouvrages de Denis Diderot (1823), a work which, Warman argues, represents the first publication of Diderot’s Éléments, long before its official publication date of 1875.

The Atheist’s Bible constitutes a major contribution to the field of Diderot studies, and will be of further interest to scholars and students of materialist natural philosophy in the Age of Enlightenment and beyond.



Publié par
Date de parution 16 novembre 2020
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781783748990
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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The Atheist’s Bible
Diderot’s Éléments de physiologie
Caroline Warman
© 2020 Caroline Warman

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0). This license allows you to share, copy, distribute and transmit the text; to adapt the text and to make commercial use of the text providing attribution is made to the authors (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Attribution should include the following information:
Caroline Warman, The Atheist’s Bible: Diderot’s ‘Éléments de physiologie’ . Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2020,
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Every effort has been made to identify and contact copyright holders and any omission or error will be corrected if notification is made to the publisher.
ISBN Paperback: 9781783748969
ISBN Hardback: 9781783748976
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783748983
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783748990
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783749003
ISBN XML: 9781783749010
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0199
Cover image and design by Cressida Bell, all rights reserved.

PART ONE: The Éléments de physiologie Generally, Philosophically, and Physiologically
1. Introduction: The Curious Materialist
2. ‘Toutes les imperfections de l’inachèvement’: The Mystification about the Manuscript Fragments
3. Material World and Embodied Mind
4. Diderot the Physiologist
PART TWO: The Éléments de physiologie ,1790–1823
5. 1790: Naigeon and the Adresse à l’Assemblée nationale
6. 1792: Naigeon’s Article on ‘Diderot’ in the Encyclopédie méthodique: Philosophie ancienne et moderne
7. 1794: ‘Le citoyen Garron’, the Comité d’instruction publique, and the Lost Manuscript of the Éléments de physiologie
8. 1794–95: Garat and the École normale
9. 1796–97: Cabanis and Destutt de Tracy at the Institut national
10. 1798, 1802: Naigeon, the Œuvres de Diderot , and the Censored Preface to Montaigne‘s Essais
11. 1820: Garat’s Mémoires historiques sur la vie de M. Suard, sur ses écrits, et sur le XVIIIe siècle
12. 1823: Naigeon’s Mémoires historiques et philosophiques sur la vie et les ouvrages de Denis Diderot
13. Conclusion

For Leo and Viola

This book is about Denis Diderot ’s late work, the Éléments de physiologie . It argues, against the prevailing view, that this treatise made a substantial contribution to materialist thought, offering ways of explaining a human being without recourse to the divine and also without reducing human complexity or doing away with awe and wonder. These ways were physiological. The prevailing view accepts that Diderot planned to do something like this, but considers that unfortunately he did not complete his project. I argue that he did, and I explain not only why I think this, but also what led to the prevailing view that he did not, and why that particular story is illuminating in itself. Another aspect of the prevailing view is that it is accepted that even in its unfinished form, this work would have been of importance and interest to readers of the time, if only it had circulated and been read instead of being hidden away in two copies in the inaccessible private archives of Diderot’s daughter and Catherine II of Russia, his patron. I argue that it did circulate, was read, and did have a decisive influence as early as the 1790s, and also that it was published, in an admittedly slightly odd form, in 1823. To help this rather argumentative study make its case, I offer a connected digital edition of this first publication, Jacques-André Naigeon ’s Mémoires historiques et philosophiques sur la vie et les ouvrages de Denis Diderot , which can be accessed here: .
A quick word on the translations: every quoted text is followed by an English translation, with both languages equal on the page. This is to make it as accessible as possible to any interested reader, whether francophone or anglophone or somewhere in between. The translations are drawn from published works where possible, but in the many cases where there is none, I keep the translated text as close to the original as possible (while hopefully still making sense), specifically to facilitate access to the French for those who wish to toggle between the two.

1. Introduction: The Curious Materialist

© Caroline Warman, CC BY 4.0
L’amour est plus difficile à expliquer que la faim: car le fruit n’éprouve pas le désir d’être mangé. 1
Love is harder to explain than hunger, for a piece of fruit does not feel the desire to be eaten.
Love is more difficult to explain than hunger, or so says the eighteenth-century philosophe and explainer of difficult things, Denis Diderot. How could we disagree? Hunger is probably a more fundamental physiological need than the complex set of feelings called love. Even if the comparison nudges us to see love in terms of another physiological need, lust and the drive to procreate, we would probably still agree that it is harder to explain than hunger. And that is where we suppose Diderot is taking us, towards an analysis of hunger and love as appetites of different but recognisable sorts. But that is not where the sentence goes! The reason he gives for love being harder to explain than hunger is that a piece of fruit does not feel the desire to be eaten. What? We suddenly halt.
The perspective has switched, from the person who feels appetites to the object of their appetite, be that a piece of fruit or, implicitly, the desired person. Does a piece of fruit feel anything at all? By stating that the fruit has no desire to be eaten, Diderot raises the possibility that it might indeed have feelings of some sort, even desires, even if this particular one, not to be eaten, is negative. Furthermore, in saying that the piece of fruit does not want to be eaten, the proposed self-protective position of the piece of fruit sounds perfectly reasonable. So here we are, in agreement with the imaginary point of view of a piece of fruit. Look what he has reduced us to! We are obliged to pause and take stock; and although we do not really think that a piece of fruit has sensation or feeling, we are wondering about the relationship between an eater and an eaten thing, and seeing that it raises questions about reciprocity that might need further thought. These same questions about reciprocity return us to the other factor in this equation: love, or rather, those feeling the love, the lovers. Does a lover pulsate with the desire to be eaten? We appear to be bordering on the sexually explicit. Certainly, Diderot is presenting us with a complex knot that brings together and literally equates not only bodily urges, emotions, and feelings, but also fruitly feelings. And this all feels rather challenging, to put it no more strongly than that.
The Éléments de physiologie quite frequently exerts a sort of Alice in Wonderland pressure on the reader, inverting proportions, shaking assumptions, making bizarre comparisons, asserting relationships between phenomena we would never have thought of associating. For instance, we read that blood flows round the body faster than the fastest river . 2 That is not just an analogy to make us understand the point more quickly, not just an image that evokes coursing water only to project an internal picture of our rivery arteries, it’s also an exact statement about the relative speeds of fluids in nature which requires us to think about them comparatively. Or, as we find on another page, ‘un œil se fait comme une anémone’ [an eye grows like an anemone ] and ‘un homme se fait comme un œil’ [a man grows like an eye]. 3 Here, rather than moving progressively from simple to complex and thus from an anemone to an eye and thence to a human being, Diderot criss-crosses the different organisms so that we never settle into some complacent supremacist hierarchy. In fact, he is more likely to do the exact opposite, as here:
Les animaux carnassiers sont plus sujets au vomissement que les frugivores.
Les ruminants ne

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