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Title: The reception of French materialism in Enlightenment Germany, 1739-1789
Author: Treuherz, Nicholas
ISNI:       0000 0004 5296 475X
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis assesses the reception in Germany of writings by four eighteenth-century French materialists: La Mettrie, Diderot, Helvétius and d'Holbach. Challenging the current orthodoxy which opposes a moderate, theologically-informed German Enlightenment to the radical, anticlerical French Enlightenment, the research presented here focuses on attempts in Germany to use the materialism of these French writers in a positive manner. Using the concept of cultural transfer, this study investigates the material circulation of their writings and how their ideas were discussed in Germany. It aims to show that there was in fact a set of German thinkers keen to circulate French ideas on materialism. The research firstly assesses the availability (both in French and in German translation) of texts by the French authors, and reactions to their often controversial writings, both in review journals and texts by well-known German philosophers. This generally reveals a negative judgment of the French texts, which are dismissed as frivolous or dangerous. A range of examples shows how the literary-philosophical establishment consistently marginalised French materialism, which was seen as potentially dangerous to morality. The German socio-political framework will be studied, in order to understand if censorship or trading conditions were a barrier or a support to the circulation of French texts. After this first chapter on diffusion and discourse analysis, there are four additional chapters investigating the German reception of particular aspects of materialist thought, which analyse both the French writings, and the German context into which they were brought. Chapter two deals with sensualism and the idea of thinking matter. Chapter three analyses the reception of materialist conceptions of active matter, where motion is posited as an essential property of matter. Chapter four examines the materialist refutation of immortality of the soul. Chapter five assesses how the French writers' ideas on morality, informed by their materialism, were transferred to German discourse. The German proponents of French materialism are all much less well known than detractors such as Lessing, Goethe, Reimarus and Mendelssohn. They include Karl Spazier, Heinrich Friedrich Diez, Johann Heinrich Schulz, Karl von Knoblauch and Michael Hißmann, among others. Each of these writers, occupying different positions in the literary-philosophical field, interacts with French materialist texts in different ways, and works differently to introduce these ideas into their own texts, using different strategies, including quotation and translation. Some seem to quote these works without attribution; others boldly declare their French sources as authoritative figures to support their positions. This thesis, therefore, aims to prove that in spite of the social and intellectual constraints on eighteenth-century German publishing, there were a number of German writers who, using a range of strategies, managed to circumvent these constraints and introduce these French ideas, either by appropriation, or by direct quotation, thus introducing the ideas of these previously condemned French philosophes into German discourse.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Germany ; France ; d'Holbach ; La Mettrie ; Helve´tius ; cultural transfer ; materialism ; Enlightenment ; Diderot