Baron d'Holbach was a preeminent visionary who contributed to the French Enlightenment, a staunch proponent on atheism who penned many illuminating texts against religion. “System of Nature” is his masterpiece, the culmination of his philosophy. And now, the scholar Balraj Joshi presents his translation of the philosophical treatise, for the perusal of curious minds and the philosophically-inclined everywhere.
The materialist philosopher believed that nature is composed of interconnected causes and effects, all of which comprise the great whole of reality, that which exists all around us, seen and unseen. Consequently, our knowledge is derived from the perceptions of our sense organs, impressions that are then siphoned to the brain, the real seat of thought which processes the absorbed information to obtain conclusions and drive actions, which in turn affects the external world.
Thus it is vital to gain a deeper understanding of this continuum. Yet, according to the baron, further realizations into the nature of reality and thus potential happiness is blocked by the priesthood, whose teachings misguide people by diverting them into seeking pleasure in the future life. The imperative to improve their current existences is thus dissuaded. So d'Holbach pronounces that people living in society must be guided by reason, experience, and sciences, all working for their own happiness and thus contributing to each other's happiness, a jouissance derived from their individual and collective hard work, talent and virtues, satisfying each and every one's needs.
By understanding nature and existence, people can gain the agency needed to act and positively reshape their realities, rather than being misguided into mass self-sabotage. This is d’Holbach’s message in “System of Nature,” and Joshi shares it to readers. While the text is centuries old, its crux remains as relevant as ever in an age of disinformation and “alternative facts,” wherein the denial of science threatens to result in large-scale consequences. And for the philosophically-inclined, they can appreciate how the influential treatise was foundational to later works and schools of thought, like those of Hegel and Marx.
Like d’Holbach’s chains of causation, when it comes to life, a person’s future is the summation of his or her past. Whether it’s in regards to the grand meaning of life, the universe and everything, or for personal meditation, “System of Nature” contains pertinent realizations for readers of diverse persuasions. The modern western world was founded on the Enlightenment and the values that came from it. And this book is among that era’s canon.
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BALRAJ JOSHI, translator of System of Nature by Baron d’Holbach, has a doctorate in French literature and Diplomed’Etudes Approfondies in philosophy from the University of Paris–Sorbonne and has taught French language and literature at college and university level for more than thirty-five years.