Who is La Mettrie?

Who is La Mettrie?

June 25, 2021 Off By Felso

Frederick Julien Offray de La Mettrie, or La Mettrie for short, is one of the most important names of the French Enlightenment, who has made a name for himself on subjects such as naturalism, materialism, mechanism, atheism and scientific philosophy; He is an important French philosopher, also known as the founder of French materialism.

La Mettrie made the expression and definition of the Enlightenment philosophy and enlightenment mentality with the theory of “Machine Man” and strongly revealed a doctrine that we can call the materialist manifesto. In this context, he created an understanding of medical materialism that would be adopted by many philosophers, especially within the Enlightenment thought.

Seeing religion and metaphysics, which he thought to be its remnant, as the biggest obstacles to enlightenment and therefore to progress, La Mettrie could not fully establish his original philosophy and applied the understanding of empiricism he learned from Locke with his understanding of mechanism from Descartes to his own philosophy. Although not original, at least it has created a consistent system within itself.


In his work “Natural History of the Soul” (which was later called “The Treatise on the Soul”) La Mettrie argues that man’s spiritual life of thought and will arises from sensation and is developed by education. Where there are no senses, there is no thought; less sense means less thought, and where education and training is low, there is a shortage of thoughts. The soul, or mind, is essentially dependent on bodily structure, and the natural history of the soul must be studied through accurate observations of physiological processes. The senses, says La Mettrie, are its philosophers. An essentially disembodied spiritual theory of the soul is a redundant premise.


In “Man is a Machine”, La Mettrie refers to Descartes’ description of the living body as a machine. But in his view Descartes had no basis to assert dualism, that is, to speak of man as consisting of an immaterial and free-thinking substance and an extended substance, the body. He should have applied his interpretation of the physical organism to the whole man.

At the same time, La Mettrie differs significantly from Descartes in his thought of matter. For matter is not a mere extension: it also possesses the power of motion and the capacity of sensation. At the very least, organized or ordered matter has a principle of motion that distinguishes it from unorganized matter; and sensation arises from motion. We may not be able to explain this genesis or fully understand it; but it is impossible for us to fully understand the substance itself and its basic properties.

It is enough for observation to assure us that the principle of motion, that is, of organized matter, is born. And given the principle of motion, not only sensation but all other forms of spiritual life can arise. In short, all forms of life ultimately depend on different forms of physical organization. Undoubtedly, the analogy of a machine is not sufficient to describe the human being. We can also use a resemblance of a plant (hence, L’homme plante). But this does not mean that there are levels in Nature that are originally separate from each other. In it we find distinctions of degree rather than distinctions of genre.

In questions of religion, La Mettrie put forward a complete agnosticism. But he was widely viewed as an atheist. And indeed, he tried to improve Bayle’s assertion that a State of atheists is possible by adding that it is not only possible but desirable. In other words, religion is not only completely separate from morality, but is also hostile to it. As for La Mettrie’s ethical considerations, their nature is adequately indicated by the title of his work.

La Mettrie’s Understanding of Materialism
French Materialism
La Mettrie’s Understanding of Being
La Mettrie’s Ethics

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım