3. La Mettrie 45
Chapter 3 La Mettrie In those days, he did not consider himself king over the other animals, nor was he distinguished from the ape…1 —Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Man a Machine (1747) Throughout his literary career La Mettrie observed that the chain of beings is comprised of an infinite variety of beings. However, unlike his compatriot and friend in Holland, Maupertuis, who had articulated a transformist point of view in the Essai sur la formation des corps organisés (1745), La Mettrie did not consider that one species may have arisen from an antecedent spe- cies. This is surprising because he and Maupertuis were friends, they both lived in Holland, and La Mettrie dedicated The Natural History of the Soul (1745) to his friend. La Mettrie developed his own ideas, and as Jacques Roger observed, “he followed his own path.”2 Nevertheless, La Mettrie con- tributed many innovative ideas to the French Enlightenment that paved the way for transformism. For example, in The Natural History of the Soul (1745) he establishes that consciousness is contingent solely upon the physiology of the brain and central nervous system: all psychic phenomena (emotions, thoughts, pas- sions, and perceptions) can be fully explained by physiology alone (the con- dition of the body, inheritance, the kind and amount of food that is ingested, and age), and also other environmental factors such as education and learn- ing, and climate and the environment. Hence, he dismisses the notion of the immortal soul as fictive. 46...
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