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Claude-Adrien HELVETIUS

French Claude-Adrien HELVETIUS

French philosopher and littérateur

Source :  Michel de MONVAL

Born: on February 26, 1715 in Paris, France
Died: on December 26, 1771 in Versailles, France


Biography

Claude Adrien Helvétius was born in Paris, France, and was descended from a family of physicians, originally surnamed Schweitzer (literally "Swissman"; Latinized as Helvétius). His grandfather introduced the use of ipecacuanha; his father was first physician to Marie Leszczynska, queen of France. Claude Adrien was trained for a financial career, apprenticed to his maternal uncle in Caen, but he occupied his spare time with poetry. Aged twenty-three, at the queen's request, he was appointed as a farmer-general, a tax-collecting post worth 100,000 crowns a year. Thus provided for, he proceeded to enjoy life to the utmost, with the help of his wealth and liberality, his literary and artistic tastes - he attended, for example, the progressive Club de l'Entresol. As he grew older, he began to seek more lasting distinctions, stimulated by the success of Pierre Louis Maupertuis as a mathematician, of Voltaire as a poet, and of Montesquieu as a philosopher. His wife, Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, Madame Helvétius, maintained a salon attended by the leading figures of the Enlightenment for over five decades.

In 1758, Helvétius published his philosophical magnum opus, a work called De l'esprit (On Mind). Its atheistic, utilitarian and egalitarian doctrines raised a public outcry and Helvétius was forced to issue several retractions.

After ten years, when he thought his fortune sufficient, he gave up the post of farmer-general, and retired to a country estate, where he employed his fortune in the relief of the poor, the encouragement of agriculture and the development of industries. For this he won the admiration of many of the philosophers.

In 1764, Helvétius visited England, and the next year, at the invitation of Frederick II, went to Berlin, where the king paid him much attention. He then returned to his country estate and passed the remainder of his life peacefully.

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See Also :

- Category Philosopher