A discussion of mid 18th‐century materialism, as seen mainly in the works of La Mettrie and in Diderot's early works, against the background of contemporary medical and biological thought. It begins with a re‐examination of the physiology of Herman Boerhaave, who played an important role in La Mettrie's thought, and who is too often seen simply as a iatromechanist against whom the vitalists reacted. It then emphasizes the importance of the debate on life and reproduction, particularly in the writings of Maupertuis and Buffon, and its influence on the elaboration of materialism in the first half of the century. The chapter includes a discussion of David Hartley's contemporaneous Observations on Man, showing his links both with the christian mortalists and the writings across the Channel. A final section analyses the role played by ‘fatalism’ in materialistic thinking in both France and Britain.
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