Man a Machine

1748 work of materialist philosophy by French physician and philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie

Man a Machine (French: L'homme Machine) is a work of materialist philosophy by the 18th-century French physician and philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie, first published in 1747. The following quotes are from the (1912) translation of Gertrude Carman Bussey with assistance of Mademoiselle M. Carret & George Santayana, unless otherwise indicated.

    Julien Offray de La Mettrie
engraving by Achille Ouvré
after Georg Friedrich Schmidt

Quotes edit

L'homme Machine Tr. Gertrude Carman Bussey (1912) unless otherwise indicated. See also Paul Carus, "La Mettrie's View of Man as a Machine," The Mechanistic Principle and the Non-mechanical (1913) pp. 98-110.
  • It is not enough for a wise man to study nature and truth; he should dare state truth for the benefit of the few who are willing and able to think. As for the rest, who are voluntarily slaves of prejudice, they can no more attain truth, than frogs can fly.
  • I reduce to two the systems of philosophy which deal with man's soul. The first and older system is materialism; the second is spiritualism.
  • In truth, to ask whether matter can think, without considering it otherwise than in itself, is like asking whether matter can tell time. It may be foreseen that we shall avoid this reef upon which Locke had the bad luck to shipwreck.
  • The Leibnizians with their monads have set up an unintelligible hypothesis. They have rather spiritualized matter than materialized the soul. How can we define a being whose nature is absolutely unknown to us? Descartes and all the Cartesians, among whom the followers of Malebranche have long been numbered, have made the same mistake. They have taken for granted two distinct substances in man, as if they had seen them, and positively counted them.
  • To distrust the knowledge that can be drawn from the study of animated bodies, is to regard nature and revelation as two contraries which destroy each other, and consequently to dare uphold the absurd doctrine, that God contradicts Himself in His various works and deceives us.
  • If there is a revelation, it can not then contradict nature.
  • [M]an, even though he should come from an apparently still more lowly source, would yet be the most perfect of all beings, so whatever the origin of his soul, if it is pure, noble, and lofty, it is a beautiful soul which dignifies the man endowed with it.
  • [E]ither everything is illusion, nature as well as revelation, or experience alone can explain faith.
  • Experience and observation should therefore be our only guides here. Both are to be found throughout the records of the physicians who were philosophers, and not in the works of philosophers who were not physicians. The former have traveled through and illuminated the labyrinth of man; they alone have laid bare to us those springs [of life] hidden under the external integument which conceals so many wonders from our eyes. What could the others, especially the theologians, have to say? Is it not ridiculous to hear them shamelessly coming to conclusions about a subject concerning which they have had no means of knowing anything, and from which on the contrary they have been completely turned aside by obscure studies that have led them to a thousand prejudiced opinions,—in a word, to fanaticism, which adds yet more to their ignorance of the mechanism of the body?
  • Man is so complicated a machine that it is impossible to get a clear idea of the machine beforehand, and hence impossible to define it. For this reason, all the investigations have been vain, which the greatest philosophers have made à priori, that is to say, in so far as they use, as it were, the wings of the spirit. Thus it is only à posteriori or by trying to disentangle the soul from the organs of the body, so to speak, that one can reach the highest probability concerning man's own nature, even though one can not discover with certainty what his nature is.
  • Let us then take in our hands the staff of experience... To be blind and to think that one can do without this staff is the worst kind of blindness.
  • One can and one even ought to admire all these fine geniuses in their most useless works, such men as Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, Wolff and the rest, but what profit, I ask, has any one gained from their profound meditations, and from all their works? Let us start out then to discover not what has been thought, but what must be thought for the sake of repose in life.
  • Even Galen knew this truth which Descartes carried so far as to claim that medicine alone can change minds and morals, along with bodies. ...[E]ach man different from another.
    In disease the soul is sometimes hidden, showing no sign of life; sometimes it is so inflamed by fury that it seems to be doubled; sometimes, imbecility vanishes and the convalescence of an idiot produces a wise man. Sometimes, again, the greatest genius becomes imbecile and loses the sense of self. Adieu then to all that fine knowledge... This man cries like a child at death's approach, while this other jests. What was needed to change the bravery of Caius Julius, Seneca, or Petronius into cowardice or faintheartedness? Merely an obstruction in the an impediment in the portal vein? Why? Because the imagination is obstructed along with the viscera, and this gives rise to all the singular phenomena of hysteria and hypochondria.
  • [T]his man who is devoured by jealousy, hatred, avarice, or ambition, can never find any rest. The most peaceful spot, the freshest and most calming drinks are alike useless to one who has not freed his heart from the torment of passion.
  • The soul and the body fall asleep together. ...the soul can no longer bear the burden of thought; it is in sleep as if it were not.
  • Opium is too closely related to the sleep it produces... This drug intoxicates, like wine, coffee, etc., each in its own measure and according to the dose. It makes a man happy in a state which would seemingly be the tomb of feeling, as it is the image of death.
  • The human body is a machine which winds its own springs. It is the living image of perpetual movement. Without food, the soul pines away, goes mad, and dies exhausted. ...[H]eavy food makes a dull and heavy mind whose usual traits are laziness and indolence. ...We think we are, and in fact we are, good men, only as we are gay or brave; everything depends on the way our machine is running.
  • One is sometimes inclined to say that the soul is situated in the stomach, and that Van Helmont, who said that the seat of the soul was in the pylorus, made only the mistake of taking the part for the whole.
  • One needs only eyes to see the necessary influence of old age on reason.
  • The soul follows the progress of the body, as it does the progress of education.
  • The mind, like the body, has its contagious diseases and its scurvy. ...[W]e catch everything from those with whom we come in contact; their gestures, their accent, etc... the body of the spectator mechanically imitates, in spite of himself, all the motions of a good mimic.
  • [A] brilliant man is his own best company, unless he can find other company of the same sort. In the society of the unintelligent, the mind grows rusty for lack of exercise...
  • I should prefer an intelligent man without an education, if he were still young enough, to a man badly educated. A badly trained mind is like an actor whom the provinces have spoiled.
  • Thus the diverse states of the soul are always correlative with those of the body.
  • In general, the form and the structure of the brains of quadrupeds are almost the same as those of the brain of man... with this essential difference, that of all the animals man is the one whose brain is largest, and, in proportion to its mass, more convoluted... then come the monkey, the beaver, the elephant, the dog, the fox, the cat. These animals are most like man, for among them, too, one notes the same progressive analogy in relation to the corpus callosum in which Lancisi—anticipating the late M. de la Peyronie—established the seat of the soul. The latter, however, illustrated the theory by innumerable experiments.
  • I shall draw the conclusions... 1st, that the fiercer animals are, the less brain they have; 2d, that this organ seems to increase in size in proportion to the gentleness of the animal; 3d, that nature seems here eternally to impose a singular condition, that the more one gains in intelligence the more one loses in instinct. Does this bring gain or loss?
    Do not think, however, that I wish to infer by that, that the size alone of the brain, is enough to indicate the degree of tameness in animals...
  • A mere nothing, a tiny fibre, something that could never be found by the most delicate anatomy, would have made of Erasmus and Fontenelle two idiots, and Fontenelle himself speaks of this very fact in one of his best dialogues.
  • Willis has noticed in addition to the softness of the brain-substance in children, puppies, and birds, that the corpora striata are obliterated and discolored in all these animals, and that the striations are as imperfectly formed as in paralytics...
  • [S]o many different varieties can not be the gratuitous play of nature. They prove at least the necessity for a good and vigorous physical organization, since throughout the animal kingdom the soul gains force with the body and acquires keenness, as the body gains strength.
  • Among animals, some learn to speak and sing; they remember tunes, and strike the notes as exactly as a musician. Others, for instance the ape, show more intelligence, and yet can not learn music. What is the reason for this... would it be absolutely impossible to teach the ape a language? I do not think so. ...I should take it in the condition of the pupils of Amman, that is to say, I should not want it to be too young or too old... Would not Amman too have passed for mad if he had boasted that he could instruct scholars like his in so short a time, before he had happily accomplished the feat? ...Amman's discoveries are certainly of a much greater value; he has freed men from the instinct to which they seemed to be condemned, and has given them ideas, intelligence, or in a word, a soul which they would never have had. What greater power than this!
    • Note: Amman authored The Natural History of the Soul.
  • Locke, who was certainly never suspected of credulity, found no difficulty in believing the story told by Sir William Temple in his memoirs, about a parrot which could answer rationally, and which had learned to carry on a kind of connected conversation, as we do.
  • Whoever owes the miracles that he works to his own genius surpasses... the man who owes his to chance. He who has discovered the art of adorning the most beautiful of the kingdoms [of nature], and of giving it perfections that it did not have, should be rated above an idle creator of frivolous systems, or a painstaking author of sterile discoveries.
  • Let us not limit the resources of nature; they are infinite, especially when reinforced by great art.
  • What was man before the invention of words and the knowledge of language? An animal of his own species with much less instinct than the others. ...the same, old as young, child at all ages, he lisped out his sensations and his needs, as a dog ...asks for something to eat, or for a walk.
  • Words, languages, laws, sciences, and the fine arts have come, and by them finally the rough diamond of our mind has been polished. Man has been trained in the same way as animals. He has become an author, as they became beasts of burden.
  • A geometrician has learned to perform the most difficult demonstrations and calculations, as a monkey has learned to take his little hat off and on... All has been accomplished through signs, every species has learned what it could understand, and in this way men have acquired symbolic knowledge...
  • But who was the first to speak? Who was the first teacher of the human race? ...[T]he names of these first splendid geniuses have been lost in the night of time. But art is the child of nature, so nature must have long preceded it.
  • As a violin string or a harpsichord key vibrates and gives forth sound, so the cerebral fibres, struck by waves of sound, are stimulated to render or repeat the words that strike them.
  • [T]he sciences that are expressed by numbers or by other small signs, are easily learned; and... this facility rather than its demonstrability is what has made the fortune of algebra.
  • [I]t is comparatively rare to imagine a thing without the name or sign that is attached to it.
  • [E]verything is the work of imagination, and that all the faculties of the soul can be correctly reduced to pure imagination in which they all consist. Thus judgment, reason, and memory are not absolute parts of the soul, but merely modifications of this kind of medullary screen upon which images of the objects painted in the eye are projected as by a magic lantern.
  • [W]hy should we divide the sensitive principle which thinks in man? Is not this a clear inconsistency in the partisans of the simplicity of the mind? For a thing that is divided can no longer without absurdity be regarded as indivisible. See to what one is brought by the abuse of language and by those fine words (spirituality, immateriality, etc.) used haphazard and not understood even by the most brilliant.
  • [I]magination is the soul, since it plays all the roles of the soul.
  • By the imagination, by its flattering brush, the cold skeleton of reason takes on living and ruddy flesh, by the imagination the sciences flourish, the arts are adorned, the wood speaks, the echoes sigh, the rocks weep, marble breathes, and all inanimate objects gain life. It is imagination again which adds the piquant charm of voluptuousness to the tenderness of an amorous heart; which makes tenderness bud in the study of the philosopher and of the dusty pedant, which, in a word, creates scholars as well as orators and poets. can not reflect on what it has mechanically conceived, without thus being judgment itself.
  • The more the imagination or the poorest talent is exercised, the more it gains in embonpoint... and the larger it grows. It becomes sensitive, robust, broad, and capable of thinking. The best of organisms has need of this exercise.
  • Man's preeminent advantage is his organism. ...Only through nature do we have any good qualities; to her we owe all that we are.
  • Whatever the virtue may be, from whatever source it may come, it is worthy of esteem... Mind, beauty, wealth, nobility, although the children of chance, all have their own value, as skill, learning and virtue have theirs.
  • If one's organism is an advantage, and the preeminent advantage, and the source of all others, education is the second. The best made brain would be a total loss without it... But if the brain is at the same time well organized and well educated, it is a fertile soil, well sown, that brings forth a hundredfold what it has received... and takes in easily an astounding number of objects, in order to deduce from them a long chain of consequences, which are again but new relations, produced by a comparison with the first, to which the soul finds a perfect resemblance. Such is... the generation of intelligence.
  • I say of truth in general what M. de Fontenelle says of certain truths in particular, that we must sacrifice it in order to remain on good terms with society. ...The Cartesians would here in vain make an onset upon me with their innate ideas. I certainly would not give myself a quarter of the trouble that M. Locke took, to attack such chimeras. In truth, what is the use of writing a ponderous volume to prove a doctrine which became an axiom three thousand years ago?
  • According to the principles which we have laid down, and which we consider true; he who has the most imagination should be regarded as having the most intelligence or genius, for all these words are synonymous; and again, only by a shameful abuse [of terms] do we think that we are saying different things, when we are merely using different words, different sounds, to which no idea or real distinction is attached.
  • [T]he finest, greatest, or strongest imagination is... the most suited to the sciences as well as to the arts.
  • If one is known as having little judgment and much imagination, this means that the imagination has been left too much alone, has... occupied most of the time in looking at itself in the mirror of its sensations... more impressed by images than by their truth or their likeness.
  • [I]f attention, that key or mother of the sciences, does not do its part, imagination can do little more than run over and skim its objects.
  • See that bird on the bough: it seems always ready to fly away. Imagination is like the bird... [T]he soul pursues it, often in vain: it must expect to regret the loss of that which it has not quickly enough seized and fixed. Thus, imagination, the true image of time, is being ceaselessly destroyed and renewed.
  • Such is the chaos and the continuous quick succession of our ideas: they drive each other away even as one wave yields to another. Therefore, if imagination does not... maintain a kind of equilibrium... to keep its attention for a while... and to prevent itself from contemplating prematurely another object—[unless the imagination does all this], it will never be worthy of the fine name of judgment. will create orators, musicians, painters, poets, but never a single philosopher.
  • [W]hat is there absurd in thinking that beings, almost as perfect machines as our selves, are, like us, made to understand and to feel nature? ...Man is not moulded from a costlier clay; nature has used but one dough, and has merely varied the leaven.
  • [T]here are a thousand hereditary vices and virtues which are transmitted from parents to children...
  • [T]here is so much pleasure in doing good, in recognizing and appreciating what one receives, so much satisfaction in practising virtue, in being gentle, humane, kind, charitable, compassionate and generous (for this one word includes all the virtues), that I consider as sufficiently punished any one who is unfortunate enough not to have been born virtuous.
  • Nature has created us solely to be happy—yes, all of us from the crawling worm to the eagle lost in the clouds.
  • I do not mean to call in question the existence of a supreme being; on the contrary it seems to me that the greatest degree of probability is in favor of this belief. But since the existence of this being goes no further than that of any other toward proving the need of worship, it is a theoretic truth with very little practical value.
  • [S]ince... religion does not imply exact honesty, we are authorized by the same reasons to think that atheism does not exclude it.
  • [W]ho can be sure that the reason for man's existence is not simply the fact that he exists? Perhaps... simply that he must live and die, like the mushrooms which appear from day to day, or like those flowers which border the ditches and cover the walls.
  • Let us not lose ourselves in the infinite, for we are not made to have the least idea thereof, and are absolutely unable to get back to the origin of things.
  • [I]t does not matter for our peace of mind, whether matter be eternal or have been created, whether there be or be not a God. How foolish to torment ourselves so much about things which we can not know, and which would not make us any happier even were we to gain knowledge about them!
  • [T]o destroy chance is not to prove the existence of a supreme being, since there may be some other thing which is neither chance nor God—I mean, nature.
  • The weight of the universe therefore far from crushing a real atheist does not even shake him. All these evidences of a creator, repeated thousands and thousands of times... Such is the pro and the con, and the summary of those fine arguments that will eternally divide the philosophers. I do not take either side.
    "Non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites."
    [It is not for us to settle such weighty disputes among you. --from Virgil--]
  • [S]ince all the faculties of the soul depend to such a degree on the proper organization of the brain and of the whole body, that apparently they are but this organization itself, the soul is clearly an enlightened machine.
  • [E]ven if man alone had received a share of natural law, would he be any less a machine for that? A few more wheels, a few more springs than in the most perfect animals... a number of unknown causes might always produce this delicate conscience so easily wounded, this remorse which is no more foreign to matter than to thought, and in a word all the differences that are supposed... Could the organism then suffice for everything? ...[Y]es; since thought visibly develops with our organs, why should not the matter of which they are composed be susceptible of remorse also, when once it has acquired, with time, the faculty of feeling?
  • The soul is therefore but an empty word, of which no one has any idea, and which an enlightened man should use only to signify the part in us that thinks.
  • If now any one ask me where is this innate force in our bodies... it... resides in what the ancients called the parenchyma... in the very substance of the organs not including the veins, that arteries, the nerves, in a word, it resides in the organization of the whole body... consequently each organ contains within itself forces more or less active according to the need of them.
  • I wish to speak of this impetuous principle that Hippocrates calls ἐνορμὤν (soul). This principle exists and has its seat in the brain at the origin of the nerves, by which it exercises its control over all the rest of the body. By this fact is explained all that can be explained, even to the surprising effects of maladies of the imagination.
  • [I]f what thinks in my brain is not a part of this organ and therefore of the whole body, why does my blood boil, and the fever of my mind pass into my veins, when lying quietly in bed... forming the plan of some work or carrying on an abstract calculation? Put this question to men of imagination... by what they will tell you they have experienced, you will judge the cause by its effects; by that harmony which Borelli, a mere anatomist, understood better than all the Leibnizians, you will comprehend the material unity of man.
  • [I]f the nerve-tension which causes pain occasions also the fever by which the distracted mind loses its will-power, and if, conversely, the mind too much excited, disturbs the body... if an agitation rouses my desire and my ardent wish for what, a moment ago, I cared nothing about, and if in their turn certain brain impressions excite the same longing and the same desires, then why should we regard as double what is manifestly one being? In vain you fall back on the power of the will, since for one order that the will gives, it bows a hundred times to the yoke. ...[A]s the power of the will is exercised by means of the nerves, it is likewise limited by them
  • Should we... be astonished that philosophers have always had in mind the health of the body, to preserve the health of the soul, that Pythagoras gave rules for the diet as carefully. as Plato forbade wine? The regime suited to the body is always the one with which sane physicians think they must begin, when it is a question of forming the mind, and of instructing it in the knowledge of truth and virtue; but these are vain words in the disorder of illness, and in the tumult of the senses.
  • Without the precepts of hygiene, Epictetus, Socrates, Plato, and the rest preach in vain: all ethics is fruitless for one who lacks his share of temperance; it is the source of all virtues, as intemperance is the source of all vices.
  • [T]he soul is but a principle of motion or a material and sensible part of the brain, which can be regarded, without fear of error, as the mainspring of the whole machine, having, a visible influence on all the parts.
  • Stahl... has wished to persuade us that the soul is the sole cause of all our movements. But this is to speak as a fanatic and not as a philosopher.
  • One need only read the "Institutions of Medicine" by Boerhaave to see what laborious and enticing systems this great man was obliged to invent, by the labor of his mighty genius, through failure to admit that there is so wonderful a force in all bodies.
  • Willis and Perrault, minds of a more feeble stamp, but careful observers of nature seem to have preferred to suppose a soul generally extended over the whole body, instead of the principle which we are describing.
  • [H]ow many excellent philosophers have shown that thought is but a faculty of feeling, and that the reasonable soul is but the feeling soul engaged in contemplating its ideas and in reasoning! This would be proved by the fact alone that when feeling is stifled, thought also is checked, for instance in apoplexy, in lethargy, in catalepsis, etc. For it is ridiculous to suggest that, during these stupors, the soul keeps on thinking, even though it does not remember the ideas that it has had.
  • The nature of motion is as unknown to us as that of matter. I am... quite as content not to know how inert and simple matter becomes active and highly organized, as not to be able to look at the sun without red glasses...
  • It appears that there is but one [type of organization] in the universe, and that man is the most perfect [example]. ...He is to the ape, and to the most intelligent animals, as the planetary pendulum of Huyghens is to a watch of Julien Leroy.
  • [O]f two physicians, the better one and the one who deserves more confidence is always, in my opinion, the one who is more versed in the physique or mechanism of the human body, and who, leaving aside the soul and all the anxieties which this chimera gives to fools and to ignorant men, is seriously occupied only in pure naturalism.
  • [L]et the pretended M. Charp deride philosophers who have regarded animals as machines. How different is my view! I believe that Descartes would be a man in every way worthy of respect, if, born in a century that he had not been obliged to enlighten, he had known the value of experiment and observation, and the danger of cutting loose from them. But it is none the less just for me to make an authentic reparation to this great man for all the insignificant philosophers—poor jesters, and poor imitators of Locke—who instead of laughing impudently at Descartes, might better realize that without him the field of philosophy, like the field of science without Newton, might perhaps be still uncultivated.
    This celebrated philosopher, it is true, was much deceived, and no one denies that. But at any rate he understood animal nature, he was the first to prove completely that animals are pure machines. And after a discovery of this importance demanding so much sagacity, how can we without ingratitude fail to pardon all his errors!
    In my eyes, they are all atoned for by that great confession. For after all, although he extols the distinctness of the two substances, this is plainly but a trick of skill, a ruse of style, to make theologians swallow a poison, hidden in the shade of an analogy which strikes everybody else and which they alone fail to notice. For it is this, this strong analogy, which forces all scholars and wise judges to confess that these proud and vain beings... are at bottom only animals and machines which, though upright, go on all fours.
  • I believe that thought is so little incompatible with organized matter, that it seems to be one of its properties on a par with electricity, the faculty of motion, impenetrability, extentension, etc.
  • We are veritable moles in the field of nature; we achieve little more than the mole's journey and it is our pride which prescribes limits to the limitless.
  • [W]e disdain, ungrateful wretches that we are, this common mother of all kingdoms... We imagine, or rather we infer, a cause superior to that to which we owe all, and which truly has wrought all things in an inconceivable fashion.
  • [M]atter contains nothing base, except to the vulgar eyes which do not recognize her in her most splendid works... Her power shines forth equally in creating the lowliest insect and in creating the most highly developed man; the animal kingdom costs her no more than the vegetable, and the most splendid genius no more than a blade of wheat.
  • Let us observe the ape, the beaver, the elephant, etc., in their operations. If it is clear that these activities can not be performed without intelligence, why refuse intelligence to these animals?
  • [W]ho does not see that the soul of an animal must be either mortal or immortal, whichever ours [is]... and that thus [in admitting that animals have souls], you fall into Scylla in the effort to avoid Charybdis?
  • Break the chain of your prejudices, arm yourselves with the torch of experience, and you will render to nature the honor she deserves... Only open wide your eyes, only disregard what you can not understand, and you will see that the ploughman whose intelligence and ideas extend no further than the bounds of his furrow, does not differ essentially from the greatest genius,—a truth which the dissection of Descartes's and of Newton's brains would have proved; you will be persuaded that the imbecile and the fool are animals with human faces, as the intelligent ape is a little man in another shape...
  • Let us not say that every machine or every animal perishes altogether or assumes another form after death, for we know absolutely nothing about the subject.
  • [T]o assert that an immortal machine is a chimera or a logical fiction, is to reason as absurdly as caterpillars would reason if, seeing the cast-off skins of their fellow-caterpillars, they should bitterly deplore the fate of their species, which to them would seem to come to nothing.
  • What more do we know of our destiny than of our origin? Let us then submit to an invincible ignorance on which our happiness depends.
  • He who so thinks will be wise, just, tranquil about his fate, and therefore happy. He will await death without either fear or desire, and will cherish life... filled with reverence, gratitude, affection, and tenderness for nature, in proportion to his feeling of the benefits he has received from nature; he will be happy, in short, in feeling nature, and in being present at the enchanting spectacle of the universe, and he will surely never destroy nature either in himself or in others.
  • Full of humanity, this man will love human character even in his enemies. He will pity the wicked without hating them... [as] mis-made men. ...[T]he materialist, convinced, in spite of the protests of his vanity, that he is but a machine or an animal, will not maltreat his kind... he will not wish to do to others what he would not want them to do to him.
  • [M]an is a machine... in the whole universe there is but a single Substance differently modified. ...Experience has thus spoken to me in behalf of reason; and in this way I have combined the two. ...Against so strong and solid an oak, what could the weak reeds of theology, of metaphysics, and of the schools, avail... Need I say that I refer to the empty and trivial notions, to the pitiable and trite arguments that will be urged (as long as the shadow of prejudice or of superstition remains on earth) for the supposed incompatibility of two substances which meet and move each other unceasingly?
  • Such is my system, or rather the truth, unless I am much deceived. It is short and simple. Dispute it now who will.

Quotes about Man a Machine edit

  • In very different fashion does the book set to work that already in its very title declares that man is a machine. While the 'Natural History of the Soul' was cautious, cunningly arranged, and only gradually surprising us with its results, here, on the contrary,the final conclusion is expressed at the outset of the work. While the 'Natural History of the Soul' allied itself with the whole Aristotelian metaphysics only in order to prove by degrees that the soul is but an empty form, into which we may pour a materialistic content, here we no longer deal in all those fine distinctions.
  • Yet the doctrine that man is a machine was argued most forcefully in 1751, long before the theory of evolution became generally accepted, by de La Mettrie; and the theory of evolution gave the problem an even sharper edge, by suggesting there may be no clear distinction between living matter and dead matter. And, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory and the conversion of so many physicists to indeterminism, de La Mettrie's doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man is a computer.
    • Karl Popper, Of Clouds and Clocks, Objective Knowledge (1978) revised, p. 224.

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