An Interpretive Rendering of Baron D’Holbach’s “System of Nature”

“The source of Man’s unhappiness is his ignorance of Nature.”
“Man clings to blind opinions formed in his infancy. From his parents on, Man depends on some authority for his personal knowledge and for his very sanction to live.” Paul Henri Thiry, Baron D’Holbach

Introduction by Jack

Much of our everyday Mental Dis-ease comes from the confusion between the Natural-Material and the Ideal-Spiritual. We have suffered from this inability to distinguish these two different realms since the beginning of our history. In fact our history is a record of this confusion.

By Natural-Material I mean that which always and only obeys natural, universal physical laws without choice or conscious knowledge of their workings. I am referring to all patterns of matter and energy which Human Consciousness/Mind (hereafter, Mind) knows as physical forms which do not possess Mind.

By Ideal-Spiritual I mean that which has to do with Man’s subjective and projective Mind, those Mind-States which Man individually and collectively reifies and deifies as different than and above the Natural-Material–Man’s belief in the Supernatural.

The following is a fictional “letter” from D’ Holbach.


How interesting to see that you still cannot tell the difference between Nature and your Mind’s fantasies! I did not really expect even two hundred years to have given you much more wisdom then we possessed–although I did hope for it! Still, you have managed to live more wisely than you seem capable of knowing. I speak of your science and technology and not your benighted humanities. If anything, your study of social man seems to have regressed.

It appears you learned little from that “revoquer” of our Enlightenment–I refer of course to our vainglorious Revolution. Except, of course, how to stage ever more revolting displays of righteous ignorance. I am happy I died before I had to witness the savage stupidity of the Saint Justs and Robespierres not to mention your Lenins and Stalins.

I understand some of your scholars laid the blame for this mass irrationality and the totalitarian States that followed at the feet of we Philosophes. When feeling worships itself it takes on any convenient name. Reason unfortunately happened to be shibboleth of the moment. How easily it rolled off the vatic tongue– as easily as the severed heads down the trough. Our Marats, mathematicians of madness, proved the equation that in death all are equal. The rest, or unrest shall I say, is history.


Let me try to correct some of the misunderstandings that were traced to us through the statistics of the calculating, collective State. For we Philosophes I believe, or at least myself and in the main my companion, Diderot, had a better grasp of reality than most of your contemporary thinkers. Let me begin by considering Man’s Mind as a confusion of categories.

The source of man’s unhappiness is his ignorance of Nature: He confuses his Mind’s phantoms and its interpretation of his Body’s desires with the perception of its Natural order. On one hand he separates himself as Spirit from his Material basis; and on the other he projects himself into Matter and identifies it as his Spirit. Such a mixup leads to a fantastic morality which must resort to psychic or physical violence to obviate or destroy the oppositional truth of Reality.

Man comes to this confused ignorance by clinging to the blind opinions he is nourished on from birth. His education consists of a deepening of his dependency on Society’s Authorities. He is kept busy expanding and renovating the prison of paradise and hell bequeathed to him by his Parents and Gods. He fancies it more than fair that all should be taxed to fund the endeavor. What else do most Men know besides second-hand knowledge?

Who can be taught to think for the Self he does not have? I refer to that social fiction which all believe in as the Truth. The so-called Self seems the blister of its own friction–the result of the continuous rub of the collective wish up against an unrelenting material Reality of the individual fact. Inflamed by the constant contest Man pursues his fabulous errors until they burst into those terrors which scare him out of his wits into religion or some equally fanatical substitute as the General Will.

It may be a chance play on words but it is also a meaningful one to note a slight reversal turns Scared into Sacred. Man needs a most determined and undaunted courage to act and think for himself and unceasingly learn for his own sake. He can only do this by consulting Nature directly through reasoned experienced unmediated by his dependency on others. He must understand and accept his limitations instead of seeking the Impossible in order to deny the Ordinary. How convenient for man he cannot discern that mystery and misery reside in the same imaginary region.

Once Man quits contemplating Reality he begins creating Chimeras. He would lose himself in Metaphysical obscurities to avoid finding himself a Practical Philosopher. He neglects experience to feed on conjecture and indulge in visions. He only cultivates his Reason to better serve his Feelings. The fear of phantoms provides the madness whose only cure is to spread the disease to as many others as possible until a religion or revolution is founded and Reality again for a little while is held at bay.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves then is to study Nature without projecting our Spiritual ideas into it. The Mind must be taught how to think objectively by aligning itself with Reality without specifying what that Reality must be. Reason must be referred to rather than Emotion and Imagination. The Truth of what Is must be preferred over the Desire for what would Be. Morality will then be a matter of Nature which will then be of the Nature of Matter.


Man is the work of Nature and he works as Nature does according to invariant laws of Matter and Energy. Nothing that Man has proposed can be outside the lawful Whole of Nature of which he is Part (but note, a Whole Part). There is not and can never be anything outside of Natural Reality. The Ghosts of Spirit that Man projects as outside of Nature are always formed from the Reality he has rejected.

Instead of believing in the creations of his Imagination let man observe the rules by which Nature acts. Let him apply such Natural Knowledge to himself and avoid pandering to infantile pastimes of wishful thinking. Man will only mature if he understands himself as a physical being whose morality consists of obeying Natural, Physical Laws.

I note at the turn of your century the inevitable fin de siecle rise of the irrational in the form of what is called your “New Age” mysticism. How little has changed in two hundred years! The madness that pervaded the coming of the French Revolution still hangs like a ground fog over the history of the West. Expanded Consciousness indeed! That hot air euphemism in our time went under the name of Mesmer’s animal magnetism.

Unfortunately, mysticism, like the ignorance it enshrines, is a timeless vacuum (as they claim) continually engaged in filling up the very Void its creates. Private or public it seeks the instant eternity of communal love which the Revolution manifested as the mindlessness of Death. History, though it is an unscientific experiment, yet provides its own proofs! Real knowledge takes time and work. As always the Parasites of Paradise will be found living off that Knowledge even while denying its Reality.

With a consideration of Truth as Man’s highest Value, yours for Reason and its Heart, Baron D’Holbach
(Rendered by Jack)