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Claude Adrien Helvétius (/hɛlˈvʃəs/;[1] French: [klod adʁijɛ̃ ɛlvesjys]; 26 January 1715[2] – 26 December 1771) was a French philosopher, freemason[3] and littérateur.

"All men," Helvétius maintained, "have an equal disposition for understanding."[7] As one of the French Enlightenment's many Lockean disciples, he regarded the human mind as a blank slate, but free not only from innate ideas but also from innate natural dispositions and propensities. Physiological constitution was at most a peripheral fac

"All men," Helvétius maintained, "have an equal disposition for understanding."[7] As one of the French Enlightenment's many Lockean disciples, he regarded the human mind as a blank slate, but free not only from innate ideas but also from innate natural dispositions and propensities. Physiological constitution was at most a peripheral factor in men's characters or capabilities. Any apparent inequalities were independent of natural organization, and had their cause in the unequal desire for instruction. This desire springs from passions, of which all men commonly well organized are susceptible to the same degree. We thus owe everything to education. Social engineering is therefore an enterprise unconstrained by the natural abilities of men.

This natural equality applied to all men in all nations, and thus the differences in national characteristics were not the result of innate differences between the people therein, but rather a byproduct of the system education and government. "No nation," wrote Helvétius, "has reason to regard itself superior to others by virtue of its innate endowment."[8]

This radically egalitarian aspect of Helvétius' philosophy caused This natural equality applied to all men in all nations, and thus the differences in national characteristics were not the result of innate differences between the people therein, but rather a byproduct of the system education and government. "No nation," wrote Helvétius, "has reason to regard itself superior to others by virtue of its innate endowment."[8]

This radically egalitarian aspect of Helvétius' philosophy caused Diderot to remark that if it were true, De l'esprit might just as well have been written by Helvétius' dogkeeper.

Since all men have the same natural potential, Helvétius argued, they all have the same ability to learn. Thus, education is the method by which to reform society, and there are few limits to the drastic social improvements that could be brought about by the appropriate distribution of education. Although people seem to possess certain qualities in greater abundance than their neighbours, the explanation for this comes 'from above' – it is caused by education, law and government. "If we commonly meet in London, with knowing men, who are with much more difficulty found in France," this is because it is a country where "every citizen has a share in the management of affairs in general."[9] "The art of forming men," he concludes, "is in all countries [...] strictly connected to the form of the government", and thus education via governmental intervention is the method of reform.[10]

The crux of his thought was that public ethics has a utilitarian basis, and he insisted strongly on the importance of culture and education in national development. His thinking can be described as unsystematic.

Influence