Due to Christmas and New Year Holiday season we may experience shipping delays. We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.


Caroline Warman

Published On


Page Range

pp. 271-318

Print Length

47 pages

9. 1796–97: Cabanis and Destutt de Tracy at the Institut national

  • Caroline Warman (author)
By closely analysing the published lectures of Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis and Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy, Warman suggests that influences of Diderot’s Éléments de physiologie can be perceived at various points in these philosophers’ writings. Both held positions at Pierre Daunou’s Institut national des sciences et des arts, and each went on to publish extensive meditations on the nature of the senses, a topic in which both the Institut and Diderot were deeply invested. Warman first identifies perceptible similarities between passages in Cabanis’s Rapports sur le physique et le moral and the Éléments, examining in particular Cabanis’s discussions of dream-thinking, the brain, memories, and physical strength. Although the relationship between Destutt de Tracy and Diderot is not quite as clear, Warman notes that Tracy’s ongoing project on sensory analysis would have been strongly associated with Diderot’s distinctive branch of materialism. The chapter also discusses how Jacobin Gracchus Babeuf and Marquis de Sade both played a role in increasing the state’s suspicion towards materialist research, thus making it necessary for Cabanis and Destutt de Tracy to publicly distance themselves from Diderotian scholarship. For Warman, however, the fact that Cabanis and Destutt de Tracy were still quietly engaging with materialist physiological determinism during this period makes it highly likely that these writers were at least aware of the Éléments and, by extension, used this crucial text to develop their own hypotheses.


Caroline Warman