The Atheist's Bible: Diderot's 'Éléments de physiologie'

The Atheist's Bible: Diderot's 'Éléments de physiologie'  Caroline Warman

The 'Éléments de physiologie' is generally viewed as the book that never was. Diderot never managed, we have been told, to synthesise his brilliant notes and jottings drawn from across the scientific disciplines into a finished text. In 'The Atheist’s Bible', Caroline Warman applies deft, tenacious and often witty textual detective work to the case, as she explores the shadowy passage and influence of Diderot’s materialist writings in manuscript samizdat-like form from the Revolutionary era through to the Restoration. Her conclusion, that Diderot’s text is in fact present within Jacques-André Naigeon’s 1823 work, 'Mémoires historiques et philosophiques sur la vie et les ouvrages de Denis Diderot', is triumphantly convincing. The book that never was has been staring us in the face all along. Its identity documents fully now in order following Warman’s tour de force, 'Éléments de physiologie' can be warmly welcomed into the Enlightenment materialist canon.
Colin Jones, Queen Mary University of London


Caroline Warman’s strikingly original book provides a fascinating history of one of Diderot’s most powerful and significant works, never before studied in a separate monograph. The significance of the 'Elements of Physiology' has been consistently underrated by scholars who treated it as an intrinsically fragmentary production, a set of working notes on other people’s writings. Professor Warman explains how Diderot himself is ultimately responsible for this view, but goes on to show that the 'Elements' is in fact his most systematic exposition of a resolutely anti-religious materialism, rooted in empiricist philosophy, contemporary scientific theories, and the findings of empirical research, powered by a vigorous and creative imagination, and couched in a trenchant polemical style. She offers a fascinating account, based on some patient and resourceful detective work, of the text’s subterranean existence after Diderot’s death, set against the background of the French Revolution and subsequent political upheavals. This throws important new light on the dissemination of materialist arguments through institutions of knowledge in nineteenth-century France. This is high-quality intellectual and literary history, the erudition and close argument suffused by a wit and humour Diderot himself would surely have appreciated.
Michael Moriarty, University of Cambridge


‘Love is harder to explain than hunger, for a piece of fruit does not feel the desire to be eaten’: Denis Diderot’s Éléments de physiologie presents a world in flux, turning on the relationship between man, matter and mind. In this late work, Diderot delves playfully into the relationship between bodily sensation, emotion and perception, and asks his readers what it means to be human in the absence of a soul.

The Atheist’s Bible challenges prevailing scholarly views on Diderot’s Éléments, asserting its contemporary philosophical importance, and prompting its readers to inspect more closely this little-known and little-studied work. In this timely volume, Warman establishes the place of Diderot’s Éléments in the trajectory of materialist theories of nature and the mind stretching back to Epicurus and Lucretius, and explores the fascinating reasons behind scholarly neglect of this seminal work. In turn, Warman outlines the hitherto unacknowledged dissemination and reception of Diderot’s Éléments, demonstrating how Diderot’s Éléments was circulated in manuscript-form as early as the 1790s, thus showing how the text came to influence the next generations of materialist thinkers.

This book is accompanied by a digital edition of Jacques-André Naigeon’s Mémoires historiques et philosophiques sur la vie et les ouvrages de Denis Diderot (1823), a work which, Warman argues, represents the first publication of Diderot’s Éléments, long before its official publication date of 1875.

The Atheist’s Bible constitutes a major contribution to the field of Diderot studies, and will be of further interest to scholars and students of materialist natural philosophy in the Age of Enlightenment and beyond.


The Atheist's Bible: Diderot's ' Eléments de physiologie'
Caroline Warman | Forthcoming 2020
7" x 10" (178 x 254 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783748969
ISBN Hardback: 9781783748976
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783748983
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783748990
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783749003
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783749010
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0199
Categories: BIC: HP (Philosophy), DSB (Literary studies: general), DN (Prose: non-fiction), 3J (Modern period, c. 1500 onwards); BISAC: PHI046000 (PHILOSOPHY / Individual Philosophers); LIT004150 (LITERARY CRITICISM / European / French); LIT024030 (LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 18th Century)