One particular feature of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding - the suggestion that God could add to matter the power of thought - stimulated an extensive debate in Britain between immaterialists (those who defended two substances, mind and matter) and materialists (those who considered matter to be self-active). That debate was also transmitted to the Continent, especially to France, where Locke's suggestion about thinking matter was given prominence by
Voltaire. His defence of the suggestion was in turn attacked by a number of writers, thereby implicating Locke in the growth of materialism in France. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Locke's `famous hypothesis' had become the centre of many attacks, mainly by followers of
Malebranche. This book tells for the first time the long and complex story of the involvement of Locke's suggestion in the growth of French materialism. There is a discussion of the `affaire de Prades', in which Locke's name was linked with a censored thesis at the Faculty of Theology in Paris. The similarities and differences between English `thinking matter' and the French `matière pensante' of the philosophes are discussed in the last chapter.
`Yolton accurately and meticulously brings the reader through the texts and authors indicated, and he reports on minor variations in presenting the opposing arguments.
`This is an excellent resource for scholars interested in 18th-century philosophy of mind.
H. Storl, Augustana College, CHOICE, Dec '91
`Yolton gives us a fascinating account of a question central to eighteenth-century thought in metaphysics, epistemology, and theology.
`Professor Yolton is undoubtedly correct that no one has written about the transmission to France, of Locke's suggestion, that there is nothing inconsistent in the notion that God could superadd to matter the power of thought. This book is a worthwhile and scholarly one which traces that transmission as well as French reactions to it ... an important book.
Robert C. Trundle, Jr., Northern Kentucky University, The Modern Schoolman
`There is a wealth of material here for the historian of ideas.
`Locke and French Materialism is an invaluable source of scholarly information, especially about the lesser known writers and the use they made of Locke's suggestion. In this context, the extensive and detailed bibliography compiled by Jean S. Yolton deserves praise as well. The book is an important addition to the literature on Locke and eighteenth-century thought. And it is essential reading for anybody who is interested in the
history of `philosophy of mind'.
`Yolton's story is highly interesting and it is well told.
Manfred Kuehn, Purdue University, Review of Metaphysics, March 1994
`Yolton does not confine himself to the household names; he delves deeply in the works of minor writers and in the extensive journal literature of the age ... he contributes a wholly new chapter to the intellectual history of the early modern period. His command of the primary sources is truly impressive. Yolton also has a good eye for some of the ironies of the story he has to tell.
Nicholas Jolley, International Studies in Philosophy, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, 19946R