“Man a Machine”

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In his essay "Man a Machine," Julien Offroy de La Mettrie makes the case that both people and animals are mechanical systems.

La Mettrie uses physiological physiology to highlight ethical considerations because of this. He argues that the foundations of understanding the spirit are observation and experience. Because of this, he claims, "If there is a God, there is a revelation that cannot be in opposition to nature." (La Mettrie 88).

Observations and Experiences Related to the Spirit

La Mettrie goes on to assert that this fact was supported by doctors who were philosophers, whereas theologians had little influence in arriving at this conclusion. Because they are dependent on bodily conditions as described by philosopher-physicians, the observations and experiences have to do with the spirit. Hence, when the body has some illness, there is an adverse impact on the soul as well. In a similar manner that a genius may turn out to show idiocy, an idiot can be a wise man. It is important to note that whenever the body feels tired, there is a stimulus that triggers sleep which yields a short-term inactivity of the soul. The author also uses the examples of opium, coffee, and wine in producing the same effect. On the other hand, La Mettrie refers savagery of the English as emanating from their behaviour of feeding on red meat. Thus, this results into their "pride, scorn, and hatred of other states that degrades character." (La Mettrie 103).

Natural Law and Humans' Differentiation from Animals

Concerning natural law, La Mettrie argues that it is irrational to differentiate humans from animals on the grounds of moral law. For this matter, he states that natural law stems from "the feeling of not doing things to others that we would not wish them done to us." (La Mettrie 141). In comparison to animals, the author gives the example of a dog that downcast and crouches air after it has upset the master. The reference given concerning the story of Androcles, it is evident that animals show some gratitude and are similar to humans. Therefore, concluding that animals are not aware of natural law means that humans have no such knowledge either. La Mettrie asserts that for "man is not made from clay that nature has utilized but from what it has merely varied the leaven." (La Mettrie 137). The most feared criminals also possess gratitude, but their undesired actions arise from morbid impulses. Thus, it is mandatory that the system offers them punishments to serve as consequences for their actions. On the contrary, the option of burying them alive or burning them is not preferable as per the moral laws. Virtue serves as a reward and therefore ensuring that everyone gets the opportunity to be happy. Hence, humans tend to appear as machines.

The Mechanical Aspect of Humans

La Mettrie talks about the mechanical aspect of humans where he argues that the bodily movements are attributable to the motility of the muscles. He gives some illustrations to prove this statement, and one of them entails the dissection of polyps. The end result is that they yield whole polyps with the only interruption being the spontaneous motion involved. Therefore, he asserts that similar to the human body, "the soul only serves as the thinking part of us." (La Mettrie 109). Besides, there is a physiological representation of involuntary movements in humans that arise whenever there is a reflex. For this reason, there is some mechanical nature displayed in the body leave alone occurrences such as erections. The impact of some emotions within the body reveals that there is no distinction between what humans can control and what happens without their knowledge. La Mettrie proceeds to state that the "involuntary actions arise as the will cannot prevent them since there is no control of bodily conditions." (La Mettrie 93). The author acknowledges that the body controls itself despite consciousness coming into play from time to time since its motion is some organized matter. It is important to note that the human movements are not independent but "motion remains unknown in a similar manner like matter is." (La Mettrie 41).

Materialism and Happiness

Regarding materialism, La Mettrie views wisdom, forgiveness, justice, pity, tranquillity, kindliness, reverence, and tenderness as the generators of happiness. The state faced by the author leads him to view himself as either an animal or a machine. Besides, he considers that materialists will not change his standpoint as he truly understands the nature of specific actions that humans and animals will perceive in different ways. Therefore, in the world, there only exists the same substance with slight modifications in the materialist views held by humans. Just like other authors, La Mettrie attributed materialism to brain anatomy. He questioned the reasons why there was the stacking of tones of evidence merely to try and prove how great one is in design. Thus, it becomes evident that materialism is in one way a threat to the spiritual world as the definition of the soul would be compromised. The aspect of remaking, perfecting, and rethinking oneself comes into play whenever the author addresses the topic of materialism.


In conclusion, La Mettrie compares humans to machines and forecasts that time will come when there will be the replication of man. Besides, he considers that the remaking of a talking man is possible as the body is similar to a piece of equipment that winds on its own springs. The observations and experiences relate to the soul as they rely on bodily conditions as explained by the philosopher-physicians. Further, the entirety of nature tends to originate from a single substance which only becomes different when viewing different organisms. Instincts and experience play a vital role when it comes to human beings. However, La Mettrie considered observation to be key when trying to understand human beings. It is important to note that he held an enlightened rationality position despite some of the conclusions he made receiving a high level of criticism. He proceeded to assert that humans and animals have a similar training. Similarly, the reference given concerning the story of Androcles, it is evident that animals show some gratitude and are similar to humans. Therefore, concluding that animals are not aware of natural law means that humans have no such knowledge either. The only variation emanates from the fact that animals tend to respond depending on the conditions presented to them by the environment. The social learning theory studied commonly was proven by La Mettrie as he claims that accent and gestures form the basis of whatever both human beings and animals come around. Hence, in one way or the other, humans are machines.


La Mettrie, Julien Offray de. 1750. Man A Machine. London: Printed for G. Smith.

June 26, 2023

Literary Genres Zoology

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Expertise Theology
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