Man a Machine

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Julien Offray de La Mettrie. Man a Machine (French: L'homme Machine). 1747.[1] In English La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1912.[2] Available at least in part in English translation on line.[3]

Wikipedia article usefully quotes Karl Popper:

"Yet the doctrine that man is a machine was argued most forcefully in 1751, long before the theory of evolution became generally accepted, by de La Mettrie; and the theory of evolution gave the problem an even sharper edge, by suggesting there may be no clear distinction between living matter and dead matter. And, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory, and the conversion of so many physicists to indeterminism de La Mettrie's doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man is a computer." (note 2: Of Clouds and Clocks, included in Objective Knowledge, revised, 1978, p. 224)

Note for philosophical debate on Materialism and humans as mechanisms; cf. and contrast the issue as raised very briefly by more sensationally by the Marquis de Sade in The 120 Days of Sodom.

Discussed insightfully (and wittily) by Jessica Riskin in The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick, ch. 5, pp. 153 f.

La Mettrie's man-machine was an erotic and passionate creature, coursing with sensations and emotions. "To be a machine," La Mettrie wrote: "to feel, think, know how to distinguish good from evil like blue from yellow." Emotions, moral instincts, an aesthetic sense: the man-machine had all of these and also, by the same token, a sex life (for the convergence of mechanism and eroticism, see plate 8): "Who would ever have divined a priori that a drop of the liqueur that shoots froth during coupling would make one feel divine pleasures?" Even a rudimentary living machine could experience this last universal boon: La Mettrie extended the joys of sex right down to plants. (Riskin, p. 158)

Plate 8 shows an "Erotic pocket-watch with automaton birds and musicians on the dial plate and concealed erotic automaton scene, by Henry Capt, Geneva, ca. 1810." (The concealed scene pictures a man and woman [sic: not robots] copulating, with the man mostly dressed and the positioning and explicit details less romantic/erotic than pornographic.)

RDE, Initial Compiler, 12Ap20, 6May21