10 How Many Atheists at D’Holbach’s Table?

In: The Great Protector of Wits
Emilio Mazza
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Gianluca Mori
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On the 23rd of August 1763 d’Holbach has read – this is what he tells him – Hume’s “valuable works” and declares the “strongest admiration” for his genius and the “strongest desire” of getting acquainted with “one of the greatest philosophers of any age”. On the 17th of October Hume arrived in Paris; after a few days he met d’Holbach, and Diderot reports their conversation: he “thought to say to the Baron that he did not believe in atheists, that he never saw any. The Baron said to him: ‘Count exactly how many we are here.’ – We were eighteen. – The Baron added: ‘It is not unhappy that we can count fifteen of them at the first stroke […]’”. The anecdote, first published in 1830, soon became a common place among those scholars who wished to be confirmed that, unlike d’Holbach, Hume was not an atheist and never called himself such. An anecdote is never a good foundation for an argument; yet it can tell us many other things. What happened exactly at d’Holbach’s table, that “common receptacle for all men of letters and ingenuity”?

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