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Diderot's abiding passion was, according to Dr. France, for moral questions: what is good, what is bad. He had a "need to link virtue with happiness". The 18th century thinkers moved away from the traditional, Christian view of virtue and, together with Bentham, claimed that the best action was the one which produced 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'. Anything that was useful to that end was to be pursued. Anything that was not useful, like monasticism, was attacked, or ridiculed, Diderot, like Helvetius, thought that man was a creature motivated by the desire for pleasure, or happiness, and the provision of happiness was the only criterion of goodness. Being a materialist, i.e. believing that the universe consisted only of matter, Diderot thought that pleasure was the stimulus which kept the world of man in motion. He thought, therefore, that pleasure and virtue can be linked indeed, to behave virtuously is to gain pleasure; yet he tried to preserve the old values and prohibitions, by making a distinction between good and bad pleasure.
Metadata describing this Open University audio programme
Module code and title: A204, The Enlightenment
Item code: A204; 13
Recording date: 1979-10-22
First transmission date: 13-05-1980
Published: 1980
Rights Statement: Rights owned or controlled by The Open University
Restrictions on use: This material can be used in accordance with The Open University conditions of use. A link to the conditions can be found at the bottom of all OUDA web pages.
Duration: 00:17:40
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Producer: Helen Rapp
Contributors: Peter France; Allan McClelland
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): 18th Century; Christian view of virtue
Master spool number: TLN43950H826
Production number: TLN43950H826
Available to public: no