An empire of lies: Holbach on vanity and philosophy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Vanity and pride have been condemned by Christian thinkers for centuries. Therefore, it may seem curious that Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, one of the fiercest critics of religion, decried these passions. Holbach’s work is interspersed with remarks about vanity and pride which have gone unnoticed in the literature. This chapter analyzes Holbach’s account of vanity, delving into the role it plays in the establishment and maintenance of religion. I show that the desire for prestige is at the very core of religious practices, which aim to justify the alleged superiority of man over nature. Holbach’s well-known critique of religion, therefore, cannot be fully understood without reference to his lesser known account of vanity and pride. The study of these passions is also essential to grasping Holbach’s conception of philosophy and how the philosophe should be: an individual free from prejudices, who has abandoned every trace of vanity in order to move forward in their journey towards the truth.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe great protector of wits
Subtitle of host publicationBaron d’Holbach and his time
EditorsLaura Nicolì
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789004516847
ISBN (Print)9789004435780
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2022

Publication series

NameBrill's studies in intellectual history
ISSN (Print)0920-8607


  • Holbach
  • Enlightenment
  • Vanity
  • Pride
  • Religion
  • Philosophy


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