D’Holbach on (Dis-)Esteeming Talent

Journal of Modern Philosophy 2 (1):10 (2020)
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Rousseau argues that holding the talented in high public esteem leads the less talented to esteem their natural virtues less highly and therefore to neglect the cultivation of these virtues. D’Holbach’s response to Rousseau indicates a sense in which esteeming talent can avoid these detrimental consequences. The starting point of d’Holbach’s defense of the sciences and arts is an analysis of the impact that despotic regimes have on esteeming talent. He argues that there is not only a problem of over-valuing talent but also a problem of under-valuing talent. These considerations form the background for his conception of valuing talent in the right way. The phenomenon of political deception in despotic regimes indicates a sense in which talent can be regarded as a tool for solving a pressing political problem: Genuinely estimable uses of talent are those that oppose despotism and support republican virtues. Esteeming such talent does not lead to a loss of esteem and self-esteem for ordinary people because republican virtues themselves are a source of esteem and self-esteem. Comparison with some aspects of the response of d’Holbach’s friend, Claude-Adrien Helvétius, to Rousseau will accentuate the specific strengths of d’Holbach’s argument.

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Andreas Blank
Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt


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