1 January 1959 |
Chambois, Orne, France
|Era||20th century philosophy, 21st century philosophy|
|School||Atheism, Hedonism, Postanarchism, Continental philosophy|
|Main interests||Atheism, religion, ethics, Cyrenaic school, Epicureanism, pleasure, history of philosophy, materialism, aesthetics, bioethics|
Michel Onfray (French: [miʃɛl ɔ̃fʁɛ]; born 1 January 1959) is a contemporary French philosopher who adheres to hedonism, atheism and anarchism. He is a highly prolific author on philosophy with more than 50 written books.
He has gained notoriety for writing such works as Physiologie de Georges Palante, portrait d'un nietzchéen de gauche, Politique du rebelle: traité de résistance et d'insoumission, Traité d'athéologie: Physique de la métaphysique (translated into English as Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), La puissance d'exister and La Sculpture de soi for which he won the annual Prix Médicis in 1993.
Born to a family of Norman farmers, he graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy. He taught this subject to senior students at a technical high school in Caen between 1983 and 2002, before establishing what he and his supporters call the Université populaire de Caen, proclaiming its foundation on a free-of-charge basis and on the manifesto written by Onfray in 2004 (La communauté philosophique).
Onfray's book, Traité d'Athéologie "became the number one best-selling nonfiction book in France for months when it was published in the Spring of 2005 (Onfray borrowed the concept of "atheology" from Georges Bataille). This book later repeated its popular French success in Italy, where it was published in September 2005 and quickly soared to number one on Italy's bestseller lists."
Onfray endorsed the French Revolutionary Communist League and its candidate for the French presidency, Olivier Besancenot in the 2002 election, although this is somewhat at odds with the libertarian socialism he advocates in his writings. In 2007, he endorsed José Bové, but eventually voted for Olivier Besancenot, and conducted an interview with the future French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he declared was an 'ideological enemy' for Philosophie Magazine.
His latest book "Le crépuscule d'une idole : L'affabulation freudienne" ("The Twilight of an Idol: The Freudian Confabulation"), published in 2010, has been the subject of considerable controversy in France because of its criticism of Freud. He recognizes Freud as a philosopher, but he brings attention to the considerable cost of Freud's treatments and casts doubts on the effectiveness of his methods.
Onfray writes that there is no philosophy without self-psychoanalysis. He describes himself as an adamant atheist and considers theist religion to be indefensible. He regards himself as being part of the tradition of individualist anarchism, a tradition that he claims is at work throughout the entire history of philosophy and that he is seeking to revive amidst modern schools of philosophy that he regards as cynical.
View on the history of western philosophy and the philosophical project 
In an interview he establishes his view on the history of philosophy. For him, "There is in fact a multitude of ways to practice philosophy, but out of this multitude, the dominant historiography picks one tradition among others and makes it the truth of philosophy: that is to say the idealist, spiritualist lineage compatible with the Judeo-Christian world view. From that point on, anything that crosses this partial – in both senses of the word – view of things finds itself dismissed. This applies to nearly all non-Western philosophies, Oriental wisdom in particular, but also sensualist, empirical, materialist, nominalist, hedonistic currents and everything that can be put under the heading of “anti-Platonic philosophy”. Philosophy that comes down from the heavens is the kind that - from Plato to Levinas by way of Kant and Christianity - needs a world behind the scenes to understand, explain and justify this world. The other line of force rises from the earth because it is satisfied with the given world, which is already so much."
"His mission is to rehabilitate materialist and sensualist thinking and use it to re-examine our relationship to the world. Approaching philosophy as a reflection of each individual’s personal experience, Onfray inquires into the capabilities of the body and its senses and calls on us to celebrate them through music, painting, and fine cuisine."
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He defines hedonism "as an introspective attitude to life based on taking pleasure yourself and pleasuring others, without harming yourself or anyone else." "Onfray's philosophical project is to define an ethical hedonism, a joyous utilitarianism, and a generalized aesthetic of sensual materialism that explores how to use the brain's and the body's capacities to their fullest extent -- while restoring philosophy to a useful role in art, politics, and everyday life and decisions."
Onfray's works "have explored the philosophical resonances and components of (and challenges to) science, painting, gastronomy, sex and sensuality, bioethics, wine, and writing. His most ambitious project is his projected six-volume Counter-history of Philosophy," of which three have been published.
For him "In opposition to the ascetic ideal advocated by the dominant school of thought, hedonism suggests identifying the highest good with your own pleasure and that of others; the one must never be indulged at the expense of sacrificing the other. Obtaining this balance – my pleasure at the same time as the pleasure of others – presumes that we approach the subject from different angles – political, ethical, aesthetic, erotic, bioethical, pedagogical, historiographical...." For this he has "written books on each of these facets of the same world view."
His philosophy aims "for "micro-revolutions, " or revolutions of the individual and small groups of like-minded people who live by his hedonistic, libertarian values."
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Recently Michel Onfray has embraced the term postanarchism to describe his approach to politics and ethics. He advocates for an anarchism in line with such intellectuals as "Orwell, la philosophe Simone Weil, Jean Grenier, la French Theory avec Foucault, Deleuze, Bourdieu, Guattari, Lyotard, le Derrida de Politiques de l'amitié et du Droit à la philosophie, mais aussi Mai 68" which for him was "a Nietzschean revolt in order to put an end to the "One" truth, revealed, and to put in evidence the diversity of truths, in order to make disappear ascetic Christian ideas and to help arise new possibilities of existence".
Relation to hedonism 
In La puissance d'exister: Manifeste hédoniste, Onfray claims that the political dimension of hedonism runs from Epicurus to John Stuart Mill through Jeremy Bentham and Claude Adrien Helvétius. What political hedonism aims for is to create the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.
Blogger J. M. Cornwell praised Onfray's Atheist Manifesto, claiming it "is a religious and historical time capsule containing" what he sees as "the true deceptions of theological philosophy. It is divided into four parts: atheology, monotheisms, Christianity and theocracy. Each section details the historical chronology of the three major religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - and atheism. Michel Onfray pulls back the veil on the Holy of Holies, delves into the workings of Islam, and excavates for the true identity of Jesus Christ while uncovering the groundwork laid during the Age of Enlightenment."
"As Onfray details the myth and bloody history of monotheistic religions, he concludes that monotheism in general, and the religious beliefs of the major players on the Middle Eastern and Western stages in particular, have two ideologies in common: extinguishing the light of reason and total investment in death".
Recently he has been involved in promoting the work of Jean Meslier, an 18th-century French Catholic priest who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism.
Scholarly criticism of The Atheist Manifesto has included allegations of historical inaccuracies pertaining to the life of Jesus. Among the "incalculable number of contradictions and improbabilities in the body of the text of the synoptic Gospels" two claims are made: crucifixion victims were not laid to rest in tombs, and in any case Jews were not crucified in this period. Macquarie University historian John Dickson has pointed out that Philo of Alexandria, writing about the time of Jesus, tells us that sometimes the Romans handed the bodies of crucifixion victims over to family members for proper burial. The Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus even remarks: "the Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset". Regarding the second claim, Dickson calls this a 'clear historical blunder':
Varus, governor of Syria, crucified 2000 Jews involved in the rebellion of 4 BC (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 17.295). In the late 40s AD the sons of Judas the Galilean, named James and Simon, were crucified by order of Tiberius Alexander (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.102). In the final weeks of the siege of Jerusalem, according to Josephus, the Romans were crucifying 500 Jews a day, stationing the crosses in full view of the city walls: "The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; and so great was their number, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies" (Josephus, The Jewish War 5.451)...
But perhaps the clearest evidence of Onfray's mistake is the discovery in 1968 of archaeological remains of a crucifixion victim in a Jewish tomb. The tomb, just north of Jerusalem, contained numerous ossuaries (burial boxes), one of which bore the inscription "Jehohanan and Jehohanan ben Jehohanan," meaning that the box contained the bones of a father and his son of the same name, "John". Analysis of the bones revealed the remains of a male heel bone which had been pierced through by an iron nail. The nail, which was 11.5 cm long, was badly bent and so had never been removed from the foot. A plaque of wood from an olive tree was still attached. It was a remarkable find and has taught us quite a bit about crucifixion, not the least of which is that Jews were certainly crucified in the first century and some of them were properly buried (admittedly, the settlement of this matter goes no way towards proving the actual existence of a Christian God; it remains merely an historical point).
The Université Populaire 
Onfray was a high school philosophy teacher for two decades until he resigned in 2002 to establish a tuition-free Université Populaire (People's University) at Caen, at which he and several colleagues teach philosophy and other subjects.
"The Université Populaire, which is open to all who cannot access the state university system, and on principle does not accept any money from the State -- Onfray uses the profits from his books to help finance it -- has had enormous success. Based on Onfray's book La Communauté Philosophique: Manifeste pour l'Université Populaire (2004), the original UP now has imitators in Picardie, Arras, Lyon, Narbonne, and Le Mans, with five more in preparation." "The national public radio network France Culture annually broadcasts his course of lectures to the Universite Populaire on philosophical themes."
- Le ventre des philosophes, critique de la raison diététique (1989)
- Physiologie de Georges Palante, portrait d'un nietzchéen de gauche (1989)
- Cynismes, portrait du philosophe en chien (1990)
- L'art de jouir : pour un matérialisme hédoniste (1991)
- La sculpture de soi : la morale esthétique (1991)
- L'œil nomade : la peinture de Jacques Pasquier (1992)
- La raison gourmande, philosophie du goût (1995)
- Ars moriendi : cent petits tableaux sur les avantages et les inconvénients de la mort (1995)
- Métaphysique des ruines : la peinture de Monsu Désidério (1995)
- Les formes du temps : théorie du Sauternes (1996)
- Politique du rebelle : traité de résistance et d'insoumission (1997)
- À côté du désir d'éternité : fragments d'Égypte (1998)
- Théorie du corps amoureux : pour une érotique solaire (2000)
- Prêter un livre n'est pas voler son auteur (2000)
- Antimanuel de philosophie : leçons socratiques et alternatives (2001)
- Célébration du génie colérique : tombeau de Pierre Bourdieu (2002)
- L'invention du plaisir : fragments cyréaniques (2002)
- Esthétique du Pôle nord : stèles hyperborréennes (2002)
- Splendeur de la catastrophe : la peinture de Vladimir Velickovic (2002)
- Les icônes païennes : variations sur Ernest Pignon-Ernest (2003)
- Archéologie du présent, manifeste pour l'art contemporain (2003)
- Féeries anatomiques (2003)
- La philosophie féroce : exercices anarchistes (2004)
- La communauté philosophique (2004)
- Traité d'athéologie : Physique de la métaphysique, Paris, Grasset, (2005); English translation by Jeremy Leggatt as Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007)
- Théorie du voyage : poétique de la géographie, Paris, Galilée, 2005
- La puissance d'exister, (2006) Grasset, ISBN 2-246-71691-8
- Nietzsche: Se créer Liberté. (2010) Les Éditions du Lombard ISBN 978-2-8036-2650-2
- Le Crépuscule d’une idole. L'Affabulation freudienne. (2010) Grasset (ISBN 2-246-76931-0)
- Apostille au Crépuscule. Pour une psychanalyse non freudienne, (2010) Grasset (ISBN 2-246-75781-9)
- L'Ordre libertaire. La vie philosophique d'Albert Camus, Flammarion, ISBN 978-2-08-126441-0, J'ai lu, ISBN 978-2-290-05980-7
- Vies & mort d'un dandy. Construction d'un mythe, Galilée, ISBN 978-2-7186-0871-6
- Journal hédoniste :
- I. Le désir d'être un volcan (1996)
- II. Les vertus de la foudre (1998)
- III. L'archipel des comètes (2001)
- IV. La lueur des orages désirés (2007)
- La contre histoire de la philosophie:
- I. Les Sagesses Antiques (2006)
- II. Le Christianisme hédoniste (2006)
- III. Les libertins baroques (2007)
- IV. Les Ultras des Lumières (2007), Grasset, (ISBN 978-2-246-68921-8)
- V. L’Eudémonisme social (2008), Grasset, (ISBN 978-2-246-68931-7)
- VI. Les Radicalités existentielles (2009), Grasset, (ISBN 978-2-246-68941-6)
- Michel Onfray. L'ordre Libertaire: La vie philosophique de Albert Camus. Flammarion. 2012
- Ireland, Doug (Winter 2006). "Introductory Note to Onfray". New Politics X (4). Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- "He is a self-described hedonist, atheist, libertarian, and left-wing anarchist".(en) France, Media, Michel Onfray, A self labeled Anarchist Philosopher
- Ireland, Doug (Winter 2006). "Introductory Note to Onfray". New Politics X (4). Retrieved 2010-06-01. "a gifted and prolific author who, at the age of only 46, has already written 30 books"
- Complete list of works on the French Wikipedia page
- Onfray says in an interview "L’individualisme anarchiste part de cette logique. Il célèbre les individualités...Dans cette période de libéralisme comme horizon indépassable, je persiste donc à plaider pour l’individu."Interview des lecteurs : Michel Onfray Par Marion Rousset| 1er avril 2005
- Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray - CONFIDENCES ENTRE ENNEMIS http://www.philomag.com/article,dialogue,nicolas-sarkozy-et-michel-onfray-confidences-entre-ennemis,288.php
- Michel Onfray: A philosopher of the Enlightenment
- THE PHILOSOPHIES OF PLEASURE
- "Atheism à la mode"
- (en) France, Media, Michel Onfray, A self labeled Anarchist Philosopher
- Michel Onfray : le post anarchisme expliqué à ma grand-mère
- "qu'il considère comme une révolte nietzschéenne pour avoir mis fin à la Vérité "Une", révélée, en mettant en évidence la diversité de vérités, pour avoir fait disparaître les idéaux ascétiques chrétiens et fait surgir de nouvelles possibilités d'existence."Michel Onfray : le post anarchisme expliqué à ma grand-mère
- Cornwell, J. M. (2007-01-24). "Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam". The Celebrity Cafe. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- Michel Onfray, "Jean Meslier and 'The Gentle Inclination of Nature" (translated into English by Marvin Mandel), New Politics, Winter 2006
- [Atheist Manifesto, 127]
- [Josephus, Jewish War 4.317]
- The Nouveau Atheists on the Historical Jesus
- (French) Official home page
- (French) Blog about Onfray
- Profile of Michel Onfray in New Humanist magazine, July/August 2007