The Dialectic of Common Sense:
 The Master Thinkers

Ivan Sviták

University Press of America

Copyright © 1979 by

University Press of America, Inc.
4710 Auth Place, S.E., Washington D.C. 20023

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN: 0-8191-0675-5

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 78-65849

Table of Contents

The Man 3
The Stoic 10
The Sceptic   17
The Sage 22
Montaigne and We 31
The Age 44
The Man 52
The Thinker 69
The Deist 89
The Fighter 111
Influence 127
Life and Work 137
Mechanical Materialism 148
Anthropology 155
Criticism of Religion 163
Natural Moral Principles 173
Sources of Corruption and Reform 181
Rational Egoism 187
Natural Politics 193
Future Politics 200
Bibliography 207
Publications   216
Biography 217



California State University, Chico

Translated by Jarmila Veltrusky

Written for S.D. in the Czech language, in the Czechoslovak Academy of Science, Institute of Philosophy, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1956 ‑ 1958.

Confiscated and destroyed by censorship of the Soviet bureaucratic dictatorship, Prague, occupied Czechoslovakia, 1968.

Translated and published with the help of University Foundation, California State University, Chico, United States of America, 1978.

Note: The following three essays were originally printed as a classroom material for my classes in history of philosophy, without my proofreading. Some mistakes and accents could not have been corrected in this reprint without resetting the original print. There are three more studies dealing with the Road to Atheism, which are not translated into English yet, but which were part of the Czech original: Feuerbach ‑ the Humanist, Marx the Revolutionary, and Camus ‑ the Absurd Rebel.



Many of us are concerned with how use might be made of the knowledge proliferating so rapidly in modern society. Even with the great advances in communications, the plethora of scholarly journals in each discipline, and the advent of the paperback as a means of disseminating professional material, most of us find difficult the task of maintaining competence in our own special areas while at the same time sharing new and interesting developments with our colleagues in the academic community. Just such, a concern led a small group in the Spring of 1970 to consider means by which pertinent, well-written contributions might be made accessible to the college community at large. What follows represents our attempt to fill the lacuna mentioned above. The manuscripts chosen thus far give clear indication that there is much we can learn from our colleagues. The succinctness and readability of each lends itself to recognition of the limitations we all have on our time.

Ivan Svitak needs no introduction to Chico’s academic community. Since his arrival here in 1970, he has maintained the same level of quality publications that led to his international reputation as a theorist prior to his leaving Czechoslovakia. In addition to developing his thought further with new publications, he has spent considerable time translating many of his works into English. Montaigne is one such endeavor. Written in the late 1950’s, but never published, it was used as the basis for Professor Svitak’s DeBellis Memorial Lecture in 1971. Since that time it has been revised and is here published for the first time.

The reader should be aware of this chronology because it provides insight into what the author had in mind when he wrote it. Although written about the thought of a celebrated sixteenth century French essayist, the monograph is as much Svitak as it is Montaigne. One cannot escape the pessimism of the East European communist intellectual of the post-Hungary era. Ironically Svitak’s translation and revision occurred under even more trying circumstances: his homeland had been invaded, he had lost his citizenship, and he was separated from his family, perhaps forever. Moreover, an enlightened intellectual environment — which Svitak had helped to create — had vanished.

Nevertheless, Svitak’s Montaigne sparkles as a man in love with life, a man dedicated to exercising his intellectual powers. Those who reviewed the manuscript were moved by the life-like portrait of Montaigne. They were also treated to an exciting excursion into the world of philosophy. The Monograph Selection Committee is confident that those who read our third publication will find it as rewarding and worthwhile as we did.

Robert S. Ross, Editor CSUC Monograph Series



The fundamental law of all nations is freedom; it is the only law which cannot be proscribed, because it is a law of nature.


The essay on Voltaire was originally written in summer 1956 as an introduction to two volumes of Voltaire’s works in Czech. The book was ready for sale when the censors decided that revisionist tendencies in Hungary and Poland should not appear in Czechoslovakia. They confiscated my introductory essay on Voltaire’s humanism as a subversive, dangerous, liberalistic deviation, and ordered a purge against the poor Voltaire, so that whole pages had to be omitted or replaced before the final text was approved. Since it was too costly to destroy the two volumes ready for print, Voltaire the Humanist appeared in 1956 and was very quickly sold out. At that time, the message of humanism reflected the great hope for a new period of Soviet policy in Eastern Europe. In this historical context, the book was written as a message of humanism—and so it should be understood today as well. This aspect escapes the attention of a contemporary American reader. Nevertheless, Voltaire was read and understood as an indirect criticism of the despotic policy, of the Party-Church and of intolerance in the twentieth century Eastern Europe, not only in eighteenth century France.

The essay on Voltaire is the second which appears at California State University, Chico with the kind help of the Faculty Research Committee and of the University Foundation. There are other studies on d’Holbach, Feuerbach, Marx and Camus which were also written originally in Czech and which will appear in English. These Studies in the History of Philosophy have a unifying theme of deism toward d’Holbach’s atheism and the anthropological approaches to religion in the works of Feuerbach, Marx and Camus. Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to Mrs. Jarmila Veltrusky, the translator of Montaigne, Voltaire and of my other essays, for the excellent job of translating the studies into readable English.

California State University, Chico                        Ivan Svitak


SOURCE: Sviták, Ivan. The Dialectic of Common Sense: The Master Thinkers. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979. ii, 217 pp. Title page, copyright page, contents page (I), introductory page (II), Foreword to Montaigne (2), portrait and introduction to Voltaire (43-44).

Originally published in Czechoslovakia just prior to Prague Spring in 1968, this collection of three essays on the political and philosophical thought of Montaigne, Voltaire, and Holbach examines the relationships between social life and ideological categories, and economics and the development of ideas.

Note: A few spelling errors have been corrected here.

The essay on Montaigne comprises pp. 1-42 of this book. The link is to a PDF file consisting of images of the text rather than true text.

For comparison see my blog posts Ivan Sviták on Montaigne and Max Horkheimer on Montaigne.

The essay on Holbach was published separately as:

Sviták, Ivan. Baron d’Holbach, Philosopher of Common Sense, translated by Jarmila Veltrusky. Chico: California State University, 1976. 76 pp. (Translated from Filosof zdravého rozumu, Holbach.) [3 illustrations omitted on this web page.]

The Perspectives of Philosophy (1956)
by Ivan Sviták

“Anthropological Conditions of Modern Culture” (1964): Conclusion
by Ivan Sviták

The Sources of Socialist Humanism” (1963)
by Ivan Sviták

Zadig’s Wisdom vs Providence
by Voltaire

“The White Bull”: The Princess & the Serpent
by Voltaire

Voltaire’s Calligrapher & the automatons
with commentary by R. Dumain

Voltaire’s philosophical tales: commentary
by R. Dumain

Historical Surveys of Atheism, Freethought, Rationalism, Skepticism, and Materialism: Selected Works

Atheism / Freethought / Humanism / Rationalism / Skepticism / Unbelief / Secularism / Church-State Separation Web Links

Secular Humanism—Ideology, Philosophy, Politics, History: Bibliography in Progress

Doubt & Skepticism: A Directed Minimal Bibliography & Web Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


Max Horkheimer on Montaigne
by R. Dumain

Ivan Sviták - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Uploaded 30 May 2018
Voltaire section added 12 June 2018
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23 August 2023

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