Michel Onfray
Onfray in 2012
Born (1959-01-01) 1 January 1959 (age 65)
Argentan, France
Alma materUniversity of Caen Lower Normandy
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Atheism, religion, ethics, Cyrenaic school, hedonism, Epicureanism, pleasure, history of philosophy, materialism, aesthetics, bioethics
Notable ideas
The principle of Gulliver (le principe de Gulliver)

Michel Onfray (French: [miʃɛl ɔ̃fʁɛ]; born 1 January 1959) is a French writer and philosopher with a hedonistic, epicurean and atheist worldview. A highly-prolific author on philosophy, he has written over 100 books.[1][2] His philosophy is mainly influenced by such thinkers as Nietzsche, Epicurus, the Cynic and Cyrenaic schools, as well as French materialism. He has gained notoriety for writing such works as Traité d'athéologie: Physique de la métaphysique (translated into English as Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), Politique du rebelle: traité de résistance et d'insoumission, Physiologie de Georges Palante, portrait d'un nietzchéen de gauche, La puissance d'exister and La sculpture de soi for which he won the annual Prix Médicis in 1993.

Onfray is often regarded as being left-wing;[3][4] however, some observers have stated that he harbours right-wing tendencies.[5][6][7][8] He has become appreciated by some far-right circles, notably with his sovereignist magazine Front populaire.[9][10]


Onfray in Spain in 2009

Born in Argentan to a family of Norman farmers, Onfray was sent to a weekly Catholic boarding school in Giel from ages 10 to 14.[11] This was a solution many parents in France adopted at the time when they lived far from the village school or had working hours that made it too hard or too expensive to transport their children to and from school daily. The young Onfray, however, did not appreciate his new environment, which he describes as a place of suffering. Onfray went on to graduate with a teaching degree in philosophy. He taught this subject to senior students at a high school that concentrates on technical degrees in Caen between 1983 and 2002. At that time, he and his supporters established 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 was a secondary 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.[12]

"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 Picardy, Arras, Lyon, Narbonne, and Le Mans, with five more in preparation."[12]

"The national public radio network France Culture annually broadcasts his course of lectures to the Université Populaire on philosophical themes."[12]

Onfray is an atheist[12] and author of Traité d'Athéologie (Atheist Manifesto), which "became the number one best-selling nonfiction book in France for months when it was published in the Spring of 2005 (the word 'athéologie' Onfray borrowed from Georges Bataille and dedicated to Raoul Vaneigem who had defended freedom of speech, including Holocaust denial, in Nothing is sacred, everything can be said.[13] The book 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."[12]

His 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 Sigmund Freud. He recognises Freud as a philosopher but brings attention to the considerable cost of Freud's treatments and casts doubts on the effectiveness of his methods.[14]

In 2015, Onfray published Cosmos, the first book of a trilogy. Onfray considers ironically that it constitutes his "very first book".[15]


Onfray writes that there is no philosophy without self-psychoanalysis. He describes himself as an atheist[16] and considers theistic religion to be indefensible.

View on history of Western philosophy and philosophical project

Onfray has published nine books under a project of history of philosophy called Counter-History of Philosophy. In each of these books Onfray deals with a particular historical period in western philosophy. The series of books are composed by the titles I. Les Sagesses Antiques (2006) (on western antiquity), II. Le Christianisme hédoniste (2006) (on Christian hedonism from the Renaissance period), III. Les libertins baroques (2007) (on libertine thought from the Baroque era), IV. Les Ultras des Lumières (2007) (on radical enlightenment thought), V. L'Eudémonisme social (2008) (on radical utilitarian and eudaimonistic thought), VI. Les Radicalités existentielles (2009) (on 19th and 20th century radical existentialist thinkers) and VII. La construction du surhomme: Jean-Marie Guyau, Friedrich Nietzsche (on Guyau's and Nietzsche's philosophy in relation to the concept of the Übermensch). VIII. Les Freudiens hérétiques (2013). IX. Les Consciences réfractaires (2013).

In an interview, Onfray established his view on the history of philosophy:

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.[17]

"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."[18]


Onfray defines hedonism "as an introspective attitude to life based on taking pleasure yourself and pleasuring others, without harming yourself or anyone else."[19] "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."[12]

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",[12] three of which have been published. Onfray writes:

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....[17]

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."[20]

In La puissance d'exister: Manifeste hédoniste, Onfray claims that the political dimension of hedonism runs from Epicurus to John Stuart Mill to Jeremy Bentham and Claude Adrien Helvétius. Political hedonism aims to create the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.

In La Raison gourmande, he analyses the relation between philosophers and wine: Gaston Bachelard and Burgundy, Michel Serres and Château d'Yquem. He names also the "alcoholic philosophers": Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Gilles Deleuze, Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, in particular, to whom he dedicated his Traité d'athéologie (2005).[21]


Onfray has been involved in promoting the work of Jean Meslier,[12][22] an 18th-century French Catholic priest who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism.[22]

In Atheist Manifesto, Onfray states that among the "incalculable number of contradictions and improbabilities in the body of the text of the synoptic Gospels"[23] two claims are made: crucifixion victims were not laid to rest in tombs, and in any case, Jews were not crucified in this period. The historian John Dickson, of Macquarie University, has said that Philo of Alexandria, who wrote about the time of Jesus, noted that the Romans sometimes handed the bodies of crucifixion victims over to family members for proper burial. The Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus even remarks: "Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset."[24] Regarding the second claim, Dickson calls this a "clear historical blunder".[25]

In Onfray's latest book, Décadence he argued for Christ myth theory, which is a hypotheses that Jesus was not a historical person. Onfray based this on the fact that, other than in the New Testament, Jesus is barely mentioned in accounts of the period.[26]

In July 2021, Onfray criticised Pope Francis's apostolic letter Traditionis custodes by arguing that the Tridentine Mass embodies “the heritage of the genealogical time of our civilization".[27][28]

Political views

In the 2002 election, Onfray endorsed the French Revolutionary Communist League and its candidate for the French presidency, Olivier Besancenot.[4] In 2007, he endorsed José Bové but eventually voted for Besancenot and conducted an interview with the future French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who, Onfray declared in Philosophie Magazine, was an "ideological enemy".[29]

During a Television interview and as a response to a visit by French president Emmanuel Macron to Algeria in August 2022, Onfray described the ruling regime in Algeria as a "mafia" and asserted that France has no responsibility for the impoverished life of the Algerian people in a country rich in gas and oil because the French had left in 1962.[30] During the interview Onfray said "We know very well that this country has hated us since 1962."[31][32]

Reception and influence

Asteroid 289992 Onfray, discovered by astronomers at the Saint-Sulpice Observatory in 2005, was named in Onfray's honour.[33] The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 16 March 2014 (M.P.C. 87546).[34]

Several authors criticise Onfray for approximations and historical errors contained in several of his works. That is particularly the case of the historians Guillaume Mazeau, Élisabeth Roudinesco, Jean-Marie Salamito with his essay Monsieur Onfray au pays des mythes or even Ian Birchall.[35][36][37]


In English[edit]

In French[edit]

See also


  1. ^ Ireland, Doug (Winter 2006). "Introductory Note to Onfray". New Politics. X (4). Archived from the original on 25 November 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014. a gifted and prolific author who, at the age of only 46, has already written 30 books
  2. ^ Complete list of works on the French Wikipedia page
  3. ^ Thillaye, Renaud (6 November 2015). "The Left Needs A Better Conversation On National Sovereignty". Social Europe. Archived from the original on 19 February 2022. Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Michel Onfray vote pour Olivier Besancenot". L'Obs. April 4, 2007. Archived from the original on May 7, 2024. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  5. ^ "Quand Michel Onfray sombre dans le conspirationnisme". Challenges (in French). 3 June 2018. Archived from the original on 16 March 2022. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  6. ^ "Des intellectuels à la dérive ?". Le Monde.fr (in French). 19 September 2015. Archived from the original on 23 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  7. ^ "Onfray " en voie de zemmourisation "". France Culture (in French). 17 September 2015. Archived from the original on 23 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  8. ^ Maggiori, Robert. ""Onfray réhabilite un discours d'extrême droite"". Libération (in French). Archived from the original on 26 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  9. ^ "Avec sa nouvelle revue " Front populaire ", Michel Onfray séduit les milieux d'extrême droite". Le Monde.fr (in French). 19 May 2020. Archived from the original on 31 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  10. ^ "Débat public : un glissement de terrain à droite. Avec Philippe Corcuff". France Culture (in French). 10 March 2021. Archived from the original on 21 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  11. ^ Peccatte, Patrick (30 April 2010). "Les souvenirs d'enfance de Michel Onfray". doi:10.58079/ni5c. Archived from the original on 25 March 2023. Retrieved 25 March 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Ireland, Doug (Winter 2006). "Introductory Note to Onfray". New Politics. X (4). Archived from the original on 25 November 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  13. ^ It was prefaced by the far-right politician Robert Ménard before Bruno Gaccio and Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, an anti-Semitic humorist, responded in Can everything be said ?, also edited by Ménard
  14. ^ "Un psychanalyste réagit au "Crépuscule d'une idole" de Michel Onfray". 26 April 2010. Archived from the original on 7 June 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  15. ^ Portevin, Catherine (26 March 2015). "Cosmos. Une ontologie matérialiste". Philosophie magazine. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  16. ^ "He is a self-described hedonist, atheist, libertarian, and left-wing anarchist".(en) France, Media, Michel Onfray, A self labeled Anarchist Philosopher Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b "Michel Onfray: A philosopher of the Enlightenment" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 August 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2014.
  18. ^ "THE BRAIN FROM TOP TO BOTTOM". thebrain.mcgill.ca. Archived from the original on 19 August 2009. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  19. ^ "Atheism à la mode - New Humanist". newhumanist.org.uk. 29 June 2007. Archived from the original on 15 March 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  20. ^ "France, Media, Michel Onfray, A self labeled Anarchist Philosoph". www.ainfos.ca. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  21. ^ "La France de Bernard Pivot". 13 February 2022. Archived from the original on 20 March 2022. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  22. ^ a b "Michel Onfray, "Jean Meslier and 'The Gentle Inclination of Nature" (translated into English by Marvin Mandel), New Politics, Winter 2006". Archived from the original on 8 September 2006.
  23. ^ [Atheist Manifesto, 127]
  24. ^ [Josephus, Jewish War 4.317]
  25. ^ "The Nouveau Atheists on the Historical Jesus- Macquarie University" (PDF). www.anchist.mq.edu.au. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 September 2009.
  26. ^ Metro.co.uk, Rob Waugh for (12 April 2017). "'Jesus never actually existed at all,' controversial French author argues". Metro. Archived from the original on 12 June 2017. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  27. ^ Onfray, Michel (18 July 2021). "La messe en latin, un patrimoine liturgique". LeFigaro (in French). Archived from the original on 13 January 2022. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  28. ^ Tadié, Solène (12 January 2022). "How French Catholics are responding to Pope Francis' Traditional Latin Mass restrictions". Catholic News Agency. Archived from the original on 21 November 2021. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  29. ^ "Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray - CONFIDENCES ENTRE ENNEMIS". Archived from the original on 9 May 2007. Retrieved 15 March 2008.
  30. ^ "Philosopher Michel Onfray said of Algeria: "We know very well that this country has hated us since 1962."". 31 August 2022. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  31. ^ "Le philosophe Michel Onfray à propos de l'Algérie: «On sait très bien que ce pays nous déteste depuis 1962»". Le360.ma. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  32. ^ "Algérie-France : « On sait très bien que ce pays nous déteste depuis 1962 », déclare Onfray". observalgerie.com. 30 August 2022. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  33. ^ "289992 Onfray (2005 PF6)". Minor Planet Center. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  34. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Archived from the original on 26 April 2020. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  35. ^ "Halte aux impostures de l'Histoire, par Guillaume Mazeau". Le Monde.fr (in French). 21 April 2010. Archived from the original on 26 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  36. ^ Chevassus-au-Louis, Nicolas (2015). "La petite usine de Michel Onfray". Revue du Crieur. 1 (1): 90–103. doi:10.3917/crieu.001.0090. ISSN 2428-4068. Archived from the original on 7 May 2024. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  37. ^ Birchall, Ian (29 March 2019). "Reading Camus Carefully?: A Review of L'Ordre libertaire: La vie philosophique d'Albert Camus by Michel Onfray". Historical Materialism. 27 (1): 306–318. doi:10.1163/1569206X-12341502. ISSN 1465-4466. S2CID 150350504. Archived from the original on 22 August 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2021.

Further reading