Because of his public leadership of the philosophe party in eighteenth-century France, Voltaire stands today as the iconic example of the French Enlightenment philosopher. He also worked, like Voltaire, as a writer and critical intellectual who willingly positioned himself against the grain of established authority, and one who used philosophy as a vehicle for political and social activism. He also left behind a corpus of philosophical writings that marks him out as arguably the most sophisticated of all the Enlightenment philosophes , and as one of the great philosophical thinkers of the eighteenth-century. Like many Enlightenment philosophes , Diderot also worked as an homme de lettres first and foremost, and only as a philosopher narrowly construed in certain instances. Yet Diderot made important contributions to modern philosophy, and if they are to be grasped, the historical differences separating his writing from philosophy today must be transcended, and his eclectic manner of working accepted and embraced.
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He was a prominent figure during the Age of Enlightenment. Diderot initially studied philosophy at a Jesuit college, then considered working in the church clergy before briefly studying law. When he decided to become a writer in , his father disowned him. He lived a bohemian existence for the next decade. In the s he wrote many of his best-known works in both fiction and non-fiction, including the novel The Indiscreet Jewels. It was the first encyclopedia to include contributions from many named contributors and the first to describe the mechanical arts.
Its secular tone, which included articles skeptical about Biblical miracles , angered both religious and government authorities; in it was banned by the Catholic Church and in the French government banned it as well, although this ban was not strictly enforced. Diderot also became the main contributor, writing around 7, articles. He continued working on the project until His fortunes improved significantly in , when Empress Catherine the Great , who heard of his financial troubles, paid him 50, francs to serve as her librarian.
Denis Diderot was born in Langres , Champagne. Diderot began his formal education at a Jesuit college in Langres, earning a Master of Arts degree in philosophy in He abandoned the idea of entering the clergy in ,  and instead decided to study at the Paris Law Faculty.
His study of law was short-lived however and in the early s, he decided to become a writer and translator. She was about three years older than Diderot. The marriage, in October , produced one surviving child, a girl.
The death of his sister, a nun, in her convent may have affected Diderot's opinion of religion. She is assumed to have been the inspiration for his novel about a nun, La Religieuse , in which he depicts a woman who is forced to enter a convent where she suffers at the hands of the other nuns in the community. Diderot had affairs with Mlle. According to Diderot, without feeling there is a detrimental effect on virtue, and no possibility of creating sublime work. However, since feeling without discipline can be destructive, reason is necessary to control feeling.
At the time Diderot wrote this book he was a deist. Hence there is a defense of deism in this book, and some arguments against atheism. In , Diderot wrote The Skeptic's Walk French: Promenade du sceptique  in which a deist , an atheist , and a pantheist have a dialogue on the nature of divinity.
The deist gives the argument from design. The atheist says that the universe is better explained by physics, chemistry, matter, and motion. The pantheist says that the cosmic unity of mind and matter, which are co-eternal and comprise the universe, is God. This work remained unpublished till The local police—warned by the priests of another attack on Christianity—either seized the manuscript, or authorities forced Diderot give an undertaking that he would not publish this work, according to different versions of what happened.
In , Diderot needed to raise money on short notice. He had become a father through his wife, and his mistress Mme. At this time, Diderot had stated to Mme. The book is about the magical ring of a Sultan which induces any woman's "discreet jewels"  [note 1] to confess their sexual experiences when the ring is pointed at them. Besides the bawdiness there are several digressions into philosophy, music, and literature in the book.
In one such philosophical digression, the Sultan has a dream in which he sees a child named "Experiment" growing bigger and stronger till it demolishes an ancient temple named "Hypothesis". The book proved to be lucrative for Diderot even though it could only be sold clandestinely. It is Diderot's most published work.
The book is believed to be an imitation of Le Sopha. Diderot would keep writing on science in a desultory way all his life. The scientific work of which he was most proud was Memoires sur differents sujets de mathematique This work contains original ideas on acoustics , tension, air resistance , and "a project for a new organ" which could be played by all.
Some of Diderot's scientific works were applauded by contemporary publications of his time like The Gentleman's Magazine , the Journal des savants ; and the Jesuit publication Journal de Trevoux, which invited more such work: "on the part of a man as clever and able as M. Diderot seems to be, of whom we should also observe that his style is as elegant, trenchant, and unaffected as it is lively and ingenious. On the unity of nature, Diderot wrote, "Without the idea of the whole, philosophy is no more," and, "Everything changes; everything passes; nothing remains but the whole.
He saw minerals and species as part of a spectrum, and was fascinated with hermaphroditism. His answer to the universal attraction in corpuscular physics models was universal elasticity.
His view of nature's flexibility foreshadows the discovery of evolution , but it is not Darwinistic in a strict sense. The title of his book also evoked some ironic doubt about who exactly were "the blind" under discussion. In the essay, blind English mathematician Nicholas Saunderson  argues that, since knowledge derives from the senses, mathematics is the only form of knowledge that both he and a sighted person can agree on.
It is suggested that the blind could be taught to read through their sense of touch. A later essay, Lettre sur les sourds et muets , considered the case of a similar deprivation in the deaf and mute.
According to Jonathan Israel , what makes the Lettre sur les aveugles so remarkable, however, is its distinct, if undeveloped, presentation of the theory of variation and natural selection. This powerful essay, for which La Mettrie expressed warm appreciation in , revolves around a remarkable deathbed scene in which a dying blind philosopher, Saunderson, rejects the arguments of a deist clergyman who endeavours to win him round to a belief in a providential God during his last hours.
Saunderson's arguments are those of a neo- Spinozist Naturalist and fatalist , using a sophisticated notion of the self-generation and natural evolution of species without Creation or supernatural intervention. The notion of "thinking matter" is upheld and the " argument from design " discarded following La Mettrie as hollow and unconvincing. The work appeared anonymously in Paris in June , and was vigorously suppressed by the authorities. Diderot, who had been under police surveillance since , was swiftly identified as the author, had his manuscripts confiscated, and was imprisoned for some months, under a lettre de cachet , on the outskirts of Paris, in the dungeons at Vincennes where he was visited almost daily by Rousseau , at the time his closest and most assiduous ally.
Voltaire wrote an enthusiastic letter to Diderot commending the Lettre and stating that he had held Diderot in high regard for a long time to which Diderot had sent a warm response. Soon after this, Diderot was arrested. Science historian Conway Zirkle has written that Diderot was an early evolutionary thinker and noted that his passage that described natural selection was "so clear and accurate that it almost seems that we would be forced to accept his conclusions as a logical necessity even in the absence of the evidence collected since his time.
Angered by public resentment over the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle , the government started incarcerating many of its critics. It was decided at this time to rein in Diderot. On 23 July , the governor of the Vincennes fortress instructed the police to incarcerate Diderot, and the next day he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in the Vincennes. It is during this time that Jean-Jacques Rousseau came to visit Diderot in prison and came out a changed man, with newfound ideas about the downsides of knowledge, civilization and Enlightenment — the so-called illumination de Vincennes.
Diderot had been permitted to retain one book that he had in his possession at the time of his arrest, Paradise Lost , which he read during his incarceration. He wrote notes and annotations on the book, using a toothpick as a pen, and ink that he made by scraping slate from the walls and mixing it with wine. In August , Mme du Chatelet , presumably at Voltaire 's behest, wrote to the governor of Vincennes, who was her relative, pleading that Diderot be lodged more comfortably while jailed.
The governor then offered Diderot access to the great halls of the Vincennes castle and the freedom to receive books and visitors providing he would write a document of submission. I admit to you As for those who have taken part in the publication of these works, nothing will be hidden from you. I shall depose verbally, in the depths[secrecy] of your heart, the names both of the publishers and the printers.
On 20 August, Diderot was lodged in a comfortable room in the Vincennes, allowed to meet visitors, and to walk in the gardens of the Vincennes. On 23 August, Diderot signed another letter promising to never leave the Vincennes without permission. He persuaded Le Breton to publish a new work, which would consolidate ideas and knowledge from the Republic of Letters.
The publishers found capital for a larger enterprise than they had first planned. Jean le Rond d'Alembert was persuaded to become Diderot's colleague, and permission was procured from the government. In an elaborate prospectus announced the project, and in the first volume was published. Diderot stated that "An encyclopedia ought to make good the failure to execute such a project hitherto, and should encompass not only the fields already covered by the academies, but each and every branch of human knowledge.
Diderot emphasized the abundance of knowledge within each subject area. Everyone would benefit from these insights. Diderot's work, however, was mired in controversy from the beginning; the project was suspended by the courts in Just as the second volume was completed accusations arose regarding seditious content, concerning the editor's entries on religion and natural law. Diderot was detained and his house was searched for manuscripts for subsequent articles: but the search proved fruitless as no manuscripts could be found.
They were hidden in the house of an unlikely confederate— Chretien de Lamoignon Malesherbes , who originally ordered the search. Although Malesherbes was a staunch absolutist, and loyal to the monarchy—he was sympathetic to the literary project. Diderot returned to his efforts only to be constantly embroiled in controversy. These twenty years were to Diderot not merely a time of incessant drudgery, but harassing persecution and desertion of friends.
By they could endure it no longer—the subscribers had grown from 2, to 4,, a measure of the growth of the work in popular influence and power.
Jean le Rond d'Alembert withdrew from the enterprise and other powerful colleagues, including Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune , declined to contribute further to a book which had acquired a bad reputation. Diderot was left to finish the task as best he could. He wrote 7, articles,  some very slight, but many of them laborious, comprehensive, and long. He damaged his eyesight correcting proofs and editing the manuscripts of less competent contributors.
He spent his days at workshops, mastering manufacturing processes, and his nights writing what he had learned during the day. He was incessantly harassed by threats of police raids. The last copies of the first volume were issued in In , when his immense work was drawing to an end, he encountered a crowning mortification: he discovered that the bookseller, Le Breton, fearing the government's displeasure, had struck out from the proof sheets, after they had left Diderot's hands, all passages that he considered too dangerous.
La Religieuse was a novel that claimed to show the corruption of the Catholic Church's institutions. The novel began not as a work for literary consumption, but as an elaborate practical joke aimed at luring the Marquis de Croismare , a companion of Diderot's, back to Paris.
The Nun is set in the Eighteenth century, that is, contemporary France.
File:Diderot (Všeobecná encyklopedie v osmi svazcích), NK ČR.jpg
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