|Diderot, Denis (1713-1784)|
Denis Diderot was a French writer and philosopher. As a son of well-to-do, middle-class parents he received an excellent education from the Jesuits. However, after studying Law in Paris, he emphatically refused to choose a profession.
He had a difficult start in literature. He translated, amongst other things, literary and scientific works from English into French, but was then asked to translate and edit the Chambers Cyclopaedia. In the end, Diderot decided to make it an original work. Together with a large team of writers, philosophers and scientists (by then known as the 'Encyclopedists', a group which included d'Alembert), he started recording the synthesis of man's knowledge in every field. The major impetus behind his efforts was his conviction that the knowledge gained by mankind should be as widely available as possible.
He worked mainly in order to disseminate knowledge (read: freedom of information). This devotion - combined with his deviating opinion on religion and social classes - led to problems with the ruling class and the government. Despite setbacks and much opposition, he eventually succeeded in completing the Cyclopaedia. Between 1752 and 1759, however,the work was officially banned. Nevertheless, the final edition of the encyclopaedia ran to 5,000 copies, which in those days was huge number for a scientific work.
Diderot also wrote essays, which reveal his gradual transition to an atheistic materialistic philosophy. For his essays - sometimes also called 'novels' - he usually chose the form of dialogue, enabling him to treat opposite views in a considerate and clear way, for instance, originality versus imitation, and religion versus atheism.
In addition to his encyclopedia, Diderot's best works are Jacques, the fatalist and his master and The dream of d'Alembert.