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Denis Diderot (French: [dəni did(ə)ʁo]; 5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer, best known for serving as co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie along with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. 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 1734, his father disowned him. He lived a bohemian existence for the next decade. In the 1740s he wrote many of his best-known works in both fiction and non-fiction, including the 1748 novel The Indiscreet Jewels.

In 1751, Diderot co-created the Encyclopédie with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. 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 1758 it was banned by the Catholic Church and in 1759 the French government banned it as well, although this ban was not strictly enforced. Many of the initial contributors to the Encyclopédie left the project as a result of its controversies and some were even jailed. d'Alembert left in 1759, making Diderot the sole editor. Diderot also became the main contributor, writing around 7,000 articles. He continued working on the project until 1765. He was increasingly despondent about the Encyclopédie by the end of his involvement in it and felt that the entire project may have been a waste. Nevertheless, the Encyclopédie is considered one of the forerunners of the French Revolution.

Diderot struggled financially throughout most of his career and received very little official recognition of his merit, including being passed over for membership in the Académie française. His fortunes improved significantly in 1766, when Empress Catherine

Denis Diderot (French: [dəni did(ə)ʁo]; 5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer, best known for serving as co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie along with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. 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 1734, his father disowned him. He lived a bohemian existence for the next decade. In the 1740s he wrote many of his best-known works in both fiction and non-fiction, including the 1748 novel The Indiscreet Jewels.

In 1751, Diderot co-created the Encyclopédie with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. 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 1758 it was banned by the Catholic Church and in 1759 the French government banned it as well, although this ban was not strictly enforced. Many of the initial contributors to the Encyclopédie left the project as a result of its controversies and some were even jailed. d'Alembert left in 1759, making Diderot the sole editor. Diderot also became the main contributor, writing around 7,000 articles. He continued working on the project until 1765. He was increasingly despondent about the Encyclopédie by the end of his involvement in it and felt that the entire project may have been a waste. Nevertheless, the Encyclopédie is considered one of the forerunners of the French Revolution.

Diderot struggled financially throughout most of his career and received very little official recognition of his merit, including being passed over for membership in the Académie française. His fortunes improved significantly in 1766, when Empress Catherine the Great, who heard of his financial troubles, paid him 50,000 francs to serve as her librarian.[3] He remained in this position for the rest of his life, and stayed a few months at her court in Saint Petersburg in 1773 and 1774.[4][5]

Diderot's literary reputation during his life rested primarily on his plays and his contributions to the Encyclopédie; many of his most important works, including Jacques the Fatalist, Rameau's Nephew, Paradox of the Actor, and D'Alembert's Dream, were published only after his death.[6][7][8]

The dialogue ends with Diderot calling the nephew a wastrel, a coward, and a glutton devoid of spiritual values to which the nephew replies: "I believe you are right."

The dialogue ends with Diderot calling the nephew a wastrel, a coward, and a glutton devoid of spiritual values to which the nephew replies: "I believe you are right."[47]

Diderot's intention in writing the dialogue—whether as a satire on contemporary manners, a reduction of the theory of self-interest to an absurdity, the application of irony to the ethics of ordinary convention, a mere setting for a discussion about music, or a vigorous dramatic sketch of a parasite and a human original—is disputed. In political terms it explores "the bipolarisation of the social classes under absolute monarchy," and insofar as its protagonist demonstrates how the servant often manipulates the master, Le Neveu de Rameau can be seen to anticipate Hegel's master–slave dialectic.[48]

Posthumous publication

Diderot's most intimate friend w

Diderot's most intimate friend was the philologist Friedrich Melchior Grimm.[50] They were brought together by their common friend at that time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[36] In 1753, Grimm began writing a newsletter, the La Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique, which he would send to various high personages in Europe.[51]

In 1759, Grimm asked Diderot to report on the biennial art exhibitions in the Louvre for the Correspondance. Diderot reported on the Salons between 1759 and 1771 and again in 1775 and 1781.Louvre for the Correspondance. Diderot reported on the Salons between 1759 and 1771 and again in 1775 and 1781.[52] Diderot's reports would become "the most celebrated contributions to La Correspondance."[51]

According to Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Diderot's reports initiated the French into a new way of laughing, and introduced people to the mystery and purport of colour by ideas. "Before Diderot", Anne Louise Germaine de Staël wrote, "I had never seen anything in pictures except dull and lifeless colours; it was his imagination that gave them relief and life, and it is almost a new sense for which I am indebted to his genius".[3]

Diderot had appended an Essai sur la peinture to his report on the 1765 Salon in which he expressed his views on artistic beauty. Goethe described the Essai sur la peinture as "a magnificent work; it speaks even more usefully to the poet than to the painter, though for the painter too it is a torch of blazing illumination".[53]

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) was Diderot's favorite contemporary artist.[54] Diderot appreciated Greuze's sentimentality, and more particularly Greuze's portrayals of his wife who had once been Diderot's mistress.[53]

Diderot wrote sentimental plays, Le Fils naturel (1757) and Le Père de famille (1758), accompanying them with essays on theatrical theory and practice, including "Les Entretiens sur Le Fils Naturel" (Conversations on The Natural Son), in which he announced the principles of a new drama: the 'serious genre', a realistic midpoint between comedy and tragedy that stood in opposition to the stilted conventions of the classical French stage. In 1758, Diderot introduced the concept of the fourth wall, the imaginary "wall" at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play.[55][56][57] He also wrote Paradoxe sur le comédien (Paradox of the Actor), written between 1770 and 1778 but first published after his death in 1830, which is a dramatic essay elucidating a theory of acting in which it is argued that great actors do not experience the emotions they are displaying.[note 2] That essay is also of note for being where the term l'esprit de l'escalier (or l'esprit d'escalier) comes from. It is a French term used in English for the predicament of thinking of the perfect reply too late.

Diderot and Catherine the Great

When returning, Diderot asked the Empress for 1,500 rubles

On 9 October 1773, he reached St. Petersburg, met Catherine the next day and they had several discussions on various subjects. During his five-month stay at her court, he met her almost every day.[61] During these conversations, he would later state, they spoke 'man to man'.[60][note 3]

He would occasionally make his point by slapping her thighs. In a letter to Madame Geoffrin, Catherine wrote:

Your Diderot is an extraordinary man. I emerge from interviews with him with my thighs bruised and quite black. I have been obliged to put a table between us to protect myself and my members.[60]

One of the topics discussed was Diderot's ideas about how to transform Russia into a utopia. In a let

One of the topics discussed was Diderot's ideas about how to transform Russia into a utopia. In a letter to Comte de Ségur, the Empress wrote that if she followed Diderot's advice, chaos would ensue in her kingdom.[60]

When returning, Diderot asked the Empress for 1,500 rubles as reimbursement for his trip. She gave him 3,000 rubles, an expensive ring, and an officer to escort him back to Paris. He would write a eulogy in her honor on reaching Paris.[63]

In 1766, when Catherine heard that Diderot had not received his annual fee for editing the Encyclopédie (an important source of income for the philosopher), she arranged for him to receive a massive sum of 50,000 livres as an advance for his services as her librarian.In 1766, when Catherine heard that Diderot had not received his annual fee for editing the Encyclopédie (an important source of income for the philosopher), she arranged for him to receive a massive sum of 50,000 livres as an advance for his services as her librarian.[10]

In July 1784, upon hearing that Diderot was in poor health, Catherine arranged for him to move into a luxurious suite in the Rue de Richelieu. Diderot died two weeks after moving there—on 31 July 1784.[64]

Among Diderot's last works were notes "On the Instructions of her Imperial Majesty...for the Drawing up of Laws". This commentary on Russia included replies to some arguments Catherine had made in the Nakaz.[63][65] Diderot wrote that Catherine was certainly despotic, due to circumstances and training, but was not inherently tyrannical. Thus, if she wished to destroy despotism in Russia, she should abdicate her throne and destroy anyone who tries to revive the monarchy.[65] She should publicly declare that "there is no true sovereign other than the nation, and there can be no true legislator other than the people."[66] She should create a new Russian legal code establishing an independent legal framework and starting with the text: "We the people, and we the sovereign of this people, swear conjointly these laws, by which we are judged equally."[66] In the Nakaz, Catherine had written: "It is for legislation to follow the spirit of the nation."[66] Diderot's rebuttal stated that it is for legislation to make the spirit of the nation. For instance, he argued, it is not appropriate to make public executions unnecessarily horrific.[67]

Ultimately, Diderot decided not to send these notes to Catherine; however, they were delivered to her with his other papers after he died. When she read them, she was furious and commented that they were an incoherent gibberish devoid of prudence, insight, and verisimilitude.[63][68]

In his youth, Diderot was originally a follower of Voltaire and his deist Anglomanie, but gradually moved away from this line of thought towards materialism and atheism, a move which was finally realised in 1747 in the philosophical debate in the second part of his The Skeptic's Walk (1747).[69] Diderot opposed mysticism and occultism, which were highly prevalent in France at the time he wrote, and believed religious truth claims must fall under the domain of reason, not mystical experience or esoteric secrets. However, Diderot showed some interest in the work of Paracelsus.[70] He was "a philosopher in whom all the contradictions of the time struggle with one another" (Rosenkranz).[26]

In his 1754 book On the interpretation of Nature, Diderot expounded on his views about Nature, evolution, materialism, mathematics, and experimental science.On the interpretation of Nature, Diderot expounded on his views about Nature, evolution, materialism, mathematics, and experimental science.[71][72] It is speculated that Diderot may have contributed to his friend Baron d'Holbach's 1770 book The System of Nature.[26] Diderot had enthusiastically endorsed the book stating that:

What I like is a philosophy clear, definite, and frank, such as you have in the System of Nature. The author is not an atheist on one page and a deist on another. His philosophy is all of one piece.[73]

In conceiving the

In conceiving the Encyclopédie, Diderot had thought of the work as a fight on behalf of posterity and had expressed confidence that posterity would be grateful for his effort. According to Diderot, "posterity is for the philosopher what the 'other world' is for the man of religion."[74]

According t

According to Andrew S. Curran, the main questions of Diderot's thought are the following :[75]

Diderot died of pulmonary thrombosis in Paris on 31 July 1784, and was buried in the city's Église Saint-Roch. His heirs sent his vast library to Catherine II, who had it deposited at the National Library of Russia. He has several times been denied burial in the Panthéon with other French notables.[76]

Diderot's remains were unearthed by grave robbers in 1793, leaving his corpse on the church's floor. His remains were then presumably transferred to a mass grave by the authorities.[77]

The French government considered memorializing him on the 300th anniversary of his birth,[78] but this did not come to pass.

Diderot's remains were unearthed by grave robbers in 1793, leaving his corpse on the church's floor. His remains were then presumably transferred to a mass grave by the authorities.[77]

The French government considered memorializing him on the 300th anniversary of his birth,[78] but this did not come to pass.

Marmontel and Henri Meister commented on the great pleasure of having intellectual conversations with Diderot.[79] Morellet, a regular attendee at D'Holbach's salon, wrote: "It is there that I heard...Diderot treat questions of philosophy, art, or literature, and by his wealth of expression, fluency, and inspired appearance, hold our attention for a long stretch of time."[80] Diderot's contemporary, and rival, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his Confessions that after a few centuries Diderot would be accorded as much respect by posterity as was given to Plato and Aristotle.[79] In Germany, Goethe, Schiller, and Lessing[81] expressed admiration for Diderot's writings, Goethe pronouncing Diderot's Rameau's Nephew to be "the classical work of an outstanding man" and that "Diderot is Diderot, a unique individual; whoever carps at him and his affairs is a philistine."[49][82]

As atheism fell out of favor during the French Revolution, Diderot was vilified and considered responsible for the excessive persecution of the clergy.[83]

In the next century, Diderot was admired by Balzac, Delacroix, Stendhal, Zola, and Schopenhauer.[84] According to Comte, Diderot was the foremost intellectual in an exciting age.[85] Historian Michelet described him as "the true Prometheus" and stated that Diderot's ideas would continue to remain influential long into the future. Marx chose Diderot as his "favourite prose-writer."[86]

Contemporary tributes

As atheism fell out of favor during the French Revolution, Diderot was vilified and considered responsible for the excessive persecution of the clergy.[83]

In the next century, Diderot was admired by Balzac, Delacroix, Stendhal, Zola, and Schopenhauer.[84] According to Comte, Diderot was the foremost intellectual in an exciting age.[85] Historian Michelet described him as "the true Prometheus" and stated that Diderot's ideas would continue to remain influential long into the future. Marx chose Diderot as his "favourite prose-writer."[86]

Otis Fellows and Norman Torrey have described Diderot as "the most interesting and provocative figure of the French eighteenth century."[87]

In 1993, American writer Cathleen Schine published Rameau's Niece, a satire of academic life in New York that took as its premise a woman's research into an (imagined) 18th-century pornographic parody of Diderot's Rameau's Nephew. The book was praised by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times as "a nimble philosophical satire of the academic mind" and "an enchanting comedy of modern manners."[88]

French author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt wrote a play titled Le Libertin (The Libertine) which imagines a day in Diderot's life including a fictional sitting for a woman painter which becomes sexually charged but is interrupted by the demands of editing the Encyclopédie.[89] It was first staged at Paris' Théâtre Montparnasse in 1997 starring Bernard Giraudeau as Diderot and Christiane Cohendy as Madame Therbouche and was well received by critics.[90]

In 2013, the tricentennial of Diderot's birth, his hometown of Langres held a series of events in his honor and p

In 1993, American writer Cathleen Schine published Rameau's Niece, a satire of academic life in New York that took as its premise a woman's research into an (imagined) 18th-century pornographic parody of Diderot's Rameau's Nephew. The book was praised by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times as "a nimble philosophical satire of the academic mind" and "an enchanting comedy of modern manners."[88]

French author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt wrote a play titled Le Libertin (The Libertine) which imagines a day in Diderot's life including a fictional sitting for a woman painter which becomes sexually charged but is interrupted by the demands of editing the Encyclopédie.[89] It was first staged at Paris' Théâtre Montparnasse in 1997 starring Bernard Giraudeau as Diderot and Christiane Cohendy as Madame Therbouche and was well received by critics.[90]

In 2013, the tricentennial of Diderot's birth, his hometown of Langres held a series of events in his honor and produced an audio tour of the town highlighting places that were part of Diderot's past, including the remains of the convent where his sister Angélique took her vows.[91] On 6 October 2013, a museum of the Enlightenment focusing on Diderot's contributions to the movement, the Maison des Lumières Denis Diderot, was inaugurated in Langres.[92]

Catherine: "You have a hot head, and I have one too. We interrupt each other, we do not hear what the other one says, and so we say stupid things."

Diderot: "With this difference, that when I interrupt your Majesty, I commit a great impertinence."

Catherine: "No, between men there is no such thing as impertinence."[62]

References

  1. ^ Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. p. 650.
  2. ^ Pickering, Mary (2009). Auguste Comte: Volume 3: An Intellectual Biography. Cambridge University Press. pp. 216, 304. ISBN 978-0-521-11914-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainMorley, John (1911). "Diderot, Denis". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 204–06.
  4. ^ a b c Arthur Wilson, Diderot (New York: Oxford, 1972).
  5. ^ Verzaal, Elly (25 October 2013). "Diderot op de Kneuterdijk (1)" [Diderot on Kneuterdijk (1)] (in Dutch). National Library of the Netherlands. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014.
  6. ^ Norman Hampson. The Enlightenment. 1968. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982. p. 128
  7. ^ Will Durant (1965). The Story of Civilization Volume 9:The Age of Voltaire. Simon&Schuster. pp. 678–79.
  8. ^ Gopnik, Adam. "How the Man of Reason got Radicalized". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  9. ^ Arthur M. Wilson. Diderot: The Testing Years, 1713–1759. New York: Oxford University Press, 1957, p. 14 [1]
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Curran, Andrew (2019). Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. Other Press. p. 319. ISBN 978-159051-670-6.
  11. ^ Andrew S. Curran, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, Other Press, 2019, p. 143
  12. ^ a b Andrew S. Curran, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, Other Press, 2019, p. 275
  13. Catherine: "No, between men there is no such thing as impertinence."[62]

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