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Diderot, Denis (1713–84)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Article Summary

Chief editor of the great eighteenth-century Encyclopédie (1751–72), Diderot set out a philosophy of the arts and sciences which took the progress of civilization to be a measure of mankind’s moral improvement. He did not regard that progress as having produced universal benefits, however, and perceived the Christian religion which had accompanied it as morally harmful to those who subscribed to it and even more dangerous to societies thus far untouched by it. Religious dogmas tended to pervert the organic development of human passions, and secular education which presumed that all minds were equally receptive to instruction threatened to thwart the natural evolution of human faculties in other ways.

Like Rousseau, Diderot subscribed to a philosophy of education which encouraged curiosity rather than promoted truth. He stressed the need for the adaptability of moral rules to the physiological characteristics of the individuals to whom they applied, pointing to a connection between human cultures and biology in a manner that would influence fresh outlooks upon the sciences of man at the end of the Age of Enlightenment.

Citing this article:
Wokler, Robert. Diderot, Denis (1713–84), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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