One of the principal leaders in the late eighteenth century Enlightenment, Diderot is best known as the editor of L’Encyclopédie: ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-1772, Encyclopedia or Rational Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts), a twenty-eight-volume work designed to examine social and physical phenomena in strictly rational terms. Human experience—rather than God or the dictates of organized religion—anchored the enterprise, which became the first great modern work of reference. Diderot’s efforts on behalf of the Encyclopédie began in 1746. Working initially with mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, he enlisted as contributors many of the most influential French thinkers of the era, including Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Montesquieu, too, is often associated with the Encyclopédie, although he wrote nothing specifically for it. The complete work comprised seventeen volumes of text and eleven of plates.
Beginning with the publication of the first volume, the Encyclopédie—which exposed clerical and judicial abuses—was persistently attacked by the Jesuits, Jansenists, the General Assembly of the Clergy, the Parlement of Paris, the king’s council, the pope, and defenders of the old orthodoxies and the Old Regime. In 1752, its first two volumes were suppressed for their political and religious outspokenness, but two years later King...
(The entire section is 535 words.)