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Denis Diderot

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Portrait of Diderot by Michel van Loo
Thinking hard
or hardly thinking?

Philosophy
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Major trains of thought
The good, the bad
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Denis Diderot (1713–1784) was a French philosopher and early sociologist (before the term was coined) who was one of the major players in establishing the Enlightenment and the knowledge revolution in response to the Catholic Church. He grew up in Langres, Champagne, France, where he attained an education in art in the University of Paris in 1732. Throughout his work, he managed to encounter Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and later encountered other important players in the Enlightenment, including but not limited to Voltaire. He mainly wrote compendiums of information collected from as much knowledge as he could encounter, and translated works from English into French for mass understanding of these works. The Encyclopédie was one of his most significant contributions to the Enlightenment, as it led to both the persecution of himself and the giving of a voice to materialists and atheists. In his journey writing these works, he transformed from devout Roman Catholic to deist, and then atheist whilst also applying philosophical materialism.

In short, he was a huge badass.[1]

The Encyclopedia[edit]

Denis Diderot's main contribution to the enlightenment was his role in the translation and distribution of the then-British work, "Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences". He sought to collect all of the observations made within the book, and then some, so as to mass-produce some way to get the information out there to be tested as frequently as possible. A strong proponent of the scientific method at the time, Diderot considered the Encyclopedia to be an important part of the understanding process, citing that first there should be observation, which is collected within reflection, and thereby tested to verify its validity. The Encyclopedia allowed for the skipping of the first part of this process, meaning that those who were interested in experimentation did not have to toil through the extra work required to understand reality from step one.

The Catholic Church saw this work as an affront to their institution, for good reason. It had the potential to discredit their institution as it presented a dangerous precedent: that their claims of sprituality and authority would be subject to scientific testing. They attempted to oppose the production of this book in various ways, such as throwing the publisher in prison and subsequently releasing them but removing their publisher title, labeling the book as 'conspiracy theory' trying to make their ideas mainstream, and thereby causing them to work clandestine, underground to avoid any potential holdups preventing their work from being released. After 20 years, the work was finally released to the general public, and while it was advanced and unorthodox for its time, it was nevertheless radical and revolutionary in changing the way things were done during that time.[2]

His plays and other works[edit]

During a time where reflection via fictitious works was common, he also developed many works of this nature as a response to the social situations around him. He regarded fiction as needing to reflect reality, lamenting that it did not reflect the actual aspects of life, rather a fantastical point of view. His works all varied, reflecting his variety of thought, presenting multiple different types of stories and narratives depending on the work that is being referenced. One book is about unilateral roles for a woman, while another book is about the discussion of fate. In essence, his philosophical thought through his works were ambivalent at best and varied at worst.

However, this does not demean from his works. On the contrary, it means that he was a multifaceted writer capable of understanding multiple different discussions all at once. The presence of his wit in his books and works reflected from his understanding of characters portrayed in them, to his understanding of actors selling a character without actually feeling their emotions(promoting surface acting instead of deep acting) earned him critical acclaim and historical appreciation for his works. [3]

Diderot and science[edit]

As previously mentioned, his development of scientific thought influenced his decisions to be involved in the development of the Encyclopedia. Coming from a rudimentary time of scientific thought, his understandings of science mostly reflected appropriate philosophical thought at the time, rather than being a formalized construct labeled squarely as 'science'. Nonetheless, he participated in thought that were mostly synonymous to the core tenets of science, promoting a type of thought that was discouraged by the theocracy of the day.

Many of his views on his rudimentary 'science' were laid from his readings on medicinal treatments, from the understanding that medicinal treatments only worked out of continued testing and observation. He believed that this did not just apply to medicine, but also all forms of factual discussions and understandings of reality. He goes on to apply his philosophical materialism to the process of childbirth and the brain, to the best of his ability. He explains that life forms akin to a rudimentary form of evolution, not in the sense of gene transference, but instead in the sense that a single organism constantly evolves itself as it lives. Similarly, the brain itself he regarded as a 'soft' object, constantly changing via itself and outside of itself to suit the needs of the situation. Overall, while he made some mistakes he also paved the way towards further understandings of biological and elementary scientific thought.[4]

References[edit]