Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot

Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot

Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot

Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot

Excerpt

In a word, Madame, I can assure you that while writing this work, I had posterity before my eyes at every line. -- d'Alembert to Madame du Deffand, December 22, 1752.

Of all the shorter works of the eighteenth-century philosophes, the Preliminary Discourse to Diderot's Encyclopedia is incomparably the best introduction to the French Enlightenment. It is the Enlightenment insofar as one can make such a claim for any single work; with a notable economy and vigor it expresses the hopes, the dogmas, the assumptions, and the prejudices we have come to associate with the movement of the philosophes. From the moment of its publication in 1751, many leaders of the Enlightenment recognized it as a masterful statement of their "philosophy," and even the men who were fearful of its implications acclaimed it for its lucidity and compactness. No less a judge than the great Montesquieu complimented d'Alembert on his work in the most flattering terms: "You have given me great pleasure. I have read and reread your Preliminary Discourse. It has strength, it has charm, it has precision; richer in thoughts than in words, likewise rich in sentiment -- and my praises might go on." Frederick the Great ranked it above his grandest mili-

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