Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot (dənē´ dēdərō´), 1713–84, French encyclopedist, philosopher of materialism, and critic of art and literature, b. Langres. He was also a novelist, satirist, and dramatist. Diderot was enormously influential in shaping the rationalistic spirit of the 18th cent. Educated by the Jesuits, he rejected a career in law to pursue his own studies and writing. In 1745 he became editor of the Encyclopédie, enlisting nearly all the important French writers of the Enlightenment; they produced the most remarkable compendium up to that time. The best known of his plays is Le Père de famille (1758), which became the prototype of the "bourgeois drama."

Other highly distinctive works by Diderot include La Religieuse [the nun] (1796), a psychological novel; Jacques le fataliste (1796), a rambling novel in the manner of Sterne; and Le Neveu de Rameau [Rameau's nephew], a brilliant satire in dialogue. His philosophical writings include his Pensées philosophiques (1746) and Lettre sur les aveugles [letter on the blind] (1749), which contains the most complete statement of his materialism. Through his Salons, articles published in newspapers from 1759, he pioneered in modern art criticism. Diderot's vast correspondence forms a brilliant picture of the period. His later years, until he came to enjoy the patronage of Catherine II of Russia, were filled with financial difficulties. His influence was great, both on his immediate successors, Holbach and Helvétius, and on the writers and thinkers of France, Germany, and England.

See his Selected Writings, tr. by D. Coltman and ed. by L. G. Crocker (1966); Diderot on Art, ed. and tr. by J. Goodman (Vol. I, 1995); biographies by A. M. Wilson (1972) and P. N. Furbank (1992); studies by G. Bremner (1983) and J. H. Mason (1984).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Denis Diderot: Selected full-text books and articles

French Thought in the Eighteenth Century: Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot By Andre Maurois; Edouard Herriot; Romain Rolland David McKay, 1953
Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot By Jean le Rond d'Alembert; Richard N. Schwab Bobbs-Merrill, 1963
FREE! Diderot's Early Philosophical Works By Denis Diderot; Margaret Jourdain Open Court, 1916
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Dangerous Truths & Criminal Passions: The Evolution of the French Novel, 1569-1791 By Thomas Dipiero Stanford University, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "'Burn the Letter!': La Religieuse"
Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject Hero By Michael André Bernstein Princeton University Press, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. Three "Oui, Monsieur le Philosophe: Diderot's Le Neveu de Rameau"
Reading the French Enlightenment: System and Subversion By Julie Candler Hayes Cambridge University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Diderot - Changing the System"
Against the Faith: Essays on Deists, Skeptics, and Atheists By Jim Herrick Prometheus Books, 1985
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Diderot and the Encyclopedists: The Mastery of Knowledge"
Key Writers on Art: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century By Chris Murray Routledge, 2003
Librarian's tip: "Denis Diderot (1713-84)" begins on p. 121
Strategies of Happiness Painting and Stage in Diderot By Bryson, Scott French Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Music and the French Enlightenment: Reconstruction of a Dialogue, 1750-1764 By Cynthia Verba Clarendon Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Music as Art and Science Synthesis by Diderot 1748-1760"
Diderot and Sterne By Alice Green Fredman Columbia University Press, 1955
Success in Circuit Lies: Diderot's Communicational Practice By Rosalina De La Carrera Stanford University, 1991
Esthetics of the Moment: Literature and Art in the French Enlightenment By Thomas M. Kavanagh University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Diderot and the Epicurean Movement"
French Women and the Age of Enlightenment By Samia I. Spencer Indiana University Press, 1984
Librarian's tip: "Diderot and Women" begins on p. 296
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.