Denis Diderot as an Encyclopedist and Enlightenment PhilosophyJune 26, 2021
Diderot (1713-1784), who made a unique place for himself as the constant editor of the great cultural treasure Encyclopedia, which is the literary symbol of the French enlightenment and reflects the basic thoughts and ideals of the enlightenment process, became one of the leading thinkers of the enlightenment with his philosophical views.
He was the editor of the remaining volumes of the Encyclopedia, the first volume of which was published in 1751 and completed in 35 volumes in 1780, except for the first volume. The first volume also has intellectual work. Think about the first volume, and it was published by his ideal friend D’Alambert. They were co-editors from volume two to the end of volume 7, at which point he was the sole editor until the end of volume 35, after d’Alambert stepped down as editor.
The Encyclopedia set out with the claim of being an effective educational tool aiming to disseminate new philosophical and scientific ideas and knowledge on a European scale, and it has succeeded greatly. As a representative of the Enlightenment ideas, while preserving the empirical and sensuous foundations in terms of knowledge, he showed a skeptical orientation in matters that transcend experience and sense, and later on, Diderot shifted to materialism and became evident as a complete anti-church in social and religious matters. Contributors to the encyclopedia included Voltaire, Holbach, Helvetius, Montesquieu, and the economist Turgot.
The encyclopedia, which was published in 35 volumes between 1751 and 1780 under the editorship of Diderot and d’Alembert, aimed to spread new philosophical and scientific ideas and knowledge to Europe, and it largely succeeded.
Diderot studied at the Louis le-Grand Jesuit college and, being influenced by English thought, translated many English works into French. The most important among these is Shaftesbury’s Essay on Value and Virtue, which he greatly enriched with his own original notes. Apart from this, his work titled Philosophical Thoughts was published in 1749 and he exhibited his main literary work within the framework of the above-mentioned Encyclopedia.
Diderot was dynamic in his thoughts. Therefore, it is not easy to talk about having a stable philosophical system. For example, it will not be easy to say that you are a deist, an atheist or a pantheist. He was a deist when he wrote Philosophical Reflections and argued that natural religion was sufficient. According to him, historical religions such as Christianity and Judaism started at certain periods in history and would perish in their turn. However, their basis is natural religion. Because it has always existed and will continue to exist. It also unites all people. However, the historical religions in question have a structure that fosters superstitious beliefs that do not allow tolerance to exclude those who do not belong to them. While these religions are based on the testimony of mortal humans, natural religion is based on the testimony God has written in us. Saying these things, Diderot abandoned this view after a while, telling people that they should get rid of the yoke of all religions. The only way was to throw away all dogmas. Later, Diderot seems to have moved to a naturalistic pantheism: He said that in the end, all parts of nature make up a single individual, the whole, or the whole. It may be thought that saying that these approaches have nothing to do with traditional religions brings consistency to his view in this area.
Diderot argued that natural religions would appear on a certain date and disappear at a certain time, whereas the natural religion, which is the basis of all of them, will always exist.
His views on materialism reflected the same tension: in his article on Locke in the Encyclopedia, he defended the view that thought develops from sensibility, in response to the English philosopher’s statement that it might not be impossible for God to give matter the property of thinking. In his later writings, he clarified his materialist approach: He stated that humans and animals were of the same nature, and that the differences in cognitive and cognitive abilities were simply the result of different physical arrangements. According to him, all psychological phenomena can be reduced to physiological foundations. For this reason, it implies that the individual’s sense of freedom is just an illusion.
In his work titled On the Interpretation of Nature, he emphasizes that the science of mathematics will not be sufficient to give an acquaintance with concrete reality, and for this it is necessary to resort to the experiential-experimental method. If nature itself is examined in this way, it will be seen that it is changeable and flexible, and that it has the characteristics of diversity and homogeneity in the richness of new possibilities. Just as we never knew the previous genres, who knows which genres will follow the present ones? Therefore, the natural order is not in a static structure; is in constant change. Therefore, our conceptual schemes and classifications are not sufficient for a continuous interpretation of nature. So our way of thinking is always open to new perspectives.