What is Encyclopedists (Encyclopedists, Encyclopedism) and What Does It Mean?

What is Encyclopedists (Encyclopedists, Encyclopedism) and What Does It Mean?

June 29, 2021 Off By Felso

Encyclopedists emerged as a philosophical movement, which we can call encyclopedism, as a group of intellectuals who published the Encyclopedia (Encyclopédie) during the Enlightenment years in France between 1731 and 1777.


The “Encyclopédie”, which was prepared between 1751-1772 under the leadership of Denis Diderot and with the contributions of famous thinkers of the period such as d’Alembert, Buffon, d’Holbach, Quesnay, Voltaire, Rousseau, is considered the mirror of the 18th century French bourgeoisie.

This huge work consisted of 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of illustrations. XVIII. The 71818 articles in the Encyclopedia, which is considered a synthesis of the ideas of the 19th century, were prepared by more than 160 authors who are experts in their fields.

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. French intellectuals claimed to have collected all the knowledge of the time in this 35-volume corpus, and they published it thinking that one day, even after the complete destruction of world civilization, humanity would refer to this encyclopedia.

Denis Diderot 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. Diderot, who was the 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. There is also Diderot’s intellectual labor in the first volume; but 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 Diderot alone edited until the end of volume 35, after d’Alambert stepped down as editor.

Among the contributors to the Encyclopedia are Voltaire, Holbach, Helvetius, Montesquieu.


The authors of the Encyclopedia believed that people could change through education and knowledge. This change would take place in a positive way and it would be possible for people to reach happiness as they were informed. Encyclopedists considered it a duty to work to achieve this change. To this intellectual group, the universe consisted of a single mechanism linked together like links in a chain. It was necessary to grasp this mechanism in order to reach happiness, and this could only be possible with scientific knowledge. In short, Encyclopedia is one of the most concrete manifestations of enlightenment thought.

Encyclopedists arose during the bourgeois revolutions of the 18th century. Opposing authoritarianism, they identified Newton and John Locke as their pioneers. Movements such as scientism, rationalism and empiricism have been the main working tools of encyclopedists: Encyclopedists set out with the claim of being an effective educational tool aiming to disseminate new philosophical and scientific thoughts and knowledge on a European scale, and they have succeeded in this very well. As a representative of the Enlightenment ideas, Diderot later shifted to materialism and became evident as a complete anti-church in social and religious matters, while preserving the empirical and sensuous foundations in terms of knowledge and science, while showing a skeptical orientation in matters that transcend experience and sensation.

Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook