Biography of Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Denis Diderot.

Writer and French philosopher, born in Langres (in the Haute-Marne Department) of October 5, 1713 and died in Paris on January 31, 1784, which was one of the most representative of the spirit of the enlightenment French intellectuals, and arrived to direct the work of all of them: the encyclopedia.

His work is a tribute to the "free flow of ideas". As good illustrated, he/she thinks that he/she can speak on any topic, as scandalous that seems, if I reason with rigor and honesty. To play the debate and the exchange of ideas, Diderot uses in many of his works to the exhibition in the form of dialogue.


His father, who belonged to the artisan bourgeoisie, was a famous manufacturer of knives. Members of these layers of half of the bourgeoisie of provinces were generally very religious. The young Denis was educated by the Jesuits, first in his hometown and then in Paris; his father had hoped that followed an ecclesiastical career.

But the future writer, after finishing his studies, he/she was in Paris without deciding to become a priest. He/She also doubted what specific occupation was going to play, because I felt much interest for the most different materials.

His father, having knowledge that did not want to enter religious life, became angry with him and stopped sending him money. To survive in Paris, Diderot, which was already a scholar, devoted himself to translating works into French.

Thus began to collaborate with many publishers, in which, in addition to translations, was asked to prepare catalogues. He/She soon managed to earn a living with what obtained from his pen, as he/she also took good benefits from its ability to write speeches that others had to pronounce.

With these works he/she survive, although without great luxury. He/She obtained the degree of master of Arts and crafts (by his skill as a translator) and married Antoinette Champion, which was not a good husband: I didn't feel any affection towards her, and maintained relationships with many other women.

One of the works that were asked to translate was the Cyclopedia, from English E. Chambers, published in London in 1728. From this work emerged the idea of writing, from the point of view of the enlightened, the encyclopedia, a monumental project that will pick up all the knowledge known up to then.

At first, the idea of developing the encyclopedia was a purely commercial project. Diderot was communicated to other friends illustrated Condillacand Rousseau , and everyone thought that this work could sell very well, as people began to this tired of receiving all the teachings that are interpreted by the Church.

But Diderot was enthusiastic about this project, and to be appointed director (together with scientist, philosopher, and mathematician D'Alembert), turned it into a monumental work. For his dedication to this work, suffered many persecutions by the traditional forces and conservative (who opposed the revolutionary idea that man began to be guided only by their ability to reason).

Meanwhile, was writing an own work that also caused him trouble (for example, was imprisoned at Vincennes in 1749, since it had denied the existence of God in some texts from their pen).

In 1772, when the monumental plan of the encyclopedia could be ended, Diderot was already one of the most respected and admired throughout Europe intellectuals. His fame went so far that he/she was called to the Russian court by Empress Catalina la Grande.


Diderot was a comprehensive and multi-faceted intellectual. He/She wrote works of literary character (novels, short stories, essays and plays) and also philosophical texts in which he/she defended the importance of reason.

As good illustrated, Diderot criticized the influence which until then had religion; and he/she praised the ability of man to reason on their own on any subject, without being led by religious doctrines.

Man of great culture, joined enthusiastically in the great project of the intellectual French illustrated: the encyclopedia. He/She wrote many articles for this monumental work, and it ended up being one of their directors (along with other outstanding illustrated: d'Alembert).

Diderot wrote literary and other texts of different nature (philosophical, historical and scientific). In all his books showed the same mentality, well representative of the enlightenment: their desire to put an end to the powerful forces that were submitting to man for many centuries (the absolute monarchy and religious authority).


Diderot only gave to press one of the stories he/she wrote. Almost all of them appeared posthumously (i.e., were published after his death).

In his first novel, the indiscreet charms (1747), written by custom in just 15 days and the only one that published in life, showed his tendency towards freedom, it contains scenes of strong erotic content. The following year he/she wrote the indiscreet jewels (1748) and already after his death were published the religious (1796), strong anticlerical content; The nephew of Rameau (1821), his masterpiece within the novelistic genre, that liked to the romantics of the 19th century, among them the German Goethe; and Jacques the fatalist and his master (1796).


His dramatic works are good examples of the bourgeois Theater of its time. Perhaps the least appreciated part of his literary work, although at the time they liked. It's works such as: the natural son (1757) or parent (1771).

His theoretical ideas about the theatre, expressed in texts as talks on the natural son and discourses on dramatic poetry are also very interesting. In these works he/she defended the importance of the stage director.

Essays and philosophical work

Among his essays are supplement to the journey of Bouganville, posthumous work, scientific, in that Diderot is very interested in questions of nature; Thoughts on the interpretation of nature, where forward somehow to Darwin and his theory of the evolution of species; The dream of d'Alembert, that stresses the supremacy of reason, and denies the existence of God; Essay on the reigns of Nero and Claudio, in which, at the same time giving historical information, exposed their ideas about Government, politics and institutions, and, finally, Treaty on the beautiful, where it follows partly Rousseau's ideas by exposing their idea of beauty as part of nature; Therefore, the artist must mimic nature if you want to get works full of beauty.


Conception of nature

Diderot moves between a naturalistic Deism (in Pensées philosophiques) and a radical atheism, motivated by all the monstrosities that you discover in the field of nature (Lettre sur les aveugles), within a probabilistic theory and partly evolutionist. Indeed, he/she says that the order of organic bodies is explained based on the infinite multiplicity of experiments what nature has been doing. On the other hand, the theory of the spontaneous generation of germs, defended by many biologists, did not necessary for him the idea of the creation. Rejected the mechanistic model of the nature not to consider him able to explain phenomena relating to life, this being the problem that most widely tried in his philosophical writings. In this field reached the conclusion that life is the result of a certain degree of organization of the material particles. The culmination of this organization gives rise to consciousness and thought. An organism is composed of micro-organisms, that are held together in the formation of a living organism in the manner of a swarm of bees.

Determinism and freedom

Diderot was opposed to all rigid and deterministic conception in the field of morality. Man has the ability to master himself and dominate nature, at least in so far as it dominates him. Also defends the values of natural and earthly happiness, whose only boundary is the general good. This moral thinking puts him also in his literary works, sometimes not without a touch of humour and sarcasm.

All these doctrines have no definitive character in Diderot. He/She always rebels against dogmatism, even in the very heart of the illustration, preferring to arm themselves with a certain skepticism, and always leaving open the way to all kinds of research.