Denis Diderot short biography


Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer. He was a prominent figure during the Enlightenment and is best known for serving as co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie along with Jean le Rond d’Alembert.

Many of his most important works, including Jacques the Fatalist, Rameau’s Nephew, and D’Alembert’s Dream, were published only after his death

Denis Diderot short biography

Where was Denis Diderot born?

Denis  Diderot was born on October 15th, 1713 in Langres, Campagne, France. He was sent to Jesuit college of Louis-Le-Grand in 1726, after which he joined Jansenist Collège d’Harcourt and completed his Master’s degree in Philosophy in 1732.

He left church after his sister’s death as a nun, due to overwork and decided to study law. In 1743, he decided to start writing and started translating English books and tutoring children without the consent of his family.

Diderot’s earliest works included a translation of Temple Stanyan’s History of Greece (1743); with two colleagues, François-Vincent Toussaint and Marc-Antoine Eidous, he produced a translation of Robert James’s Medicinal Dictionary (1746–1748). In 1745, he published a translation of Shaftesbury’s Inquiry Concerning Virtue and Merit, to which he had added his own “reflections”

After three years, André François le Breton was given the permission to publish a ten volume encyclopedia, Diderot was chosen as the General Editor of the project with consent of Chancellor, D’Aguesseau. He devoted the next twenty six years of his life to encyclopedia writing, editing and publishing and worked to achieve the motto of enlightenment that is to assemble the knowledge scattered over the face of the earth; to explain its general plan to the men with whom we live, so that we may not die without having deserved well of the human race. It was a kind of learning experience for all those associated with the project.

During these years, it was stopped twice by the church for publication, first after the second volume in 1752 and then in 1759, but Diderot and Le Breton continued it secretly till 1765 when official approval was given again and the complete work was published in 1772. It was in this that he questioned the authority of Catholic Church.

While working for Encyclopédie, he continued his other writing as well and published Philosophical thoughts (1746), Sceptics Walk (1747) and Letters on the Blind (1749). Religion was majorly incorporated in his writings and he turned to atheism and angered many officials, who considered him a threat for religion. He was imprisoned for three months and it was due to this reason that many of his novels and writings that oppose religion were never published during his lifetime.

After the Encyclopédie, he started his writing career and wrote literary criticism. He sold his Library to Empress Catherine of Russia who made him their librarian and he worked and lived there till his death.

On July 30, 1784, Diderot died in the home of his daughter, only 5 months after the death of his beloved mistress and intellectual companion, Sophie Voland.

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