Denis Diderot

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Denis Diderot (October 5, 1713 – July 31, 1784) 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 and chief editor of and contributor to the Encyclopédie.

Diderot also contributed to literature, notably with Jacques le fataliste et son maître (Jacques the Fatalist and his Master), which emulated Laurence Sterne in challenging conventions regarding novels and their structure and content, while also examining philosophical ideas about free will. Diderot is also known as the author of the dialogue, Le Neveu de Rameau (Rameau's Nephew), upon which many articles and sermons about consumer desire have been based. His articles included many topics of the Enlightenment.


Life and death

Denis Diderot was born in the eastern Langres and commenced his formal education in the Lycée Louis le Grand. In 1732 he earned a master of arts degree in philosophy. He abandoned the idea of entering the clergy and decided instead to study law. His study of law was short-lived however a in 1734 Diderot decided instead to become a writer. Because of his refusal to enter one of the learned professions, he was disowned by his father, and for the next ten years he lived a rather bohemian existence.

In 1742 he befriended Rousseau. Then in 1743 he further alienated his father by marrying Antoinette Champion, a devout Roman Catholic. The match was considered inappropriate due to Champion's low social status, poor education, fatherless status, lack of a dowry, and–at thirty-two–being four years his senior. The marriage produced one surviving child, a girl. Her name was Angélique, after both Diderot's dead mother and sister. The death of his sister, a nun, from overwork in the convent may have affected Diderot's opinion of religion. She is assumed to have been the inspiration for his novel about a nun, La Religieuse, in which he depicts a woman who is forced to enter a monastery where she suffers at the hands of the other nuns in the community.

Diderot had affairs with the writer Madame Puisieux and with Sophie Volland. His letters to Sophie Volland contain some of the most vivid of all the insights that we have of the daily life of the philosophic circle of Paris during this time period.

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