Denis Diderot, born on October 5th, 1713 in France, was an important figure in the European Enlightenment. He had earned a Master of Arts degree in philosophy by the time he was nineteen years old. Soon after he began to study to enter the clergy, but soon abandoned the clergy in order to study law at the Paris Law Faculty. This too was short lived, as by 1734, he left law school and sought to be a writer.
While Diderot was not known in his lifetime for being a classic enlightenment writer, he was a contemporary and friend of some including Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Today, Diderot is best known for assembling and contributing to the Encyclopedia, or the Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts. The Encyclopedia, which was first published in 1751, was a collection of some of the most important works of the time, into a single source. Famous Enlightenment thinkers contributed to the work, including: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau and several others. Diderot contributed many articles as well, and oversaw the editing and assembling of the rest of the articles. In general, the Encyclopedia contained the main ideas of the Enlightenment, including topics such as: religion, philosophy, literature, government and authority. Diderot produced the work in the hopes that it would help “change the way people think”. In total, the Encyclopedia contained 28 volumes, with over 71,000 articles.
While Diderot would go on to write several articles of his own, he would generally not be known for these until after his death. He died in Paris, France on July 31st, in 1784 from a blocked artery in his lungs. Diderot is remembered as having contributed to the ideas of the Enlightenment by helping spread the movement’s ideals through his work on the Encyclopedia.