Diderot, Denis°

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DIDEROT, DENIS ° (1713–1784), French man of letters. He was editor in chief of the celebrated Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers (1751–80), to which he also contributed many articles. His article Juifs (Philosophie des) constituted the major part of the article Juif in the encyclopedia (vol. 9 (1765), 24–51). In this Diderot writes with admiration about what he terms the two determining characteristics of the Jewish nation: its being the oldest nation still in existence and the only one which did not pass through the stage of polytheism. He also praises the "natural" religion of the patriarchs and the personality and ability of Moses. He later states, however, that all these attributes belong "more to the history of revelation than the history of philosophy." Diderot therefore provides a lengthy description of what he considers are the history and the principles of Jewish philosophy after the Babylonian captivity. The main points he made in his description of Jewish philosophy are that the Jews are a people almost unacquainted with science; and that "we cannot expect to find among the Jews exactitude of ideas or precision in style; in short, everything which characterizesa sound philosophy. On the contrary we find a confused mixture of principles of reason and of revelation, an affected and frequently impenetrable obscurity of principles, which cause fanaticism, a blind respect for the authority of the doctors and antiquity; in short, all the defects peculiar to an ignorant and superstitious nation."


J. Assezat and M. Tourneaux (eds.), Oeuvres complètes de Diderot, 15 (1876), 318–400; 17 (1876), 431–3; Reinach, in: rej, 8 (1844), 138–44; Dictionnaire de biographie française, 11 (1967), 266–9 (includes bibl.); A. Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), 281–2, 310–2. add. bibliography: L. Schwartz, Diderot and the Jews (1981); D. Bourel, "Les rasés et les barbus: Diderot et le judaïsme," in: Revue Philosophique (1984), 333–58.

[Baruch Mevorah]