Beyond just facts, definitions, and explanations, the Encyclopédie also included space for philosophes to discuss their thoughts on various topics—although even these opinions were filtered through the lens of scientific breakdown. A veritable who’s-who of Enlightenment-era scholars contributed to the collection, including Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau (see Rousseau, p. 29). Due to the highly scientific—and thus untraditional—nature of the Encyclopédie, it met with a significant amount of scorn. Diderot was widely accused of plagiarism and inaccuracy, and many considered the collection to be an overt attack on the monarchy and the Church.

The Encyclopédie was one of the primary vehicles by which the ideas of the Enlightenment spread across the European continent, as it was the first work to collect all of the myriad knowledge and developments that the Enlightenment had fostered. However, the Encyclopédie succeeded not because it explicitly attempted to persuade people to subscribe to Enlightenment ideas. Rather, it simply attempted to present all of the accumulated knowledge of the Western world in one place and let readers draw their own conclusions. Not surprisingly, the power establishment in Europe frowned on the idea of people drawing their own conclusions; the Church and monarchy hated the Encyclopédie, as it implied that many of their teachings and doctrines were fraudulent. In response to attempted bans, Diderot printed additional copies in secrecy and snuck them out.

Popular pages: The Enlightenment (1650–1800)