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  Wikipedia: Encyclopédie

Wikipedia: Encyclopédie
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Fig.3: Extract from the frontispiece of the Encyclopédie. (1772) It was painted by Charles-Nicolas Cochin and engraved by Bonaventure-Louis Prévost. The work is laden with symbology: The figure in the centre represents truth – surrounded by bright light (the central symbol of the enlightenment). Two other figures on the right, reason and philosophy, are tearing the veil from truth. (entire frontispiece)

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (The Encyclopedia) was an early encyclopedia, published in France in the 18th century. The final volumes were released in 1772.

The great work, comprising 28 volumes, 71,818 articles, and 2,885 illustrations was edited by Jean le Rond d'Alembert and Denis Diderot. D'Alembert left the project before its completion and the last volumes are solely the work of Diderot. Many of the most noted figures of the French enlightenment contributed to the work including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu.

The writers of the encyclopedia saw it as destroying superstitions and providing access to human knowledge. It was a quintessential summary of thought and belief of the Enlightenment. In ancien regime France it caused a storm of controversy, however. This was mostly due to its religious tolerance. The encyclopedia praised Protestant thinkers and challenged Catholic dogma. The entire work was banned, but because it had many highly placed supporters work continued and each volume was delivered clandestinely to subscribers.

It was also a vast compendium of the technologies of the period, describing the traditional craft tools as well as the new devices of the Industrial revolution in the United Kingdom.

The Encyclopédie played an extremely important role in the intellectual ferment leading to the French Revolution. In 1750 the full title was "Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de lettres, mis en ordre par M. Diderot de l'Académie des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse, et quant à la partie mathématique, par M. d'Alembert de l'Académie royale des Sciences de Paris, de celle de Prusse et de la Société royale de Londres." The title-page was ammended as d'Alembert acquired more titles.

The Encyclopédie presented a taxonomy of human knowledge (See fig.2) which was inspired by Francis Bacon's Advancement of Knowledge. The three main branches of knowledge are: "Memory"/History, "Reason"/Philosohpy, and "Imagination"/Poetry. Notable is the fact that theology is ordered under 'Philosophy'. Robert Darnton argues that this categorisation of religion as being subject to human reason, and not a source of knowledge in and of itself, was a significant factor in the controversy surrounding the work. Additionally notice that that 'Knowledge of God' is only a few nodes away from 'Divination' and 'Black Magic'.


Notable contributors to L'Encyclopédie including their area of contribution. For a more detailed list of contributors, see List of contributors to the Encyclopédie.


Approximate size of the Encyclopédie:

  • 17 volumes of articles
  • 11 volumes of illustrations
  • 18,000 pages of text
  • 75,000 entries
    • 44,000 main articles
    • 28,000 secondary articles
    • 2,500 illustration indices
  • 20,000,000 words in total


  • Jean d'Alembert by John Grimsley. (1963)
  • The Encyclopedists as individuals: a biographical dictionary of the authors of the Encyclopédie by Frank A. Kafker and Serena L. Kafker. Published 1988 in the Studies of Voltaire and the eighteenth century\. ISBN 0-7294-0368-8
  • Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, Editions Flammarion, 1993. ISBN 2-080704265

External links


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
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