Encyclopedists

A term applied to the philosophes of the Enlightenment who contributed articles to the Encyclopedia. Published between 1751 and 1772, and edited by Denis Diderot* and Jean d'Alembert, this was the most prodigious intellectual undertaking of the eighteenth century. The encyclopedists intended that it be a source of information and means of education in the crafts, sciences, and every area of learning, and serve as a clearinghouse for new ideas on religion, politics, and society. Prominent themes were the autonomy of man, the secularization of knowledge and thought, the natural goodness and perfectibility of human nature, and a belief in reason, science, and progress. Because it exposed abuses in the French government and Roman Catholic Church, it was officially suppressed in 1759, but continued to circulate freely.