Encyclopedia French

Encyclopedia French, and the ENCYCLOPEDISTS. The Dictionnaire Encyclopedique was a publication of the 18th century, which exerted a great influence not merely on general science and literature but also on theology and religion. Its full title is Encyclopadie ou Dictionnaire raisonne des Sciences, des Arts, et des Metiers, par une societe de gens de Lettres; mis en ordre et public par DIDEROT; et quant a la parie Mathematique par D'ALEMBERT SEE D'ALEMBERT (Par. and Amst. 1751-80, 35 volumes, fol.). This great work was projected by Diderot (q.v.), and carried through, in the midst of difficulties, chiefly by his indomitable industry and perseverance. The name of D'Alembert (q.v.) added luster to the publication; and these two called to their aid all the skeptical and free-thinking talent of France. A great aim of the Encyclopedists was to establish what they called philosophy instead of religion; and the higher intellect of France seemed to become thoroughly imbued with their views, social, moral, and political. The Encyclopedia was a product of the same causes which generated the Revolution, but the publication itself doubtless greatly hastened the catastrophe. It was only one stage in the development of that one-sided realism which commenced with Locke; expanded into the deism of England; and, crossing over to France, found a powerful advocate in Condillac. The progress of this development was very rapid. Among the Encyclopedists a single lifetime produced startling changes. Diderot, the editor and leading philosophical spirit of the Encyclopedia, "was at first only a doubter, next he became a deist, lastly an atheist. In the first stage he only translated English works, and even condemned some of the English deists. His views seem gradually to have altered, probably under the influence of Voltaire's writings and of the infidel books smuggled into France, and he thenceforth assumed a tone bolder and marked by positive disbelief. Diderot's atheism is a still farther development of his unbelief. It is expressed in few of his writings, and presents no subject of interest to us, save that it seeks to invalidate the arguments for the being of God drawn from final causes" (Farrar, Critical History of Free Thought, page 179). D'Alembert, the scientific editor of the Encyclopedia, was "the author of the celebrated Discours Preliminaire des Editeurs, which was issued in separate form, and became a text-book of infidelity not only in France, but also in England. D'Alembert's reputation in the department of science was very great over the entire continent of Europe, and he gave to the Encyclopedia its high scientific character and value. SEE ALEMBERT, D'. There has been much discussion as to whether the Encyclopedia proper really was issued in the interests of atheism. Many of the articles are entirely Christian in their tone and spirit. Others are as decidedly atheistic, while the Discours Preliminaire can hardly be called doubtful as to its character and aims. The true view seems to be that the Encyclopedists endeavored clandestinely to accomplish what more honest infidels had long attempted openly. They endeavored to undermine both religion and the state, while seeming to be in favor of them. Voltaire doubtless stands at the head of the coterie which furnished the articles for the Encyclopedia, although he wrote little for it himself. More than any other man he was the educator of the Encyclopedists. His principles are too well known to need statement. Helvetius derived his philosophy from Locke. "He was the moralist of the sensational philosophy, one who applied the philosophy of Condillac to morals. His philosophy is expressed in two works: the one on the spirit, the other on man; the former a theoretical view of human nature, the latter a practical view of education and society. His primary position is, that man owes all his superiority over animals to the superior organization of his body. Pleasure is the only good, and self-interest the true ground of morals, and the frame-work of individual and political right" (Farrar, History of Free Thought, page 180). Next come the authors of the Systeme de la Nature, a work issued by the encyclopedists. It has been attributed to baron d'Holbach, his tutor Lagrange, Diderot, Grimm, Helvetius, and Robinet. It was doubtless a joint work, and expressed the views of all these men, or was a compromise creed to which they could all subscribe, for they held widely different opinions in other respects. The great object of the System of Nature was to banish God from the universe. It is devoted to the boldest materialism. "There is, in fact, nothing but matter and motion, says this book. Both are inseparably connected. If matter is at rest, it is only because hindered in motion, for in its essence it is not a dead mass" (Schwegler, History of Philosophy). The first part of this work undertakes to disprove the existence of mind; the second part is directed against religion. This System of Nature was the boldest achievement of infidelity, a work which even Voltaire pronounced "illogical in its deductions, absurd in its physics, and abominable in its morality." To those already named we may add Rousseau, whose Political Essays became the text-book of the French Revolution. He did for the state what the others had done for the Church. Such, then, were the views of those who projected and carried forward the Encyclopedia. If in the Encyclopedia itself we find those views covered up, or at least offset by thoroughly Christian ones, we are justified in believing that they were concealed and balanced by contrary opinions only to make the Encyclopedia acceptable to the unthinking masses of the French nation. The fact, as some hold, that the French nation was ripening for a revolution both in Church and State, and would have rushed into such a catastrophe at all hazards, proves nothing respecting the motives of the encyclopedists; and the terrible quickening which their great popular work gave to infidelity is perhaps the best test by which to judge the purposes of its authors.

Let us now look at the Encyclopedia itself, and its spirit can perhaps be best read from the Discours Preliminaire. D'Alembert was its author, although he probably secured both the approval and assistance of Diderot in its form and contents. The object of this Discours is to set forth the philosophy underlying the Encyclopedia, and this is nothing more than the sensationalism of Locke. D'Alembert declares that "all our abstract knowledge may be reduced to what we receive through our senses," Showing that this may be the case, he thence argues that it is so. Sensations are the only things about which he cannot raise a doubt. With regard to ethics, the following is his underlying principle. Our ideas of good and evil "arise from the oppression which, by nature, the stronger practices upon the weaker, and the latter bears the more reluctantly the more violent it is, because he feels that there is no reason why he should submit to it; the evils which befall us through the vices of our fellow-men lead to the indirect knowledge of antagonistic virtues." These are the grounds upon which his philosophy is based. And yet this Discours made infidelity more popular to the unthinking masses than the writings of Locke, Condillac, Helvetius, De la Mettrie, or Holbach had done.

Such is the sensualistic materialism contained in the Discours Preliminaire, containing the ethical principle that we feel a sense of oppression only because we can see no reason why we should submit to it. And yet, by the side of this, in the same Discours, we find the following statement: "Nothing, therefore, is more necessary than a revealed religion, which instructs us concerning so many things. Designed for the completion of our natural knowledge, it shows us a portion of what was concealed from us; but confines itself to that which is most needful, while all the rest remains forever hidden. A few points of faith, and a small number of practical precepts, is all to which the revealed religion refers; yet, thanks to the light which it communicates to the world, since then the people are more firm and decided concerning a great number of interesting questions than the philosophers of any school ever were." In this way infidelity and religion were woven into the same system, religion being always held subordinate, a something to accomplish an end which science and philosophy could not quite reach. This being once admitted, it was not difficult to persuade the French people that, when philosophy could accomplish all that is necessary, religion might be set aside.

In the body of the Encyclopedia itself, many of the articles upon religious subjects are apparently in full sympathy with catholicity, and even orthodoxy. For instance, the article "Trinite" defends the orthodox dogma from attacks of Socinians, Jews, and infidels of all kinds. In the article "Dieu" the arguments for the existence of God are ably summed up, and objections are refuted. Quotations are made from Christian authorities, and the writer of the article seems to have been in full sympathy with the Christian view of the subject. The existence of angels and devils is recognised. The article "Christianisme" pronounces Christianity the only true revealed religion, and the Old and New Testaments are recognised as divine. It declares that the severest criticism has not been able to invalidate their authenticity. Reason and philosophy must accord to them the honor of setting forth facts beyond their reach. The hand of God is seen in the style of the sacred writings. Articles on Protestantism condemn severely every innovation in doctrine, every departure from the established creeds of the various denominations. The errors of the Romish Church are pointed out and severely castigated. It is not necessary to suppose these articles written in a spirit of hypocrisy. Their authors doubtless held the views expressed. The fact that they did does not invalidate the opinion that the Encyclopedia was secretly issued in the interests of atheism. Its authors could well afford to give Christian men a voice within its pages, when there was so much to counteract all they might say. It was not that Christianity had no advocates in the Encyclopedia, but that it was allowed only a feeble defense, and was often defended on principles which directly tended to its overthrow. Its very defenders, in many cases, were its worst enemies, and only erected fortifications on the side of religion to show how easily they could be carried by infidelity. The defense is made chiefly to rest on eudaemonism. Christianity should be upheld because it brings us more good than any other system of religion. Whatever system is most advantageous for man in his worldly relations is the system to which he should adhere. Whenever men can be made to believe that Christianity fails to do this, then it must be set aside. For example, in the article "Christianisme," Christ is placed side by side with the other lawgivers, his only superiority being that, while they kept the useful in view, he aimed at the true as well as the useful. "Though he set forth, as its first object, the happiness of another life, he also meant it to make us happy in this world." In other places morality is preferred to faith, "because he who does good and makes himself useful to the world is in a better condition through morality without faith than through faith without morality." Theism is better than atheism, because it is more advantageous for nations to admit the existence of God than to reject it.

The work began to appear in 1751, and was concluded in 1765, in 17 volumes, fol., besides 11 volumes of plates. A supplement, in 5 volumes, appeared at Amsterdam, 1776-1777, and a Table analytique et raisonne des matieres, in 2 volumes, at Paris, in 1780. The publication was stopped two or three times by the government, and the last volumes were distributed privately, though the king himself was one of the purchasers. Diderot himself said of the Encyclopedia that he had had "neither time nor means of being particular in the choice of his contributors, among whom some were excellent, but most of the rest were very inferior; moreover the contributors, being badly paid, worked carelessly; in short, it was a patch- work composed of very ill-sorted materials, some masterpieces by the side of school-boys' performances; and there was also considerable neglect in the arrangement of the articles, and especially in the references." In spite of all its defects, the Encyclopedia was the pride of France, and is in many respects a very able production. See La Porte, Esprit de l'Encyclopedie (Paris, 1768); Voltaire, Questions sur l'Encyclopedie (Paris, 1770); Van Mildert, Boyle Lecture, 1:378; Kurtz, Church History, 2:236; Farrar, Hist. of Free Thought, pages 166-178; Tennemann, Manual Hist. Philosophy, page 378; Schwegler, Hist. Philosophy, translated by Seelye, page 206; Chambers, Encyclopaedia; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 4:1; Morell, Hist. Philippians page 111. (H.G.)

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