According to the original, Enlightenment definition:
(See below for the actual text of the definition)

Pronounced "FEE-loe-ZOFF," Philosophe simply means philosopher in French, but Denis Diderot first defined it in the Encyclopedia of Arts and Sciences (commonly know simply as L'Encyclopédie) much differently than is commonly accepted today, in a way particular to the Enlightenment. Diderot makes no mention of having an original philosophy or composing philosophical writings as one might expect to be requirements of a philosopher. Instead, Diderot's criteria only seem to extend to being an aware, observant and thoughtful individual, capable of independent thought and exactness in action. Diderot criticizes the common individual for acting without forethought or indeed any consideration at all. As opposed to the Philosophe, who "on the contrary, distinguishes the causes to what extent he may, often anticipates them, and knowingly surrenders himself to them."

Here Diderot uses language, specifically the terms 'sensations' and 'passions', that might lead one to believe that he is very specifically speaking to those who are susceptible to acting on the desires of their appetites rather than reason. This actually may very well be the case, but Diderot's larger point remains, that "reason is in the estimation of the philosopher what grace is to the Christian." From a religious perspective, this is a very dangerous statement. Equating reason and grace is as good as blasphemy, since grace is something that comes only from God, while Diderot says that reason is within the power of any man. This begs the question, how is God any longer necessary, one of the larger problems of the Enlightenment itself?

But Diderot stops, perhaps wisely, before expanding on this point and moves on to the next attribute of the philosophe, observation. Not only does the philosophe think before acting, but carefully considers everything that appears true before accepting it as such. "Truth is not for the philosopher a mistress who vitiates his imagination, and whom he believes to find everywhere," but rather something to be accepted where it can be found. In other words, the philosopher is not hasty in making judgments or coming to conclusions, but carefully deliberates before accepting something as fact. Also, Diderot makes an argument astonishingly reminiscent of Socratic philosophy in this paragraph. Very much like Socrates criticized the sophists, Diderot distances himself from other scholars of his day that "imagine that understanding consists in passing judgment." This is not true knowledge, and Diderot says the true philosopher is more satisfied when he/she suspends judgment "before having acquired proper grounds for his decision." Here is proof that not all enlightenment thinkers were looking only ahead.

In concluding his definition, Diderot reiterates the need for "observation and exactness" in a philosopher but also postulates that man is inherently a social creature. Dropping even the pretense of speaking only to those that fancy themselves philosophers, Diderot speaks directly to the common man in party of the last passage, entreating him to be a social creature. Although, Diderot returns to describing the philosopher as one whom especially "does not believe himself an exile in the world" but seeks knowledge and happiness in the company of others, and in the logical extension of this thought, seeks to better others around him.

Thus it is apparent than Diderot's exposition of a proper Philosophe is in fact a model he is holding up for everyone to follow. This is entirely in line with Enlightment modes of thought. Diderot, as an enlightened man, is not only describing the philosopher, but describing how each person can be like one, and why this is indeed the best for society. Here he has characterized not only the philosopher, but the enlightened person, the moral human being.


The translated entry, slightly abbreviated, from L'Encyclopédie, France, 1772:

Other men make up their minds to act without thinking, nor are they conscious of the causes which move them.... The philosophe, on the contrary, distinguishes the causes to what extent he may.... Reason is the estimation of the philosophe what grace is to the Christian. Grace determines the Christian's action; reason the philosophe's.

Other men are carried away by passions, so that acts which they produce do not proceed from reflection. These are men who move in darkness; while the philosophe, even in his passions, moves only after reflection. He marches at night, but a torch goes on ahead.

The philosophe forms his principles upon an infinity of individual observations.... The philosophe takes the maxim at its source, he examines its origin, he knows its real value, and only makes use of it, if it seems to him satisfactory.

Truth is not for the philosophe a mistress who vitiates his imagination.... He takes for true that which is true, for false that which is false, for doubtful that which is doubtful, and for probable that which is only probable. He does more ­ and this is the great perfection of the philosophe; that when he has no real grounds for passing judgment, he knows how to remain undetermined.

The world is full of persons... who always pass judgment. They are guessing always, because it is guessing to pass judgment without knowing when one has proper grounds for judgment.... The philosophe believes that understanding consists in judging well: he is better pleased with himself when he has suspended the faculty of determining, that if he had determined before having acquired proper grounds for decision....

The Enlightenment spirit is then a spirit of observation and exactness, which refers everything to true principles....

Man is not a monster, made to live only at the bottom of the sea or in the depths of the forest; the very necessities of life render intercourse with others necessary; and in whatsoever state we find him, his needs and his well-being lead him to live in society....

Our philosophe does not believe himself in exile in the world.... He wishes to find his pleasure with others... so he seeks to harmonize with those with whom chance or his choice has determined he shall live....

Phil"o*sophe (?), n. [F., a philosopher.]

A philosophaster; a philosopher.

[R.]

Carlyle.

 

© Webster 1913.

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