Denis Diderot represented, lived and wrote for the idea of the liberating value of knowledge during the French enlightenment. As a philosopher, Diderot was an atheist and a critic of slavery, colonialism, and the Catholic church. Diderot stood alongside the philosophers Voltaire and Hume as thinkers of the French enlighenment, which preceded the French Revolution. He was an Empiricist and a philosopher, but his writings are not limited to the fields of science or philosophy, but combine the two into a rational view of the world.
In his early life, he was bohemian. His father cut off all financial support for his education when he decided Denis spent too much of his time with classic books and women. This prevented him from being able to study law or medicine, not that he wanted to, so he turned his attention to freelance writing. He wrote philosophical essays, published erotic novels for his girlfriends, and wrote and distributed anti-christian pamphlets in anonymity. He served time in the Vincennes prison for his essay Lettre sur les aveugles, which questioned the existence of god.
Diderot edited and compiled the first edition of L'Encyclopedie with the help of the mathematician Jean Le Rond d'Alembert. This project was intended to create a comprehensive volume of human knowledge to be made publicly available for the good of humanity. At release1 it was 7 volumes, 72,000 articles, 16,500 pages and 17,000,000 words in its entirity. Each of its articles aimed to be a synopsis of its topic, to provide a definition of the terminology involved, and to give as much related information of the topic as possible. The articles varied greatly in size, ranging from ten lines to hundreds of pages. Many of his articles were submissions from supporters of the project who represented nearly all branches of human knowledge, including and not limited to mathematics, biological sciences, physical science, political science, theology, architechture, and many, many others.
This pissed off a lot of the social institutions who relied on this information being kept under wraps, mainly what remained of the feudal guild system and the Catholic Church. It was not an unbiased work, and included many references to unorthodox views of religion folded into the text, as well as full-fledged critical essays on ethics and philosophy written by such characters as Voltaire.
It's sad, really...a noder before his time.