BBC Radio 3 Documentary: Enlightenment Voices – Denis Diderot

Produced by Beattie Rubens
Broadcast in January of 2010

Denis Diderot – the inspirational driving force behind the greatest publishing enterprise of the Enlightenment, the colossal Encyclopdie – introduced by historian Justin Champion.

It is hard to over-estimate the scope and ambition of the Encyclopedie. Published in two decades after 1751, it was the single greatest publishing enterprise of the European Enlightenment. Extending to 28 folio volumes, each a thousand pages in length, and with the intention of recording all existing knowledge, both practical and intellectual, the Encyclopedie contained some 72,000 articles by 230 contributors and sold an astonishing 250,000 copies across Europe. For the first of five programmes, the historian Justin Champion introduces the undertaking, from the commissioning of contributors to the practicalities of printing, binding and distribution, and on to its reception both by ordinary readers and by the political and religious authorities. In Justin’s introduction Denis Diderot, the son of a provincial cutler, is brought back to life as the extraordinary driving passion behind this breathtaking landmark both of publishing history and the Enlightenment project.

Part 1:
Historian Justin Champion introduces Denis Diderot, the
inspirational driving force behind the great publishing
enterprise the ‘Encyclopdie’.
The Encyclopedie’s aim was to change the common way of
thinking through the expansion of knowledge & development
of critical modes of thought.

Part 2:
In Oxford’s Taylorian Institute, Professors of French Kate
Tunstall and Caroline Warman leaf through the 28 volumes
of Diderot’s ‘Encyclopdie’ to introduce its broad scope.

Part 3:
Kate Tunstall introduces Diderot’s ‘Letter On The Blind’,
which asked philosophical questions about human life with
which we still grapple today.
How do we know what we know, or what we think we know?
Why do people have different ideas about the world,
and how can we judge them? What are the origins of the
universe? Is there any proof of the existence of God?

Part 4:
Dr Caroline Warman explores Denis Diderot’s passionate
interest in women, both personally and as the victims
of intolerance and injustice.

Part 5:
Caroline Warman and Kate Tunstall introduce Diderot’s
“D’Alembert’s Dream”.
Full text of D’Alembert’s Dream available here:

Diderot 1 of 5 - Introduction

Diderot 2 of 5 - Encyclopdie

Diderot 3 of 5 - Letter On The Blind

Diderot 4 of 5 - Women

Diderot 5 of 5 - D'Alembert's Dream