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Bordeu emphasises, is the involuntary oblivion to which cerebralists of the highest order are susceptible. Bordeu to explain the difference between free will in a dreamer versus a man awake, Dr. Bordeu exclaims: You of all people ask me this question! You are a fellow much given to deep speculation, Springer, Dordrecht, ISBN: and you have spent two-thirds of your life dreaming with your eyes wide open. In that state, you do all sorts of involuntary things—yes, involuntary—much less deliberately than when you are asleep.

Vila Dr. You speak with other people, you give orders to your servants, you have a bite of super, you go to bed and you drop off to sleep without having done a single act of your own free will the whole livelong day. The interiority that Diderot describes here is not psychological: it is organic, molecular even, and one of the most insistent themes of the dialogue is that nothing entirely transcends this level of existence—not individual consciousness, nor the self, nor even God.

I am unconscious of location, movement, solidity, distance and space. The universe is annihilated as far as I am concerned, and I am nothing in relation to it. Viewed from that perspective, consciousness and the other higher faculties of the mind are materially rooted, con- tingent phenomena whose organic component shows most clearly when those facul- ties are shut down. Diderot and Daubenton , The obstacles it avoids are at every moment new to it.

The eye sees, the eye lives, the eye feels, the eye guides us on, the eye avoids the obstacles, the eye guides us, and guides us surely […]. The eye is an animal within an animal, carrying out its functions very well, and on its own. The same is true of other organs.

By shifting empha- sis away from the mind proper, Diderot draws our attention to the dynamic powers that are activated at the organic level when the mind is too busy to notice. Ainsi des autres organes. This leads them to miss some of the most intriguing ele- ments of that model.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Diderot, by John Morley.

First, while it is true that Diderot often took a mentalist stance toward the phe- nomena of sight, touch, and language, his vitalist materialism also led him to espouse a pan-corporeal view of the thinking process. This perspective was also apparent in his aesthetic theory, where he ascribed a cen- tral, sometimes decisive role to the visceral level of human experience in the cre- Springer, Dordrecht, ISBN: ation and reception of art.

Vila hidden infrastructures of the embodied mind. Bordeu exchange ideas on everything from medically assisted premarital sex to human-animal cross breeding. This tendency to cordon off issues related to moral sensibility when exploring physical sensibility points to a larger tendency of the French Enlightenment: although sensibility was held to be paramount in many realms of human existence—cognitive, affective, social, aesthetic, and physiologi- cal—its meanings and operations in those various realms were not conflated into a single moral model.

Moreover, despite his frequent borrowings from medical discourse, he did not share the concern evident among some contemporary physicians with waking up the senses when they closed as the result of deep think- ing. In fact, he insisted that he had done some of his own best deep thinking when he plugged up his ears as in the Lettre sur les sourds et muets , lingered in a dream state as in the Salon de , or cloistered himself for days in his study. Ultimately, Diderot considered mental absorption and mind-wandering to be productive states that allowed the creative mind to make the complex, unexpected, perhaps aberrant connections among ideas that led to the discovery of truth and beauty.

Chouillet , The brain-centred sensibility that they embod- ied was not sympathetic or socially directed, but that is precisely why it interested him so much. It is therefore not surprising that Diderot himself may have been absentminded to the point of somnambulism—or at least, so claimed the Montpellier physician Joseph Grasset in his study Demifous et demiresponsables. Diderot , Starobinski , 75— References Alberti, Fay Bound. Bodies, hearts, minds: Why emotions matter to historians of science and medicine.

Isis — Algazi, Gadi. Scholars in households: Refiguring the learned habitus, — Science in Context 16 1—2 : 9— Bates, David W. Enlightenment aberrations: Error and revolution in France. Bell, David A. The cult of the nation: Inventing nationalism, — Bonnet, Jean-Claude. Paris: Fayard. Brewer, Daniel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The enlightenment past: Reconstructing eighteenth-century French thought. Chouillet, Jacques. Paris: Colin. Condillac, Etienne Bonnot de. Diderot , —, Diderot, letter to Sophie Volland, 7 November , in Diderot , The philosopher in early mod- ern Europe: The nature of a contested identity.

Cook, Harold J. Body and passions: Materialism and the early modern state. Osiris 2nd series, 25— Cook, Alexander. The politics of pleasure talk in eighteenth-century Europe. Sexualities — Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the observer: On vision and modernity in the nineteenth century. Daston, Lorraine. Enlightenment fears, fears of enlightenment. A post-modern question, ed. Keith M. Baker and Peter H.

Reill, — Stanford: Stanford University Press. Attention and the values of nature. In The moral authority of nature, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Diderot, Denis. Paris: Hermann. La Religieuse. Jacques Barzun and Ralph Bowen, 92— Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Correspondance, Oeuvres, vol. Paris: R. Figlio, Karl. Theories of perception and the physiology of mind in the late eighteenth century. Diderot did not publish Le Neveu de Rameau in his lifetime, but the text found its way to Germany where it was read by Schiller and Goethe. Further helping Diderot after was the generosity of Catherine the Great of Russia, and his trip to her court in St.

Petersburg in marks the passage of Diderot into the final stages of his career. Fate provided her with an occasion to express her appreciation directly to Diderot when a financial burden forced him to sell his library.

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Catherine made the purchase, giving Diderot an annual pension in addition. This made him a wealthy man for the rest of his life. Diderot traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with Catherine in —74, and this trip marks his entrance into a leisured retirement in Paris where he continued to write.

The resulting work was a pioneering world history defined by its argument that the transformations triggered by the Colombian Encounter were the decisive agent of world historical development. The Atlantic slave trade also attracted his attention, and some of his most passionate contributions involve imagined dialogues about the horrors of the European imperial slave system spoken by oppressed Africans. The text offers an imagined dialogue between Tahitians and Europeans about the different sexual, marital and familial mores of the two cultures, and Diderot anticipates through fiction the figure of the native ethnographer who asks comparative questions about the foundations of morality and civilization so as to generate universal cultural understandings through comparison.

He is also a passionate abolitionist with no tolerance for the crimes of the Atlantic slave trade. Nature does not work through hierarchy, Diderot insists in these texts, and connecting politics with his natural philosophy he argues for a radical decentralization of political authority, and a fully bottom-up, egalitarian understanding of social order. These convictions are also manifest in his thinking about race and slavery. He rejected altogether the new anthropology promulgated by Kant and others that spoke of biologically and civilizationally distinct races, offering instead a monogenetic understanding of humanity where difference was a matter of degree rather than kind.

Diderot was by nature a writer and thinker, not a political activist, and his political philosophy, while suggestive of emerging radical political trends, appears as the least developed aspect of his thought. When revolution erupted in France in , the memory of Voltaire and Rousseau led to their inclusion in the pantheon of revolutionary heroes worthy of immortal commemoration. Diderot, by contrast, was at best forgotten and at worst treated as a figure hostile to the new political movements afoot. This combination of neglect and outright hostility pushed Diderot to the margins of French culture in the nineteenth century, and it would take another century before retrospective interest in his work would be renewed.

Too systematically committed to his materialism, too vigorous in his irreligion, and too passionate and principled in his embrace of egalitarianism and universal democracy to be acceptable to anyone with the slightest worry about the rising tides of radical socialism and materialist freethought, Diderot became a pariah for many in nineteenth-century France and Europe. Only after was interest in his work revived, thanks in part to the new editions of his writings, which made him newly available to scholars and readers, and to the changing cultural and political climate.

Soviet Marxists, for example, played a key role in reviving Diderot scholarship after , and contemporary Diderot studies, which is thriving today, is largely a twentieth-century creation. For a more complete biography of Diderot, see the Biographical Supplement. By the time of the Lettre sur les aveugles , Diderot has launched upon a philosophical project, or a set of intersecting projects, which will endure to the end of his life: a radicalization of empiricism in the direction of a materialist metaphysics, which also remains at times skeptical or at least anti-foundationalist with regard both to the possibility of an intellectual system, and to the existence of order or totality in the universe.

This reflects his deep awareness of the complexities of language itself, especially the immanent tendency for speech to refute itself and subvert its stated convictions. In brief, to reason like god is to reason like an advanced mathematician, especially one trained in the new analytical mathematics of the period, and to the extent that this kind of reasoning is adaptable to human language itself, it allows for human thinking to connect with the divine order of things through a proper practice of rigorous cognitive and linguistic discipline.

He was especially attentive to the crucial role that language plays in rendering experiential phenomena suitable for human knowledge, and if he was critical of the over-emphasis upon mathematics as the supreme model for a fully rigorous scientific language, he was nevertheless Malebranchian in treating the relation between experiential phenomena, linguistic description, and human knowledge in all its variety as the epistemological zone that mattered most.

He also explicitly ties eclecticism to an attention to language and discursivity in philosophy. Founders of discursivity are eclectics, distinct from syncretists Diderot mentions Luther and Bruno as examples. V: It is a powerful kind of relativism. Diderot expresses his materialism in this work through the character of a blind man, also because he is like a living counterexample to the argument from design. In a further twist, Diderot also equates the blind man with idealist metaphysics since it is also cut off from direct sensory engagement with the world.

Here, empiricism is no longer just a doctrine about the sources of knowledge, i. The world of a blind man is different from that of a deaf man, and so forth. Further, an individual who possessed a sense in addition to our five senses would find our ethical horizon quite imperfect DPV IV: My idea would be to decompose a man, so to speak, and examine what he derives from each of the senses he possesses. I recall how I was once concerned with this sort of metaphysical anatomy, and had found that of all the senses, the eye was the most superficial, the ear the most proud, smell the most pleasurable, and taste the deepest, most philosophical sense.

It would be a pleasant society, I think—one composed of five people, each of whom only possessed one sense.

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They would undoubtedly call each other mad, and I leave you to imagine how right they might be. Yet this is an image for what happens to everyone: one only has one sense and one judges on everything. DPV IV: Experimental philosophy does not know what its work will yield or fail to yield; but it works without pause. On the contrary, rational philosophy weighs the possibilities, makes pronouncements, and stops there. It boldly declares, light cannot be decomposed ; experimental philosophy listens, and remains silent for centuries; then suddenly shows us the prism, and declares, light is decomposed.

He is often confronted with the need to continue his analysis of phenomena beyond the limits of strict empiricism: the nature of matter, the limits of animation or on the more internal scale, the functioning of the nervous system or the mechanics of generation. And here the need for metaphysical imagination comes into play, which is not the same as a strictly abstract metaphysics. But his articulation of all of these in a materialist project does not belong to or open onto an episode amongst others in the history of science.

Diderot opposed the novelty and conceptual significance of the life sciences to what he incorrectly judged to be the historical stagnation of mathematics:. We are on the verge of a great revolution in the sciences. Given the taste people seem to have for morals, belles-lettres , the history of nature and experimental physics, I dare say that before a hundred years, there will not be more than three great geometricians remaining in Europe. We will not go beyond. In these passages, he is also squarely locating his materialist preoccupations within the former.

The entry does not bear his name, but large parts of the content occur elsewhere in his writings, and it is included in all editions of his works. XV: Is this Spinozism or not? What possible relation could there be between Spinozism and epigenesis? Or how can a metaphysics of substance and modes, which says almost nothing about biological entities even if it is also a major statement of philosophical naturalism, also be a fashionable embryological theory of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?

To be sure, his convictions regarding living matter or all of matter inasmuch as it is potentially living and sensing are tied to his admiration for the metaphysics of a single substance composed of an infinite number of modes. But nowhere does Spinoza seek to connect his metaphysics to the life sciences; even if the notion of the conatus was frequently taken up in the generations after him to mean something like a survival impulse in living beings, this was not what he meant at all.

Do you see this egg? With this you can overthrow all the schools of theology, all the churches of the world. What is this egg? An unsensing mass, prior to the introduction of the seed [ germe ]; and after the seed has been introduced, what is it then? Still an unsensing mass, for the seed itself is merely an inert, crude fluid. How will this mass develop into a different [level of] organisation, to sensitivity and life?

By means of heat. And what will produce the heat? Matter for Diderot is self-organizing and endowed with vital properties. This implies that his brand of materialism is not synonymous with physicalism admittedly, not a term or notion of the period. There were of course materialists such as Hobbes who can also be described as physicalists, but Diderot was quite explicitly a determinist, as we will discuss below in section 2.

Diderot wants to establish in contrast that motion is inherent in matter by joining together translation and nisus. Indeed, matter possesses properties including sensitivity. The key property of living matter, and of all matter potentially, is organic sensitivity.

Philosophical Thoughts of Denis Diderot 1746

IX: a. Elsewhere, such as the Letter to Duclos, Diderot denies that sensitivity can be a property of a molecule, specifically because it can only be a property of matter itself. You can practice geometry and metaphysics as much as you like; but I, who am a physicist and a chemist, who take bodies in nature and not in my mind, I see them as existing, various, bearing properties and actions, as agitated in the universe as they are in the laboratory where if a spark is in the proximity of three combined molecules of saltpeter, carbon and sulfur, a necessary explosion will ensue.

The critique of mathematical abstraction in favor of a more empirically rich matter theory, whether this is presented as deriving from natural history, chemistry, medicine, physiology or other disciplines, is also a constant in Diderot. The point we would emphasize most, however, is that this is also a speculative metaphysics.

The shift from inert to active sensitivity is not experimentally grounded. On one occasion, he wrote to Sophie Volland describing how such ideas led him to be teased, but he pushes them even further in the letter, in the direction of a materialist account of love. The result is not so much a reductionist explanation of the phenomenon of love as a romanticization of materialism itself:. The rest of the evening was spent teasing me about my paradox. People gave me beautiful pears that were alive, grapes that could think. And I said: Those who loved each other during their lives and arrange to be buried next to one another are maybe not as mad as one thinks.

Their ashes may be pressed together, mingling, uniting.

What do I know? Maybe they have not lost all feeling, all memory of their prior state. Maybe they have a remainder of heat and life, which they enjoy in their own fashion, at the bottom of the cold urn in which they rest. We judge the life of elements by the life of crude aggregates. Maybe they are entirely different entities….

When the polyp is divided into a hundred thousand parts, the primitive, generational animal is no longer, but all of its principles are still alive. O my Sophie, I then still have a hope of touching, sensing, loving, seeking you, uniting and melding with you, when we are no longer. If there were a law of affinity amidst our principles, if we were entitled to compose a common being; if, in following centuries, I were to comprise a whole again with you; if the molecules of your dissolved lover were to stir, to move about, and search out yours, scattered throughout nature!

Grant me this chimaera.


It is sweet to me. It would ensure my eternity in you and with you …. The character Diderot then proposed a thought experiment of a marble statue, ground into powder, mixed into the earth, out of which plants grow that are eaten by animals who are in turn eaten by us. Thus framed, the difference between a piece of marble and a sensing, conscious creature is only a difference in the temporal stages of a portion of matter in transformation.

Instead, it is an assertion of the animalization of inert matter, such that all matter is either actually or potentially alive. But what of actual bodies in this universe of living matter? Indeed, he may quite fairly be described as a theorist of embodiment. His materialist notion of embodiment means that Diderot does not oppose the living body as a kind of subjectivity to the world of matter overall. Even more interestingly, this shift can also be seen in broader terms as a shift within reductionist strategies, which we can also classify as types of reduction. In the end, the circulation of letters analogically conveys the continuous back-and-forth movement and expanding circularity inherent in an epistolary exchange in the Republic of Letters.

As it repeats and duplicates that same material, it also creates something different with it through the addition of a new letter reader every time a letter passes through different hands and eyes, sketching out the eventual mass production of print material in the Republic of Letters. Open letters belong to the broad generic category of the letter, and the sub-category of the published letter.

And they are addressed to that someone by someone else, likewise anonymous Lettre sur les aveugles ; or identified, whether by its publication in a volume of works by the same individual Voltaire , by its publication under a familiar title Lettre sur les sourds et muets , or by its very title Rousseau.

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The very fact of their publication makes their addressee highly visible as much as it does their content. As such, they become de facto of interest to the state, since, as is the case with the letters we consider here, they deal with scientific, philosophical, political, aesthetic or religious matters, i. To that extent, letters written by a Voltaire, a Diderot, or a Rousseau, taken collectively, must provide a basic illustration of what an open letter might be and might do in relation to the expansion from the private to the public which characterizes the Republic of Letters.

Once into the reading public, however, the open-endedness that characterized them through the publishing mechanism first of the salons, then of the book trade, was both altered and enriched. In that sense, open letters align and overlap with literary correspondences. The latter were typically written by salon insiders and without an actual respondent, concerned, D. The absence of an authentic addressee, or, rather, the pretext of an authentic addressee, is compensated by the fact that the topics in the letters retain authentic currency e.

They actually reached a broad readership much more quickly — and cheaply — than the multi-volume project ever could over the decades that it took to publish it — Key in D. While the texts with which we are concerned here proclaim themselves as letters, scholars, however justifiably, generally do not read them as such. Instead, they focus on their religious, political, philosophical, economic or aesthetic stances. Nevertheless, it remains that Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau chose to write these texts in the letter form.

Because these Lettres sum up some of the most important debates of the era, that very choice suggests one ought to construe their letter form in more problematic fashion. Discussing open letters as letters will lead us to consider two lines of inquiry over the next two sections of this essay: 1. Goodman, on the other. Does the fact that it is published make an open letter written by Voltaire, Diderot, or Rousseau, relinquish, if not its title, perhaps its identity as a letter whether or not it has been read in the trial ground of the salon?

To the extent that an open letter passed through the publishing industry rather than through postal services to arrive at its multiple final destinations, it does stand out between unpublished actual personal correspondences and published fictional letter exchanges. An open letter would be published alone as opposed to the sustained letter exchanges in actual correspondences and epistolary novels. In that sense, the public status of an open letter, especially one written by a Voltaire, a Diderot whose Lettre sur les aveugles was thought to have been authored by Voltaire , or a Rousseau, did ensure its visibility despite the keen eye kept on it by the book trade administration and its police, oftentimes thanks to the efficacy of the black market.

This two-way street imagery seems falsely analogical, however. It helps one distinguish between actual personal responses to a Voltaire, a Diderot, or a Rousseau the original two-way street , and less personal responses to their open letters, e. The kinds of responses open letters could generate might have occurred in salons and reading rooms, in periodicals, but not as actual personal responses, or at the very least far from exclusively actual personal responses.

The royal monopoly on the post shaped correspondences through delivery schedules, which facilitated their surveillance. The way it did run such risk, one might object, occurred at the level of the heavy state apparatus overseeing the publishing process. Like D. Rather, what this suggests, is that somewhere inbetween, there must be a meeting point where these two notions complete one another, as D. Goodman herself argues in surveying traditional scholarship on the public and the private.

As a result, the epistolary status of these texts becomes problematic, and calls for closer inspection. What seems to be absent not only in open letters, and in epistolary novels, but also in the Republic at large, then, is an element of absolute authenticity, one that restricts or limits the application of the reciprocity in the epistolary situation I write to you, you respond to me, etc. That absolute authenticity appears as the implicit norm for assessing whether a text might be a letter or not. As importantly, as the contrast between actual and fictional correspondences aligns open letters with fictional letters to make them inauthentic, it also links their inauthenticity to their private-turned-public dimension whether through the salon culture driving the expansion of the Republic of Letters, or through the print culture created by the publishing industry.

The perceived lack or absence of an actual addressee in epistolary fiction or in open letters thus must be rephrased in more positive terms. Turned around like a sleeve, it can thus be considered as depersonalizing the position of addressee or letter reader, and as dramatizing the expression of self by bringing it into the public eye, opening it to whomever might feel concerned by it.

The reciprocity of an authentic exchange may not carry as much weight or convey as much truth-value in an open letter. An open letter, however, does underscore the value in making public examples of lettering offered as private, which conflates the figurative and the literal elements in D. Goodman and M. In this instance, the salon setting conversation duplicated what would happen routinely in a regular household where mail had been delivered, differing from it only as it would turn private custom into public phenomenon.

The collective reading of an open letter in the semi-public setting of the salon as the primary institution of the Republic of Letters shifted these practices for a potential readership that expanded as the very same time as it expanded the Republic. The household and the salon shared a common reading context despite the crucial difference in the final destination of the letter read within one or the other, i. This highlights three points: 1. That open letters were read publically as private letters, whether they might have been letters in the strictest sense or not; 2. That they shared in the ambiguous mix of privacy and publicity offered by salons; and 3.

That the potential impact of open letters gave them added value they might not have accrued if left unpublished via salon conversations or literary market transactions.

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  5. May resonates with the imaginative investment that L. As postal services will deliver any letter to their named addressee, one still expects an anonymous letter, i. Now, because the book trade substitutes for the postal service in the delivery process taken as a frame of reference, not only can anonymity carry over into the open letter, but it can also be heightened since both sender and addressee can be unnamed, and either or both can be fictional.

    While this makes anonymity an inherent part of the open letter format, and offers yet another way in which open letters align with epistolary fiction, the open letter remains within the structural purview of the letter form as a broader classification category. Moreover, the fictional potential brought by anonymity in the epistolary situation of open letters highlights the conventionality of identity and naming through publication.

    In an unlikely world where all letters would be delivered to whomever they might concern, the fact that these open letters were not , in fact, delivered to addressees, but instead, purchased by readers, underscores the logistical anomaly discounting their authenticity. While their publication downplays the authenticity effect that named names might have had on the readership at first sight, upon closer inspection, the very fact that they are published also reinforces that authenticity by leaving names unnamed in the same way the preface of a novel might.

    The way anonymity plays out in the Lettre sur les aveugles increases the pertinence of literature and epistolary novels as another frame of reference to discuss the letter form of open letters. On the other, the Lettre was originally published anonymously. And it also suggests that, in fact, the act of writing publically as a private individual was more subversive in an open letter than in another format.

    Here, the link that D. Writing anonymous open letters turns out to embed the publishing of open letters as a strategy, both ideal and actual, to spread Enlightenment ideals within the Republic of Letters. Indeed, through their respective engagement on the intellectual scene of the century, Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau embodied and furthered Enlightenment through their open letters, extending their ideas and the salon-like discussion thereof, first in writing, then in print.

    Just as pretending to publish a personal letter lends it an air of authenticity, so does publishing a personal letter makes whatever authenticity it might have had in the first place appear to be staged. To recapitulate, it seems as though open letters either display features that make them letters, or lack these features, but in a way that evokes, by default, the norm outlined by these features.

    In the process, there unfolds a dialectics between the letter as authentic document and the letter as rhetorical play. This dialectics places open letters at the strategic meeting point between the increasing use of the letter form as a personal means of communication, and two other, overlapping developments in the history of letter writing, i. According to Alain Viala, thanks to its adaptability, the letter form is transformed by a new rhetoric and the awareness of intertextual possibilities. The use and the structure of this paradigm beg re-evaluating.

    Even as open letters did not fit exactly the mould of authentic private correspondences, they did not fit exactly the mould of fictional correspondences published in print as authentic. As the lens of cultural studies lends itself organically to discuss the place of open letters in the Republic of Letters, so literary theory becomes a like companion in pursuing and reframing our examination of the open letter form.

    Starting from an opposite angle, Deidre Dawson and Caroline Warman approach authentic, private correspondences as epistolary novels. Thus, D. The blurring of entrenched binaries undertaken by D.