October 5 ~  Great Passions Diderot: Political Writings

"Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things" ~ Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot

A man of passion and greatness, philosopher and novelist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was born the son of a master cutler on this day in Langres, France.

Diderot had a thirst for knowledge and dedicated himself to questioning life and the universe. A key contributor to the Enlightenment philosophy, he once advised Catherine the Great to abandon autocracy for democracy.

"There is only one duty," he said. "That is to be happy."

His first philosophical work, Pensees philosophiques (1746), suggested that faith be tested by reason and that the passions were necessary to creativity and morality.

"The first step towards philosophy is incredulity," said Diderot, who philosopher Voltaire praised as "Socrates."

With boldness and skepticism, Diderot questioned the accepted ideas of his day. His controversial ideas were met with condemnation by Paris' Parliament and he served solitary confinement in the fortess of Vincennes. "Our true opinions," he said, "are those to which we return the most often."

In later years he wrote plays and contemplated becoming an actor. Always, he reached for balance. "Move me, astonish me, rend me," he said. "Make me shudder, weep, tremble; fill me with indignation."

Even as he advocated for change in theatrical techniques and stagecraft, he searched for the moral core. He repeatedly used the dialogue form to pose questions without committing to one idea or decision.

"But who shall be the master, the writer or the reader?"

Live passionately!