The "philosophes" (French for "philosophers") were a group of intellectuals of the 18th century Enlightenment.Kishlansky, Mark, "et al". "A Brief History of Western Civilization: The Unfinished Legacy, volume II: Since 1555." 5th edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.]

Overview of the "philosophes"

The formulation of Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation prompted many Europeans to approach all study of nature through reason and logic. The "philosophes" were a result of this new approach to learning who encouraged reason, knowledge and education as a way of overcoming superstition and ignorance. "Philosophes" Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert edited the "Encyclopédie" (1751-1772,) which represented the "philosophe" belief that everything could be known, classified and understood by man. It also questioned religious authority and criticized social injustice. They believed that the role of philosophy was to change the world, not just to discuss it.

Because it was illegal to openly criticize the church and state in France, many wrote plays, novels, histories, dictionaries, and encyclopedias with subtle messages attached. An example is Montesquieu's "Persian Letters".

Although many "philosophes" disagreed with each other over certain principles the two major tenets the philosophes accepted were deism, and toleration.

Attitude to religion

Many "philosophes" rejected organized religion, believing that it was holding back human progress. Those "philosophes" critical to religion claimed that Catholicism prevented humanity from seeking improvement and equality, by teaching ideas such as divine right and by supporting the privilege of the nobility. Many "philosophes" came to believe religion promoted intolerance and bigotry. These "philosophes" did not espouse atheism through rational inquiry. Some "philosophes", such as Voltaire, did not believe in organized religion itself, but believed it had the purpose of controlling the masses. Also influential was the idea of deism, the theological theory that an omnipotent being created the universe and then left it to its own devices. Many of the Philosophes found Deism appealing because they used reason to understand religion in a factual light rather than in a faith-based one.


Many "philosophes" believed that toleration was the means to a virtuous life, although some believed otherwise. They believed that toleration would combat the religious fanaticism that prevented humans from bettering their condition. This movement towards toleration was led by Voltaire in his "Treatise on Tolerance" and Gotthold Lessing in his play "Nathan the Wise"

Other common causes

Most "philosophes" denounced slavery because it deprived people of their most basic rights. One of the most well-known "anti-slavery" "philosophes" is the potter Josiah Wedgwood. He designed and produced thousands of anti-slavery medallions, which some "fashionable people" wore or put up on display in their homes. Some of the other things "philosophes" denounced are: torture and/or cruel punishments for crimes, inhumane treatment of the mentally ill, and mercantilism. A certain group of philosophes called "physiocrats" searched for "natural laws" to explain economics. These "physiocrats" opposed mercantilism (a closed trading system that influenced the economic policies of most governments at the time). Many argued that land, not the gold and silver that many kings were hoarding, was the true source of wealth. Through this they encouraged farming and a "free market", a market in which all goods could be bought and sold without restraint.

Famous "philosophes"

*Jean le Rond d'Alembert
*Denis Diderot
*Caesar Chesneau Dumarsais
*Jean-Jacques Rousseau



* [ The philosophes]
*Kagan, Donald "et al". "The Western Heritage, since 1300: Sixth Edition", Prentice-Hall, 1998. ISBN 0-13-617374-8

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • philosophe — [ filɔzɔf ] n. et adj. • 1160; lat. philosophus, gr. philosophos « ami de la sagesse » I ♦ N. 1 ♦ Anciennt Personne qui s adonne à l étude rationnelle de la nature et de la morale. « Le philosophe est l amateur de la sagesse et de la vérité » (… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • philosophe — PHILOSOPHE. s. m. Celuy qui s applique à l estude des Sciences, & qui cherche à connoistre les effets par leurs causes & par leurs principes. Pythagore est le premier d entre les Grecs à qui on a donné le nom de Philosophe. les anciens… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • philosophe — Philosophe, Philosophus. Menus philosophes, Plebei philosophi. Qui fait du philosophe, Philosophaster. Appartenant à philosophe, Philosophicus …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • philosophe — Enlightenment rationalist and skeptic, especially in reference to any of the French Encyclopædists, often disparaging (when used by believers), 1774, from Fr. philosophe, lit. philosopher (see PHILOSOPHER (Cf. philosopher)). Usually italicized in …   Etymology dictionary

  • Philosophe — Phil o*sophe, n. [F., a philosopher.] A philosophaster; a philosopher. [R.] Carlyle. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • philosophe — [fē lō̂ zō̂f′] n. pl. philosophes [fē lō̂zō̂f′] [Fr] a French intellectual and writer of the Enlightenment …   English World dictionary

  • Philosophe — Un philosophe est une personne pratiquant la philosophie. Comme il y a certainement autant de manières de la pratiquer qu il y a de philosophes, il n est pas facile de décrire brièvement ce que peut être un philosophe ; néanmoins, l idée la… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • philosophe — (fi lo zo f ) s. m. 1°   Dans l ancienne Grèce, ami de la sagesse. •   Il [Pythagore] est le premier qui se soit fait appeler philosophe ; avant lui, les hommes qui se livraient à la contemplation de la nature portaient le nom de sages ; il prit… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • PHILOSOPHE — s. m. Celui qui s applique à l étude des sciences, et qui cherche à connaître les effets par leurs causes et par leurs principes. Pythagore est le premier d entre les Grecs qui ait pris le nom de philosophe. La physique des anciens philosophes… …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 7eme edition (1835)

  • PHILOSOPHE — n. m. Celui qui se consacre à la philosophie. Pythagore est le premier d’entre les Grecs qui ait pris le nom de philosophe. Les philosophes païens. Philosophe stoïcien, platonicien, épicurien. Philosophe sceptique. Il s’est dit au dix huitième… …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 8eme edition (1935)

  • PHILOSOPHE — SECTION PREMIÈRE.     Philosophe, amateur de la sagesse, c est à dire de la vérité. Tous les philosophes ont eu ce double caractère; il n en est aucun dans l antiquité qui n ait donné des exemples de vertu aux hommes, et des leçons de vérités… …   Dictionnaire philosophique de Voltaire

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