Is Denis Diderot Accessible to Less Smart People?

In the mornings I listen to the CBC radio show, ‘Ideas’. This morning it was a show on Diderot (had to look up the spelling). He sounds like he’s a pretty interesting fella.

My knowledge of philosophers, even the biggies like Nietzsche, Hume, Descartes, Spinoza (had to look up how to spell half those names too) is embarrassingly low. Diderot sounds like he might be more accessible for newbies like me.

Anyone here know if he’d make a good starting point for getting to know about the big name philosophers?

I think I first came across Diderot in The Story of Philosophy, by Will Durant. I can’t say he’s a good starting point or not, since I tried a couple things, then found books like this that start at Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. I don’t think you can skip them. You could jump to Descartes, and probably shouldn’t skip Spinoza, then maybe Diderot would make sense. I actually don’t remember the details about him. Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy is hard to beat. Open up Diderot, and see what terms don’t make sense, it will most likely link to them.

A fun introduction is Wittgenstein’s Poker. It’s told as a story of an historic meeting, but gives lots of background in to why it’s historic.


Yes, Diderot (first name Denis) is accessible to “less smart people”. He was a big figure of Enlightenment Philosophers and well as for what has become “Laïcité” (separation of State and Church) in France and most francophone countries. The famous quote “We swallow comfortably lies that arrange us but drink hardly truths that bother us”.

Diderot’s position on religious beliefs evolved over time. Dedicated to an ecclesiastical career, he evolved towards theism, deism, and finally subscribe to materialist ideas. His main writings were Philosophical Thoughts and The Letter on the blind for the use of those who see.

His famous friends were (listing 3)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau another big figure who influenced Immanuel Kant etc.,

Paul Henry d’Holbach that some say to be the 2nd real Atheist in History after Abbé Meslier (the 1st Atheist who said “religion will stop only if all the nobles are hanged with the guts of priests”),

Voltaire (“religion has existed since the first hypocrite met the first fool”) …

A contemporary french philosopher that you may like to read is Michel Onfray.