Diderot's Encyclopédie

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SMENTEK: Denis Diderot, the principal editor of the Encyclopedie described his project as a universal and analytical dictionary of human knowledge. And this idea, or ideal, of the encyclopedia as encompassing all human knowledge is not new. There are several precedents. What is innovative about Diderot's En Encyclopedie is his contention that the mechanical arts were a category of universal knowledge just as valuable as the liberal arts and the sciences. And in making this claim, he's very provocatively challenging long-standing biases against manual labor.

In this environment, in the 18th century, physical labor is conceived of as brutish, or unreflective, and unintelligent. And by contrast, the sciences and the liberal arts involve intelligence, and they are therefore ennobling and uplifting. But then Diderot sets out to really challenge the bias against working with one's hands, by showing the complexity, and the creativity, and skill of even the most humble mechanical arts. And in so doing, raise their status in the eyes of contemporaries by showing the role of the mind, as well as the hand, in the mechanical arts. And this of course calls to mind MIT's motto of "Mens Et Manus"-- "Mind and Hand"