Denis Diderot


French Encyclopedist, Philosopher, Author and Art Critic

Author Quotes

Are we not madder than those first inhabitants of the plain of Sennar? We know that the distance separating the earth from the sky is infinite, and yet we do not stop building our tower.

Genius is present in every age, but the men carrying it within them remain benumbed unless extraordinary events occur to heat up and melt the mass so that it flows forth.

I let my mind rove wantonly, give it free rein to follow any idea, wise or mad, that may present itself.... My ideas are my harlots.

It is the man who is cool and collected, who is master of his countenance, his voice, his actions, his gestures, of every part, who can work upon others at his pleasure.

No man has received from nature the right to give orders to others. Freedom is a gift from heaven, and every individual of the same species has the right to enjoy it as soon as he is in enjoyment of his reason.

Scepticism is the first step towards truth.

The God of the Christians is a father who makes much of his apples, and very little of his children.

There is no kind of harassment that a man may not inflict on a woman with impunity in civilized societies.

What is this world of ours? A complex entity subject to sudden changes which all indicate a tendency to destruction; a swift succession of beings which follow one another, assert themselves and disappear; a fleeting symmetry; a momentary order.

As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.

Go further, and require each of them to make a contribution: you will see how many things are still missing, and you will be obliged to get the assistance of a large number of men who belong to different classes, priceless men, but to whom the gates of the academies are nonetheless closed because of their social station. All the members of these learned societies are more than is needed for a single object of human science; all the societies together are not sufficient for a science of man in general.

I like better for one to say some foolish thing upon important matters than to be silent. That becomes the subject of discussion and dispute, and the truth is discovered.

It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.

Nothing is duller than a progression of common chords. One wants some contrast, which breaks up the clear white light and makes it iridescent.

Sentences are like sharp nails, which force truth upon our memories.

The good of the people must be the great purpose of government. By the laws of nature and of reason, the governors are invested with power to that end. And the greatest good of the people is liberty. It is to the state what health is to the individual.

There is only one passion, the passion for happiness.

What is this world? A complex whole, subject to endless revolutions. All these revolutions show a continual tendency to destruction; a swift succession of beings who follow one another, press forward, and vanish; a fleeting symmetry; the order of a moment. I reproached you just now with estimating the perfection of things by your own capacity; and I might accuse you here of measuring its duration by the length of your own days. You judge of the continuous existence of the world, as an ephemeral insect might judge of yours. The world is eternal for you, as you are eternal to the being that lives but for one instant. Yet the insect is the more reasonable of the two. For what a prodigious succession of ephemeral generations attests your eternity! What an immeasurable tradition! Yet shall we all pass away, without the possibility of assigning either the real extension that we filled in space, or the precise time that we shall have endured. Time, matter, space—all, it may be, are no more than a point.

As to all the outward signs that awaken within us feelings of sympathy and compassion, the blind are only affected by crying; I suspect them in general of lacking humanity. What difference is there for a blind man, between a man who is urinating, and man who, without crying out, is bleeding? And we ourselves, do we not cease to commiserate, when the distance or the smallness of the objects in question produce the same effect on us as the lack of sight produces in the blind man? All our virtues depend on the faculty of the senses, and on the degree to which external things affect us. Thus I do not doubt that, except for the fear of punishment, many people would not feel any remorse for killing a man from a distance at which he appeared no larger than a swallow. No more, at any rate, than they would for slaughtering a cow up close. If we feel compassion for a horse that suffers, but if we squash an ant without any scruple, isn’t the same principle at work?

Good music is very close to primitive language.

I picture the vast realm of the sciences as an immense landscape scattered with patches of dark and light. The goal towards which we must work is either to extend the boundaries of the patches of light, or to increase their number. One of these tasks falls to the creative genius; the other requires a sort of sagacity combined with perfectionism.

Jacques said that his master said that everything good or evil we encounter here below was written on high.

Nothing is not as difficult to forgive someone, what its advantages.

Shakespeare’s fault is not the greatest into which a poet may fall. It merely indicates a deficiency of taste.

The infant runs toward it with its eyes closed, the adult is stationary, the old man approaches it with his back turned.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

French Encyclopedist, Philosopher, Author and Art Critic