A French writer and philosopher, Denis Diderot, born in Langres, was the son of a master cutler. After studying with the Jesuits, he was tonsured in 1726 and went to Paris in 1728. He obtained a Master of Arts in 1732, continued to educate himself and led a Bohemian life.
In 1742, he became friendly with Rousseau. In 1748, Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws began what was called The Age of Enlightenment. From 1747 to 1766, Diderot played an active role in the Enlightenment by managing the Encyclopedia with d'Alembert: for this monumental work whose aim was to record human progress in all its forms, he received contributions from Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Buffon, among others.
Although originally a deist (Philosophical Thoughts, 1746), he defended an atheist materialism in his Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those who See (1749) which caused him to be thrown into prison in Vincennes. When he was released, he became friendly with Grimm and d'Holbach, wrote his Letter on the Deaf and Dumb (1751), published his Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature (1753) and met Sophie Volland (1754). To The Illegitimate Son in 1757 (performed in 1771), he added the Discourse on Dramatic Poetry (1758), one month after The Father of the Family (performed in 1761).
Whilst dedicating himself to the last ten volumes of the Encyclopedia, which was banned for seven years in 1759, he published his novels The Nun (1761) and Rameau's Nephew (1762). The Salons then made Diderot one of the founders of art criticism (Essay on Painting). Once finished with the Encyclopedia, he dedicated himself to D'Alembert's Dream (1769), Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville (1772)and Jacques the Fatalist and his Master (1773).