In Diderot’s Refutation of Helvetius (1773-1774), the meditation on philosophers is part of a wider discourse regarding man as individual, seen as the unique sum of specific determinants and irreducible particularities. Furthermore, the emphasis put on the personal vision and original style of the great thinker tends to establish the philosopher, like the artist, as a singular being. Diderot, however, unlike Rousseau, does not locate the self at the living heart of his philosophy, as the source of truth, and vigorously criticises ethical systems which « mirror » their authors. His role as head of the Encyclopaedists, as well as his numerous anonymous contributions, lead him to lend value to the impersonal participation in the progress of knowledge. This article explores these tensions in order to argue that Diderot, without resolving them, nonetheless embodies them through the practice of a kind of self-revealing philosophy. Philosophy in Refutation does not pretend to be either neutral and without origin, nor to surge forth naked and pure from the fount of individual genius. In the way it lets itself get caught in the intimacy of its elaboration, it is understood here to constitute a type of ego-philosophy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Literature and Literary Theory