The Dictionnaire philosophique
) is an encyclopedic dictionary
An encyclopedic dictionary typically includes a large number of short listings, arranged alphabetically, and discussing a wide range of topics. Encyclopedic dictionaries can be general, containing articles on topics in many different fields; or they can specialize in a particular field...
published by Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...
in 1764. The alphabetically arranged articles often criticize the Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...
and other institutions. The first edition, released in June of 1764, went by the name of Dictionnaire Philosphique Portatif
. It was 344 pages and consisted of 73 articles. Later versions were expanded into two volumes consisting of 120 articles. The first editions were published anonymously in Geneva by Gabriel Grasset. Due to the volatile content of the Dictionnaire
, Voltaire chose Grasset over his usual publisher to ensure his own anonymity.
was a lifelong project for Voltaire. It represents the culmination of his views on Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...
, and other subjects.
History and origins
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...
saw the creation of a new way of structuring information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...
s. The first work to employ this method was the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique
The Dictionnaire Historique et Critique is a biographical dictionary written by Pierre Bayle , a Huguenot who lived and published in Holland after fleeing his native France due to religious persecution. The dictionary was first published in 1697, and enlarged in the second edition of 1702...
(1697) by Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695....
, in which the information is ordered in alphabetical order. Other important works using a similar structure followed, such as the Encyclopedie
Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It was edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert...
by Diderot and D’Alembert. Having witnessed first hand the popularity and many advantages of this form, Voltaire used this information while preparing the Philosophical Dictionary
in 1752, although it wasn't completed until 1764.
Having had the opportunity to write his Dictionary at a later point in time, Voltaire saw that there were certain problems with previous dictionaries, chiefly that they were all lengthy, and thus very expensive and unaccessible for much of the population. Voltaire sought to create a text which would fit in one's pocket and be affordable because “revolutionary material must be small enough for people to carry with them,” what he created is a text which educated and amused at the same time.
Voltaire’s motivations for writing the Philosophical Dictionary
can be seen as an act of luck. The idea was spawned at a dinner party in the court of Prince Frederick II of Prussia
Frederick II was a King in Prussia and a King of Prussia from the Hohenzollern dynasty. In his role as a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire, he was also Elector of Brandenburg. He was in personal union the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel...
in 1752, during which he and other guests each agreed to write an article and share them the next morning. Voltaire consequently was the only guest to take the game seriously and the idea cascaded to form the Philosophical Dictionary
The Philosophical Dictionary
is structured in the tradition of Bayle, Diderot and d’Alembert - that is to say, alphabetically ordered. Although this order helps readers more easily find articles, this was not meant to be a dictionary or encyclopaedia in the same totalizing way of D'Alembert's project. Voltaire’s writing is neither objective nor varied in opinion; the same arguments are made throughout the Philosophical Dictionary
emphasizing the point of his discontent.
Many of the themes addressed by Voltaire in this book are addressed or touched upon in his work l’Infame
. In this and other words, Voltaire is very concerned about the injustices of the Catholic Church, which he sees as intolerant and fanatical. At the same time, his work espouses deism, tolerance, and freedom of the press.
Because this work was written late in the author's life, coupled with the fact that it is compiled of articles written over an extended period of time, the work had many influences. The influences noticeably change depending on the theme which the article addresses.
The first major influence on the Philosophical Dictionary
is Voltaire’s visit to England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
, which gave him the opportunity to compare the problems in France with a place that had free press and to become better acquainted with important and influential thinkers such as Locke and Newton. Newtonian theory is influential in many of the articles that deal with tolerance stating that if we “do not know the essence of things we will not persecute others,”for those things.
The Calas affair was an event that shaped Voltaire during the creation of the Philosophical Dictionary
. Jean Calas
Jean Calas was a merchant living in Toulouse, France, famous for having been the victim of a biased trial due to his being a Protestant. In France, he is a symbol of Christian religious intolerance, along with Jean-François de la Barre and Pierre-Paul Sirven.Calas, along with his wife, was a...
was a Calvinist
Calvinism is a Protestant theological system and an approach to the Christian life...
who was wrongfully convicted of killing his son. This occurred because there had been a rumour that the murder was fuelled by Jean Calas's son conversion to Catholicism. David de Beaudrige, who was in charge of the case, upon hearing this rumor had the Calas family arrested without inquiry. Voltaire used this theme in the Philosophical Dictionary
to fight against the Catholic Church.
The reception of the Philosophical Dictionary
at the time was mixed. On one hand the book saw a very strong reception on the part of the general public. The first edition was quickly sold out; many more editions were needed to keep up with the demand. Enlightened rulers such as Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...
both have been recorded as being supporters of the book.
On the other hand the Philosophical Dictionary
was despised by religious authorities who had a very important influence over what works were to be censored. The Philosophical Dictionary
was censored in many countries including Switzerland (Geneva) and France. In these countries all available copies of the book were collected and burned in the town square.
Voltaire, who remained an anonymous author, was repeatedly asked if he minded that the Portatif was being burned, but he calmly replied that he had no reason to be upset.