The philosophes


1721 Persian Letters, by Montesquieu, satirizes French society through the eyes of two Persian visitors, who compare Christianity with Islam and undermine Catholic doctrine.

1751–72 Rond d’Alembert and Denis Diderot produce the great collective enterprise of the Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie, to “change the way people think.”


1779 Nathan the Wise, a play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing set during the Third Crusade, offers an aspirational vision of religious tolerance.

1796 Diderot’s philosophical novel Jacques the Fatalist, presenting a determinist world view, has among its characters two men who cannot stop ...

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