Using the Encyclopédie: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Reading

As editors of the Encyclopedie, Diderot and D'Alembert claimed that one of the greatest strengths was that the knowledge it contained was usefull. It was indeed, for the Encyclopedie assembled existing knowledge from a wide range of fields, making that knowledge potentially accessible to a broad readership.
In addition, the Encyclopedie contributed to creating new areas of inquiry and forming new knowledge in vast fields now called science and technology, the arts and humanities.
The sheer amount of knowledge contained in the pages of the encyclopedie is impressive enough. But what the encyclopedists aimed for was a way to put knowledge to work. What they sought above all was a way to fashion critical knowledge, the kind designed to demystify readers, to 'undeceive them' as Diderot put it, and thus to free them from the reign of superstition, doctrine, and received ideas. The Encyclopedie does aim to advance the Enlightenment project in this fashion. It also contains voices that are hostile or merely indifferent to such a grandiouse project. Yet ultimately, the Encyclopedie provides a stronger more powerful way of knowing things, one more able to resist or at least to situate critically prior ways of knowing. A century and a half after the appearance of the first volume of the Encyclopedie in 1751, as we open its pages - or view them on-line or from a CD-Rom - what the encyclopedists knew is of less importance to us now than how they knew.
Or rather, to understand what the Encyclopedie presents to its readers in the way of knowledge, we must also consider how that knowledge is to be read..................................................
 

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Using the Encyclopédie: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Reading

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