Diderot's Chaotic Order: Approach to Synthesis

Diderot's Chaotic Order: Approach to Synthesis

Lester G. Crocker
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 197
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    Diderot's Chaotic Order: Approach to Synthesis
    Book Description:

    Because of its fragmentary, evolving, exploratory, and dialectical character, Diderot's thought has continuously resisted overall synthesis. In the ideas of "order" and "disorder," ideas important in all of eighteenth-century thought, Lester G. Crocker finds the key to an outline of a structure that leads to a genuine synthesis of Diderot's writings on philosophy, morality, politics, and aesthetics.

    The tensions in Diderot's thought, Professor Crocker shows, reflect his understanding of reality itself-paradoxically, an anarchic order, a dynamic universe governed by laws but always changing in a chaotic way.

    The book examines Diderot's approach to aesthetics as a human ordering response to the world, and his approach to morals and politics as practical ways of dealing with the problems of order and disorder in the context of life in society. In light of the concepts of order and disorder, the inextricable associations of all of these realms of thought in Diderot's work become clear, and a unity is perceived.

    Since the problem of order and disorder was fundamental to an age faced with the dissolution of the Christian view of cosmic order, this novel approach to Diderot's work suggests new ways of understanding the Enlightenment as a whole.

    Originally published in 1974.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6794-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. I. Cosmic Order
    (pp. 3-51)

    The universe, for diderot, is matter and process. Any static or synchronic conceptualization, even including motion and its laws, is inadequate, although these mechanical phenomena are basic elements on which change and “le devenir” (“becoming”) depend. The shift to a diachronic universe has momentous consequences. It is the offspring of Descartes and Leibniz, rather than of the Christian or the Newtonian world-views, and was reinforced by the nascent but powerful notion of geological and biological evolution. It calls renewed attention to the problem of order. While none of the previous theological and moral components is lost, the problem now acquires...

  5. II. Aesthetics
    (pp. 52-74)

    The question of order underlies many of Diderot’s theoretical and practical considerations on the arts. His most abstract effort, the article “Beau,” which he wrote for theEncyclopédie,is itself the product of an orderly, rigorously schematic intellect. One of its major theses is that the genesis of the aesthetic experience is experimental, not innate; that it is the product of the innateneedto reorder the data of sense experience for the purpose of satisfying our needs.¹ The modus operandi of our innate reflective faculties involves the comparison and recombination of perceptions—the artist’s work will later be defined...

  6. III. Morals
    (pp. 75-115)

    One might think that in diderot’s mind the question of moral order and disorder should follow hard upon the cosmic considerations. Even given a morally neutral or value-free universe, this is not necessarily so, except for the nihilist who rejects the validity of conventional or man-made limits. While Diderot indulges in moments of speculation in the vein of moral nihilism that was so present in the minds of thephilosophes,cosmic referents play a rather small role in his ethical explorations after theLettre sur les aveugles(1749). Even there they really form a background designed precisely to exclude them...

  7. IV. Politics
    (pp. 116-149)

    Politics by its nature deals with the question of disorder and order, since government exists in good part to overcome the one and to foster the other. Diderot is keenly aware of this central problem, and is particularly mindful of its relation to the liberty of individuals.

    Diderot’s political thought underwent a dramatic evolution—perhaps one should say, in some ways, a revolution—in the early 1770’s.¹ In theEncyclopédie,his views are rather conventional and, even when they exceed the bounds of prudence, as in “Autorité politique” (1751), evolve entirely in the sphere of abstractions, as was indeed typical...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 150-169)

    A rereading of the foregoing chapters leaves this writer with one outstanding impression. In studying the role of order and disorder as persistent and guiding directives of Diderot’s thought, it has not been possible to separate metaphysics, natural philosophy, morals, politics, and aesthetics into self-contained subjects. Each chapter has forced its indissoluble interconnections upon us. In other words, the theme of order and disorder has enabled us, whatever the faults of our treatment, to reach a truly synthetic view of Diderot’s philosophy. The theme is not only omnipresent, it correlates and unifies an attitude and an outlook, a way of...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 170-174)
  10. Index
    (pp. 175-183)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 184-184)