Philosophes

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The Philosophes were a group of eighteenth century French intellectuals who dominated the French Enlightenment. Their interests were diverse, with experts in scientific, literary, philosophical and sociological matters. The ultimate goal of the philosophes was human progress; by concentrating on social and material sciences, they believed that a rational society was the only logical outcome of a freethinking and reasoned populace. They also advocated Deism and religious tolerance. Many believed religion had been used as a source of conflict since time eternal, and that logical, rational thought was the way forward for mankind.

In the early part of the 18th century the movement was dominated by Voltaire and Montesquieu, but that restrained phase grew in momentum as the century moved on. Overall the Philosophes were inspired by the thoughts of René Descartes, the skepticism of the Libertins and the popularisation of science by Bernard de Fontenelle. Sectarian dissensions within the church, the gradual weakening of the absolute monarch and the numerous wars of Louis XIV allowed their influence to spread.

Between 1748-1751 the Philosophes reached their most influential period. Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau published Spirit of Laws (1748) and Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750) respectively. Denis Diderot, acting as chief editor, also released the first volume of the Encyclopédie in 1751, causing a revolution in learning throughout the enlightened world.