Diderot’s Encyclopedie illustrated the major themes of the Enlightenment. Exemplifying humanism, it was a collection of everything man knew, and it was supposed to destroy superstition and provide access to human knowledge. The volumes incorporated applied sciences through scientists such as Newton and Holbach who wrote articles for it. It also included sketches of plows and things that the common man could understand and make. The Encyclopedie incorporated reason by including all of the ideas of the Enlightenment into the articles. A whole section of the work was devoted to reason and philosophy.
The volumes enhanced progress because they were in every town so the common man could study the pictures and those who could read could gain more knowledge by studying the articles. The Encyclopedie exemplified empiricism by questioning everything. It also left blank spaces where philosophes could write in their own ideas and criticisms. The last way the work illustrated the Enlightenment was through religious toleration. It praised Protestant thinkers and challenged Catholic dogmas. However, it also labeled religion under philosophy.
The three main monarchs who best typify the principles of the Enlightenment are Catherine the Great of Russia, Joseph II of Austria, and Frederick the Great of Prussia. Catherine the Great read the philosophes’ works and even invited Diderot to Russia when he was under persecution in Europe for his Encyclopedie. She revised and codified the Russian laws. As a formal patron of the arts, she inspired a rise of Russian art, literature, and education. Catherine also formed an economic society to strengthen the Russian government.
Joseph II of Austria established religious toleration and abolished slavery. He taxed the aristocracy at the expense of his popularity. Joseph II reformed the legal system and, as a result, abolished the death penalty as well. He too was a patron of the arts, and he required a compulsory elementary education for all Austrians.
Frederick the Great of Prussia revised and codified the Prussian laws. He also reorganized the economy and established religious toleration. Frederick the Great was friends with Voltaire even though they did not always agree on philosophy. Frederick loved the arts and even wrote flute music. His final contribution to Prussia was his dedication to building structures along the new line of architecture that developed during the Enlightenment.
– Hannah S. Bowers