Any of the literary men, scientists, and thinkers of 18th-century France who were united, in spite of divergent personal views, in their conviction of the supremacy and efficacy of human reason. Inspired by the philosophy of René Descartes, the skepticism of the libertines (or freethinkers), and the popularization of science by Bernard de Fontenelle (1657–1757), they were dedicated to the advancement of science and secular thought and to the open-mindedness of the Enlightenment. They included Voltaire, Montesquieu, Denis Diderot, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The philosophes compiled the Encyclopédie, one of the great intellectual achievements of the century.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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