Francis Cairns Publications

Vinaver Studies in French 2

Diderot, Dialogue & Debate

D.J. Adams

VSF 2. ISBN 978-0-905205-29-8. Cloth, 216 pp. 1986.

Diderot is widely praised as a master of lively, dramatic and original dialogue. This book studies the developing role of dialogue in his early writings (1745 to 1754).

Diderot's earlier experiments with the dialogue form, meticulously charted and analysed by D.J. Adams, opened the way to the exploration of human communication and cooperation which lies at the heart of the Encyclopédie. At first for Diderot dialogue ended in the triumph of monologue, with one speaker reducing another to silence. But one of his central problems was precisely that of solipsism. Is it possible for people to communicate effectively with each other? By engaging with this problem in his early writings Diderot gradually came to realise the epistemological importance of true dialogue as an escape from the solipsistic trap; and, slowly and hesitantly, he developed the form of communicative dialogue which was to flourish in the masterpieces of his later years.


Textual Note


Essaie sur le Mérite et la Vertu (1745)
Pensées philosophiques (1746)
La Promenade du Sceptique (1747)
Les Bijoux indiscrets (1748)
Lettre sur les Aveugles (1749)
Lettre sur les Sourds et Muets (1751)
Suite de l'Apologie de l'Abbé de Prades (1752)
L'Interpretation de la Nature (1753-1754)




"In all these texts characters engage in dialogue in a way which reflects Diderot's changing view on the possibility, and the importance, of human communication. In none of them is dialogue simply a narratological device, or a literary excursus introduced for the sake of variety. Inescapably, to study the way in which communication does or does not take place is to approach the central concerns of these texts, and to gain some insight into a fundamentally important part of Diderot's development as a thinker." (p.204)


"In presenting this original interpretation, Adams employs a rare combination of thoroughgoing, informed attention to details of the texts, due regard for the achievements of previous commentators, and a robust confidence in his own judgment. … it shows a fine understanding of the continuity of Diderot's work to have used the concept [of dialogue] to focus upon his most abiding interest, the problematic nature of human knowledge, its acquisitions and exchange." French Studies 41 (1987) 457-8 (Anthony Strugnell)

"a valuable study of Diderot's often neglected early writings" Romance Quarterly 36 (1989) 226-7 (Irwin L. Greenberg)

"Le premier mérite du livre est de ne jamais séparer le contenu idéologique de son expression stylistique et de traiter Diderot à la fois en philosophe et en écrivain." Recherches sur Diderot et sur l'Encyclopédie 3 (1987) 164-6 (Roland Mortier)

The British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 9 (1986) 292 (Robert Niklaus)

Enlightenment and Dissent 6 (1987) 118 (Geoffrey Bremner)

Dix-huitième siècle 19 (1987) (S. Baudiffier)

Modern Language Review 83 (1988) 453-4 (John Hope Mason)