Assignment 5 – Encyclopédie

Encyclopédie and Wikipedia – SIMILARITIES (scroll down to see differences)

Both projects have been viewed as subversive in their intent. The Encyclopédie, by employing the rational thought of radical thinkers, set out to challenge the old orders and as McArthur argues, was not just interested in the already known but was forward thinking too, making it “one of the most politically significant reference books in history” (105). Wikipedia with its democratic model of open access can be said to have challenged the sphere’s of academia and publishing for the control of knowledge and its dissemination. -Gavin

First of all, men edited the Encyclopedie who had no particular knowledge in the subject matter that they were editing because experts wrote the articles whose knowledge exceeded that of the editors (d’Alembert 2). Articles weren’t filtered in content for “irreligious or treasonable ideas” (McArthur 130). Thus, like Wikipedia, there was no way of checking the validity of the ‘experts’ that wrote the Encyclopedie entries.  -Jennifer

Diderot’s Encyclopedie is similar to Wikipedia in that both contain “errors of fact, repetitions, plagiarisms.” (129) The Encyclopedie “featured articles by leading radical thinkers,” (129) which created an open and sometimes biased source of information. Wikipedia has many of the same problems; since anyone can participate, some information contains errors that arise when any individual can contribute his or her knowledge to a public forum. Another similarity between the two is that both serve as a database of information wherein ideas are consolidated and various branches of knowledge are gathered “together under a single point of view and will serve to indicate their origin and their relationships to one another.” (4) Both enable knowledge to shift from private individuals who keep it “among themselves” (5) to the public sphere where the general population has the chance to perceive a plethora of knowledge at once. -Benjamin

They are both “special turning point in the history of works of reference” (McArthur 105). Aside from the Hybridity of both publications, they both aim to compile knowledge collectively. As McArthur puts it “they place no necessary limits upon human knowledge” (105). There is more involved then just one man (which is the case with many other publications of the time [i.e. Johnsons Dictionary]). -Ramez

Diderot’s Encyclopédie resembles today’s Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  For instance, “Encyclopaedias have in truth long been convenient vehicles for unpopular or advanced opinions and ideas” (Collison, 1964:4f).  Wikipedia is filled with articles that wouldn’t have made it into the Britannica:  sex, drugs, taboo topics, or slang terms.  Like the Encyclopédie, Wikipedia provides its authors a “privilege of comparative immunity” (Collison, 1964:4f).   -Si

A similarity found in D’Alembert’s “Preliminary Discourse” regards organization. He describes the organization of the Encyclopédie as such:” three things make up the encyclopedic arrangement: the name of the science…, the position…, and the connection … references to other … technical terms ” (13). Likewise, Wikipedia is organized more or less similarly, though more technically. -Mia

According to Collison’s review of encyclopedias, Diderot’s Encyclopédie took advantage of its’ ability to spread unpopular ideas and opinions, a feat that Wikipedia has been vulnerable to and has resulted in the “censorship” (McArthur, 106) of voices when the webmasters close down edit options for certain topics, such as controversial politics or historical events. -Anne C.

One similarity is that the Encyclopédie strived to connect a particular article “[…] with others in the same science or in a different science” (d’Alembert 13) which is arguably similar to Wikipedia’s reference links that connect an article to other articles on the web. -My

The similarities between Wikipedia and Diderot’s Encyclopédie lie mainly in their intent. To begin, the works were very progressive for their time, promoting a contemporary form of rational humanism (McArthur 105) driven by the idea of social progress. As such, both encountered the ire of existing institutions. In the case of Diderot, his Encyclopédie drew the disapproval of Jesuits and the Catholic Church. Similarly, Wikipedia has drawn criticism from academic circles and media institutions (rightfully so in some circumstances). -Phillip

First and foremost, both the Encyclopédie and Wikipedia can be considered to be encyclopedias and dictionaries, because the distinctions between these two are very ambiguous at times. The Encyclopédie is defined by d’Alembert to have two aims, serving as an encyclopedia to “set forth as well as possible the order and connections of the parts of human knowledge,” and as a dictionary, “to contain the general principles that form the basis of each science and each art, liberal, or mechanical, and the most essential facts that make up the body and substance of each” (d’Alembert, 102-103). Wikipedia also serves to define abstract concepts as well as words.  -Amy

Structurally, the Encyclopédie and Wikipedia are similar in that both are organized in a thematic hierarchy. Diderot organized his encyclopedia into “three general divisions of our system of human knowledge: History, which is related to memory; Philosophy, which is the fruit of reason; and the Fine Arts, which are born of imagination” (d’Alembert, 8). Correspondingly, one way to begin perusing Wikipedia is through its subject portals: Arts, History, Mathematics, etc. -Andy

Wikipedia reflects a much more sprawling, hyper-realized form of Diderot’s Encyclopédie. For example, Wikipedia reflects the goals d’Alembert instilled in the Encyclopédie: it provides an explanation of the “general principles that form the basis of each science and each art” and also “sets forth… the order and connection of [these] parts of human knowledge” (d’Alembert 3). In Wikipedia, pages work like individual sections within a volume: they state a topic and description, along with subsections like bulletpoints which writers deem essential to add. The problem of brevity as well as the many errors also channels Diderot’s “various strong-minded contributors” that made the Encyclopedie “enormously difficult… and replete with errors of fact, repetitions, plagiarism and articles that did not knit together properly” (McArthur 105). But despite these errors, both mediums excel in the ordering of these topics, drawing connections and referencing other topics in alphabetical and thematic lists. Both are “world maps” (d’Alembert 4). -Trisha

Moreover, McArthur states that the Diderot’s encyclopedia was “mixed fact and fancy, science and supposition” (131), which can also be applied to Wikipedia’s articles. -Victoria

Wikipedia can be seen as similarly radical to the Encyclopedie in which it “places no necessary limits upon human knowledge,” and advocates for social progress by keep information publicly accessible (McArthur 105).  -Tracy

While Diderot’s Encyclopédie (and later the Encyclopedia Brittanica) and Wikipedia have their differences, they also share a surprising number of similarities. Wikipedia, due to its open nature, is often distrusted as being erroneous and accused of unfairly using copyrighted material. However, McArther states that the Encyclopédie also had numerous errors and instances of plagiarism (pg 105), and the Encyclopedia Britannica was said to be composed “with pastepot and scissors” (107).  -Josh

Both Diderot’s Encyclopédia and Wikipedia enforce an absence of traditional structure. Alphabetical arrangement is irrelevant; what matters is the connections between articles. In its physical form, the Encyclopédia divided as three facets of knowledge, namely, History-memory, Philosophy-reason, and Fine Arts-imagination, and articles were connected by reference, proximity, and the hope that readers could ‘connect the dots’ themselves (d’Alembert 13). Such relationships are more concisely expressed through hyperlinks in Wikipedia, which additionally allows for multiple categories per article – “Justin Bieber,” for example, falls under 19 categories. -Jonathan

McArthur discusses how Diderot’s Encyclopédie was “replete with errors of fact, repetitions, plagiarisms and articles that did not knit together properly” (105). Wikipedia suffers similar issues. Content on Wikipedia is generated by whoever has access to the Internet, so there are bound to be times when people include inaccurate information and other errors in articles. -Kim

…the articles exist independently of one another and are not “knit together” in a coherent manner. However, both Wikipedia and the Encyclopedie attempt to remedy this problem by providing links within articles to other entries. D’Alembert writes that “such and such an article is related to another article, which belongs to a different science, and which in turn is related to a third article, and so forth,” while explaining how references are made between articles (D’Alembert 13). -Leyla

Encyclopédie and Wikipedia – DIFFERENCES

When it comes to the issue of validity, “Matoré points out … that Diderot’s Encyclopédie … was still enormously difficult to produce and replete with errors of fact, repetitions, [and] plagiarisms…” (McArthur, 105).  Wikipedia is enormously easy to produce, and although it is open to editing by anyone it is still unlikely that you will find incorrect information pertaining to popular topics.  Due to the power of the Internet and the vigilance of Wikipedia’s users, any invalid change that you make is likely to be removed within two minutes. -Aaron P.

McArthur points out that Diderot’s Encyclopedie was a “free-thinker’s alternative” (106): it was a product of radical humanism that sought to amass universal information unrestrained by manipulative doctrines (ie. that of the Church). Wikipedia is similar in these respects – it is an alternative to authoritarian encyclopedias, and its authors are, for the most part, indeed free-thinkers. The difference, however, is that Wikipedia is not authored by an exclusive “society of men of letters” (2, d’Alembert); instead, editors are volunteer netizens. -Jeffery

Jean Le Rond d’Almbert stated, “As an Enyclopedia, it is to set forth as well as possible the order and connection of the parts of human knowledge.  As a Reasoned Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Trades, it is to contain the… most essential facts that make up the body and substance of each” (d’ Almbert, 3).  The goal of Wikipedia seems to be more of individual fulfillment- people write primarily as a hobby, and if this happens to serve a greater good, then so be it.  -Elise

The most obvious difference between these two encyclopedias is the authors. Diderot’s Encyclopédie is “the work of a society of men of letters” (d’Alembert 2). In other words it is the product of obsessive work by a group of extremely devoted men, men that Thomas Cooper’s wife would have destroyed many books for (McArthur 93)! Wikipedia, on the other hand, is the work of millions of hobbyists. While a few people work for Wikipedia full time, the public does most of the work. Anyone can write articles, and the masses serve to update and moderate their own work. -Samantha

The most striking difference between the Encyclopédie and Wikipedia is that Diderot’s Encyclopédie is called both “Encyclopédie” and a “Reasoned Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Trades” while Wikipedia has blatantly stated that t is “an online encyclopedia….not a dictionary” in its five pillars (Jean Le Rond d’Alembert 2, Wikipedia). This distinction, I feel, is important due to the differences in content that it implies.  This is, of course, the second (among hundreds of others) difference: their contents and the way they are presented. MacArthur states that “the Encyclopédie belongs with such other eighteenth-century trail blazers of radical humanism as the American Declaration of Independence….It did not simply inform; it incited” (MacArthur, 106). In contrast, Wikipedia endeavors to maintain a neutral stance, “striv[ing] for articles that advocate no single point of view” (Wikipedia). Although Wikipedia’s lack of bias may benefit the reader, it also means that it lacks the “creative and almost prophetic genius” of the Encyclopédie, an example of which would be Diderot’s speculation on teaching the blind using their tactile senses (MacArther, 105). -Diana

The two are distinct in that the Encyclopedie was “‘an important organ of radical and revolutionary opinion'”, while Wikipedia is scrupulously impartial, to the point that it is impossible to discuss any controversial issue on Wikipedia, or to point out that a piece of so-called “common knowledge” is not univerally accepted, without overzealous editors stepping in to “restore impartiality”. -Andrew

Wikipedia is dynamic, continuously corrected and expanded, and errors are often transient due to peer review. The Encyclopédie remains exactly the same as when it was published, and the ideas expressed therein are permanent. This deafness to social response gave the Encyclopédie a much stronger societal impact. Diderot distributed incendiary ideas that caused his work to be “attacked by the Jesuits and for a time suppressed by the king” (McArthur, 105), while enjoying “a privilege of comparative immunity that no individual author would have gained” (McArthur, 106). McArthur treats the Encyclopédie as “one of the major intellectual forces that impelled France towards its Revolution” (105) – obviously the same can’t be said regarding Wikipedia. -Andy

The authors of the Encyclopédie make clear in the first paragraph of their introduction that their aim was to organize as much as to explain. They seek in their Systême Figuré a complete taxonomy of human knowledge, Wikipedia although having portals for common categorizations of subjects does not rely on or attempt to impose a structure. Because of this structural aim and the “Baconian” philosophy underlying it, the information in the Encyclopédie is related in a hierarchical way. The technology of storage enabling Wikipedia means that its information is linked in more horizontal ways. -Gavin

Another way in which these two seem different is that the Encyclopedie could be both thematic and alphabetic, “Diderot’s volumes were alphabetic… the Encyclopedie methodique… was thematic”, while Wikipedia cannot really be categorized in neither, mostly because you just need to type whatever you are searching information on, or click on links, you don’t necessarily have to look for a theme or in alphabetical order. -Monica

One primary difference between the ‘pedias seems to be motive: Diderot’s Encyclopédia “featured articles by leading radical thinkers” and was probably “one of the major intellectual forces that impelled France towards its Revolution,” while Wikipedia aims to simply “[gather] all of the world’s knowledge in a single place” (McArthur 105, History_of_Wikipedia). -Jonathan

Another dissimilarity is the actual content of which is included in both the Encyclopedie and Wikipedia. The three divisions of knowledge within the former are History (memory), Philosophy (reason), and the Fine Arts (imagination). Wikipedia, however, has information on any subject imaginable including current cultural phenomena. Last year, there was actually a battle between Wikipedia Editors and Justin Bieber fans for the control of this young pop sensation’s personal Wikipedia page, which demonstrates the limitless boundaries of both contributors and content within Wikipedia (Weiner). -Hannah

Another difference is the presentation of these “facts”, Wikipedia’s manner has less of a structure and is more interconnected through direct links on pages to other, possibly distantly related information. The Encyclodeie attempts to arrange all knowledge under one focal point in some “knowledge tree”, trying to cater to the “best possible” conception of how such information such be presented. The lack of interconnectedness the internet provides makes physical Encyclopedias much less effective. (pg 4. Preliminary Discourse) -Nik

Their differences then are a matter of extent. Wikipedia differs from the Encyclopedie by the increased democratization of the “expert” and its use of hyperlinks. Wikipedia’s main feature is its “openly editable model” ( that allows anyone to contribute. Whatever prestige the Encyclopedie gained from its famous contributors is lost, favoring anonymous intellect. Secondly, due to the website’s interface, Wikipedia uses hyperlinks as a more immediate way of ordering ideas that Diderot mentioned. Wikipedia has its portals too, but it can also link to other ideas within the text. As a result, surfing Wiki is almost akin to the directionless “sort of labyrinth… tortuous road which the intellect enters” that d’Alembert wished to get away from (d’Alembert 57). Wikipedia is thus a gift and a punishment, an exaggerated idea of the Encyclopedie. -Trisha

However, Wikipedia is not nearly as innovative as Diderot’s work, and there don’t seem to be any themes that govern the articles on Wikipedia like the themes of radical humanism that are found in the Encyclopédie. (McArthur, 105) No such themes could exist on Wikipedia because of how open it is to change and addition by all people. Also, it was mentioned that the Encyclopédie challenged certain groups’ belief systems, and I do not believe Wikipedia, while being popular, has that sort of impact on our society. (McArthur, 105-106) -Sayed

However, one important difference in this similarity is that while the Encyclopédie became “an important organ of radical and revolutionary opinion” concerned with inciting and not just informing (McArthur, 105), Wikipedia tries to remain neutral and does not necessarily favor radicalism . Another difference is that the Encyclopédie’s reliance on an alphabetical order (d’Alembert, 13), is not of such importance in today’s Wikipedia since topics can be linked. -Danae

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