One of Diderot’s lasting triumphs with the Encyclopédie was to equally examine and describe the liberal arts and the mechanical arts. The disdain and disregard for the mechanical arts was lamented by d’Alembert in the Preliminary Discourse of the Encyclopédie, “The mechanical arts, which are dependent upon manual operation and are subjugated (if I may be permitted this term) to a sort of routine, have been left to those among men whom prejudices have placed in the lowest class….not enough has been written well on the mechanical arts.”1
While the technologies and mechanical processes described in the text and illustrated in the plates were not always representative of the most recent advances, their level of detail exposed readers to concepts and ideas that were previously known only to craftsmen. While it was typical for artisans to keep the details of their trade a secret, Diderot took a more open-minded and global view. In his entry on the “Encyclopedia”, Diderot attacks such narrow-minded artisans by stating, “They fail to notice that they occupy no more than a point on this globe, and will last but an instant; and to this point and this moment they wish to sacrifice the happiness of future centuries and the entire species.”2
1 D'Alembert, Jean Le Rond. "Preliminary Discourse." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Richard N. Schwab and Walter E. Rex. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2009. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.083 (accessed January 9, 2017). Originally published as "Discourse Préliminaire," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:i-xlv (Paris, 1751).
2 Diderot, Denis. "Encyclopedia." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Philip Stewart. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2002. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.004 (accessed January 9, 2017). Originally published as "Encyclopédie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 5:635–648A (Paris, 1755).