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Supplément au voyage de Bougainville

Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, ou dialogue entre A et B sur l'inconvénient d'attacher des idées morales à certaines actions physiques qui n'en comportent pas. ("Addendum to the Journey of Bougainville, or dialogue between A and B on the drawback to binding moral ideas to certain physical actions which bear none") is a set of philosophical dialogues written by Denis Diderot, inspired by Louis Antoine de Bougainville's Voyage autour du monde. It was written in 1772 for the journal Correspondance littéraire, which commissioned him to review Bougainville's account of his travels, but not published until 1796.[1]



Bougainville, a contemporary of Diderot, was a French explorer whose 1771 book Voyage autour du monde (A Voyage Around the World) provided an account of an expedition that took him to Argentina, Patagonia, Indonesia, and Tahiti. It was the utopian descriptions of the latter that inspired Diderot to write his review in the form of a fictional Supplement.


The Supplement spans either four or five chapters, depending on the edition.[2] Each takes the form of a dialogue between two people, but the characters and setting varies. Chapter two features a Tahitian Elder addressing a hypothetical Bougainville; chapters three and four are between a villager named Orou and his European almoner guest; in chapters one and five, speakers known only as "A" and "B" speak in a literary space apart from Tahiti, commenting on and drawing lessons from the noted differences between Tahitian and European culture.

In each of the dialogues, Diderot aligns one character with European culture and the other with Tahitian culture for the purpose of contrasting the two. This kind of nature–culture divide was a common strategy to critique aspects of European culture during the Enlightenment.[3]


Diderot touches upon many popular Enlightenment themes, for example: slavery, colonisation, the Catholic faith, the relationship between morality and law, ownership of private property and human sexuality.

Two main areas of life arise from Diderot's "Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage" and oppose one another. First Diderot dissects Tahitian society and then compares it to an eighteenth-century French society.[4] The themes that stem from the comparison deal with the nature of man and the nature of what is known to be an advanced society.[5] By comparing these two societies, Diderot is able to produce moral statements about the way that people live. The issue of morality is one of Diderot's major themes. From morality Diderot moves to other themes of ownership and private property, specifically through marriage. Both societies seem extremely foreign to one another and think that each are better, but in reality they are just different.[4]

Theme of Sexuality in Supplément au Voyage de BougainvilleEdit


Because of his study of nature and the advancements in life sciences, Denis Diderot came to the conclusion that universal progress depends largely on Eros.[6]  For Diderot, Eros is “a priori existence of sexual energy that fuels the universe.”  This concept greatly influenced Diderot’s views on human sexuality.  His involvement in Enlightenment movements such as sensualism, vitalism and materialism also helped him developed his ideas about human sexuality.[6]  He believed that nature had a moral end and encourages humans to have children.[6]  Since nature favors procreation, laws and rules should not restrain the sexuality of men and women.[6]   Since 18th century French society had many rules controlling people’s sexuality, Diderot believed that French society is not a suitable place for Eros because of its “artificiality and formalism.”[6]  For Claudia Moscovici, Diderot’s critique of 18th century French society, especially its rules controlling human sexuality, can especially be seen in the Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville.[7]

Diderot’s views on human sexualityEdit

Diderot’s views on sexuality is contained in the Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville. In the book, Diderot uses a dialogue between Orou, a Tahitian man, and a chaplain in order to contrast the French and Tahitian societies.[8] Tahitian people are governed by nature and portrayed as happy and content.[7] They also have less restrictions on their sexual conduct because men and women are not obligated to marry before having a child together.[8]  People can have sex with the opposite gender in order to procreate, which is nature’s intended purpose for humans.  In Tahiti, women are not considered property of any man and are not ridiculed for having a child before marriage.[7]  Claudia Moscovici argues that Diderot uses the Tahitian society to criticize the laws and norms regarding sexual behavior in 18th century French society and Western culture.[8] Unlike the Tahitians, the French are governed by laws and convention.[8]  They had more restrictions on the sexual behavior of men and women.[8]  For instance, it was unacceptable to have a child with someone without being married in French society.  Once married, family life for women was very constraining.  French women did not have much freedom to pursue jobs outside of the home and was considered the property of their husband. In this way, Claudia Moscovici argues that Diderot believed that marriage controlled human sexuality because women and men were bound to one another, prohibiting them from having children with others.[6] For Alice Parker, Diderot also believed this idea because French women were no longer free to satisfy their own desires, especially sexual ones, and had to adhere to the commands of their  “bourgeois patriarchs.”[7]

Diderot’s contradictory views on sexualityEdit

While Diderot suggests that women should be liberated and not be property of men in Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, Walter E. Rex argues that Diderot contradicts himself when he writes a letter to Angelique, his daughter, on her wedding day.[9]  In this letter, Diderot discusses how his daughter should act once she is married to her husband.[9]  Instead of reiterating that she is not the property of her husband, he tells her, in a sense, she is her husband’s property.[9] He asserts that a wife should obey and give pleasure to her husband.[9]  She should respect him at all times and keep him entertained in order to guarantee that he will not leave her.[9] Diderot even says that her whole existence is to ensure that her husband is satisfied.[9] In this way, according to Rex, Angelique does not have the same amount of sexual liberation as the Tahitians in Diderot’s Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville.[9]  Rex argues this idea because Diderot did not give Angelique the ability to act on her own accord but rather, dictated that her actions must conform to her husband’s wishes.[9]  She was not free to act on her own natural instincts, especially those of the sexual kind.[9]  Rex articulates that Diderot controlled his daughter's sexuality, which is contrary to the sexual liberation displayed in the Tahitian lifestyle in Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville.[9]  Walter E. Rex argues that the contradiction occurred because Diderot’s enthrallment with the expedition accounts of Bougainville caused him to overlook the fact that his views on human sexuality contained in the letter to his daughter was different than those explained in Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville.[9]  

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Wikisourcelang|fr|Supplément au voyage de Bougainville
  2. ^ McDonald, Christie V. (1976). The Reading and Writing of Utopia in Denis Diderot's "Supplement au voyage de Bougainville". Science Fiction Studies, 3(3): 248-254.
  3. ^ Ansart, Guillaume. (2000). Aspects of Rationality in Diderot's "Supplement au voyage de Bougainville". Diderot Studies, 26: 11-19.
  4. ^ a b Goodman, Dena (1983). "The Structure of Political Argument in Diderot's Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville". Diderot Studies. 21: 123–137. JSTOR 40372573.
  5. ^ McDonald, Christie V. (1976). "The Reading and Writing of Utopia in Denis Diderot's "Supplément au voyage de Bougainville"". Science Fiction Studies. 3 (3): 248–254. JSTOR 4239040.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Parker, Alice (1986). "Did/erotica: Diderot's Contribution to the History of Sexuality". Diderot Studies. 22: 89–106 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ a b c d Moscovici, Claudia (2001). "An Ethics of Cultural Exchange: Diderot's Supplement au Voyage de Bougainville". Clio. 30: 289–307 – via JSTOR.
  8. ^ a b c d e Moscovici, Claudia (2002). Double Dialectics: Between Universalism and Relativism in Enlightenment and Postmodern Thought. United States: Rowman & Littlefield.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rex, Walter E. (1998). "Contrariety in the" Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville". Diderot Studies. 27: 149–168.