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Voltaire's Candide as Vehicle to Discredit Optimism Essay

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Voltaire's Candide as Vehicle to Discredit Optimism


   Optimism was an attractive to many because it answered a profound philosophical question: if God is omnipotent and benevolent, then why is there so much evil in the world? Optimism provides an easy way out: God has made everything for the best, and even though one might experience personal misfortune, God (via your misfortune) is still helping the greater good.

 

            Voltaire's experiences led him to dismiss the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds. Examining the death and destruction, both man-made and natural (including the Lisbon earthquake) Voltaire concluded that everything was not for the best. Voltaire uses Candide as the vehicle to attack optimism. Pangloss is meant not to attack Leibnitz, but rather optimism as a philosophy. Thus the reader cannot forget that all of Pangloss's ramblings are not Voltaire's personal attacks on Leibnitz, but in some way represent a characterization of the "typical" optimist. Pangloss, writes Voltaire, "Proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause, and that in this best of all possible worlds the Baron's castle was the most beautiful of all castles and his wife the best of all possible baronesses" (Voltaire 2). Thus we have established Pangloss as the champion of optimism.

 

            Yet just as quickly, Voltaire points out the absurdity of this doctrine. "Observe," says Pangloss, seeking to demonstrate that everything has a cause and effect, "noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles. Legs, as anyone can plainly see, were made to be breeched, and so we have breeches" (Voltaire 3). The sheer stupidity of these illogical conclusions will likely...


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... Candide respond, in closing, to his friend the Optimist?

 

"That is very well put, said Candide, but we must cultivate our garden" (Voltaire 75).

 

Works Cited and Consulted:

Bottiglia, William. "Candide's Garden." Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Durant, Will, Ariel Durant. The Story of Civilization: Part IX: The Age of Voltaire. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.

Frautschi, R.L. Barron's Simplified Approach to Voltaire: Candide. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1968.

Lowers, James K, ed. "Cliff Notes on Voltaire's Candide". Lincoln: Cliff Notes, Inc. 1995.

Richter, Peyton. Voltaire. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.

Voltaire's Candide and the Critics. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.

Voltaire. Candide. New York: Viking Publishers, 1998.


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