Candide: Voltaire against Leibniz’ Optimism?

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Candide: Voltaire against Leibniz’ Optimism?

François-Marie Arouet, better known under his pen name Voltaire, was one of the leading philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. He is considered the epitome of the eighteenth century, which has been named le siècle de Voltaire. His philosophical novel or conte, Candide, was published in 1759 and remains one of his most well known and widely read of his works—particularly for the English reader.

In one part of his Columbia dissertation “Voltaire and Leibniz,” Richard A. Brooks has read Candide as an autobiographical account of Voltaire’s lifelong indecision and struggle to come to a solution to the problem of evil: “Candide was not merely an intellectual or philosophical exercise; it is a work, in a sense, autobiographical” (99). The problem of evil was one of the primary concerns of Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire. Scholars generally agree that Voltaire, throughout most of his works, was in conversation with pre-enlightenment German philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Some of them read Voltaire’s works as a denouncement of Leibniz as a charlatan. Others, when looking specifically at Candide, suggest that Voltaire is not refuting Leibniz’ philosophy, per se, but its popular misrepresentations. Others say that, whether Voltaire was aiming at criticizing Leibniz or the popularization of his thought, he failed in his enterprise. However, a close reading of the text of Candide itself, especially chapters three and six, provides specific evidence for reading this text as a direct and virulent attack on Leibniz’ Optimism, whose main argument is best summarized by the phrase “the best of all possible worlds” (Leibniz 229).

Optimism is linked to the problems of evil, of fr...

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Kivy, Peter. “Voltaire, Hume and the Problem of Evil.” Philosophy and Literature. 3.2 (1979): 211-224. Print.

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. La Salle, Ill: Open Court, 1985. The Project Gutenberg, 2005. Web. 7 Feb. 2010.

Mason, Haydn Trevor. Candide: Optimism Demolished. Twayne's masterwork studies, no. 104. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.

Riley, Patrick. “The Tolerant Skepticism of Voltaire and Diderot: Against Leibnizian Optimism and Wise Charity.” Early Modern Skepticism and the Origins of Toleration. Ed. Alan Levine. Lanham: Lexington Books, 1999. 249-270. Print.

Wilson, Catherine. “The reception of Leibniz in the eighteen century.” The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz. Ed. Nicholas Jolley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 442-474. Print.

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