The Effective Satire of Voltaire's Candide

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The Effective Satire of Voltaire's Candide

In Candide, Voltaire sought to point out the fallacy of Gottfried Leibniz's theory of optimism and the hardships brought on by the resulting inaction toward the evils of the world. Voltaire's use of satire, and its techniques of exaggeration and contrast highlight the evil and brutality of war and the world in general when men are meekly accepting of their fate.

Leibniz, a German philosopher and mathematician of Voltaire's time, developed the idea that the world they were living in at that time was "the best of all possible worlds." This systematic optimism shown by Leibniz is the philosophical system that believed everything already was for the best, no matter how terrible it seemed. In this satire, Voltaire showed the world full of natural disasters and brutality. Voltaire also used contrast in the personalities of the characters to convey the message that Leibniz's philosophy should not be dealt with any seriousness. Leibniz, sometimes regarded as a Stoic or Fatalist because his philosophies were based on the idea that everything in the world was determined by fate, theorized that God, having the ability to pick from an infinite number of worlds, chose this world, "the best of all possible worlds." Although Voltaire chose that simple quality of Leibniz's philosophy to satirize, Leibniz meant a little more than just that. Even though his philosophy stated that God chose "the best of all possible worlds," he also meant that God, being the perfection he is, chose the best world available to him, unfortunately it was a world containing evil. It seems as though Voltaire wanted to ridicule Leibniz's philosophy so much that he chose to satirize only the literal meaning and fatal acceptance of evil of Leibniz's philosophy.

To get his point across in Candide, Voltaire created the character Dr. Pangloss, an unconditional follower of Leibniz's philosophy. Voltaire shows this early in the novel by stating, "He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause and that, in this best of all possible worlds....(16)" Pangloss goes on to say that everything had its purpose and things were made for the best. For example, the nose was created for the purpose of wearing spectacles (Voltaire 16). Because of his "great knowledge," Candide, at this point a very naive and impressionable youth, regards Pangloss as the greatest philosopher in the world, a reverence that will soon be contradicted by contact with reality (Frautschi 75).

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