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Voltaire And Optimism Essay, Research Paper

Voltaire was a philosopher, and an author in his life of 84 years (1694-1778). Early in his life he thought optimistically, but as time went on and significant things happened in his life he started leading more toward pessimism. During his life many historical events happened, such as the Enlightenment. Voltaire s most read book, Candide, shows and pokes fun at optimism in the 18th Century.

Voltaire was a French writer and philosopher, who was one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment (Encarta). Voltaire was born in Paris on November 21, 1694. His assumed name is Francois Marie Arouet, but obtained his penname, Voltaire, after being imprisoned in the Bastille for writing witty verse mocking the royal authorities (Compton s). During his life he wrote many unsuccessful dramas, but did write and enormously popular one called Zaire . He also wrote many works of literature, some of which are Candide, Zadig , The Century of Louis XIV, Micromegas, The Russian Empire under Peter the Great, The Philosophical Dictionary, and Essay on Morals (Compton s). In his life he stayed at the palace of Madame Du Chatlet, until she died in 1749. He then moved to Berlin after Prussia s Fredrick the Great invited him. Three years later he moved Geneva, Switzerland. Then because of his strong opinions he was forced to move Ferney, France. By this time after moving and living in so many places he was a celebrity in Europe. Suddenly after directing his play, Irene , he wealth failed him and he died on May 30, 1778.

Many events happened in history during Voltaire s life. During his life he experienced the disaster at Lisbon, which affected him so much that he wrote the Poem on the Lisbon Disaster. Another significant event was the Enlightenment, in which he was a major philosophical figure. He popularized the Enlightenment with his philosophy and his literature. He affected literature of his time by writing the Philosophical Dictionary; it didn t only affect philosophies, but also the Italian Renaissance. Voltaire was one of the important political Philosophes during the Enlightenment. Three other important Philosophes in the 18th Century were Baron Montesque, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, and Adam Smith. Baron Montesque came up with idea of inductive thought and the system of government called the Checks and Balances. Montesque wrote book called Spirit of the Laws about finding a government that is stable for a long time. Jean-Jacque Rousseau was the opposite of Voltaire, by saying that the time before government, called the state of nature, was good and that people should let feeling govern themselves (McGreal, ?). He later wrote a book called The Social Contract saying that everything he said before about things like the state of nature was stupid. He then thought up of the idea of government being a contract between the people. Adam Smith was the founder of economy. He said that political stuff is irrelevant, and that it s all about the money. He later writes a book called Enquiry in the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations talking about how mercantilism is wrong and that the economic system should be capitalism. Another event that happened during Voltaire s life was the Seven Years War between France, Prussia, Austria, and England. Although Voltaire was not in those areas during those times and was barely affected by the war. Another was during his time was the war of Austrian Succession. He was affected by this war because the war involved Prussia and two years after the war he moved to live in Prussia, which was having financial problems.

Voltaire wrote Candide in 1759; it was a philosophical romance that poked fun at the philosophical optimism made fashionable by Leibniz (InfoPlease.com).” 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 of evil of Leibniz’s philosophy. In order for Voltaire to satirize Leibniz s philosophy, Voltaire makes a character in Candide named Dr. Pangloss who was a follower of Leibniz s philosophy. Voltaire shows this early in the book by stating, “He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause and that, in this best of all possible worlds (Frame 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 (Frame 16). Candide, at this point a na ve and impressionable youth, regards Pangloss as the greatest philosopher in the world. 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 respect that will soon be contradicted by contact with reality (Frautschi 75). The name Pangloss is translated as “all tongue” and “windbag,” which he totally was.

A contrast to the views of Pangloss is the character Martin. Martin, a pessimist, is a friend and advisor to Candide whom he meets on his journey. Martin continuously tries to prove to Candide that there is little virtue, morality, and happiness in the world. When a cheerful couple is seen walking and singing, Candide tells Martin, “At least you must admit that these people are happy (Frame 80).” Martin answers Candide’s comment with the reply, “I wager they are not (Frame 80).” Martin suggests that Candide invite the couple to dine at his hotel. As the young girl, now found to be Paquette, tells her story, Martin takes pleasure in knowing he has won the wager. Candide s conclusion is Let us cultivate our garden (instead of speculating on unanswerable problems), expresses succinctly Voltaire s practical philosophy of common sense (InfoPlease.com).

In Voltaire s life he starts out thinking optimistically but then starts thinking more pessimistically. The Lisbon earthquake disaster, which destroyed two-thirds of the city, was probably the most significant event that encouraged him to change from an optimistic thinker to a pessimistic thinker. The definition of optimism is a tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation (Dictionary.com). The definition of pessimism is almost the exact opposite of that saying that this is the worst of all possible worlds. After the Lisbon disaster Voltaire starts thinking more pessimistically because he notices that if this were the best of all possible worlds then why would such a tragedy occur. During the 18th Century optimism and pessimism were very significant with how people thought about Voltaire.

Voltaire was marked by his thoughts on optimism and pessimism. Voltaire s most read book, Candide, shows and pokes fun at optimism in the 18th Century.


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