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Candide Philosophical Optimism Essay, Research Paper

Philosophical Optimism

Life, death, and existence; every sentient beings at one time or another have perused each concepts in regards to their own lives, questioning the very philosophy that they had so easily accepted. In the novel Candide by Voltaire, Candide the na ve protagonist of the story who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in the best of all possible worlds. Wouldn t it be great to believe that all were for the best and everything that happens happened for a reason? The poor are poor because they are and the rich are rich because they just happened to be rich. This way the poor are content with their lives and the rich are secure in knowing that the poor are kept in their place. According to this absurd notion of equity all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Instead of leading people away from such indoctrinations many prominent institutions encouraged this philosophical optimism and went even further to abuse its authority. Irritated by the people blind conviction and the authority s exploitations, Voltaire uses humorous devices to satire evils he finds in philosophical optimism, religion, and nobility, and in doing so makes clear his attack on figures of authority.

The absurdity and sheer stupidity of philosophical optimism are humorously presented through the use of irony, contradiction, and understatement. The name Candide is synonymous with optimism. Pure and unbelievably na ve, Candide follows the philosophy taught him by Pangloss that this is the best of all possible worlds. Candide is used by Voltaire as a tool to show the absolute ludricracy of complete optimism. According to Pangloss, Candide s esteemed teacher of metaphysico theologo cosmolo nigology , the universe is linked in a complex chain of cause and effect and that this linking had been done by a divine creator as he created the harmonious universe. Since he was benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, he logically would create the best of all possible worlds. Hence, everything that happens in the universe is part of this greater plan, and thus must be for the best. Humans cannot appreciate how the evils encountered in every day life contribute to the best of universes and universal harmony, but they do, nonetheless. This notion of optimism was attractive to many because it answered a profound philosophical question that mankind had been grappling with since the beginning of faith: if God is omnipotent and benevolent, then why is there so much evil in the world? Optimism provides an easy way out of this philosophical dilemma: God has made everything for the best, and even though one might experience personal misfortune, God (via this misfortune) is still helping the greater good. As a result, people convicted themselves to believe that blessed are those who are meek and humble. This is leaning toward a specific end; be poor, because it is pious to be so, do what you are told to do by superiors, for it is pious to be meek, and do not envy the rich their wealth, for in the end, once we are all dead, the rich will burn and you will live in paradise. Manipulation of the masses on this monumental scale seems to cause many problems in the world of Candide, as when these conditions are met, there is suffering in this life and doubt about the truth of the next life. Entertainingly, Pangloss often gives long speeches full of large words and faulty logic. These speeches most often have little or no value to anyone, including himself, but simply state the obvious, or are invalid and full of logistic holes. An overriding trait Pangloss seems to have is that he never actually does anything other than talk. In seeking to demonstrate that everything has a cause and effect, Pangloss noted that “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.” The sheer stupidity of these illogical conclusions will likely put a smile on the reader’s face, and points out Voltaire’s problem with most Optimists: the illogical degree to which they would carry their doctrine. Voltaire would argue that noses were not designed for spectacles, but rather spectacles were designed for preexisting noses. Pangloss’s interpretation of cause and effect (and via proxy, all Optimists) is so ignorant as to be comical. The attack on the claim that this is “the best of all possible worlds” permeates the entire novel. When Candide is reunited with the diseased and dying pangloss who has contracted Syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault. Pangloss simply responds that the disease was a necessity in this best of all possible worlds, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus’s men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease. In seeking to explain the earthquake, which “wiped out three quarters of Lisbon,” Pangloss attempts to console victims by proving that things could not be otherwise. “For, said he, all this is for the best, since if there is a volcano at Lisbon, it cannot be somewhere else, since it is unthinkable that things should not be where they are, since everything is well.” This complete nonsense does nothing to console the people of Lisbon; Voltaire indirectly makes his point that optimism, as spouted by most, is complete philosophical gibberish.

The multitudes of disasters that Candide endures throughout the novel culminate in his eventual (if temporary) abandonment of optimism. Candide finally begins to recognize the futility in his beloved Pangloss’s philosophy. Voltaire concludes the novel by having Candide discover the content of a Turk farmer who claims that simple work keeps him from the three greatest evils: “boredom, vice, and poverty.” Candide deeply considers these words, and decides that they “must cultivate their garden.” Even when the entire group has accepted the pastoral lifestyle, and has found content, Pangloss the Optimist attempts to prove how all their prior misfortunes were part of the necessary chain of events for them to reach happiness. Voltaire paints Pangloss as the true dolt of optimism, never realizing the errors in his own logic.


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