Voltaire’s Opposition to Optimism in Candide
Philosophy is a means by which humans search for a general understanding of the world and its concepts. Through experience, thought, and observation, one can arrive at a conclusion that forms the basis of his ideas. However, if one simply thinks and does not act, this conclusion does not make any significant difference on his life. This is a major point that Voltaire tries to make in Candide. He is trying to change society by demonstrating the absurdity of optimism. Voltaire attacks optimism by pointing out the evils of the world, criticizing actual people and events of the time, and criticizing Pangloss' philosophy.
In Candide, Voltaire often criticizes war, denial, and religious views. He opposed violence and this is evident in many situations in Candide. For example, he used the war of the Bulgarians and the Abarians to point out the pointlessness of war. He believed that optimism was unnecessary and unjustified. If this were the best of all possible worlds, war would not have a purpose. Voltaire believed that God created the world and simply left it alone. Therefore, evil is inevitable because human nature leads people to perform evil actions. Voltaire strongly condemns "optimistic theories, for him they deny reality." (Juan Zerolo) Voltaire does not believe that by saying something, it will come true. Therefore, denying the existence of evil is not logical and does not amount to any greater good. Voltaire also denounced other's religious beliefs and intolerance. He criticized the belief that the world is in its best state because a higher being created it from the best of all possible worlds. He did not appeal to the corruption of the church, which is evident when one learns that the Old Woman is the illegitimate daughter of a pope, and a Friar has stolen from Cunegonde. There are many instances in the story in which a strongly religious person refuses to help another. When a fellow human in need asked a religious person for help, this request was rejected. Throughout the story, Candide makes a great effort to be nice to people. However, this effort is rarely returned. Voltaire is pointing out his difference in opinion with Jesuits and Franciscans, that if charity is of great importance, charity to one another should be an instantaneous reaction, not a matter of selfish needs.
Voltaire incorporates events and people that affected him greatly during his life into Candide. One of these events is the Lisbon earthquake and fire. Voltaire was angered by the fact that one could be looking at the world with an optimistic view at a tragic time like this. He uses Dr. Pangloss to prove the senselessness of optimism. The destructing earthquake and fire "is for the best, since if there is a volcano at Lisbon, it cannot be somewhere else"(11). Dr. Pangloss is willing to sacrifice his own happiness and welfare in order to be able to continue declaring that...