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How Voltaire's "Candide" Relates To Philosophe Values

1530 words - 6 pages

It's understandably difficult to pin one set of values to the Philosophes because their range ofideas, opinions, and beliefs were so wide. Not all Philosophes emerged from a kind of social-activistmold. Voltaire, for instance, was a harsh critic of Enlightenment optimism, but he didn't share Rousseau'sclaim that the arts and sciences were nothing more than "garlands of flowers [thrown] on iron fetters."(Kramnick 363) Similarly, although the idea of a perfect God creating a perfect world whose flaws werenothing but goodness in disguise angered Voltaire, he was a deist at the very least, and didn't supportd'Holbach's claim that "...theology is only the ignorance of natural causes reduced to system."(Kramnick 140) Two questions, then, must be answered: what ideas were the Philosophes as a wholeopposed to, and how did they voice that opposition?The "Age of Enlightenment" was so-called because it seemed, at the time, as if every universalmystery had been illumined by science. The giants-Newton, Galileo, and Descartes-had revolutionizedhow men and women viewed the world, and the concept of Nature was rapidly becoming a system of lawsrather than a web of superstition. Newton and Galileo especially supported the idea of deism, which wassomething of a medium between science and theology. God existed, certainly, but he'd satisfied himself withthe monumental act of creation. Seeing that everything was perfect, as he'd intended, the One stepped backand allowed humankind to make its own decisions. God, then, had created natural laws to guide his universe.These laws, at least in theory, were subservient to a higher, omniscient power. But the implication was that,since God had vanished from the picture, these laws, which were intelligible only through science, hadusurped his position. With God removed from the universe, natural law had become God. Physics was theliturgy of the day, and mathematics the key to understanding.This left philosophers and scientists alike with an interesting set of questions. If God was infinitelyperfect and infinitely just, why had he created things which were neither perfect nor just? God was theincorruptible One, yet he'd found reason to create the varied and corruptible many. (Willey 41) Why wouldGod create things which were so unlike him in nature? What was man's place in the universe, and what wasthe purpose of human suffering? Previously, it had been believed that man's existence in the Garden of Edenwas idyllic, and expulsion from that paradise had doomed man to a world of evil and corruption. It was man'sown disobedience which had formed the very ideas of corruption, mortality, and pain. But that explanationwas quickly losing popularity in a world that deified reason. It was observed that "the Newtonian universecertainly seemed to work as perfectly as if no Fall had taken place." (Willey 46) The cosmos operated in aparticular way, regardless of superstition. And if the physical universe was so eminently ordered, why...

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