The Optimistic Philosophy In "Candide" By Voltaire

1190 words - 5 pages

Why do bad things happen to good people? A question often asked by...well, by just about everyone. It is a frequently asked question that philosophers and religious figures have tried to answer for centuries yet no one can pinpoint the answer. Candide is no doubt Voltaire's response to the answer given by some of the philosophers of his time. The philosophy discussed throughout the novel gives meaning to the story itself and contributes to and carries on throughout the entire story.

In the Baron's castle somewhere in Germany the main characters reside for a short time. Pangloss, the philosopher and teacher of the Baron's children, has a radical philosophy on life and passes it to his students. This philosophy doesn't help them except to maybe encourage a little hope within them. Candide is the main character followed and the main carrier of this philosophy through his adventures. He's innocent and knows nothing of the world having lived in the Baron's castle his entire life. When he is kicked out for kissing the hand of the Baron's daughter, Cunegund, Candide begins a seemingly never-ending journey of hardship to find and marry her. When introducing the characters we are told that,

"Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the baron's castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses. It is demonstrable, said he, that all things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings... and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is the best" (Voltaire, 25).

Providing a simple explanation for Pangloss' optimistic philosophy that we live in the "best of all possible worlds" this quote appears in the first chapter of the story and sets up one of the main themes throughout the novel. It's basically the logic behind Pangloss' philosophy, though it makes no sense. It seems quite obvious that spectacles were designed to fit the nose and not the other way around. These are the first of many very illogical arguments to support his philosophy. As the novel progresses this philosophy goes under brutal attacks by the misfortunes the characters come across again and again throughout their lives. It also sets up the never-ending debate between those characters with the optimistic view and those with the pessimistic view. Voltaire uses Pangloss' philosophy to demonstrate a point. Because he so strongly opposes this philosophy it's a recurring theme in the novel.

The optimistic view is also the main example of satire from Voltaire in the novel and...

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