The Problem Of Evil In Hume's Dialouges On Natural Religion And "Candide"

1398 words - 6 pages

Hume, Voltaire and the Problem of EvilThe presence of evil and suffering in the world has raised questions in the philosophy of religion for centuries. The traditional understanding, held by Christians since it was fully developed by Augustine, is that of original sin. The belief is that man is born evil, as a result of the transgression of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. At the moment of sin evil entered the world, and it is now a hereditary, intrinsic characteristic of humankind. Because man is born guilty, any suffering he may undergo is justified; salvation is achieved only through divine grace.The predetermined nature of this theology, along with its abstruse logic, compelled the thinkers of the Enlightenment to discard such a belief. Because they rejected Augustine's view, they needed a new system to help them understand evil and its place in the world. Voltaire and David Hume each address this issue in Candide and Dialogues on Natural Religion, respectively. Voltaire does so in a more lighthearted approach typical of the philosophes, employing his wit to address weighty issues of philosophy and at the same time entertaining his readers. Candide makes this point with an amusing story and its brutal satire; Hume does so in a more pedagogical style. However, the Dialogues do employ a sort of plot that helps to draw the reader into the arguments and involve them in the characters' battle for truth, which makes it a more enjoyable read than the average treatise on philosophy.Much of Voltaire's work is dedicated to attacking the theories of G. W. Leibniz, chiefly Leibniz's "principle of sufficient reason." Part of his claim is that since God is rational, everything he does has its foundation in reason. Nothing in this world happens by chance, rather all events result from some initial cause, namely God's reason for bringing the event. This "principle of sufficient reason" demands that we accept that a benevolent God has decided on this world and not any other because it is "the best of all possible worlds." This means that what appears to us as evil must exist and that nothing could be different than what it is without making things worse.In Candide, Voltaire attacks the practical consequences of the claim that this is "the best of all possible worlds." Throughout the story, Voltaire uses instances of seemingly fantastic events to satirize the theory. From stories of rape, mutilation and murder to devastating earthquakes to torture and persecution, seemingly unnecessary natural and moral evils fill this "best of all possible worlds." Pangloss, who is to represent Leibniz in the book, continually insists that this is the best of all possible worlds. The optimistic viewpoint of Pangloss just does not work because evil -greed, hatred, jealousy, disease, natural disaster, and cruelty− exists and is actively seeking to hurt mankind. Incidents such as the drowning of Jacques the Anabaptist, who is killed after saving a sailor and then let...

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