The Thought and Influence of Voltaire Essay

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The Thought and Influence of Voltaire I The legacy of François Marie Arouet, or Voltaire is not only a vast collection of writings, but also a world that has been radically and directly affected by these works and the activities of their author. While Voltaire did not create many of the ideas he professed, his success at disseminating these is unparalleled. He summed up with the most panache of anyone of his day the central issues of the Enlightenment, and rallied with the greatest fervour to see his beliefs tangibly realised. This paper will focus on Voltaire’s stances on vital issues, their weight versus the ideas and practices against which they are reactions, and their influence on both 18th century Europe and the modern West.…show more content…
Cosmology Like many of the philosophes, Voltaire was a deist. He believed that, although God was not one to intervene in earthly affairs, such an entity did exist. The scientific revolution had demonstrated that the universe operated according to rational mechanics. “Therefore,” resembling a machine, it must have an engineer behind it.5[5] While deist theories about space and time are muddled and confusing for those of us who take modern science for granted (particularly in their dependence on the concept of God),6[6] their nascent determinism is very familiar in this age where behaviourism is so popular. Mired in Newtonian causality, Voltaire (echoing John Locke) believed that action is the effect of which the will is the cause. The cause of the will is the effect of environment. The environment is part of the clockwork universe made and wound by God.7[7] While this theory brings environment into the discussion of development of personality, it makes people into passive receptacles and cogs in machines.8[8] Voltaire’s belief in God was partly pragmatic. He recognised the difficulty of maintaining an ethical system without rewards and punishments. The Christian tradition had so long used heaven and hell as motivational factors that it was hard by the 18th century to imagine morality for its own sake. While just laws would ensure just actions by the general population,

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