Voltaire's Candide as an Attack on Optimism Essays

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Voltaire's Attack on Optimism in Candide

Leibnitz emphasized, in his Discours de Metaphysique (Discourse on Metaphysics) (1686) the role of a benevolent creator. He called the constituent components of the universe monads, and while the philosophy of monads is of little concern to readers of Candide, the conclusion which Leibnitz drew from these monads is crucial to an understanding of optimism.

Leibnitz argued that all of these monads were linked in a complex chain of cause and effect and that this linking had been done by a divine creator as he created the harmonious universe. Since he was benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, he logically would create the best of all possible worlds. Hence, everything
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As a Deist, Voltaire's God was one who initially created the world, and then left it to its own devices. When, at the end of Candide, Pangloss asks the dervish as to why man exists, the dervish responds "What does it matter whether there's good or evil? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry whether the mice on board are comfortable or not?" To Voltaire, men were the mice, and "his highness" was not concerned in the least with their day to day existence.

How are Voltaire's views manifest in Candide??

Pangloss is meant not to attack Leibnitz, but rather optimism as a philosophy. Thus the reader cannot forget that all of Pangloss's ramblings are not Voltaire's personal attacks on Leibnitz, but in some way represent an (often humorous) characterization of the "typical" optimist. Pangloss, writes Voltaire, "Proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause, and that in this best of all possible worlds the Baron's castle was the most beautiful of all castles and his wife the best of all possible baronesses" (2). Thus we have established Pangloss as the champion of optimism.

Yet just as quickly, Voltaire points out the absurdity of this doctrine. "Observe," says Pangloss, seeking to demonstrate that everything has a cause and effect, "noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles. Legs, as anyone can
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