Voltaire's Candide as Vehicle to Discredit Optimism Essay

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Voltaire's Candide as Vehicle to Discredit Optimism

Optimism was an attractive to many because it answered a profound philosophical question: if God is omnipotent and benevolent, then why is there so much evil in the world? Optimism provides an easy way out: God has made everything for the best, and even though one might experience personal misfortune, God (via your misfortune) is still helping the greater good.

Voltaire's experiences led him to dismiss the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds. Examining the death and destruction, both man-made and natural (including the Lisbon earthquake) Voltaire concluded that everything was not for the best. Voltaire uses Candide as the vehicle to attack
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Voltaire would argue that noses were not designed for spectacles, but rather spectacles were designed for preexisting noses. Pangloss's interpretation of cause and effect (and via proxy, all Optimists) is so ignorant as to be comical.

The attack on the claim that this is "the best of all possible worlds" permeates the entire novel. When Candide is reunited with the diseased and dying pangloss who has contracted Syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault. Pangloss simply responds that the disease was a necessity in this best of all possible worlds, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus's men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease.

The Lisbon earthquake and resulting fire in 1755 led Voltaire to attack optimism with a renewed vigor. The earthquake, which "wiped out three quarters of Lisbon," killed 20,000. In seeking to explain this phenomena, Pangloss attempts to console victims by proving that things could not be otherwise. "For, said he, all this is for the best, since if there is a volcano at Lisbon, it cannot be somewhere else, since it is unthinkable that things should not be where they are, since everything is well" (Voltaire 11). This complete nonsense does nothing to console the people of Lisbon; Voltaire indirectly makes his point that optimism, as spouted by most, is complete

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