Candide and the Enlightenment

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Conor Brown
Western Civ.
9/17/11
Candide: A Reflection

Harsh criticism abounds in the enlightened satire Candide by Voltaire. The author constantly goes against the popular flow and challenges the status quo of the Enlightenment. Nothing is off limits for Voltaire and topics stretch from love, class, warfare and even religion. In the ever-changing society of the Enlightened period many just believed in the teachings of the supposed leading philosophers of the time, but Voltaire challenged these ideas and brought about new and what he believed were logical ways of thinking. Even though the Enlightenment is constantly satirized in the book it is in its self a work of the Enlightenment. Which is very ironic but true nonetheless. However, through these harsh criticisms Voltaire presents his work in an extremely humorous and approachable way.

Perhaps the best example of how the Enlightenment is satirized is Voltaire’s view of optimism. One of the movements most regarded philosophers was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He founded this idea of supreme optimism. His theory was that since God is a benevolent deity all is good in the world no matter what happens. In other words everything happens for a reason, but that reason is always a good one. Voltaire saw it otherwise and gave multiple examples to back his defense.

The first example revolves around Candide’s teacher Pangloss who is a supreme believer in the optimistic teachings of Leibniz. Pangloss had gone missing for a while but Candide soon finds him as a beggar with many sores all over his body. Pangloss explains that he had contracted syphilis from a servant in the Baron’s mansion. Now, usually any terrible disease is a bad thing but in Pangloss’ mind it is a good thing. He explains to Candide that syphilis comes from Columbus’ discovery of the New World and says that without it Europe would have never been able to benefit from the new discoveries made there. For example without syphilis the Europeans would have never had the privilege of enjoining chocolate. That definitely seems extremely far-fetched that in order for someone to enjoying chocolate millions needed to suffer from syphilis. Voltaire’s satirizing is clearly evident in this example.

Another example of optimism is the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. This was one of the worst tragedies of the time and over 30,000 people were killed during it. Even Jacques, a faithful friend to Candide, dies drowning while trying to save a bad sailor. How the heck could this be thought as a good thing? Well Pangloss reveals that it is for the best because the Lisbon harbor was constructed in order for Jacques to die and even though the harbor and thousands or people suffered it was completely necessary. This is totally ridiculous and not realistic. These exaggerations of optimism are meant to be unrealistic simply to bring about how flawed Voltaire sees the views are.
Personally to me optimism is a good trait to have in certain situations. When 30,000 thousand people must suffer or millions must contact syphilis in order to get a piece of chocolate optimism does not seem like a logical term. Optimism is good to help people get through tough times but it should not be the sole reason for why things occur. I do believe that everything does happen for a reason but I also believe that not everything occurs for a good reason. Sometimes things just happen because that is what God intended but it will not always lead to something good. The Enlightened leaders did present some good ideas in optimism beliefs but they were not all true.

There are quite a few elements in Candide that show Voltaire’s criticism on society. Class and order is visited frequently through out the book. There is this belief of how class and order are the only things that matter in life and that’s how one can get far in life. Frequently individuals and families in seats of authority abuse their power by hurting and...
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