Philosophy is the study of the world around us and our perspective of it. Its purpose is to uncover the truth about the universe and how it functions. Unlike the natural sciences where there are clearly agreed upon theories, in philosophy it is much more difficult for a theory to be “wrong” in the common sense. Instead philosophies simply hold a different outlook on the world than one another. During Voltaire’s lifetime, an ideological revolution was taking place. During this period new ideas and beliefs about the universe came to be. These ideas were then argued and pondered by the intellectuals of society.
Voltaire was one of the largest contributors to this ideological revolution, a shift in paradigm which would later come to be known as the Enlightenment. Throughout the novella Candide, Voltaire uses various characters and events to present and explore differing philosophies and philosophical concepts. The first idea that readers are introduced to is Pangloss’s view on the universe. This is the infamous, best of all possible worlds hypothesis which asserts that everything which happens is determined and for the utilitarian reasons of guaranteeing maximum happiness for everyone.
As Pangloss justifies, “It is demonstrated, ‘he said’, that things cannot be otherwise: for, since everything was made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose. ” (Voltaire 16) Since all things have a purpose, it then suitably follows that their purpose is for the best one. This is a view shared, originally at least, by the protagonist Candide. Pangloss, through tragedy, death, and loss which would cause any other man to question whether or not everything that is happening is for the best, stands firm in his beliefs.
To him, everything which happens is for the best. In very other possible outcome of an event, things would simply of been worse off. There by it is better to appreciate the status quo rather than imagine that things could be or could have been better. Candide originally shares this view with Pangloss, having been tutored by him. However, upon witnessing the carnage, brutality, and depravity of the world, Candide begins to doubt himself and his beliefs. By the end of his journey, it is clear that Candide no longer places any faith in the idea of everything being for the best.
Through these two characters, Voltaire explores this idea of blind optimism in reality. And he ultimately finds it to be a foolish belief. The author makes very clear throughout the novel that the status quo is not just abhorrent, but meaninglessly so. A main example of when he does this is the chapter involving a monk and a prostitute. Candide, believing these people to be happy, wagers with his friend Martin that they are in fact happy. However, upon talking to each of the characters he discovers that their apparent contentment with life was but a chimerical mirage.
In doings so, Voltaire mocks the idea that happiness is the ultimate goal of life’s suffering. Aside from being a critique of optimism, Voltaire also uses this as a way to counter the religious idea which accompanies it. That God, who seeks the best for humanity, would create a world as filled with tragedy and misfortune as the reality we currently inhabit. Voltaire was known in his time for being incredibly outspoken and critical of the Catholic Church. It is then no surprise he continued this behavior in his writings.
Voltaire believed strongly in rationality in place of simple faith. He explores this idea further with another character. Martin is a character who joins Candide’s adventure some time nto the book. Having lived through a number of misfortunes in his life, Martin is a grizzled veteran of life and the ravages of suffering. His outlook on life is a rather pessimistic one, believing the earth to be a wretched place. He serves as this novel’s foil to Pangloss, the antithesis to unbridled optimism. Instead, Martin uses reason and logic to traverse the world around him.
This analytical and reasoned behavior allows him to protect himself from misfortune by outsmarting swindlers and cheats. His unique perspective of life, and its malevolent nature, also allows him to act as Candide’s sagacious guide hrough the world. For example, while Candide with his innumerable riches is awaiting lady Cunegonde, he receives a letter saying she has fallen ill in Paris. Upon arriving, the lady is entirely covered in blankets and shrouds. Martin warns Candide that the situation seems dubious, but Candide showers the figure in love and priceless jewels regardless.
It is revealed shotly afterwards that the covered figure was not in fact Cunegolde. This was just one of several incidents where in Martin is shown to be an intelligent and reliably character. Another incident occurs when Martin and Candide witness a ship sinking. It is then revealed that the ship belonged to a captain who had robbed Candide. Candide says that Justice had been served. Martin questions why the rest of the innocent passengers had to die for this “justice”. Voltaire believed himself to be a rationalist.
He not only felt that faith was unnecessary but also thought it to detract from reason. In many of his writings, he promoted reason as the universal method by which to achieve knowledge and meaning. Knowing this, it is clear to see why Voltaire would have included a character such as Martin in Candide. Martin is the representation of Voltaire’s own iews and philosophies on the world. Throughout the entire novel, there is the question of man’s freedom and its limits: questions of free will. Free will is the ability for an individual to be able to have actions with no undesired consequences.
In this, the novel discusses the idea of determinism. This is the belief that our actions are determined by our environment and genetics, thus eliminating any idea of choice. We do not make decisions; it is a combination of our genetic material and environment in which we were raised which makes those decisions for us. In this way, there is no individual moral esponsibility. How can you morally blame an individual for following his nature, it is impossible for him to behave differently after all.
Most monotheistic religions actually, unwillingly, promote a system of determinism. Christianity argues that man has free will and that he occasionally uses it to sin. However, the Christian God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent if the words of its followers are to be believed. However, if God knows everything, then he knows the future of all human action. This means he knows every action that man will take before it is ever taken. This means that choice cannot xist, for an omniscient God could never be wrong.
As a believer in determinism, Voltaire explored the concept in Candide through the actions and general theme of the book. The Enlightenment was a time of radical change. A time where a whirlpool of different ideas converged and clashed. It was during this time that Voltaire wrote some of his most influential works. In Candide, Voltaire tries to capture that sense of clash from his own lenses. He uses the characters and situations to explore differing ideas and philosophies. In doing so he provides a critical examination of a plethora of different positions and beliefs.