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Candide: Optimism

Uploaded by Bobo54bc on Nov 09, 2001

Candide is a humorous, far-fetched tale by Voltaire satirizing the optimism promoted by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. It is the story of a young man’s adventures throughout the world, where he witnesses evil and disaster. Throughout his travels, he adheres to the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss, believing that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds," (Voltaire 4). Candide is Voltaire’s answer to what he saw as an absurd belief proposed by the Optimists. “Candide…is a profound attack on philosophical Optimism and, through it, all philosophical systems that claim falsely to justify the presence of evil in the world,” (Mason 1). “Candide anatomizes the world's potential for disaster and examines the corresponding human capacity for optimism,” (Bell 1). Though he was by no means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens is always for the best.

The Age of Enlightenment is a term applied to a wide variety of ideas and advances in the fields of philosophy, science, and medicine. The main feature of Enlightenment philosophy is the belief that people can actively work to create a better world. “It is customary to present Candide as the result of Voltaire's reaction to Leibniz and Pope,”(Wade 1) two of the main philosophers of the enlightenment era. While Voltaire’s Candide is heavily characterized by the primary concerns of the Enlightenment, it also criticizes certain aspects of the movement. It attacks the idea of optimism, which states that rational thought can inhibit the evils perpetrated by human beings. Voltaire did not believe in the power of reason to overcome contemporary social conditions.

The attack on the claim that this is "the best of all possible worlds" is apparent throughout the entire novel. Throughout the story, satirical references to this theme contrast with natural disaster and human wrongdoing. When reunited with the diseased and dying Pangloss, who had contracted syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault. Pangloss simply responds that “the disease was a necessity in this ‘the best of all possible worlds’, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus’ men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease,’” (Voltaire 17). The multitudes of disasters, which Candide undergoes, leads to the abandonment of his belief in optimism. When asked "What’s optimism?" by Cacambo, Candide replies, "Alas…it is a mania for saying things are...

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Uploaded by:   Bobo54bc

Date:   11/09/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   3 pages (761 words)

Views:   2504

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