An Analysis of the Doctrine of Work in Candide, a Novel by Voltaire

Categories: Candide

Voltaire’s classic tale Candide (1759) satirizes the idea of philosophical Optimism, according to which we live in the best of all possible worlds, and all evil results in universal good. In Candide, Candide, a young man who is thrown out of a perfect life in a baron’s castle for kissing his daughter, the beautiful Cunégonde, makes his way throughout the world and experiences the evils of war, natural disasters, and the general cruelty of man that comes with it.

During his life in the castle, Candide is taught to believe in Optimism by Pangloss, his tutor and the greatest philosopher in the province. He embraces this philosophy whole heartedly and attempts to apply it to everything he encounters. However, after experiencing the evils of the world throughout his travels, Candide changes his philosophy on life crying “Ah, best of worlds, where are you now?” (10) seemingly rejecting Optimism. However, he soon goes back to the views of Optimism taught by Pangloss after a good meal or happenstance.

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This oscillation between embracing and rejecting Optimism occurs several times throughout the tale. Finally, after traveling across Europe and South America and collecting companions along the way, Candide settles at a small farm, marrying the now ugly Cunégonde. After being inspired by the life of an old Turk who focuses on work as protection from evil, Candide finally explicitly rejects Pangloss and his philosophizing, declaring; “That is well said…but we must cultivate our garden” (94).

There is an ongoing debate concerning the meaning of Candide, and especially of this final statement.

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Traditionally, critics have taken that statement to mean that Voltaire wants the reader to cultivate their garden, and focused on what the cultivation of the garden means. Most take that statement to mean that Voltaire is recommending hiding from the world and focusing on personal productivity as a means to avoid evil, calling this concept the “doctrine of work.” In his controversial article, Roy Wolper, the author of “Candide: Gull in the Garden?” (1969) rejected this traditional view, arguing instead that in the garden Candide speaks for himself as opposed to Voltaire, invalidating that statement. He asks “how do we know that Candide in the garden does speak and act for Voltaire” (Wolper 267)? For Wolper, “Candide has been the frequent and obvious butt of Voltaire’s satire” (Wolper 267), and remains so at the end of the tale. This would imply that the doctrine of work is not a legitimate solution. Wolper supports this claim by emphasizing Candide’s apparent inability to learn from his experiences. “Perhaps the old Turk, within his twenty acres, has never seen the cancerous spread of evil, but Candide has” (Wolper 270) and should thus recognize that “evil has no borders, and that even the most innocent are often trammeled within its mesh” (Wolper 269). Having discredited Candide, the proposer of the philosophy, Wolper concludes that the doctrine of work is not Voltaire’s point. He concludes that because vice is the primary drive of evil in Candide, only virtue can fight it. Following this conclusion, Wolper declares “If one is charitable, there is no guarantee of a better world or of personal happiness. People like Jacques sometimes drown. But the conte is concerned neither with sudden earthquakes nor with the fate of Jaccques, but with the spirit Jacques has” (Wolper 277). Thus, the spirit of Jacques the Anabaptist, the only person in the Candide’s world who makes it his business “to know whose head is impaled at the Sublime Porte and whose body is cast on the dunghill; to care about those who are poor; to educate those in government and religion and culture who hold to inane (and hence cruel) archaisms” (Wolper 277), is the lesson of Candide.

Although I disagree with his final conclusions, Wolper’s question of “how do we know that Candide in the garden does speak and act for Voltaire?” (Wolper 267) is valid. This question is based on another question, one of Candide’s maturity. Wolper claims that Candide should have matured after experiencing what he has, but he has not and is unable to learn from what occurs during his life because he is a static character characterized as a “mock hero” (Wolper 268) and exists solely for Voltaire to mock and satirize. However, Wolper’s dismissal of Candide as static character that is unable to learn, and thus dismissal the doctrine of work by extension, is problematic and invalid, something I will address later in this essay.

Others also find problems with Wolper’s findings. In a critical response entitled “Professor Wolper’s Interpretation of Candide” (1971), Lester Crocker admits that if valid, Wolper’s article would be revolutionary. However, he finds it invalid and chooses to disagree with Wolper’s every point, instead endorsing the traditional interpretation. In response to Wolper’s claim that Candide remains a “gull” in the garden, Crocker claims that “in the last chapter the underlying seriousness surfaces and the object of Voltaire’s mocking shafts is Pangloss alone, not Candide, who becomes a serious figure” (Crocker 146). As Candide is now a responsible being who acts as the leader of the group in the garden, and can thus be trusted, the proposition of the doctrine of work can no longer be invalid for the reasons Wolper claims it is. Crocker dismisses the idea that Jacques’s spirit embodies the true message of Candide since Jacques, and thus his goodness, are “quickly expunged by wickedness” (Crocker 150), as he dies after saving the sailor who punched him. Instead, Crocker finds at Voltaire is promoting the notion that man should “creat[e] something for himself, for the fleeting moment that is his” (Crocker 148) in which Crocker’s view is the proper interpretation of Candide’s doctrine of work. While Crocker is correct is his support of the doctrine of work and rejection of Wolper’s interpretation, he does not address some points that would strengthen his argument in support of the doctrine of work. However, rather than this being a flaw within Crocker’s argument, this problem is truly a flaw within Wolper’s because Crocker’s refutation is written in such a way that it follows Wolper’s arguments exactly. The points Crocker does not address are the points Wolper also does not address. I will attempt to demonstrate that Wolper overlooks key points within Candide that support the traditional interpretation of the doctrine of work.

First, let us examine Wolper’s claim that Candide is still a puppet. Wolper claims that Candide is unable to learn and mature. However, in addressing Candide’s maturity, Crocker states that “His choice of the garden is a free and intelligent decision” (150). Furthermore, before accepting the old Turk’s point of view, Candide “reflects profoundly” (Voltaire 93) as opposed to the mindless absorption of philosophies (in particular, the philosophy of Optimism) seen earlier when he “trusted innocently” (Voltaire 4) instead. This supports Crocker’s claim that Candide is no longer the one being mocked. Also, Wolper declares that Candide has missed the point of his travels as he is unable to recognize that there is evil in the world and evil has no borders. This is not true. Candide does understand that “there is a dreadful amount of evil in the world” (Voltaire 92) and states that explicitly. Wolper’s conclusion that the doctrine of work is invalid results from his conclusion that Candide speaks for himself and that Candide is not trustworthy. That conclusion only works because he finds that Candide is immature and not trustworthy and thus not a valid choice for Voltaire to speak through. However, since Candide does mature and is a trustworthy source, Wolper’s conclusion that Voltaire could not speak through him is invalid.

However, even if we disregard Candide’s maturity altogether, the doctrine of work is still a valid proposal. Candide is not the only source where support for the doctrine of work can be seen. “‘Let us set to work and stop proving things,’ said Martin ‘for that is the only way to make life bearable’” (Votaire 93). In the last scene, Candide is not the only one who demonstrates support for the doctrine of work: Martin does as well. Both of them realize that philosophy is a problem and turn towards work instead. Candide first meets Martin in Suriname while searching for companions with whom he can head back to Europe while being sufficiently entertained. Candide’s search for his companion includes the requirement that “this person be the most unfortunate and most thoroughly disgusted with his condition in the whole province” (Voltaire 54). After searching through the many applicants, Martin is Candide’s selected companion and is introduced as a pessimistic scholar. In many instances, Martin argues against Candide’s Optimism instead choosing to support the philosophy of pessimism. For instance, after the ship of the captain who robbed Candide is destroyed by a Spanish ship this exchange occurs: “’You see’, said Candide to Martin, ‘crime is sometimes punished; that blackguard of a Dutch owner got the fate he deserved.’— ‘Yes,’ said Martin, ‘but did the passengers on board have to perish too? God punished the thief, the devil drowned the rest.’” (Voltaire 57). Martin is another way of demonstrating the problems with Optimism and is a tool used to further Voltaire’s satire of Optimism. As a result, unlike Candide, he has never been the butt of Voltaire’s satire allowing the reader to find Martin trustworthy.

The doctrine of work is also valid for yet another reason. The doctrine of work not only acts as something that can be done to cope with evil, but also acts as a prevention mechanism for the type of inactive philosophy Voltaire constantly satirizes throughout the tale. It works by forcing those who follow it to take action and actually do something with their lives. Wolper, and thus Crocker in his response, overlook these broader implications of the doctrine of work. However, in order to recognize this, it must first be understood Optimism, philosophy, and inaction are all connected. In fact, all of the qualities are represented by Pangloss, who, as stated by Crocker, becomes the sole focus of Voltaire’s satire in the final moments of Candide. Also, it must be understood that Voltaire is constantly satirizing philosophers who choose to use their philosophies as an excuse to remain inactive in the face of all occurrences. This, once again, can be seen in the choices and actions of Pangloss.

When Jacques is knocked off of the ship in the port of Lisbon by an unruly solider he saves, Candide initially attempts to jump off the ship and rescue him. However, “Pangloss the philosopher prevents him, arguing that Lisbon harbor was built expressly so that this Anabaptist should one day drown in it” (Voltaire 13). This inaction effectively ensures that Jacques will drown when initially there existed the possibility that Candide could have saved him. Jacques death is a direct result of Pangloss’s encouragement of inaction, which demonstrates to the reader that inaction as a philosophy is not beneficial. Furthermore, while the ship crumbles to pieces and people drown around him, Pangloss is focused on “offering a priori proofs” (Voltaire 13) of Jacques’s fate and just happens to survive out of luck. He does not make any effort to save even his own life. Again, this is satire against the sorts of philosophers who are so wrapped up in their philosophies that they are out of touch with life and thus, at times, downright cruel. We see another instance where Pangloss is satirized when debris falls on Candide. “’Help! Get me some oil and wine; I am dying’ – ‘But these earthquakes are nothing new,’ replied Pangloss. ‘The city of Lima in America experienced the same tremors last year” (Voltaire 14). When Candide agrees in the hope that Pangloss will listen to his pleas, Pangloss responds by declaring “’What do you mean “likely”?’ retorted the philosopher, “I regard the thing as proven’” (Voltaire 14). Rather than attempting to help Candide, Pangloss proves things and philosophizes at him as he lies in pain. Pangloss cares more about making sure that his proofs are sound than making sure that Candide is okay. This shows that satire of philosophers who believe in Optimism is not isolated in just the satire of their beliefs but also extends to their policies of inaction, all of which come as one package. Candide’s conclusion that he ought to work in the garden is not just commentary on what can be done about evil at all. Instead, the choice to turn to work also includes satire pertaining to the inaction of philosophers like Pangloss.

In the garden, Candide, who was once Pangloss’s most loyal student and follower, speaks up against him, cutting his philosophizing off with a short “That is well said… but we must cultivate our garden (Voltaire 94). I have shown that the doctrine of work does not solely rely on Candide and his trustworthiness as Martin, a character that speaks for Voltaire from the start, even declares “‘Let us set to work and stop proving things,’ said Martin, ‘for that is the only way to make life bearable’” (Voltaire 93). Furthermore, Martin was once a philosopher as well. Satire of inactive philosophers is an extension of Voltaire’s unquestionable satire of Optimism. The philosophers of inaction he satirizes, the ones who live sheltered comfortable lives with no experience in the real world, coincide with the philosophers who advocate Optimism. The doctrine of work is also not just an argument against evil, making Wolper’s argument concerning vice and the evils Candide addresses irrelevant. Whether or not the doctrine of work removes evil is not the focus. Instead, the doctrine of work is primarily a philosophy that prevents the evils caused by the inaction excused by other philosophies such as Optimism. By recognizing this, it becomes clear that Wolper’s argument is even more flawed than what Crocker claims as it does not address either of these two points which strongly support the interpretation of the doctrine of work.

Wolper is incorrect in addressing the doctrine of work as only a solution to evil, but Crocker is also incorrect in concluding that the doctrine of work as solely a coping mechanism. By following Wolper’s flawed argument directly, Crocker misses the same things and overlooks more important results of the doctrine of work, a problem that boils down to Wolper’s flaw. In addressing this flaw, we get more evidence in support of the doctrine of work. Work and taking action is the opposite of what Pangloss, who embodies the typical Optimistic philosopher, does. Rather than letting life pass by without acting, with the doctrine of work in place, Pangloss has to actually do something. This prevents the inaction of philosophy, a key part of Optimism and what Voltaire focuses on satirizing. The doctrine of work may not be a full solution to evil, which is impossible as admitted by Crocker, but that does not matter. Voltaire is instead commenting on how to avoid evil created by inaction. This is where the solution of work comes into play. In fact, with respect to random evil in the surrounding world, Voltaire merely states that it exists and declares that philosophy is not a justification to sit passively as life goes by.

Works Cited

  1. Crocker, Lester G., and Roy S. Wolper. “Professor Wolper’s Interpretation of Candide”. Eighteenth-Century Studies 5.1 (1971): 145–156.
  2. Wolper, Roy S.. “Candide, Gull in the Garden?”. Eighteenth-Century Studies 3.2 (1969): 265–277.
  3. Voltaire, Theo Cuffe, and Michael Wood. 2005. Candide. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books.

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An Analysis of the Doctrine of Work in Candide, a Novel by Voltaire. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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