Optimism In Voltaire’s Candide Essay
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Gottfried Leibniz was, among other things, a philosopher and was best known for his philosophy on optimism. Leibniz believed that there existed a supernatural being who created and controlled the world. He further espoused that this being was perfect and being a perfect being could not make anything imperfect. Leibniz was himself a mathematician and portrayed his image of God to be a mathematician as well. This being the case, Leibniz believed that God would balance out all things in the consideration of the possible actions in the world and would conclude with the optimal equation for equilibrium.
Leibniz thus believed that we live in the best of all possible worlds. It was further held by Leibniz that God could have imagined and created all kinds of worlds. But being a just and gracious God, he chose to create the best possible world. Leibniz believed that such was the world and life that God created on earth. However, being finite creatures, men could not comprehend the extent of God’s plan and were painfully aware of the misfortunes that befell them.
But if events were to be viewed from God’s perspective, the harm in the world would be seen as tolerable or even necessary.
This philosophy was displayed through the justification of imperfections in the world with whatever positive outcomes that may have resulted, even those not directly related or those obviously not equal to the harm brought about by the imperfection. It was thus believed that the imperfections were necessary components in order to strike an optimal way of living. It should be noted that Leibniz qualitatively excluded all other options by defining the present manner of living as best, not merely better than other options. The followers of Leibniz may not have captured this exclusion.
One follower, Alexander Pope, was an author of renown during Voltaire’s time. Pope espoused not that the present world was the best of all possible worlds rather he merely believed that all actions in the world are good or right. Pope believed that whatever is, is right. Therefore, everything that is in the world is right although not necessarily what is best. This lowers the standards of Leibniz’ optimism as the philosophy becomes merely that all actions, whether harmful or not, are inherently good and also result in good. These actions may not necessarily be the optimal acts to perform but they are undoubtedly right.
Voltaire himself was a deist and believed that a god set the world into motion but left it to rule itself of its own accord. Therefore he could not submit to the reasoning that the world was perfect because of the perfection of such a god. It was impossible for Voltaire to believe that the misfortunes in the world were all meant to happen and more so, that each contributed to the perfection of the world. He found this particularly unreasonable when considering the harm that natural calamities inflicted upon persons. Thus, it was the philosophies of Leibniz and Pope that Voltaire responded to in several of his writings.
When he wrote Candide it was optimism that he had in mind – more it seems the optimism of Leibniz’ than Pope’s. Voltaire’s Candide In Candide, the protagonist after which the book is named, is the illegitimate nephew of a baron. He falls in love with the baron’s daughter and is soon expelled from the house for having been caught kissing the girl, Cunegonde. This sparks Candide’s travels through misfortune and luck, one following the other. Shortly after his departure from the baron’s house and an encounter with several Bulgars, he is joined by his former tutor, Pangloss.
It is Pangloss who has taught Candide that all things happen for the best possible outcome. The story continues with Candide attempting to win back Cunegonde. The satire unfolds with several deaths and more resurrections with Candide finding out how the friends he thought he had lost had survived the tragedies that had befallen them. In the midst of the chaos, Candide happens upon a substantial amount of precious jewels and is thus empowered to look for his lost love, Cunegonde, who had decided to marry a wealthy man in order to preserve herself. In the process he buys back the freedom of several friends, including Pangloss.
Together they purchase a small farm house where they all settle down. They soon begin to quarrel however and it is only the example of a simple farmer who has employed gardening to guard himself against vice and leisure which saves them from their squabbles. The satire revolves around the human condition and Candide is thrust upon a journey filled with different settings in which said condition might be observed. He witnesses also the changing conditions of his friends and even of his beloved Cunegonde, who shifted from being a baron’s daughter to becoming a sex slave to becoming the wife of a Governor.
The story is awash with examples of the different situations in which persons find themselves and the manner in which they perceive life as a result of their situations. The human nature was demonstrated as incessantly malleable and capable of adjusting to the different conditions thrust upon it by life, whether improving or degrading their status. The question posed turned to the response of the different characters to the conditions in which they found themselves. Pangloss: The Scholar of Optimism The most distinctive response to the variety of situations that were encountered was that of Pangloss.
Pangloss himself started off as an educated tutor working for a baron. When the Bulgars came and ransacked the house, Pangloss was left to become a beggar. This was how he looked when he found Candide and joined his company. However, upon reaching Spain, Candide was curtly sentenced to hang for his heretical beliefs. He disappears from the story for some time but resurfaces after Candide has accumulated some wealth and has decided to search for Cunegonde. In his search for Cunegonde, Candide finds Pangloss along with Cunegonde’s brother as enslaved members of a chain gang.
Candied buys back both their freedoms and Pangloss joins the company in searching for Cunegonde and thereafter living in the small farm house with them. In the end, Pangloss finds himself part of their simple farming community, finally attaining peace from the worries of their misadventures. It is noteworthy that throughout the story Pangloss does not lose his persistent optimism. He finds himself facing every misfortune focusing on the possible positive conditions that arise from his experience, even those minutely connected to himself.
A rather comic scene portrays Pangloss still optimistic about having contracted syphilis. He connects his contraction of the disease with the origin of the same – if Columbus had not contracted the disease during his travels, thus propagating its spread throughout the world, there would have been no discovery of cocoa and chocolate as well. It seems that Pangloss outweighs the terrible effects of the disease both as to the reproductive cycle as to the individual affected with the proliferation of chocolate in the market. Pangloss continues to apply such philosophy in every problem that he and Candide face.
He therefore guides Candide to view each hardship as still the best of the possible worlds that could possibly have been brought forth into motion. When Pangloss and Candide reach Spain he gets into a debate regarding the application of optimism in Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Pangloss firmly insisted that Eve ate the forbidden fruit because it would result in the exile from the Garden and thus entrance into the best possible scenario that God could have envisioned for them. It is in this explicit expression that Voltaire introduces the role of providence and destiny in Optimism. This was the very reason why Pangloss was hanged.
The insinuation that Adam and Eve were pre-ordained to be exiled from Eden reflected that they were not punished because of their own free will. Rather, Optimism excluded the existence of free will as the philosophy espoused a deterministic outlook with humans being guided along to follow only the best possible path already paved by God. It is in the character of Pangloss that Voltaire depicted Leibniz, particularly so with the repeated intonations that the world is the best possible world that could be. This is certainly the philosophy espoused by Leibniz and not the one popularized by Pope.
Thus, with the multiple misfortunes that befell Pangloss and his unlikely justifications for the same, Voltaire refuted the philosophical theory of Leibniz. Certainly the world that Pangloss moved in was not the best world possible, what with its deplorable misfortunes, chaotic societies and unstable order. There was certainly a lot that could have been done to improve the living conditions and to relieve the human plight depicted. Candide: The Pupil of Optimism Voltaire reflects the rejection of Optimism through the persona of Candide. This rejection however occurs throughout the events in the story.
It is only at the very end that Candide rejects his tutor’s teachings and decides that there is no place for such Optimism in light of the experiences that he has gone through. From the beginning Candide is the pupil of Pangloss and he is taught the perspective of Optimism and is indoctrinated that the world is the best possible world that could have been conceived. When Candide is joined by Pangloss after the former survives the Bulgars, Pangloss teaches him to be exultant for the opportunity that the misfortune has offered them. It is in this manner that Candide struggled to embrace and hold firm to the beliefs of his tutor.
When considering the absurdly deplorable conditions that Candide was made to face, it is surprising that it took him so long to completely reject the philosophy of his tutor. There is one scene where Candide is about to be eaten by cannibals where he decides to still uphold his tutor’s theories by being grateful that he did not have to succumb to the cannibals. It is also seen through Candide’s interactions that he has adopted the outlook of his tutor as regards providence. When Candide and Cacambo travel towards Cayenne for example, Candide trusts that God will intervene for them and that providence will help them to reach their destination.
This is comical particularly because of the events that have transpired heretofore which reveal that providence is not on their side. If anything, it is Voltaire’s belief that God abandons the world to take care of itself which is seen throughout the story. Thus defeating the mathematical precision of Leibniz’ Optimism. After this scene however, Candide finds himself in the utopian city of Eldorado. This causes Candide to affirm the beliefs of his tutor as he thinks that all the suffering he has gone through occurred in order for him to achieve the bliss of Eldorado.
In this sense Pangloss is justified in that the misfortunes experienced were mere necessities and trivialities compared to the benefits that followed. However, upon closer analysis this theory holds no water. Certainly Eldorado is a utopian and idyllic society. But doesn’t this only serve to undermine Pangloss’ theory that the world as it is, is the best possible world that it could be? With the existence of a better society than the one which they left behind, Candide should have seen that the latter is not the best society that it could be.
Rather, the imperfections noticed and experienced in the society they left behind could be controlled for in the same manner that Eldorado controlled for such imperfections. Instead of supporting Pangloss’ theory, the arrival of Candide in Eldorado only showed the stubbornness of Candide in clinging on to Optimism after all of the hardships that has befallen him and his friends. In the end however, Candide is overrun by the criticisms offered by the people he meets regarding his optimistic outlook.
He is also overcome by the pragmatic descriptions given about the situation of people and the condition of the world around them. It is also noteworthy that Candide was joined by a pessimist who served to counterbalance the philosophy of Pangloss. In the end however, what might finally have driven home the loss of the cause of Optimism was Pangloss’ own admission that he did not believe in the philosophy. This above all finally spurred Candide to give focus on the task before them – that of tending their newly established garden.
The Reality of Optimism The satire although posing absurd situations to the different characters, presents a clear point to the issue of Optimism. Take into consideration for example the demeanor and outlook of Candide, he was optimistic about the situations that surrounded him only when he could stomach being optimistic. It was therefore a matter of attitude that determined whether the situation was truly good or bad. It can thus be seen that there was no actual determination of the circumstances presenting themselves.
However, it is such a determination that is more important in order to truly assess whether or not the outcome is beneficial to a person concerned. To focus only on the outlook or perspective of persons would be to deny the reality that faces them. What Optimism would then espouse would be nothing more than selective screening of events with encoding of events that only served to improve the situation of the person concerned. Without adequate consideration of the disadvantages that a person might have undergone prior to the improvements of the situation there would be no accurate conclusion as to the actual benefit derived.
This was painfully obvious with Candide’s optimistic outlooks. He was optimistic when he was striving for something he truly wanted; with complete disregard as to the harm that he went through and the like. However, when he was discouraged and had nothing to look forward to he succumbed to the doubts of optimism and failed to justify the harm encountered with corresponding benefits that may have come his way. The mere fact that harms need to be justified reflects that there is no good or best plan behind each of these.
If anything, Optimism merely welcomes the existence of pain and misfortune in the world. Optimism in effect communicates that such misfortunes are a natural component of the world and there is nothing that man can do to ease the suffering of their fellow man. Such an outlook thus fails to improve the world as it is. Instead of encouraging people to work on making the world into the idyllic place that people hope it to become, Optimism espouses indolence and fatalism as people are taught to wait for other forces to act on their behalf.