(1694-1778) and Candide (1759): Enlightenment Values and Principles
Painting of Voltaire by William Blake c. 1800
Candide at the ripe old age of
63, long after he'd established himself as -- at the time -- one of France's
greatest poets, most important philosophers, and most influential shapers of
public consciousness and policy. He was in many ways a sort of a French
Thomas Jefferson, if Jefferson had also written poetry and fiction in his free
time, and many have argued that "The Age of Enlightenment" or "Age
of Reason" should really be called "The Age Of Voltaire".
Enlightenment Values and Revolution,
From an Neo-Classical, Enlightenment, ratioanal
perspectives, humanity's problems are not theological and God's
will is a mystery beyond human understanding. Thus, mankind must use Reason and apply Enlightenment
principles and values to
create solutions to human problems. Mankind has the ability and need to
solve its own problems, and the solutions are to be found thru Reason: the
application of Analytical, Empirical, "Scientific" thinking.
Just as Newton proved "Natural Laws" govern
all natural phenomena, and all natural phenomena can thus be explained
thru rational, scientific enquiry, so too can man discover the natural laws
governing right behavior and create rational, just systems of governance.
This idea is Voltaire's gift to mankind, and it pretty well summarizes what we
mean by "The Enlightenment".
Voltaire, however, does not advocate or
believe in what we'd consider universal suffrage or democracy. He distrusts "the
rabble" and advocates "enlightening" the aristocracy and church to create
governance thru "enlightened despots". Note the similarities to Plato's argument
for "philosopher kings" in
But just as Martin Luther didn't intend for
the Protestantism and the Reformation to lead toward further democratic
revolutions, Voltaire's philosophy
inadvertently becomes the cornerstone of the American and French
Revolutions: both Martin Luther and Voltaire set out to
REFORM THE CHURCH AND EXISTING STATE AUTHORITIES, but their philosophies led to
the spread of revolution AGAINST the authority of both the church and state and,
most importantly, universal suffrage.
This philosophy becomes codified in The
Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution, Declaration of the Rights
of Man (1789), Vindication of the Rights of Women (1791)
Is this really "The Best of All Possible Worlds" or Theodicy Revisited:
What Causes Human Suffering?
Pangloss and his
Leibniz's and Alexander Pope's Philosophical
Lisbon Earthquake and The Problem of Evil
(All Saints Day, 1755): 60,000 to 100,000 innocent die.
How can an inherently
good God create such immense human suffering among the innocent?
Jerry Falwell on 9/11 Causes
Robertson on Haiti earthquake and their "pact with the devil"
Haiti: "Between God and A Hard Place"
Voltaire's reaction to the
immense human suffering caused by this earthquake signals his break with
Philosophical Optimism. Voltaire is infuriated by how Christians blame the
earthquake on providence, as if God were punishing the Portuguese for
their sins -- why then would God kill tens of thousands of children? --
and disgusted with the way his fellow French "Optimistic" philosophers and much of Europe
write the earthquake off as "for the best".
This radical turning away from Leibniz's Philosophical
Optimism is captured in Voltaire's poem
Voltaire’s poem “The Lisbon
Under Church-State control,
the Portuguese response was, as Voltaire reports, an auto da fe ("act of
faith"): the ritual trying and burning of "sinners", whose sins are blamed for
the natural act.
(Note: Rousseau, who figures
largely in later parts of this class, and Voltaire have their final falling out
over this poem, as Rousseau publically attacks Voltaire for questioning God's
goodness and for simply making us all feel more hopeless. Also, the event influences Rousseau's belief that urban life is
inherently bad: the earthquake destroyed the city, but peasant life was largely
unaffected, for obvious reasons.)
James the Anabaptist
(Ch 5) pg. 318 CONTRAST WITH PANGLOSS/LEIBNIZ; truth thru actions/experience
(Locke) vs. Optimism/logic; good=common-sense and action vs.
Enlightenment: A better society through
THUS: The Enlightened response to tragedies
like the Lisbon earthquake is:
a) react to what is readily observable: that people are suffering
b) use science to mitigate human suffering
c) use science to understand how these things occur and engineer solutions to
avoid subsequent destruction
d) admit that human suffering is awful, terrible: respect suffering and react
with love; do not write it off as "for the best"
Compare to Tartuffe: note similar, if not
identical, considerations of good and evil, reason as common-sense, skepticism
and experience (Empiricism and Radical Doubt/Method aka Inductive Logic) vs.
Authority (religious or aristocratic) and deductive logic and a priori
and unchallenged assumptions concerning the nature of truth and the universe.
Thinking about Voltaire's
position on inoculating against smallpox is perhaps the easiest
way to "get" Voltaire, and in so doing "get" what the Enlightenment was all
When you think about
Voltaire's response to the Lisbon earthquake or organized religion (see below),
simply consider that Enlightenment philosophy attempts to understand and
alleviate human suffering by thinking about phenomena as having natural or
man-made causes -- and thus man-made solutions. Science argues that the cause of smallpox is
nature (a virus, not sin, as previously believed), and understanding nature will help us
cure the disease (that's why no one in this classroom has ever had it);
similarly, nature (not God) causes earthquakes, and understanding their cause
and function will allow us to build safer cities.
During the 18th century,
small pox killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year. Those who
survived were often left blind and certainly gruesomely scarred and 1/3 of all
victims were rendered blind.
And of course Columbus and
subsequent European explorers introduced the pox and other infectious diseases
to the Americas, wiping out an estimated 25-50% of the native population.
the 1700s, "medicine" consisted almost entirely of bleeding and prayer.
For the most part, most people believed disease was caused by an imbalance in
the four "humors" (black
bile, yellow bile, phlegm, blood. yum!) or sin and demonic possession. Or
But primitive inoculation
against the disease was practiced throughout the world, perhaps first in Africa,
for thousands of years, while Christian Europe associated the
practice as pagan or a form of witchcraft, or negatively for its use by Muslims.
The British, however, began experimenting with the practice in the early 1700,
and Voltaire is credited with having brought and spread the method to the
European continent, as argued in his then widely read
Letter On Inoculation.
Meanwhile, in Voltaire's
lifetime inoculation was widely attacked the church, much the way certain
medical procedures have been in your own lifetime, and although some
European Americans experimented with smallpox inoculation as early as 1721 (at
the urging of Cotton Mather, who, really ironically, would later gain notoriety
for his role in the Salem Witch Trials), by 1800, perhaps 100,000 Europeans and
North Americans had
been vaccinated worldwide.
Voltaire the Anti-Semite,
Anti-Cleric, Champion of Toleration
“More than any other figure in
Western history, Voltaire will transform “intolerance” into a vice and
“toleration” into a virtue.” -- Alan Kors
Voltaire is a cynic
(someone who believes people are selfish) and a misanthrope (someone who
dislikes humanity) but is he a bigot (a person who does not tolerate those
Judaism for its emphasis on a god that would chose one people over all
others -- a quality clearly at odds with egalitarian democracy. He loathes
priests (he was educated by Jesuits) for their emphasis on superstition,
ritual and the supernatural -- qualities clearly at odds with science and
reason. He loathes reformation Protestants for their return to
puritanical authoritarianism -- at odds with the inherent freedom of the
But in the 1760s-1770s Voltaire becomes
the loudest public
voice in defense of these same groups, risking his reputation on
protecting their civil liberties and repeatedly intervening to protect the
legal rights of religious minorities, especially of minority
Protestants ("Huguenots") in his native France:
In the Calas affair, a
Protestant family was accused of having hanged their son, who was depressed and
suicidal, because the son was going to convert to Catholicism. The father
was tortured and killed
[on the wheel], by the state, and the daughters were sent to nunneries. Voltaire
saw that this was a case of judicial murder and undertook to rehabilitate
the family and to have the verdict successfully overturned. (note: his
On Tolerance" was written for this case.)
In a similar case, the Protestant
was accused of murdering a daughter, who had in fact actually committed suicide.
Voltaire succeeded in having the case reexamined and used the matter to
bring about revisions in the judicial process, while isolating religious
intolerance as the cause of such abuse.
Finally, in the
affair, Voltaire was appalled by the case of a nineteen-year-old, poor
aristocrat with no family, who was tortured and burned for having allegedly
mutilated a crucifix. Among the evidence against him was a copy of
Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary,
which had been found on the young man’s shelf.
(Source: Alan Kors)
So, despite the apparent
cynicism and even bigotry satirically expressed in Candide, Voltaire
universalizes and popularizes the toleration that his hero, John Locke, had used
to end the English Civil War. Recall that Locke wanted religious
toleration for all faiths in England, except for Catholicism, since
Catholics held allegiance to the Pope. But in his
Voltaire goes further than Locke and explicitly includes Catholics as well
(but not atheists, btw).
Voltaire and Deism:
Despite his fervent attacks
on organized religion -- both here in Candide and elsewhere -- Voltaire in
not an atheist -- and he consistently and frequently attacked atheism as both more absurd
and dangerous than religious belief.
Voltaire is a Deist, like
many other notable Enlightenment thinkers -- Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin
Franklin, George Washington, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, and
even Leibniz and Alexander Pope. A Deist is "One who believes in the
existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his
belief on the light of nature and reason" (Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary).
It's important to
understand that there was no formal "Deist" church, and that most of these men
continued to attend the churches into which they were born and raised. The
closest thing to a "Deist church" is likely Freemasonry.
One easy way to understand Deism is by looking at
the Jefferson Bible, in which Thomas Jefferson omitted everything but the
actual, specific teachings of Christ and carefully eliminated all references to
miracles and Christ as divine.
Basically Deists Believe:
God created an ordered universe
(so, yes, Voltaire and traditional Deists would have been "Creationists"
in this sense, although note we said "universe" not "world").
The universe operates according to natural laws.
Scientific enquiry can
explain these natural laws. That is, reason/science can explain the
natural, observable world.
God's will is not
revealed, either through magical/supernatural processes, or through the natural world.
Thus: science explains the natural world;
nothing explains God's will. Therefore philosophers and scientists
should stop trying to understand God's will; if it exists, it exists beyond the
realm of human understanding.
Note: The Dervish's parable concerning the
mice on the ship is a representation of Deism. Odds are high you'll need
to explain why on the test.