Voltaire’s Take on Leibniz, Jesuits, and Monkeys

by tinacastillo ~ April 22nd, 2010. Filed under: Chapter 16: The Age of Enlightenment: Rationalism and its Uses.

My research paper was all about Voltaire’s Candide and the social commentary it made on the Enlightenment era. Briefly I will describe the plot of this satirical work and how it pokes fun of the time. Candide is roughly 100 pages long and easy to read. So whether you wish to read up  on Voltaire’s viewpoints or are just plain bored, it should take you no more than an hour and a half.

Candide was brought up in the noble castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia where he feel in love with the the forbidden Mademoiselle Cunegonde. Once caught kissing her, Candide is immediatly kicked out of the castle left to die. The rest of the short story details the many, many misfortunes he faces while trying to relocate his lover Cunegonde. His best friend is the philosophical Pangloss. Throughout the story Candide accepts the bad luck as good because according to Pangloss: “all is for the best”. Candide kills two men, finds then loses Cunegonde several times, travels to El Dorado, becomes a slave, meets with Jesuits, and shoots two monkeys chasing after young women (the women mourn the death of the monkeys because they were their lovers). By the end, old, ugly Cunegonde, Candide, Pangloss (coming back from the ‘dead’), and the old woman live in peace at last.

El Dorado

 Alongside several Enlightenment figures, Voltaire asserted that reason triumphs, to hell with the Catholic Church, and the importance of logical thinking. Voltaire once was a Jesuit, but now renounced religion for the sake of reason. Voltaire vented in Candide about another philosopher named Leibniz. This man believed in the idea of optimism, where everything happens for a reason. The character, Pangloss is the equilvalent to Leibniz with his blind optimism (‘all is for the best’). Voltaire was fed up with the idea that people of his time contributed every tragedy as something God had planned for all.

Philosopher Leibniz

 Voltaire was known to be a Deist. Deism refers to the idea that God exists but acts as a ‘watchmaker’ in that He created the world, but instead of constantly interfering, God stands back and watches. Ironically in Candide, the only reason Candide is not killed by the natives of El Dorado is because he is not a Christian. Candide also states to the Emperor: “Do you mean to say you have no  monks teaching and disputing, governing and intriging, andhaving people burned if they don’t subscribe to their opinion”? Voltaire suggests the missionaries have become vain and zealous in their pursuit to convert others to Christianity. Voltaire also calls out the corruption of the church. Although the characters in the story don’t make a big deal over it, the Catholic Pope has a daughter despite his vow of celibacy.

Again, Candide is only about 100 pages and enjoyable to read about Voltaire’s pet peeves of the Enlightenment.

Voltaire writing.

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