Human Nature In Voltaire's Candide

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Under the guise of sarcasm and an erratic and fantastical plot, Voltaire’s Candide examines human nature and the human condition in the context of an 18th century France. This is done so not only through the derision of philosophical positions such as Optimism and Pessimism, but also of the religious intolerance of that day. It may seem at first that Voltaire views humanity in a dismal light and merely locates its deficiencies, but in fact he also reveals attributes of redemption in it, and thus his view of human nature is altogether much more balanced and multi-faceted.
The world in which Voltaire lived was marked by two diurnal events of significance in the backdrop: firstly that of the gradual decay of the ancien régime, the term given to
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Most notably, the German philosopher Leibniz had espoused his doctrine of Optimism as a response to the problem of evil, where all is for the best in ‘the best of all possible worlds’. Voltaire, however, ridiculed this idea in Candide in response to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, noting in a letter dated 24 November how it is ‘difficult to explain how the laws of motion can produce such fearful disasters in the best of all possible worlds’. A cultural transformation also permeated the Enlightenment, which stemmed from three sources: rationalism, empiricism and a rekindled interest in nature. Rousseau in particular was a prominent proponent of the last of these three, and argued that men was by nature free, though at the same time he was overwhelmingly pessimistic about freeing humanity from the shackles of corrupt institutions that were in place. On man by nature being free, it is found in Candide as the protagonist ‘remonstrate[s] [...] about freedom of the will’ when faced with the possibility of two forms of punishment from the Bulgars. Voltaire also criticises Rousseau’s outlook on humanity through the character Martin. The philosophes had faith in the idea of a better world, and Voltaire propagated this ideal of progress through wit and satire. He was educated at the …show more content…
The author parodies this through Pangloss’ inflexible philosophy and its frequent espousal in the idea that all is for the best in this ‘best of all possible worlds’. Indeed, this is mocked in the opening chapter in mentioning his school of thought: ‘metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology’, the sheer length of which hints to and pokes fun at the absurdity of his arguments to come throughout the novel. In fact, Pangloss’ thesis is so often met with its antitheses of misery and suffering in his adventures that he ought to forgo his dogmatic adherence to it altogether. Despite the absence of a valid synthesis of the two, and the untenable position his complacent Optimism is placed in, Pangloss is undeterred and turns to his recourse of sophistry. This is most evident in his chain of necessity about his syphilis, ‘for if Columbus […] had not contracted this disease […] we would have neither chocolate nor cochineal’. He is merely resolved to arguments of reductio ad absurdum in an effort to locate good in an unfortunate event. Moreover, there is only one instance where ‘Optimism’ is mentioned, and that is when Candide and Cacambo encounter the black slave who tells them that his hand and leg being cut off ‘is the price [they] pay for the sugar [they] eat in Europe’, limning the potential heartlessness of Pangloss’ system. An air of coolness and

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