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Voltaire In Writing Candide History Essay

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Elaborate upon what advantages there might be for Voltaire in writing Candide as a satire (albeit a philosophical one), as opposed to an out-and-out philosophical essay.

Satire: "An artistic work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. Irony or caustic wit used to expose or attack human folly." - American Heritage Dictionary.

Voltaire was a French writer, philosopher and one of the leaders of the Enlightenment movement. Voltaire wrote with a critical attitude, yet presented the story of Candide in a humorous manner. The story is fictional, but based on real situations happening in the world at the time Voltaire wrote the story. Voltaire wrote Candide using a lot of satire and irony to get his philosophical points across regarding the main theme of book, optimism. The plot of the story is fast paced, and comes across pretty incredulous as the main characters narrowly escape death over and over again, allowing the chance for the tragedies to compound over and over again using the same characters. It is through all of these horrible experiences the characters in Candide endure that he mocks the idea of a perfect world (optimism), and ends up pointing out how indifferent the world is to humanity in general.

One of the advantages to Voltaire writing Candide as a satire instead of a philosophical essay was that it kept him from getting thrown into jail, and potentially helped him to avoid persecution and death. At the time he wrote the book there were some significant events happening in history, and writing Candide was a way for Voltaire to convey information and opinion about the events without necessarily getting himself into trouble. Writing in this manner gave Voltaire the opportunity to make fun of the rich and famous, religion, and events prominent at that point in history. Additionally, writing his accounts in a satirical manner allowed him to criticize what was happening in Europe, by putting his fictional characters in realistic settings allowed him to explore current events. I can almost picture him using the excuse: "Why, I wasn't talking about you, it's just part of the story!" A great example of optimism and irony is expressed in chapter five, where he draws attention to the Lisbon earthquake and the devastation it caused. Candide, injured in the earthquake and trapped underneath a pile of rubble, cries out for help from Pangloss, who comes back simply saying -"But these earthquakes are nothing new. The city of Lima in America experienced the same tremors last year: same causes, same effects: there must certainly be a seam of sulphur running underground from Lima to Lisbon." Pangloss continues to assure all that "This is all for the best." In chapter four, Pangloss is telling the story of how he contracted syphilis passed down through multiple encounters when he indicates that one of the encounters "…was a Jesuit who passed it to a page boy…" insinuating the Jesuits being homosexual, a sin in the Roman Catholic Church. He later then goes on to state that if it wasn't for Columbus bringing syphilis to the Americas in the spirit of "all is for the best…" we wouldn't have the enjoyment of chocolate (the association of syphilis to chocolate in this story has sort of ruined it for me). Another example, leaning more towards a political genre regarding the Seven Year War, is in chapter 23 when Voltaire satirizes the actual death of British Naval Commander John Byng by execution on the deck of his own ship in Portsmouth harbor. In the story, Candide and Martin sail into the Portsmouth Harbor on a Dutch ship, discussing the conflict in North America between the French and the British over Canadian territory, Candide expressing his disdain for the fight over land that had more consequences than what was worth fighting for. In the story they come into Portsmouth Harbor spying on a British admiral who is being executed for failing to engage the enemy properly to win the battle. Candide speaks out "What is all this…and what the devil is at work in this world? Why kill this admiral?" the answer being "…He did not get enough people killed when he had the chance…but in this country it is considered useful now and again to shoot an admiral, to encourage the others." Candide being stunned and shocked by what he heard, refused to set foot on English soil and fled to Venice. This could have made a strong statement to readers, affecting their opinions of England during wartime, especially since the execution of John Byng was such significant event.

Candide reminds me of a 1700 version of "Saturday Night Live, with all the political and historical satire, done in a clever way as to not get the author in trouble with the masses, yet gets his points across to those who "get it" and understand the meaning behind the satire.

Reflection: Part Two

Identify some aspect of contemporary culture (in art, politics, media, science, religion, etc) that has been profoundly shaped by one (or more) of the philosophers we've studied during this course & explain the reasons why you make this claim.

The Age of Enlightenment, also referred to as the Age of Reason, is centered around a time in history when philosophy centered on reason being the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Enlightenment philosophers believed that science and reason led to progress, that knowledge was attainable by man, (not just a revelation from God), and that man wanted to free himself from existing religious worldview through scientific understanding. The Enlightenment movement developed simultaneously in Europe and the American colonies, and culminated with the liberation of America from England during the American Revolution. Enlightenment principles, developed by philosophers such as Voltaire, Hume and Locke, greatly influenced how the United States government was formed. Since Voltaire is the philosopher I understood the most, I will focus on his philosophies and beliefs.

These Enlightenment philosophers had broadened their scope of criticism during this time in history to include religion and politics. Their opinions and ideals influenced the authors of the Declaration if Independence, and the United States Bill of Rights. Voltaire, famous for his satire and advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade, are ideals that are alive and well today. He was outspoken on social reform despite the strict censorship and penalties in place that prosecuted the violators of that day and age. It is apparent that his philosophies on religion and politics have influenced our government and that those philosophies are still in play today. At the time Voltaire was writing his philosophical ideals, the idea of the Unites States was just being born, and as changes began taking place, like the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it indicated that individuals in America's history were going beyond discussion of enlightened ideas, like Voltaire's philosophies, but were taking action on them.

As far as religious influence, Voltaire's ideals about the separation of church and state have probably been one his biggest influence in the American government. The concept of separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state. This all came about from Voltaire's critical views on religion, reflecting his belief in the separation of church and state, formed after he had been exiled to England for a time. To explain, during the eighteenth century there was a big push to use rationalism to demonstrate the existence of God. Devotion, reverence and belief were integral parts in the exploration of natural philosophy and ethics in addition to political theories of the age. Voltaire considered himself a deist, expressing the idea "what is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason." Deism is the philosophical belief in a deity based on reason, rather than religious revelation or dogma. Deism greatly influenced the thought of intellectuals and Founding Fathers, including James Madison, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. It is noted that The First Amendment to the Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", of course lending itself to individual interpretation, the establishment of separation of church and state.

Philosophers like Voltaire really got the ball rolling and changed how people were thinking about government. People began to look more intuitively at how the government was run, and started questioning the authority of the rulers. The philosophers believed that written law needed to reflect the general will of the people. The Enlightenment is named so for good reason…the new ideas that sprang from this movement stated that individuals had rights and that government was a contract between the people and their ruler, and that under this contract both the ruler and citizens had rights and responsibilities. One sided rule was not acceptable anymore. The people wanted change from absolutism and the divine right of kings, and they wanted to have a say in how things were being done. An excellent example of enlightenment thinking is the Declaration of Independence, which marked the beginning of self government in America.

In conclusion, Voltaire, along with other Enlightnement philosophers, had great influence in laying the foundation of law and shaping of our country.

 

 


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