Candid. A classic, which can be read like an adventure story, very useful when trying to introduce children to literature …
Voltaire, of course, is part of the philosophers of the Enlightenment (as opposed to the dark philosophy of previous centuries, dominated by the Catholic scholastic).
He was not an atheist but a deist: he thought that the world was created by God a watchmaker, which would set the parameters of the universe and would then indented.
The seventeenth century, it seems, was « the century of Voltaire « . That’s not very nice to his contemporaries: Helvetius, Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, D’Alembert, Buffon and others. He would have had a major influence on the outbreak of the Revolution (he returned from exile in 1778).
But as Michel Onfray remark in his Counter-History of Philosophy, writings circulated only in the higher echelons of society and draws, at the time, were limited. So do many honors on this man, for talent elsewhere, than making man by whom the Revolution arrived!
Voltaire and religion
Voltaire was clearly not an atheist and was even deeply religious: he was part of the great family of Deists (such as Helvetius)
The world embarrasses me, and I can not think, that this clock exists and has developed a watchmaker. Voltaire and his God-watchmaker.
The observation of nature, perfectly organized, to him was sufficient to prove the existence of God. Voltaire and denounced the futility of pseudo-evidence (Aquinas) the existence of God.
Worship God without wanting to break into the darkness of its mysteries! Voltaire and deism.
His God was distant, almost foreign to human affairs. Like Helvetius, he was a god-architect, who would have made plans of the beautiful celestial mechanics, before letting it move at will. God be satisfied to keep the keys of the temple of moral values.
Voltaire criticized religion in general and Catholicism in particular, two major points:
- membership in a particular dogma (Catholic, Protestant or Muslim), which opened the way to quarrels or war incessant religions, forced conversions and afraid peoples with the story of the end of the world;
As long as there knaves and fools, there will be religions. Ours is unquestionably the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloodiest ever infected the world. Voltaire and Catholicism.
- his superstitious side.
Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, very mad daughter of a wise mother! Voltaire and superstition.
Christianity is the most infamous superstition ever brutalized men and desolate land. Voltaire and superstition.
Candide is kind of adventure novel. The main character, Candide, through the world still encountering more horrors: murder, rapes, wars, earthquakes… His mentor ( PANGLOSS) offers him always the same argument to explain the presence of evil in this world, « we are in the best of all possible worlds. » Leitmotif increasingly hard to justify as misfortune is large (30 000 dead innocents in Lisbon in 1755 during the earthquake).
Where does evil come from ?
Candide is an ironic response to another philosopher and mathematician ( Leibniz ). Leibniz, who argued with Newton about the paternity of calculus, proposed a very particular view of the world: Leibniz thought God as a creator and an incarnation of absolute good. His representation was a problem: where does evil come from? Wars, disease, death grandchild were indeed part of creation.
How infinitely good could he be so engender unhappiness? Here is the paradox Leibniz attacked. He found the solution. The paradox was only apparent.
The Leibniz solution
According to Leibniz, we are like spectators who would watch a masterpiece too closely. Without enough distance, we see only shapeless heaps of paint. If we take a little field, if we embrace the work in its entirety, we see then see the beauty, consistency of the fabric of the Master.
So if we could see the universe in its entirety, we would see that rapes, epidemics, all these injustices that we equate to evil, naturally fall within a coherent, logical: a good system, the only possible system: best of all possible worlds, as Leibniz. In short, if there are little problems is that God could not do otherwise!
The irony of Voltaire
The reading Candide lights. Voltaire mocked Leibniz ! Candide observed 30 000 deaths from the earthquake of Lisbon. He does not understand. All these innocent people under the rubble! These newborns crushed by collapsed walls… Pangloss lights his lantern : In this best of all possible worlds, the dead have their logic. This logic is inaccessible to us. Only God can understand.
So much for the widows and orphans!
If so here is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others? Voltaire
Pangloss would have told visiting Auschwitz?
The book ends with a cryptic sentence: « Growing our garden. » What meant well Voltaire ? An invitation to self-sufficiency, ecology? No.
VOLTAIRE invites us to come back to earth. And not waste time trying to solve problems without solution. We can not prove the existence of God. Well, leave God where he is and enjoy life (without him).