Candide: Optimism Essay

This essay has a total of 773 words and 4 pages.

Candide: Optimism

Candide is a humorous, far-fetched tale by Voltaire satirizing the optimism promoted by
the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. It is the story of a young man’s adventures
throughout the world, where he witnesses evil and disaster. Throughout his travels, he
adheres to the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss, believing that "all is for the best in
the best of all possible worlds," (Voltaire 4). Candide is Voltaire’s answer to what he
saw as an absurd belief proposed by the Optimists. “Candide…is a profound attack on
philosophical Optimism and, through it, all philosophical systems that claim falsely to
justify the presence of evil in the world,” (Mason 1). “Candide anatomizes the world's
potential for disaster and examines the corresponding human capacity for optimism,” (Bell
1). Though he was by no means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens
is always for the best.

The Age of Enlightenment is a term applied to a wide variety of ideas and advances in the
fields of philosophy, science, and medicine. The main feature of Enlightenment philosophy
is the belief that people can actively work to create a better world. “It is customary to
present Candide as the result of Voltaire's reaction to Leibniz and Pope,”(Wade 1) two of
the main philosophers of the enlightenment era. While Voltaire’s Candide is heavily
characterized by the primary concerns of the Enlightenment, it also criticizes certain
aspects of the movement. It attacks the idea of optimism, which states that rational
thought can inhibit the evils perpetrated by human beings. Voltaire did not believe in the
power of reason to overcome contemporary social conditions.

The attack on the claim that this is "the best of all possible worlds" is apparent
throughout the entire novel. Throughout the story, satirical references to this theme
contrast with natural disaster and human wrongdoing. When reunited with the diseased and
dying Pangloss, who had contracted syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault.
Pangloss simply responds that “the disease was a necessity in this ‘the best of all
possible worlds’, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus’ men, who also brought
chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the
disease,’” (Voltaire 17). The multitudes of disasters, which Candide undergoes, leads to
the abandonment of his belief in optimism. When asked "What’s optimism?" by Cacambo,
Candide replies, "Alas…it is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell,"
(Voltaire 130).

Candide finally begins to be aware of the hopelessness of Pangloss’ philosophy. Voltaire
concludes Candide by having Candide discover the Turk’s truth to life - "…the work keeps
us from three great evils, boredom, vice and need," (Voltaire 148). Candide and his band
of followers consider these words and decide that they "must cultivate their garden." Even
when the entire group has accepted the pastoral lifestyle, finding contentment, Pangloss
Continues for 2 more pages >>

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