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The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Candide
In 1755, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred in Lisbon, Portugal, changing European history and philosophy. But how does one geologic event trigger a paradigm shift from naturalism to liberalism Naturalism unites with rationalism during the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical movement during the 18th century, which rejects traditional social, religious and political ideas with an emphasis on rationalism. People believe in a world, which follows logical rules, where reason can be used to discover and implement a perfect society. The earthquake in Lisbon shook the very foundation of their beliefs.
The Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason is characterized with a belief in natural law, universal order and the confidence of human reason in the 18th century. Organized religions like Christianity became the enemies of the "enlightened ones” and Voltaire created the slogan, Erasez I’infame!, meaning “Wipe it out! Wipe out the infamous thing!” i.e. the church of the old order. His influence popularized the ideals of the age. In Candide, Voltaire expresses his philosophy through his characters that embody different ideals of Enlightenment. For example, Candide represents the ludicracy of total optimism. The religious satire of Candide criticizes the traditional dogma. One of the major proponents of the Enlightenment is that individuals have to take control of their own lives which is what Candide finally does after the earthquake. His character growth is based upon the destruction of the world around him.
The devastating earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon killed about 30,000 people in a matter of three and a half minutes. Many were killed because they were packed into the city’s churches in celebration of All Saint’s Day; the heavy roofs of the church collapsed on top of them. Also, the candles that were burning at the time started a huge fire that destroyed the cultural treasures of Portugal. The king’s palace was burnt destroying a 70,000-volume library and hundreds of priceless artwork. Tidal waves or tsunamis were experienced all over, from Finland to Libya to Barbados. This geologic event not only fractured the earth but it created a fissure in the cultural paradigm; it was the start to the end of the Age of Reason. The Philosophy of Naturalism states that everything can be explained by following the laws of nature. Because nature is logical and since man is a part of nature, man is logical. But the earthquake proved that these laws could not account for all occurrences. The quake destroyed all institutes of reason such as the recorded history of Portugal and the hospital (medical science) burning. Yes, the Lisbon earthquake can be viewed as the trigger of the paradigm shifting.
The cultural paradigm shift in the late 18th century was from a naturalistic philosophy to the Age of Romanticism and the Age of Revolution. The role that science plays in the shift is that it could not explain sudden and unexplainable disasters such as the Lisbon Earthquake. Thus, if any point in an argument or theory fails, the entire theory fails. Religious institutions came into fire and played an important role in the shift of ideology. Religion puts faith in the mysteries of the world can only be explained through God and his will. The philosophes of the Enlightenment believed that religion especially Christianity was unreasonable and irrational. Voltaire comments on religion when he mentions the earthquake as being the judgement day, the acts of faith of burning a few people alive and the punishment of Pangloss and Candide as a preventative of future quakes. The superstitious beliefs the people held came into play after the disaster. Reason and logic failed to answer questions of how to prevent earthquakes and fears could not be soothed. Hence, people turned towards religion to answer their questions. Ironically, all the churches in Lisbon were destroyed by the quake, so if one were to argue about God’s divine will would they say he wanted to destroy his places of worship. Instead, would not he have spared all the churches as proof of his divinity?
The paradigm shifted in 1789 to a more liberating view of life. The younger generation was not as willing to accept the conformity and repression of identity that the Enlightenment encouraged. The social injustices became too bothersome and disturbing to
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Secularism, Epistemology of science, Philosophy of science, Age of Enlightenment, Candide, Lisbon earthquake, Lisbon, Voltaire, Naturalism, Metaphysical naturalism, Paradigm shift, Irrationality
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