“Everything happens for the best, in this the best of all possible worlds.” This is a statement that can be found many times within Voltaire’s Candide. Voltaire rejected Lebitizian Optimism, using Candide as a means for satirizing what was wrong with the world, and showing that, in reality, this is not the best of all possible worlds.
The philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, which Voltaire called “optimism,” is one of the main themes of Candide. The two main points of Leibnitzian philosophy are that God is beneficent and that in creating the world, He created the best possible one. Leibnitz did not argue that the world was perfect or that evil was non-existent, but thanks to God’s goodness and His constant concern with his creation, the right finally emerges.
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It is all a matter of being able to see the Divine plan in its totality and not to judge by solitary parts. This theory was attractive to many because it answered a profound philosophical question that mankind had been struggling with since the beginning of faith: if God is all-powerful and benevolent, then why is there so much evil in the world? Optimism provides an easy way out of this.
Voltaire’s experiences led him to dismiss the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds. Examining the death and destruction, both man-made and natural (such as the Libson earthquake), Voltaire concluded that everything was not, in fact, for the best. As a Deist, Voltaire’s God was one who initially created the world, and then left it to its own devices.
Voltaire does most of his satirizing through the character of Dr. Pangloss, an unconditional follower of Leibnitz’s philosophy and Candide’s mentor. Pangloss’s ramblings are not personal attacks on Leibnitz, but in some way represent the thoughts of a typical optimist. He is a very hopeful character in the story because he refuses to accept bad. When Candide encounters Pangloss after a long period of time, Pangloss explains how he was almost hanged, then dissected, then beaten. Candide asks the philosopher if he still believes that everything is for the best, and Pangloss replies that he still held his original views. Voltaire frequently exaggerates his point on optimism; there is nobody in reality who is positive about everything all the time, especially after so many horrible experiences. One could say that Pangloss is irrational and idiotic, and Voltaire tries to depict how inexplicable his beliefs are which do not measure up to reality.
Another example of how Voltaire ridicules Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy is the mention of the Lisbon earthquake and fire. Even though the disastrous earthquake took over 30,000 lives, Pangloss still upheld his philosophical optimism by stating, “For all that is for the best…It is impossible that things should not be other than they are; for everything is right. (26)” The disaster in Lisbon affected Voltaire’s life so much that he wrote the Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, but Pangloss’ philosophy said that the Lisbon earthquake was necessary for the course of nature, and there was definitely a rationale for the situation.
A contrast to the views of Pangloss is the character, Martin. Martin, a pessimist, is a friend and advisor to Candide whom he meets on his journey. Martin continuously tries to prove to Candide that there is little virtue, morality, and happiness in the world. When a cheerful couple is seen walking and singing, Candide Martin, “At least you must admit that these people are happy (67).” Martin answers Candide’s comment with the reply, “I wager they are not (67).” Martin suggests that Candide invite the couple to dine at his hotel. As the young girl, now found to be Paquette, tells her story, Martin is ironically proved correct and his pessimistic views are further strengthened.
Eldorado is another contrast to this “best of all possible worlds.” It is described as an extremely peaceful and serene country. It is a place that has no need for laws, jails, war, or material goods, which makes it “impossible” to find. Voltaire uses Eldorado as an epitome of the “best of all possible worlds,” because it contrasts the real outside world in which war and suffering are everyday occurrences.
Throughout Candide’s life, he believes strongly in optimism, not because he is forced to, but because he was raised in that manner. It is possible, however, that deep down inside, Candide doubts the philosophies of his teacher because of his exposure to immorality in the real world. For example, Candide witnesses the public hanging of two Portuguese Jews simply because they refused to eat bacon for dinner. It is occurrences like these which demonstrate the inhumanity that one person can do to another, which leads Candide to disbelieve Pangloss’s philosophies.
Voltaire rejected Lebitizian Optimism, using Candide as a means for satirizing everything that was wrong with the world, and showing that, in reality, this is not the best of all possible worlds.
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