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Rationalism, Skepticism, and Romanticism were three primary philosophical schools of...

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pinklearner | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted October 22, 2013 at 12:41 AM via web

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Rationalism, Skepticism, and Romanticism were three primary philosophical schools of thought during the Enlightenment. How does Voltaire relate to these notions (if at all) in Candide?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 22, 2013 at 6:42 AM (Answer #1)

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Voltaire's Candide is a quintessential satire:  there is hardly a paragraph that does not express ridicule. The main focus of this ridicule is the Optimism of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz based upon a syllogism that since God created the world and since God is perfect, therefore the world is perfect. In his assessment of the foolishness of this philosophy, Voltaire has his characters experience almost every kind of misfortune possible, yet they emerge believing that there is a reason for everything and the world is good. In Chapter XI, for instance after Pangloss has lost and ear and a nose to the ravages of syphilis, he justifies all his misfortune:

...it is an indispensable feature of the best of all possible worlds, a necessary ingredient: for if Columbus, on an island off the Americas, had not contracted this disease- which poisons the source of all procreation, and often even prevents procreation, contrary though this be to nature’s great plan- we would have neither chocolate nor cochineal....

In the end, Candide decides in Chapter XIX that being optimistic is "a mania for insisting that everything is all right when everything is going wrong."

Along with criticizing Optimism, Voltaire expresses much of the philosophy of Skepticism promulgated by David Hume, who questioned religion and this philosophy of a perfect God.  Hume asked why such a perfect God would create an imperfect world. Furthermore, Hume expressed the belief that mankind is fallible, an idea which brings into question all truths that man holds. As he questions Optimism, Voltaire at times has his characters exemplify the tenets of Rationalism. For instance, while the friends are in the utopia of Eldorado, Candide complains that Lady Cunegonde is not there and he wants to leave. But, the king of Eldorado reasons, "It's a foolish thing to do...when a man is fairly well off somewhere, he ought to stay there." However, the Romantic Candide, who is given to his personal and emotion musings about Cunegonde, rejects this reasoning and, as Voltaire writes, "...the two fortunate men decided to be fortunate no longer." 

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