How is Candide a satire of the philosophy of optimism?

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teacherk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Candide has been indoctrinated by the kingdom's philosopher "Pangloss" before he is expelled for loving the Princess Cunegonde from the fictional kingdom of Westphalia. His teachings in the garden of the kingdom would be considered the most important as they set up the rest of the ironic contrast. Pangloss represents a pre-Enlightenment philosopher "Leibniz", who preached about the importance of "Optimism", which Voltaire sought to attack though his satire. Candide overcomes everything from losing his princess, brutal beatings, syphilis, an "auto-da-fe", drowning, and attacks--all in his mind still belonging to the "best of all possible worlds". In Candide's words, everything can only be for the best, despite that he encounters trouble after trouble--most often life threatening. There are no redeeming qualities in any of the horrible events that Candide encounters, and thus Voltaire is able to ironically show that nothing could be the best in Candide's world, despite that he continues to think so. The short novel is almost comical--juxtaposing the terrible and the comic so as to further emphasize the ludicrous nature of Leibnizian philosophy.

fsorz | Student

Candide satirizes the ideology of philosophical optimism by using exaggeration, by making everything ridicule and absurd. Also, the limitations of the characters satirizes this idea.

First of all, when this idea is proposed - when Pangloss is presented in the book-, the proof for such a though is absurd. (chapter 1)- there is no effect without cause, thats why noses were made to the use of spectacles, therefore, we use spectacle, etc. Therefore, the optimism is stirized, by the reasoning of Pangloss.

Also, exaggeration is used throughout the book. Pangloss and Candide pass through horrible catastrohpes in this book, such as a disease, rape, brutallity, earthquacke, etc. And, eveytime they look at these "scenarios" they think about it possitivly, and try to find a cause for such an effect. ( Good example, when Pangloss has syphilis, his body is distroyed and he is missing an ear and nose, he says that such a disease is " 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(…)” (Voltaire, 11)


Also, you could talk about Martin. How the author uses comparaison in between these two; pessimism always get the characters out of trouble, and optimism gets them in trouble...


If you need more ideas, don't hesitate to write back (:

jcalascione | Student

i believe that candide is a satire because the book is always in contact with the kings and military. also, life in general is satarized. he makes everything a mockary. he pokes fun at everything that went against his philosophy. his philosophy was that life has a purpose, and if that reason means death, then there is a point for it.

william08 | Student

I beleive that Candide is a satire of the philosiphy of optimism because everytime something goes wrong with Candide, he somehow has good luck, and escapes. He avoided death, being arrested, etc...

kuller | Student

I think because it is so exaggerated that it makes it become sarcastic. Not directly criticizing the philosopht though, it becomes satirical.