How does Voltaire's Candide exemplify the ideas of the Enlightenment?

Expert Answers
rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Voltaire's Candide is an all-out attack on dogmatic beliefs, a frequent target of the philosophes' scorn. Pangloss's commitment to the belief, propagated by Leibniz, that all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, is not just clearly in tension with the litany of misadventures suffered by Candide. It offers an excuse to overlook, and thus not to act to remedy, the terrible suffering experienced by many people. For example, when Jacques the Anabaptist is pitched overboard, Pangloss forbids Candide from jumping in after him, on the grounds that it is for the best:

He was just going to jump after him, but was prevented by the philosopher Pangloss, who demonstrated to him that the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned. 

Other characters, like Martin, demonstrate the folly of complete pessimism, which has the same effect as unfounded optimism. 

Voltaire satirizes other institutions, as well. Candide is amazed, for example, that the people of Eldorado have no "monks who teach, argue, rule, plot, and burn people who don't agree with them." Voltaire, more than even most other philosophes, believed in relative freedom of conscience, and reserved special antipathy for the intolerance of the Catholic Church. He also satirizes superstition, as displayed by the decision of the people of Lisbon to engage in brutal executions in order to avert future earthquakes. All of these are themes common to many (but not all) Enlightenment thinkers. Candide stands as a gem of Enlightenment literature in that it subjects a number of assumptions, institutions, and closely held beliefs to criticism.