What are we to make of the theories of good and evil that are propounded throughout Candide?

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Candide is a satire and, although its primary target is the optimistic philosophy of Leibniz, all the theories of good and evil propounded in the text are treated satirically except the idea Candide himself expresses in the last line, that we must cultivate our garden. This idea is so pragmatic and practical that it barely counts as a theory at all. It is arguable, however, that behind it lies a very simple theory that it is good to do what little one can to improve one's immediate environment, and that, despite the bitterness of life, it is wrong to give way to apathy and nihilism.

Pangloss's theory that "all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds," is marked out for the greatest ridicule. The effect is achieved quite simply, by making Pangloss himself the living embodiment of his own theory's failure. He is constantly demonstrating the harshness of life as he goes through a sequence of hideous experiences, still glibly repeating his unconvincing attempt at theodicy.

Although Pangloss is the most foolish and deluded character, those who espouse a pessimistic philosophy, such as Martin and Pococurante do not escape Voltaire's censure. Pococurante is essentially the opposite of Pangloss, but the fact that Pangloss is wrong does not make the other extreme right. Pococurante has an easy, pleasant life, but he reacts to all the good things he could enjoy with boredom and cold disgust. Despite Voltaire's concentration on the horror and tragedy of life, he is as impatient with the idea that nothing in the world is good as with the idea that nothing is truly evil.

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