Leibniz and Voltaire’s Candide

Cover of "Candide, Zadig and Selected Sto...

Cover of Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories

Who is LEIBNIZ and why is Voltaire taking aim at him in Candide? You need to think about the word “metaphysics” here.

Leibniz was a German theorist who developed the philosophical system of optimism. According to the introduction, 18th-century France had a very narrow understanding of optimism, “the opinion of those philosophers who assert that this world is the best that God could create, the best of all possible worlds” (Voltaire xii). Liebniz argued that if God was perfect then He must have created a perfect world. Voltaire and many other philosophers were concerned about this interpretation because it provided “divine justification for suffering and injustice” (xii). Leibniz argued that it is the suffering and injustice that are part of the “harmonious universe, in which the human perspective was simply too limited to grasp the role of the individual pieces in the greater design” (xii). In other words, he thought that God works in mysterious ways, an explanation that many people still use today, and that people need to just accept the world as is.

In order to explore Leibniz’ notion to its fullest, Voltaire wrote the story of Candide, a naïve hero who is “tossed from short to shore , from adventure to adventure” (xii). Candide is put in the middle of this turbulent world to both “understand the inconsistencies of individual destiny” and embrace “the entire defective world” (xii).

In the beginning, we learn that Candide it taught metaphysics by his tutor Pangloss, and Voltaire mocks the phrase “metaphysics” by referring to it as “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology” (16). He writes that Pangloss proved to Candide “that there is no effect without a cause and that, in this best of all possible worlds, My Lord the Baron’s Castle was the finest castles, and My Lady the best of all possible Baronesses” (Voltaire 16). This statement about the cause and effect is Voltaire’s satirical summary of Liebniz’ philosophy of systematic optimism. In particular, Pangloss goes on to explain (and lampoon) Liebniz’ argument: “it is demonstrated that things cannot be otherwise, four, everything being made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end… Noses were made to wear spectacles, and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches…” (Voltaire 16). Voltaire is making fun of the way that the effect justifies the cause. Instead of us creating glasses and putting them on the nose because it is the only logical place to place something on the face so that one could see, Liebniz is arguing that the nose is what led to the creation of the glasses. Thus, I agree with Dr. Heller’s statement in that Voltaire “taking aim at the blindness of metaphysical speculation.”

Voltaire. “Candide.”Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories. New York: Signet Classics, 2001. Print.

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