Candide Readalong Part 1

I’m inclined to think I had to read this in my not-misspent-enough youth, and I got the general idea, but I believe all the humor was lost on me.   Moments like Cunegonde peering through the bushes at her teacher Dr. Pangloss “giving a lesson in experimental natural philosophy to her mother’s chamber-maid”  and became “greatly flurried, quite pensive and filled with the desire to be learned; dreaming that she might well be a sufficient reason for young Candide and he for her” missed completely.  


It isn’t exactly subtle, but then I suppose battling what appeared to be the complete idiocy of the Optimistic philosophy perhaps Voltaire thought a sledge-hammer was necessary.   How can this possibly be the best of all possible worlds when such terrible things happen?   I’ve sometimes wondered if we could either have the world as it is with all the horrible things or make it vanish, how many of us would choose to eradicate it?  Not many, I think.   And an earthquake in particular seems like it could easily be an unavoidable result of the structure of the planet.  A structure which might be required to support life at all.   I don’t know geology and whether we could have a planet in which life like us could live without tectonic plates.   In other words, it’s an unsatisfactory argument to me.   This is not the best of all possible – and we put the emphasis on possible – worlds because earthquakes happen.   How people behave towards one another seems a much better argument.   It does seem like it ought to be possible to have a world without war, rape, autos-da-fé, etc.   All the man-made ills seem strictly optional.   

Pangloss says everything must be as it is and yet we have free will.   It seems to me you can have it one way or the other, but not both.   If what happens is ordained and nothing else could possibly have happened, there’s no free will. But then Pangloss isn’t exactly a great philosopher as much as a straw man.   It’s been a long time since I read any Leibniz, but he wasn’t an idiot.  He independently came up with calculus, for Pete’s sake.  Granted people can be very smart about some things and idiotic about others.   And I really don’t think I’m up to reading Leibniz to argue on his behalf, but it seems to me mockery is not necessarily a refutation.   People mocked the guy who first said the continents drift and the guy who said we should all wash our hands.   Leibniz was trying to solve the problem of evil in a world created by a just God and maybe he didn’t do it, but it’s an extremely difficult problem philosophically and I’m not sure he deserved Candide in response.   But then it’s only part one.   Stay tuned.




2 thoughts on “Candide Readalong Part 1”

  1. Oh, wow, what a great post! You should link it to Fariba’s blog so we all can enjoy it!

    I know what you mean about the sledgehammer. The issue I have with Voltaire so far is that if he is trying to get me to buy in to his argument with his characters, he needs me to give me characters who are somewhat sensible and with some subtleties so they appear believable. He created a character (Pangloss) but then made him an idiot —– I know that is how Voltaire viewed the philosophy of Optimism at the time, which Pangloss represents, but I wonder if he realized that Pangloss was part of the structure of his argument? He’s made everyone (mostly) such extreme caricatures that it’s difficult to take them seriously and therefore, difficult to take Voltaire seriously. It’s hard to say for sure yet, but I get the feeling of condescension from our illustrious author. 🙂 Or maybe it’s a lashing out and he didn’t really have the reader in mind when he wrote it. Hmmmm ……

    It’s so interesting that you know something about Leibniz. It’s helpful for me to know that he wasn’t an idiot. Oh why, when you read some books you feel like you need a history course (or philosophy course in this case) before beginning?! :-Z

    1. Thanks so much. I agree the characters are such caricatures, it’s impossible to take them seriously or the situation, and while I think that can sometimes be a useful tool, I’m not sure it is here. After all, even people who go through horrible events like these don’t go through all of them!

      That is the trouble with philosophical writing all right. We do need a course in history and the Optimists, but to properly understand them, we need to know what came before the, and so on. Perhaps this was considered hilarious back in the day, but it’s too painful to find funny for the most part.

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