Voltaire’s Conception of God and MoralityJune 27, 2021
If you designed the world, would you do it as it is now? Most likely not.
But in the eighteenth century, some people thought our world was the best of all possible worlds. In fact, the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) wrote that “Whatever happens is true”. Everything in the world is the way it is for a reason: everything that happens is the work of the almighty God, and whatever he does is good. So, although things may seem like they are going bad sometimes, they actually are not. Diseases, floods, earthquakes, forest fires, drought are all part of God’s plan.
Our mistake is getting caught up in the details and not seeing the big picture. If we could sit back and look at the world from God’s point of view, we could see how perfect the world is, the small parts perfectly harmoniously completing the big picture, and the events that seem bad to us are actually part of a much larger plan. Others shared Alexandre Pope’s optimism. The German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) used the “Principle of Enough Reason” that he invented to achieve the same result. Leibniz felt that everything had to have a logical explanation. Since God was perfect in every way, there must have been logical reasons for creating the world exactly as he did. He couldn’t leave anything to chance. God did not create an all-perfect world because God is the only perfect being that is and can be, and if the world were absolutely perfect, it would be like God. However, to achieve this result, he must have created the best of possible worlds with the least amount of evil. For Leibniz, there could be no better way to put the pieces together: No design could produce more good using less evil.
François Marie Arouet (1694-1778), better known as Voltaire, approached the subject from a different angle. This “evidence” that all was well was far from consoling. He was skeptical of philosophical systems and philosophers who thought he had all the answers. The French playwright, poet, novelist and thinker was known throughout Europe for his bold views. The famous sculpture made by Jean Antoine Houdon reflects the smile and smile lines of this witty and brave man. He was a controversial figure who loudly advocated religious tolerance and freedom of expression. It is rumored that he once said, “I detest what you say, but I defend to the death your right to express it”. With these words, he strongly defended the right to express even the ideas we dislike.
In eighteenth-century Europe, the Catholic Church was under strict control of the texts to be published. Many of Voltaire’s plays and books were either censored or burned. He was even thrown into the Bastille prison in Paris for insulting an influential aristocrat. None of this has stopped him from challenging prejudice and hypocrisy. Today, he is mostly known as the author of the novel “Candide” (1759). In this short philosophical novel, he demolished Pope and Leibniz’s optimistic views on humanity and the universe. This book became a bestseller.
Voltaire wisely had not put his name on the title page, and had he done so, he would have been imprisoned again for making fun of religious beliefs. The main character of the book is a teenager named Candide. The meaning of the name denotes innocence and purity. At the beginning of the book, Candide, a butler, has a desperate love for his master’s daughter, Cunegonde, but is expelled from the castle where he works when he is caught in an inappropriate situation with the girl he loves. After that, Candide’s fantastic and fast adventures begin. Candide travels to imaginary and real countries with her philosophy teacher, Doctor Pangloss, and finally meets her love, Cunegonde. However, in the meantime, Cunegonde has aged and turned ugly. Candide and Pangloss go through a series of ridiculous adventures, witnessing horrific events and encountering various characters, all of whom have had terrible misfortunes.
Voltaire uses the book’s private philosophy teacher, Pangloss, to caricature Leibniz’s philosophy. Whatever befalls Pangloss, be it natural disaster, war, rape or slavery, every disaster he witnesses is proof that they lived in the best possible world. It reinforces the belief that every disaster will cause him to question his beliefs, that all is well, whatever happens is for the best outcome. Voltaire describes with delight how Pangloss refused to see what was before his eyes, to mock Leibniz’s optimism. But Leibniz must not be dishonored. Leibniz did not argue that evil does not exist, but that existing evil is necessary for the best of possible worlds to emerge. However, Voltaire says that Leibniz cannot be right because there is so much evil in the world. This cannot be the minimum evil required to achieve the best outcome. There is so much pain and sorrow in the world that Leibniz cannot be right.
ten in 1755