Candide Voltaire's Value of Philosophy Research Paper

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Aside from Candide and Pangloss, the character who suffers the most in this novel and demonstrates that the world is far from the best of all possible places is Cudgeon's servant, the old woman. With the characterization of the old woman, Voltaire makes it quite clear that he is satirizing human suffering and the value of philosophy that seeks to endorse or even defend one's existence in such a cruel world. The old woman went from having the brightest of futures -- that of being a beautiful woman of noble and wealthy lineage preparing to marry a prince -- to the worst of all possible fates. She lived to see everyone that she cared for, including the prince she was to marry as well as her family members, killed and oftentimes raped. She herself is raped on numerous occasions, beaten savagely, taken advantage of, sold and resold into slavery, and even eaten. Nowhere is the fact that Candide is a satire regarding human suffering and the philosophy that champions it demonstrated more clearly in the fact that the old woman endured having one buttocks eaten. Therefore, when the old woman disputes Pangloss' philosophy with the following quotation, it is readily apparent that her conviction is that of the author himself

…prevail upon each passenger to tell his story, and if there is one of them all that has not cursed his existence many times, and said to himself over and over again that he was the most wretched of mortals, I give you leave to throw me headfirst into the sea (Voltaire 204)

What is important about this quotation is that the old lady is making this statement on a traveling ship which is populated by numerous passengers. Her belief that all of these people have "cursed" their lives and believe themselves to be the most "wretched " of all possible people denotes that human existence is akin to suffering. Furthermore, her conviction stands in stark contrast to the empty optimism of Pangloss and the phlosphy he espouses -- which is representative of all philosophy in general. The old woman's life and her opinion reinforce the notion that philosophy about the good of the world is silly.

Voltaire wrote Candide as a means of disparaging the virtue of philosophy and the projected optimism that Pangloss espoused. More than anything else, Candide satirizes the virtue, or even the use, of moral philosophy. It is for this reason that Pangloss has taken up the most ridiculous moral philosophy invented -- that everything that happens for the best. Some contemporary scholars have speculated that Voltaire's mockery of philosophy is attributed to the popularity of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment at the time of the writing of Candide. (Kerr 3) and it is for this reason that the characters within this novel incur so much suffering in order to repeatedly emphasize to the reader that such a philosophy, and any philosophy, is foolish. Voltaire's decision to depict this opinion of his through a satire merely reinforces the notion of exactly how silly he believes philosophy is, since by writing a satire he could show some really outrageous examples to counteract this notion.

Works Cited

Beck, Ervin. "Voltaire's Candide." Explicator57.4 (1999): 203. Literary Reference Center. Web. This is a rather interesting source that actually contextualizes the content of Candide in terms of the structure. Bech makes a number of eminent points that less prudent readers might very well miss. For example, he elucidates that the first 10 chapters of Candide occur in Europe, the next 10 take place in America, and the final 10 occur in Europe and Turkey.

Kerr, Calum a. "Voltaire's "Candide, or Optimism." Literary Contexts in Novels: Voltaire's 'Candide, or Optimism'(2008): 1. Literary Reference Center. Web. One of the most valuable aspects about this source is that it provides a comprehensive overview of the vents that transpire within Candide. It also analyzes the novel via a number of different lenses, including those pertaining to the social, religious, and biographical influences of the novel as they may have been viewed through Voltaire's time period. This is a good comprehensive overview to read before actually reading Voltaire's novel.

Ryden, Wendy. "Gateau or Baklava? The Price of Pastry in Voltaire's Philosophical Novel." Heldref Publications. 2009. 139-142. This source deals with the conclusion of Voltaire's novel, and the philosophical undercurrents that the conclusion suggests. The metaphor of Candide choosing to cultivate his garden while eschewing Pangloss' philosophy is elucidated. More importantly, this resource gives a prolonged look into the characterization Cudgeon and the disparate elements she represents in this tale.

Scherr, Arthur. "Candide's Pangloss: Voltaire's Tragicomic Hero." Romance Notes. 87-96. Print. This particular resource functions as a prolonged case study into the characterization of Pangloss. The author synthesizes several different outside sources while examining a number of different facets of Pangloss and the events that befell him in Candide. The malignity of his characterization is given due consideration, as well as the elements of both the tragic and the comic that Pangloss embodied. Most importantly, this source analyzes the progression of Pangloss and his philosophy, which actually does change and grow along with his student, Candide, throughout the progression of Voltaire's novel.

Scherr, Arthur. Voltaire's Candide. City University of New York. 74-76. Despite the relative brevity of this particular source, it is filled with a bevy of information pertaining to Voltaire's story. This is one of the few works of literary criticism written about Candide that focus on the Anabaptist Jacques, who is killed relatively quickly in the story. Scherr examines the perceived benign nature of Jacques, and reveals that like most of the other characters in Candide -- except for possibly Candide himself, Jacques was also motivated by selfish means and his reasons for helping Candide…[continue]

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