23 February 2014
Cause and Effect
Similar to the other texts we have read this semester Voltaire’s Candide disrupts pre-existing social, political, and religious structures. For this reason, Candide is widely considered to be a controversial text and has therefore landed itself on banned books lists across the country.
On the first two pages of the Candide, Voltaire writes:
“. . .things cannot be otherwise than as they are, for all being created for an end, all necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles-- thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, ad to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best”(2).
Although lengthy, this passage speaks to the text as a whole, as well as makes clear Voltaire’s intended message. Dr. Pangloss—Candide’s mentor—aligns his philosophical beliefs with “optimistic philosophy”: a school of thought that believes all evil ultimately exists to yield a greater good. Pangloss teaches Candide about this philosophy amidst a series of unfortunate events that run throughout the course of the text (i.e. storms, earthquakes, disease). For this reason, I think Voltaire is mocking Pangloss’s (and various other enlightened thinkers) notion of “Optimism” in that his teachings are inconsistent with reality and are rather ridiculous.
Referring back to the passage I included above, Pangloss applies philosophical optimism to the philosophical concept of “cause and effect”. However, Pangloss inverts the relationship between cause and effect for each of his examples (i.e. spectacles, stockings, and pigs). Here, Voltaire is shedding light on Pangloss’s ignorance and ineptitude in properly discerning cause from effect. By highlighting the absurdity within this specific passage, Voltaire is also highlighting the absurdity that he himself witnessed during the time of The Enlightenment; the form mimics the content. In addition, once we are able to recognize the inconsistencies within Voltaire’s literature--within his world—we are able to recognize similar inconsistencies within our own world.