Monday, February 24, 2014

Flawed Logic

The satirical tone and nature of Voltaire’s Candide create an equal number of moments that are either humorous or highly disturbing. A main target of Voltaire’s satire is Pangloss’ theory that “all in the world is for the best.” Pangloss’ philosophy is contrasted with James the Anabaptist’s philosophy which is, “mankind have a little corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves.” (9). Voltaire displays the conflict between these two opposing philosophies through the experiences of Candide. Candide is seemingly ignorant because as an optimist, he follows Pangloss’ teaching that everything is right in the world, while his experiences should have him believing quite the opposite. A theme that I constantly seem to be sub-reading is the pursuit of a new Eden. Candide is constantly moving from place to place always believing that his next destination will prove to be paradise. However, Voltaire seems to be suggesting through James that this very pursuit has corrupted the nature of man and the state of the world.

  A serious flaw in Pangloss’ philosophy is the notion of “sufficient reason.” His flawed logic holds, for example, that “Legs are visibly designed for stockings – and we have stockings.” (2). While Pangloss’ ravings are humorous on one level, they also reveal what Voltaire believes is wrong with mindset of the world. Pangloss takes a generally accepted fact and misshapes it to fit his own argument. Pangloss’ methodology creates moments of humor in the book, but they also show how Mankind has formed the tendency to steal philosophical discourse and misuse it to justify their actions. In doing so, they deceive themselves in an attempt to justify their own actions. James believes that this is what has corrupted the world. He believes that men have created unnatural things such has rifles and cannons and have tried to justify these inventions by saying that God intended them to be made. James, however, sees inventions such as these as a perversion of God’s will and a perversion of the true nature of man. Voltaire is warning us that the belief that the ends always justify the means is a slippery slope and the belief that “all is for the best” is highly dangerous because it promotes inaction and creates an environment in which injustice can breed upon itself. 

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