Monday, February 24, 2014

Whatever Happens...Happens?

            Dr. Pangloss of Voltaire’s satirical book, Candide, is a professor of “metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” whose philosophy the main character (Candide) greatly admires. Dr. Pangloss believes that “it is demonstrable…that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end” (Voltaire, 1). In other words: every effect is not without cause – everything in the world is supposed to occur exactly as it occurs, because it is the best possible way for things to happen. Voltaire, in his comedic novella, seems to criticize it as a passive stance.
            At the end of chapter four, just before his “a priori” drowning in the Bay of Lisbon, the Anabaptist disagrees with Dr. Pangloss’ Optimistic Outlook. Rather than accept every event as necessary for the best effects, the Anabaptist argues that humans are corrupt. He says “It is more likely [that] mankind have a little corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves; God has given them neither cannon of four-and-twenty pounders, nor bayonets; and yet they have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. Into this account I might throw not only bankrupts, but Justice which seizes on the effects of bankrupts to cheat the creditors” (Voltaire, 9). Dr Pangloss argues the opposite, saying that the wars are the inevitable result of the making of guns, whose purpose is to be made for wars. This creates an inactive cycle in which a stander-by may placidly accept the war, death, and suffering going on around him.
            At the beginning of chapter five, a storm wreaks havoc on the ship that Candide, Pangloss, and a kindly Anabaptist are on. “The Anabaptist…tumbled head foremost overboard, and stuck upon a piece of the broken mast. …Candide drew near and saw his benefactor…he was just going to jump after him, but was prevented by the philosopher Pangloss, who demonstrated to him that the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned” (Voltaire, 10). Anyone reading this can see how ridiculous, even comical, the explanation is, but this type of thought is actually rather dangerous. By assuming that the events had to fall out as they had (being the best possible series of events), Candide took a back seat and allowed for another to suffer and die.
Later on, we see Candide even justify his own brutal actions: “If I had not been so lucky as to run Miss Cunegonde’s brother through the body, I should have been devoured without redemption. But, after all, pure nature is good…” (Voltaire, 39). What would normally cause someone to be plagued by guilt, Candide’s murder of his beloved’s brother is waved away. It becomes the best event for the best results for Candide. This viewpoint selfishly takes the agony of someone else and rationalizes it for the benefit of another.

While Dr Pangloss’ philosophy initially seems a pleasant and positive outlook that can help one accept the hardships found in life, it ultimately encourages a form of injustice: a submissive acceptance. This would then allow for moral corruption to go by unchecked, because humans, like Candide, may just write off their wrongs as “what was meant to happen.”

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