Candide as Atypical Enlightenment Cultural Production

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But if there was a single thing that defined the Enlightenment, it was the primacy of reason. This primacy led to all of the other changes in western thought and practice. Voltaire was in many ways the prototypical man of the enlightenment – a cross between a renaissance man and a modern scientist, Voltaire valued reason most highly in all of his philosophical works. The picaresque novel Candide, however, is in many ways atypical of Voltaire’s reputation. Probably the single most significant way it was atypical of the Enlightenment was its willingness to go to polemical extremes – often overstepping its logical argument for rhetorical purposes. One of the fundamental ways the Enlightenment separated itself from the era before it was a paucity of emphasis being placed on rhetorical technique. Rhetorical technique fundamentally relies on the manipulation of emotion, while Enlightenment thinkers would have preferred to win over their opponents through pure reason and logical argument. Candide, however, takes an entirely different tact. One of its basic purposes was to mock the idea of optimism, an idea associated with the thinker Leibniz, and essentially argued that absolute, irrevocable evil did not exist. In some ways Voltaire counters this argument logically in Candide, by, for instance, demonstrating a great number of tragedies that seem to counter the most fundamental idea of optimism, such as ship wrecks, earth quakes, war, thievery and so on (Voltaire). This acts as a logical counter to the ideas that Voltaire is trying to counter. Yet, in an entirely un-Enlightened fashion, Voltaire also resorts to illogical tactics in order to drive his point home further. Rather than simply put the counterpoints logically and leave it at that, Voltaire finds it necessary to mock the very idea of optimism as ridiculous, in order to discredit Leibniz and his followers. Voltaire does this through the creation of the character Pangloss, who calls himself a follower of Leibniz, and indicates that he teaches what the master Leibniz argued (Voltaire 473). Voltaire makes this character the opposite of reasonable, and entirely comical in his idiocy. At one point, for instance, he completely inverts the ideas of cause and effect – saying that the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles (475). This is obviously the reversal of cause and effect – spectacles are designed for a nose because we have a nose for them to sit on. But by mocking the lack of logic in his opponents, Voltaire actually demonstrates a lack of logic on his own part – this is an ad hominem argument, which is one of the most basic forms of logical fallacy. This thus goes against the fundamental ideas of the Enlightenment, and uses illogical arguments to try to convince the reader of something – in this case, the idiocy of optimism. If there is a single thing that defines the Enlightenment it is an intense attachment to reason and rationality. If an argument cannot stand logically, it should not stand at all under Enlightenment thinking. Voltaire, however, moves away from this in his novel Candide. He seems so eager to make his points, to mock his adversaries, that he results to illogical arguments, placing rhetoric of a previous age above the rationality that was so central to the Enlightenment. Works Cited Voltaire. Candide in Norton Anthology of Western Literature Sarah N Lawall, Ed.