As Candide’s mentor and a philosopher, Pangloss is responsible for the novel’s most famous idea: that all is for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” This optimistic sentiment is the main target of Voltaire’s satire. Pangloss’s philosophy parodies the ideas of the Enlightenment thinker G. W. von Leibniz. Leibniz maintains that an all-good, all-powerful God had created the world and that, therefore, the world must be perfect. When human beings perceive something as wrong or evil, it is merely because they do not understand the ultimate good that the so-called evil is meant to serve. Like Candide, Pangloss is not a believable character; rather, he is a distorted, exaggerated representation of a certain kind of philosopher whose personality is inseparable from his philosophy.
Voltaire illustrates two major problems inherent in Pangloss’s philosophy. First, his philosophy flies in the face of overwhelming evidence from the real world. Pangloss is ravaged by syphilis, nearly hanged, nearly dissected, and imprisoned, yet he continues to espouse optimism. He maintains his optimistic philosophy even at the end of the novel, when he himself admits that he has trouble believing in it. Voltaire advocates the induction of ideas from concrete evidence; Pangloss, in contrast, willfully ignores any evidence that contradicts his initial opinion. He also produces illogical arguments to support his preconceived notions, justifying the consumption of pork by saying that “since pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round.”
Second, Pangloss’s philosophy encourages a passive and complacent attitude toward all that is wrong in the world. If this world is the best one possible, than there is no reason to make any effort to change things perceived as evil or wrong. Therefore, when Pangloss’s benefactor Jacques is drowning in the bay of Lisbon, Pangloss prevents Candide from trying to rescue him by “proving that the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for [Jacques] to drown in.” The consequence of this mode of thinking is that, “while [Pangloss] was proving the point a priori, the vessel opened up and everyone perished.”
More characters from Candide