Candide

by: Voltaire

Important Quotations Explained

1. Pangloss gave instruction in metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in this best of all possible worlds the baron’s castle was the most beautiful of all castles and his wife the best of all possible baronesses. —It is clear, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily serves the best end. Observe: noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles. Legs, as anyone can plainly see, were made to be breeched, and so we have breeches. . . . Consequently, those who say everything is well are uttering mere stupidities; they should say everything is for the best.

This explanation of Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy is quoted from Chapter 1. His philosophy is both the most important point for debate among the novel’s characters and one of the main targets of Voltaire’s satirical jabs. Pangloss’s—and his student Candide’s—indomitable belief that human beings live in “the best of all possible worlds” comes under brutal attack by the horrific events that they live through. Their belief broadly resembles the conclusions of a number of the most influential philosophers of Voltaire’s time. In particular, the philosopher Leibniz famously maintains that, since the world was created by God, and since the mind of God is the most benevolent and capable mind imaginable, the world must be the best world imaginable. Under such a system, humans perceive evil only because they do not understand the force governing the world and thus do not know that every ill exists only for a greater good. Candide is widely thought to be Voltaire’s sarcastic retort to Leibniz. In this quotation, Voltaire attacks not only philosophical optimism but also the foibles and errors of Enlightenment philosophy. Enlightenment philosophers such as Leibniz focused a great deal of attention on the interplay of cause and effect. Pangloss’s argument about spectacles and breeches demonstrates a ridiculous inability to properly distinguish between cause and effect. Spectacles fit noses not because God created noses to fit spectacles, as Pangloss claims, but the other way around. The obviousness of this point is meant to echo the obviousness of the flaws Voltaire observes in the Enlightenment philosophical process.


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