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.