Book Recommendation – Candide

Another book I really enjoyed, Candide, Voltaire’s story of the young metaphysician “Candide” and his journey through the world of the 18th century. Candide is so totally not politic correct that one just has to love it! The French enlightenment philosopher Voltaire never publicly admitted to have written “Candide” and published the story under the pseudonym “Monsieur le docteur Ralph”. The novel satirizes a naïve interpretations of the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz that this is the best of all possible worlds and that all is for the best. In “Candie, Leibniz is represented by the philosopher Pangloss, the tutor of the title character. Candide is send by Voltaire through all kinds of misfortunes in an satirical attempt to show how ridiculous the notion is that this is the best of all possible world and to turn the main character Candide away from the optimism of Pangloss. Candide is full of satirical and social critical humor and never bored me. In South America for example Candide notes that “here exists perfect justice, the church owns everything and the people nothing”. In Candide Voltaire even dares to portray the Jews in a realistic manner. In one instance for example when Candide is in need of money and wants to sell a diamond the Jewish trader offers only less than half of what it is worth by swearing to him by Abraham that he could give him no more. The journey starts in the province of Westphalia in Germany and leads Candide and his companions through a good part of the world and from one misfortune to the next. Candide is not only entertaining but also contains a lot of insights into the human nature and life. A highly recommended read!

Candide

By Voltaire

An excerpts from the first chapter of Candide:

“In a castle of Westphalia, belonging to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners. His countenance was a true picture of his soul. He combined a true judgment with simplicity of spirit, which was the reason, I apprehend, of his being called Candide. The old servants of the family suspected him to have been the son of the Baron’s sister, by a good, honest gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady would never marry because he had been able to prove only seventy-one quarterings, the rest of his genealogical tree having been lost through the injuries of time.

The Baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia, for his castle had not only a gate, but windows. His great hall, even, was hung with tapestry. All the dogs of his farm-yards formed a pack of hounds at need; his grooms were his huntsmen; and the curate of the village was his grand almoner. They called him “My Lord,” and laughed at all his stories.

The Baron’s lady weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, and was therefore a person of great consideration, and she did the honours of the house with a dignity that commanded still greater respect. Her daughter Cunegonde was seventeen years of age, fresh-coloured, comely, plump, and desirable. The Baron’s son seemed to be in every respect worthy of his father. The Preceptor Pangloss[1] was the oracle of the family, and little Candide heard his lessons with all the good faith of his age and character.

Pangloss was professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron’s castle was the most magnificent of castles, and his lady the best of all possible Baronesses.

“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles–thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings–and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles–therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten–therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.”

Candide listened attentively and believed innocently; for he thought Miss Cunegonde extremely beautiful, though he never had the courage to tell her so. He concluded that after the happiness of being born of Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, the second degree of happiness was to be Miss Cunegonde, the third that of seeing her every day, and the fourth that of hearing Master Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the whole province, and consequently of the whole world.”

Candide

~ by metadave on April 14, 2008.

2 Responses to “Book Recommendation – Candide”

  1. What is the best work of Leibniz?

  2. That’s a good question. I only read his essay “Monadology” and “Discourses on Metaphysics” and I must say that at times his reasoning about causes and effects comes very close to Pangloss in Candide and so does his optimism.

    An excerpt from “Discourses on Metaphysics”:

    “The conception of God which is the most common and the most full of meaning is expressed well enough in the words: God is an absolutely perfect being. The implications, however, of these words fail to receive sufficient consideration. For instance, there are many different kinds of perfection, all of which God possesses, and each one of them pertains to him in the highest degree.

    We must also know what perfection is. One thing which can surely be affirmed about it is that those forms or natures which are not susceptible of it to the highest degree, say the nature of numbers or of figures, do not permit of perfection. This is because the number which is the greatest of all (that is, the sum of all the numbers), and likewise the greatest of all figures, imply contradictions. The greatest knowledge, however, and omnipotence contain no impossibility. Consequently power and knowledge do admit of perfection, and in so far as they pertain to God they have no limits.

    Whence it follows that God who possesses supreme and infinite wisdom acts in the most perfect manner not only metaphysically, but also from the moral standpoint. And with respect to ourselves it can be said that the more we are enlightened and informed in regard to the works of God the more will we be disposed to find them excellent and conforming entirely to that which we might desire.”

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