Thats very well said and may all be true,” said Candide “but lets cultivate our garden.” (ch. 30, 829-840).
Emphasizing mans ability to distinguish between good and evil is perhaps the most significant way in which the optimists tried to justify the existence of the evil and suffering. After being cast out of heaven, Satan made the choice to continue his revenge rather than to quietly accept his punishment, which may have ultimately let him back into the kingdom of heaven. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gods son chose to help his father and humanity by agreeing to be mankinds portal to salvation. So the primary optimist message that Voltaire is satirizing is that if there were no evil to select over good, then man would not be able to distinguish between making the right and wrong choices in life. Voltaire finds this concept to be ridiculous and hypocritical, particularly since the optimists also believed in fate and destiny. Voltaire, saw this aspect of optimist perspectives to be a blatant contradiction, and he specifically attacked these premises in the following dialogue from Candide:
A little man clad in black, who belonged to the inquisition, and sat at his side, took him up very politely, and said: “It seems, sir, you do not believe in original sin; for if all is for the best, then there has been neither fall not punishment.”
“I most humbly ask your excellencys pardon,” answered Pangloss, still more politely; “for the fall of man and the curse necessarily entered into the best of worlds possible.” “Then, sir, you do not believe there is liberty,” said the inquisitor. “Your excellency will excuse me,” said Pangloss; “liberty can consist With absolute necessity; for it was necessary we should be free; because, in short, the determinate will — “
Pangloss was in the middle of his proposition; when the inquisitor made a signal with his head to the tall armed footman in a cloak, who waited upon him, to bring him a glass of port wine.
Almost every human being has at one time or another experienced a bout of suffering which seems completely unfair and unnecessary at the time, but when reflected upon later, appears to have taught them a valuable lesson that has actually enhanced their lives.
I believe that this is basically what the optimists of the Enlightenment were attempting to convey; not the ridiculous and overly simplistic views of life maintained by Voltaires characters. However Candide still provides an incredibly amusing and insightful lampoon of overly optimistic (and hence unrealistic) attitudes.
Hogarth etchings reproduced in the text suggest a similar mindset in the sense that the people depicted seem oblivious to reality. In one etching a baby is falling off the side of a stairwell while the mother sits there smiling and completely oblivious to what is happening. The etching also depicts the society ills of poverty and as being blamed on alcohol. In the other etching, “The Marriage Transaction” the institution of marriage is being lampooned as a business transaction rather than the idealistic union based on love that the optimists revered. Clearly both Voltaire and Hogarth had a great contempt for the idealistic, overly optimistic do gooders who saw life complete in simple terms of black and white.
Fiero, G.K. (2007).