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Carolyn Korsmeyer IS PANGLOSS LEIBNIZ? Superficial distortion or subtle humanitarian irony? Two centuries of debate over Voltaire's Candide have not reconciled the disputes over the success of this novel as a satire of Leibnizian optimism. Defenders of Leibniz generally assert that the story is an over-simplified polemic which wholly overlooks that philosopher's powerful arguments. Apologists for Voltaire by and large reply that arguments are not at issue, for a novel should not be judged by philosophical standards since its effect is artistic rather than logical. This line of defense, I believe, both weakens the satirical import of Candide and ignores its genuine philosophical astuteness, and I propose to defend Voltaire on different grounds. It is somewhat surprising that the participants in this controversy have not sought to resolve it by actually comparing the mock-arguments of Dr. Pangloss with relevant passages of the Theodicyand assessing the extent of the philosophical damage. I shall undertake a brief but systematic comparison here, with the hope of settling this old dispute once and for all, or at the very least, providing the combatants with sharpened weaponry. Leibniz's Theodicy (1710) is a collection of essays which address many of the intensely debated questions of his time: questions of free will and determinism, of faith and reason, of God and his creations. The question most relevant to Candide is the so-called theological problem of evil: How can God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent , have created a world in which there is sin, disease, suffering, misfortune, and death? Why did not an all-perfect beingcreate a universe free from these defects? Leibniz's conclusions regarding this problem served to foster the developing optimistic movement of the eighteenth century. Reasoning from the concept of a God as a perfect creator, Leibniz concluded that God indeed could not have brought into existence an evil world; such creation would be incompatible with the Divine nature. Therefore, God must have chosen the best world that it was possible for him to create. Leibniz's notion of the "best possible world" 201 202Philosophy and Literature is parodied throughout Candide, particularly through the discourse of Candide's tutor, the German philosopher Pangloss. Critical opinion of the philosophical success of Voltaire's satire has always been mixed.1 Those who defend Leibniz view Candide as a distortion of his theories and an unfair mockery of a complex set of ideas. Erich Auerbach is a strong advocate for those who believe that Voltaire has perverted Leibniz's optimism. He sees Candide as a broadside which takes advantage of laughter and ridicule to hide the utter lack of any solid argument offered as a genuine refutation of the philosophical theory: Antithetical simplification of the problem and its reduction to anecdotal dimensions, together with dizzying speed of tempo, prevail throughout the novel. Misfortune follows upon misfortune, and again they are interpreted as necessary, proceeding from sound causes, reasonable, and worthy of the best of all possible worlds—which is obviously absurd. In this way calm reflection is drowned in laughter, and the amused reader either never observes, or observes only with difficulty, that Voltaire in no way does justice to Leibnitz's argument and in general to the idea of a metaphysical harmony of the universe, especially since so entertaining a piece as Voltaire's novel finds many more readers than the difficult essays of his philosophical opponents, which cannot be understood without serious study.2 Defenders of Candide generally justify the work in two ways. They first observe that it is not Leibniz alone who is the object of Voltaire's irony, but the popularized optimistic theories propounded both by Leibniz's followers and by other thinkers who had arrived at similar conclusions independently.3 It follows that any perversion of Leibniz's particular views can be explained by pointing out that Pangloss does not represent Leibniz himself but some foolish and simplistic follower of optimism. John Butt, for example, typifies this point of view when he remarks, "Pangloss represents the disciples of Leibniz, repeating the master's terms, but perverting his philosophy."4 After correctly observing that Pangloss can be taken to represent not only Leibniz but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 201-208
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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