Candide-Optimism-2011

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OPTIMISM
Alex Krupski, Frank Krol, Julia Janka,
& Melissa Tussing
OUR QUESTION
2. Research the eighteenth century idea of “optimism.” Read briefly about the
“great chain of being” and the concept of “plenitude,” which are closely
related to this optimism. Explain these concepts briefly and then discuss why
you think Voltaire mocked this “optimism.” Be specific and use examples
from Candide to support your main ideas.
THE GREAT CHAIN OF
BEING
Don
Issachar
Slave/Servants
Candide
Pangloss
Martin
Jacques the
Anabaptist
Outcast
Baron
Cunégonde
Middle Class
Grand
Inquisitor
Nobility
Clergy/Catholic Church
Every existing thing in the universe had its “place” in a divinely planned
hierarchical order, which was pictured as a chain vertically extended.
Old
Woman
Cacambo
PRINCIPLE OF PLENITUDE
In his classic study, The Great Chain of Being, Arthur Lovejoy
delineated a complex set of concepts and assumptions
which referred to the perfection of God and the fullness of
creation. In attempting to distil the basic or “unit idea”
which constituted this pattern of thought, he focused on the
assumption that ‘the universe is a plenum formarum in which
the range of diversity of kinds of living things is
exhaustively exemplified.’ He called this the “principle of
plenitude.”
Basically, everything that can happen, will happen.
WHAT IS OPTIMISM?
“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “what is that?”
“Alas!” replied Candide, “it is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best
when it is worst.”
The most striking quality of the 18th century was its optimism. It was
a time that celebrated the excellence of the human mind. All creation
was believed open to scrutiny. With wealth, thinkers began to turn
from a Europe of want, depravity and need to a Europe characterized
by abundance -- and with abundance, new possibilities were about to
become reality. As a result, a new optimism pervaded the age. This
optimism had the ultimate effect of changing man's opinions about
human history. Instead of viewing human history as the story of the
steady decline from the Garden of Eden, men now began to view life
as full of promise and hope.
VOLTAIRE’S LIFE, WHY HE MOCKS
OPTIMISM, EXAMPLES.
ANGERED BY THOSE WHO ASSERTED THAT THIS WAS
THE ‘BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS’
• The viewpoint did not match his own life. He had been twice
imprisoned in the Bastille and was later exiled to England. His
prestigious entry into the Royal courts of France and Prussia
both ended in humiliation. The French state and church
struggled to suppress his ideas.
• He did not believe the events of history allowed an optimism
viewpoint.
• In 1755 the tragedy of the Lisbon earthquake, particularly made
Optimism seem a cruel misrepresentation.
REJECTED THE ARGUMENTS OF
THE OPTIMIST SCHOOL
“Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles; therefore we wear spectacles.
The legs are visibly designed for stockings; accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were
made to be hewn and to construct castles…”
(Chapter 1)
He mocks the impenetrable, abstract principles on which the Optimist school
based their thesis. He believed that the ideas of the optimists were invalid
because they were a priori arguments. The Optimists started with a conclusion
about the nature of existence which they accepted as an incontrovertible truth
and then set about theorizing to prove it right.
WORKS CITED
Yeo, Richard R. "The Principle of Plenitude and Natural Theology in Nineteenth-Century
Britain." The British Journal for the History of Science 19.3 (1986): 263. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.
"Voltaire Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story - Biography.com." Famous Biographies & TV Shows
- Biography.com. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.
"English Literature :: The 18th Century-Age of Reason -- Kids Encyclopedia | Children's
Homework Help | Kids Online Dictionary | Britannica." Kids Encyclopedia | Children's Homework
Help | Kids Online Dictionary | Britannica. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.
Kreis, Steven. "Lecture 9: The Triumph of Science and the 18th Century Philosophe." The History
Guide -- Main. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.
"General Characteristics of the Renaissance." Brooklyn.CUNY.edu. City University of New York,
Brooklyn College, 30 Mar. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.
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