Candide and Related Texts

By Voltaire; David Wootton | Go to book overview

AFTER Candide

“WELL (ALL IS)” FROM THE PORTABLE PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
(1764)

There was quite a fuss in the universities, and even among those who think for themselves, when Leibniz, while paraphrasing Plato, constructed his theory of the best of all possible worlds, where he imagined that everything is for the best. Even while living in the north of Germany,1 he maintained that there was only one world that God could make. Plato had at least left God free to make five worlds on the grounds that there are only five regular solids: the tetrahedron (a pyramid with three faces and sides of equal length), the cube, the hexahedron, the dodecahedron, the icosahedron. But since our world isn’t shaped like any of Plato’s five solids he evidently ought to have allowed God a sixth type of construction.

Let’s leave the divine Plato there. Leibniz, who was certainly a better geometer than Plato, and a profounder metaphysician, thus did the human species the kindness of making us see that we ought to be entirely satisfied, and that there was nothing more that God could do for us, for he had no choice but to choose, among all the possible worlds, the one that was unquestionably the best.

“What will become of original sin?” was the question on everyone’s lips. “It will have to look after itself,” said Leibniz among his friends; but in public he wrote that original sin entered of necessity into the best of all possible worlds.

What! To be driven out of a garden of delights where one would have lived forever if one had not eaten an apple! What! To engender in misery miserable children who will experience every possible form of suffering and will make others suffer all there is to suffer! What! To suffer every type of disease, to face every sort of disappointment, to die in pain, and to be cheered up by being burned throughout eternity! Is this fate really the best there could be? It certainly isn’t good from our point of view, and how can it be good from God’s?

Leibniz realized that there was no reply to such questions; so he wrote fat books in which he contradicted himself.

One can laughingly deny there is evil in the world if one is a Lucullus who is in good health and who is having a good dinner with his friends and his mistress in the hall of Apollo;2 but if he puts his head out the window

1. In Voltaire’s view more or less the worst of all possible worlds.

2. Licinius Lucullus (d. 56 B.C.E.) was a Roman noble famous for living in luxury. His dining hall was called the hall of Apollo; Apollo being a god particularly interested in music and poetry.

-137-

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Candide and Related Texts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction viii
  • Chronology xxxiv
  • Further Reading xxxviii
  • A Note on the Texts xli
  • Notes on the Translation xlii
  • Candide, or Optimism1 1
  • Before Voltaire 84
  • The Lisbon Earthquake- Rousseau versus Voltaire 95
  • Toward Candide 123
  • Voltaire’s Correspondence 132
  • After Candide 137
  • Voltaire’s Feminism 143
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