Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

By S. T. Joshi | Go to book overview

Voltaire

Jean-Claude Pecker

Voltaire is certainly the most famous French writer of the eighteenth century, one of the few in the Western world who paved the way for modern society. He symbolizes the fight of the intelligentsia against blind powers, stupid prejudices, and intolerant religions. Perhaps he was less a pure philosopher than John Locke, Benedict de Spinoza, or Denis Diderot, perhaps less a scientist than Sir Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, or Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, perhaps less a politician than Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, or the Marquis de Condorcet; but he was all of those, and moreover, he was a magnificent writer, and his ironical style was as powerful as an entire army.

The name of Voltaire is frequently associated with his famous motto “Écrasons [or Écrasez] l’infâme!” (“[Let us] crush the infamy!”), from a letter to Jean Le Rond d’Alembert of November 28, 1762. Actually, Voltaire’s position with respect to religion, and to the concept of God, is more complex. It stems from a remarkable life story, from several painful experiences, and from his sensitivity to the denial of justice in his own country.


LIFE OF VOLTAIRE

François-Marie Arouet (not yet Voltaire) was born in Châtenay, a country suburb of Paris, on February 20, 1694. He was a very weak baby, and during his whole life he complained regularly of poor health. Still, his career became one of the longest in the history of literature. His father was a wealthy and prominent man. For this reason he felt obliged to adopt a pseudonym, “Voltaire,” an anagram of Arouet l.j., or Arouet le jeune (Arouet junior), where u and j became v and i. Later, he was called Monsieur de Voltaire.

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Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1
  • Charles Bradlaugh 9
  • Richard Dawkins 27
  • Daniel C. Dennett 39
  • John Dewey 51
  • Albert Einstein 67
  • The Existentialists 79
  • The Founding Fathers 97
  • Sigmund Freud 125
  • Sam Harris 141
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 153
  • Robert G. Ingersoll 175
  • Paul Kurtz 193
  • Corliss Lamont 211
  • H. P. Lovecraft 223
  • H. L. Mencken 241
  • John Stuart Mill 261
  • Kai Nielsen 279
  • Friedrich Nietzsche 297
  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair 319
  • The Philosophes 335
  • Bertrand Russell 357
  • Carl Sagan 379
  • Leslie Stephen 389
  • Mark Twain 401
  • Gore Vidal 415
  • Voltaire 427
  • General Bibliography 443
  • About the Contributors 449
  • Index 455
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