compare and contrast the philosophies of Martin and Pangloss.
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Voltaire satirizes virtually every character and attitude he portrays. The name of the barony—Thunder-ten-tronckh, a guttural, primitive-sounding set of words—undercuts the family’s pride in their noble heritage. Throughout Candide Voltaire mocks the aristocracy’s belief in “natural” superiority by birth. The baron’s sister, for instance, has refused to marry Candide’s father because he only had seventy-one quarterings (noble lineages) in his coat of arms, while her own coat of arms had seventy-two. This exaggeration, a classic tool of satire, makes the nobility’s concern over the subtleties of birth look absurd. Voltaire uses exaggeration of this sort throughout the novel to expose the irrationality of various beliefs—and, more importantly, the irrationality of pursuing any belief to an extreme degree.
Pangloss is a parody of all idle philosophers who debate subjects that have no real effect on the world. The name of his school of thought, metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology, pokes fun at Pangloss’s verbal acrobatics and suggests how ridiculous Voltaire believes such idle thinkers to be. More specifically, critics agree that Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy parodies the ideas of G.W. von Leibniz, a seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher who claimed that a pre-determined harmony pervaded the world. Both Pangloss and Leibniz claim that this world must be the best possible one, since God, who is perfect, created it. Human beings perceive evil in the world only because they do not understand the greater purpose that these so-called evil phenomena serve. Leibniz’s concept of the world is part of a larger intellectual trend called theodicy, which attempts to explain the existence of evil in a world created by an all-powerful, perfectly good God. Voltaire criticizes this school of philosophical thought for its blind optimism, an optimism that appears absurd in the face of the tragedies the characters in Candide endure.
At the beginning of the novel, Candide’s education consists only of what Pangloss has taught him. His expulsion from the castle marks Candide’s first direct experience with the outside world, and thus the beginning of his re-education. Candide’s experiences in the army and the war directly contradict Pangloss’s teaching that this world is the best of all possible worlds. The world of the army is full of evil, cruelty, and suffering. Powerful members of the nobility start wars, but common soldiers and subjects suffer the consequences. Neither side of the conflict is better than the other, and both engage in rape, murder, and destruction.
In his attacks on religious hypocrisy, Voltaire spares neither Protestants nor Catholics. The Dutch orator embodies the pettiness of clergy members who squabble over theological doctrine while people around them suffer the ravages of war, famine, and poverty. The orator cares more about converting his fellow men to his religious views than about saving them from real social evils.
The Anabaptist Jacques is a notable exception. The Anabaptists are a Protestant sect that rejects infant baptism, public office, and worldly amusements. The Amish and the Mennonites, for example, follow Anabaptist doctrine. Voltaire, generally skeptical of religion, was unusually sympathetic to Anabaptist beliefs. Jacques is one of the most generous and human characters in the novel, but he is also realistic about human faults. He acknowledges the greed, violence, and cruelty of mankind, yet still offers kind and meaningful charity to those in need. Unlike Pangloss, a philosopher who hesitates when the world requires him to take action, Jacques both studies human nature and acts to influence it—a combination that Voltaire apparently sees as ideal but extremely rare.