Mr. Hlawaty, A main struggle I had with this essay was the open-endedness of it. I found it difficult to come up with a dynamic research question and furthermore develop an adequate thesis out of that question, because I was often uncertain about whether or not I was doing it “right. ” I worried that my topic would not be significant enough, my claims and appreciation of the craft not literary enough, and my greater implications not great enough.
However, one thing I think that I did well was allowing the text to shape my claims, rather than manipulating the text to support claims I was seeking out. My final thesis and claims were much different from my original intention as they evolved a lot as I continued exploring the text. I hope you like my work, and I appreciate your feedback and time. Humans have a need to understand things– a need to put ideas into concrete systems that demand those ideas be respected as knowledge, so that the knowledge universally understood is the knowledge universally accepted.
In his novel Candide, Voltaire criticizes systems that attempt to explain complex theoretical concepts such as the purpose of mankind, celestial intentions, and the reason for tragedy, just for the sake of explaining them and feeling fulfillment out of false understanding. Voltaire specifically criticizes paternalistic optimism and its ridiculous connections resulting from the oversimplification of these complex concepts.
Through his subtleties in the characterization of Pangloss, he establishes him as a symbol of optimism in order to effectively satirize optimism’s deductive reasoning based on an uncertain assumption simply to create an easily understood but ridiculous way of knowing. Pangloss is Candide’s mentor and the oracle of Candide’s family. Throughout the novel he maintains the ideals and reasoning of paternalistic optimism: that the world in which they lived was the best of all possible worlds, and furthermore, there would never be any effects without an important cause.
This theme becomes heavily rooted and associated with Pangloss. Even after he is hanged, Candide consistently refers back to him, usually questioning what advice or optimistic viewpoint he might give. When Candide begins to doubt the philosophy by which he had lived, which Pangloss had taught him, he laments to the supposedly-dead Pangloss, “I must renounce thy optimism,” (p. 49). This is significant because it gives Pangloss ownership over optimism, which is conveyed further when Candide alludes to optimism as “Pangloss’s doctrine,” (p. 2), or “his system,” (p. 51). Through this craft of creating so many direct associations of ownership between Pangloss and optimism, they become essentially one in the same for the purposes of the story.
This is significant because any satire of Pangloss throughout the story becomes a direct jab at optimism. The subtle characterization of Pangloss through his title and name critique the purpose of paternalistic optimism, which is to explain all things of the world through the simplification of “all is for the best. Pangloss is introduced with high esteem as a professor of “metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology,” (p. 1). This title implies that Pangloss is a tutor of being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, space, (metaphysics), the nature of God and religion, (theology), and the origin of the Universe, (cosmology). This hyperbolistic name points out the ridiculousness of the idea that Pangloss is supposedly a professor of basically everything that is theoretical.
The name reminds the readers of the vast amount of knowledge that is gained by theoretical means, and through this citation of different branches of philosophy and the connoted complexity of each, Voltaire satirizes Pangloss’s attempt to explain every single phenomenon. Since Pangloss is established as a symbol of optimism, it can then be said that optimism also attempts to explain every phenomenon in an unrealistic sense. In addition to this, Pangloss’s name is a characterization that, if examined, has a similar effect.
The name Pangloss is derived from two Greek words meaning “all” and “language,” which is specified in the Notes to the Text on page 89, made by the translator. First, the significance of a name should briefly be addressed; a name is an inherited social prompt made to symbolize the person it is associated with. The significance of the name that symbolizes Pangloss and that it means, “all language” is similar to that of his title. Language is a system which humans have created for the purpose of communicating and creating articulate understanding between individuals.
The “all” portion of the name is where the satire comes in. Language is a dualistically complex system; complex in the language itself, which has so many double meanings, variations, and contradictions- and language as a system of knowledge and expression. So, to suggest through his name that Pangloss is represented by “all language” is hyperbolistic and reiterates the foolishness of attempting to know and explain “all” through one man, being Pangloss, or one system, being paternalistic optimism.
Exhibiting his ideas further, Voltaire uses his creation and characterization of Pangloss to exemplify optimism as a way of knowing, criticizing it through the satire of Pangloss’s commentary. This commentary functions as specific examples of the ideas he establishes through Pangloss’s characterization One example occurs after the Lisbon earthquake, when Pangloss attempts to comfort some mourners by saying, “All is for the best. If there is a volcano in Lisbon it cannot be elsewhere.
It is impossible that things should be other than they are; for everything is right,” (p. 11). Pangloss takes the assumption that all is right, and based solely on this assumption he makes the claim that it is impossible, a word of strong connotation, to be any other way; impossible that it would be better if the tens of thousands of people had not died. As discussed, Pangloss’s intentions with optimism (and therefore the ‘intentions’ of optimism as a way of knowing) is to explain all things, including finding reasoning for tragedy.
This becomes a clear cause to the effect of his ridiculous reasoning and connections, as it exemplifies an example of what Pangloss believes based on what he has established as the only way of knowing Because this is treated as such, all other means of gaining knowledge is turned into a way to demonstrate the only true knowledge according to Pangloss, “all is for the best. ” Another example of this begins on the first page of the book, as Pangloss describes the “demonstrable” aspects of optimism, citing that, “noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles.
Legs, as anyone can plainly see, were made to be breeched, and so we have breeches. ” This example of a far-reaching explanation that all is made to serve a destined purpose, rooted completely in the assumption that that purpose is for the best, satirizes the logic of his deductive reasoning based on one illogical theory. The creation of an oversimplified system by which humans base their knowledge is heavily satirized in Candide through Voltaire’s characterization and criticism of Pangloss, who is established as a symbol of optimism.
Using Pangloss as symbol of optimism is an effective way to critique this because the complexities of his character as well as his commentary become a complex but direct criticism of paternalistic optimism. As a result, Voltaire challenges readers to analyze knowledge, not for what a system claims it to be it, but for what it is. In addition, he challenges that knowledge should not be gained for the sake of knowledge itself; it should be cultivated to create change.