Voltaire: A Famous Representative Of The Age Of Enlightenment

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The philosopher I wish to discuss is Voltaire. I have chosen him because I feel his thought and philosophy have been absolutely influential to the culture in which I have grown up.

Francois-Marie Arouet, also called Voltaire, is certainly the author best representing the culture, character, ideals ad limits of his present and future times and of the age of Enlightenment. All his prolific writing works of all kinds of texts are consistent with his criticisms against the Catholic church, the French politics of his time and any other organism that refrains individuals to think with their own minds and to consider anything else as the only light that can actually make way. From my perspective, Voltaire concept are however influenced by the extreme religious control of his time, which refrained individuals from exploring spirituality in a natural and truer way, while replacing it with dogmas and superstition. Religious fervor of his time was rather used as political control, thus generating the enmity of Voltaire, whose opinion may probably be different on this subject today.

During his exile in England, Voltaire becomes an admirer of the English culture, so different from the French one. His subsequent book is censored by the French as an attack to their political system. Voltaire exalts the multicultural and multi-religious system of the English and indicates that the religious diversity is the force that keeps balance in the country, contrary to the mono-religious fervor of France. From my perspective it is interesting to note that even though multi-religious tolerance is important and had contributed to a stability of the English society, the real contributor was probably the economic drive of diversity. Religious differences have been a catalyzer in history as long as they were coupled by economic fairness and balance. Once economic conditions deteriorated, religious diversity became a reason for war rather than peace.

In this regard, Voltaire seems to be underestimating the importance of the economic drive. In this regard, Voltaire is also a supporter of free trade and in England finds a practical application of the balance that free trade creates among religions and cultures as each becomes economically dependent on the activities and commitment of the other. Voltaire admires the coexistence of different faiths on the English soil and the spirit of tolerance that marks the relationships between them.

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At the political level, Voltaire sees the parliamentary regime has having many advantages over the dominating strategy of the French monarchy. Above all, the scientific and philosophical levels of the English make an impact on his philosophy. In fact, Voltaire considers Newton and Locke as the main figures that have transformed European culture. Through Voltaire, then Newton and Locke appear to the French intellectuals as the ideal founders of the new Enlightenment culture, the masters of a new way of thinking that must be developed in all environments of knowledge and culture. Voltaire adopts Locke’s ideas that excludes the possibility of giving a rational answer to the metaphysical problems that go beyond empirical proof.

Voltaire absorbs the English deism, becoming an enemy of every organized religion as well as every form of atheism. Voltaire considers God as the cause and author of the world. He also indicates that such concept is rationally demonstrable. Even though the definition of the essence and the divine attributes goes beyond all human knowledge, the existence of God can be demonstrated with reason. For Voltaire, God is the motionless engine, the controller of the order in the universe. If God did not exist, we would have to invent it, but all nature cries out to us that it exists. The role of God is therefore limited to guaranteeing the order and necessity of natural laws and does not affect human events. Notwithstanding his positions on the logic of the existence of God, Voltaire fights against any sort of superstition or dogma. In his views any such things represent an attempt to forcing one to believe.

Considering Voltaire’s focus on human reasoning, it is remarkable to note his belief in God, not only as part of human’s inner feelings but also as the result of logic. Today’s atheist may argue that his position was determined by the lack of scientific discovery and knowledge, however I agree with Voltaire that the presence of nature and our own existence, together with the lack of true scientific proof of the opposite are an undisputable proof of the existence of God.

Despite his initial optimism, in which it is assumed that reality presents an orderly and positive character, Voltaire arrives at a moderate pessimism. He finds that ‘everything is good’ seems a ridiculous statement while evil is so evidently on earth. The centuries of evil nonsense give no reason to believe so easily in the possibility of human happiness. Therefore, he rejects the Leibnizian thesis that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire prefers to renounce any metaphysical interpretation of reality, contenting himself to usefully work in the small space reserved for him. Moreover, Voltaire’s pessimism is accompanied by a radical critique of traditional concept of man at the center of the universe. Man is only a natural being like the other innumerable beings that populate the universe and has no additional privilege with respect to the world of nature.

Voltaire defends the right of every citizen to civil and political freedom, first of all to the free expression of his own ideas. The different aspects of Voltaire’s polemic find their unifying center in the defense of tolerance as an indispensable value for guaranteeing peace, justice and civil progress, as he affirmed in the Treaty on Tolerance of 1763.’I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it to death,’. Therefore, what should be done once the myth of the ‘best of all possible worlds’ has been destroyed? Cultivate our garden, says Voltaire. In such regard, I find myself in disagreement to the pessimistic view of the world. While it is true that the world is full of evil, it is also true that it is full of good and happiness, the latter being not defined by the environment but rather by the individual’s response to the events of life. Voltaire’s view reflects excessive subjugation to the world, rather than portraying individuals as authors of their own happiness. Happiness must be acknowledge and sought after, cannot be obtained otherwise. 

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