03-21-2008 10:28 AM
The B&N Classics edition asks a question I'll quote here (from p. 143):
"Because God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-benevolent, any world He created would have to be the best possible. It is true that there are murders, rapists, thieves, and bloody-minded dictators, but free will is so important a good that evildoers must be allowed to choose to do evil. Similarly, for there to be the maximum amount of order, beauty, and variety in nature, there also has to be the possibility of droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the like. Such, greatly simplified, are the kinds of ideas against which Voltaire directs his satire.
Question: "Could it be that Voltaire's satire is not so much directed against these ideas as against people who use them as a pretext for a heartless and self-righteous complacency?"
I tend to think Voltaire is most targeting those who would be complacent more than he is the basic idea of a God-created "best possible world." There are people who seem to have all the bad luck, to be sure, but Candide certainly has an unusual amount for the average person. It seems if the world, in Voltaire's view, is not all the "best" it can be, it may not be all the "worst" either. So, Candide's experience in the world could be viewed as just as unrealistic as a hero who has everything go right for him.
What do you think? Is Voltaire saying that the world is neither "best" nor "worst" but rather "neutral" and that it is we who have control over improving it? Is his target ideas or people, or both?