Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Feb 2, 2006


I first read Voltaire's satire in high school for an AP English class. Well, I say "read", it seems to me more like I looked at the words and didn't really absorb them. Then I wrote a verbose but inconclusive report on what I thought of it.

My real difficulty was that I didn't grasp the statire. An adventure story afficianado, I didn't see how this story could be taken as a refutation of Leibnitz's philosophical Optimism (represented in the novel by the character Dr. Pangloss). At the end, everyone is reunited and content, so what, exactly, is the problem? It all worked out. That sounds like a good reason to be optimistic to me.

I think another reader would not be likely to take the sheer quantity of horrible things that happen to the various characters in the story that way, however. On re-reading it, though, I can at least accept one of Voltaire's conclusions; real success and enjoyment of life comes through work, through "cultivating your garden".

Voltaire's real problem, from what I can tell, is that he failed to draw any distinction between natural disasters like earthquakes and man-made ones like marauding Bulgars, then he dismissed the world as chaotic, terrifying, impossible-to-understand, and recommended keeping small and not striving for anything grandiose as a remedy. He succeeds in poking holes in Optimism, without really offering any answers or alternative.

No comments: