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Voltaire- A Great Philosopher

Voltaire’s name is known all over the world as a philosopher, a playwright, a poet, an essayist, and a historian. His verses were sharp and satirical, his plays were deep, emotional and brilliant. He lived in several countries and managed to absorb the ideas of many philosophers as he try to develop his own philosophy. He was a fighter against social evil such as tyranny, arrogance and folly, prevailing in France during his lifetime. Voltaire Francois Marie Arouet (pen name Voltaire) was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris, France, at the time when France exhibited two sides of social struggle, the luxury and poverty and decline.

According to Maurois (1932, p. 40), revealed that Voltaire was born as a weakling and nobody hoped that he would survive, though he had a sister and a brother. Voltaire’s father was an ordinary notary, with some minor possessions, Voltaire knew nothing about his mother for she died when he was seven years old and his father did mentioned few instances about her. A very clever and kind-hearted man who loved his pupil named Father Chateauneuf was asked by his father to educate Voltaire. At ten years old, Voltaire had shown a gift of intellect; thus his parents sent him into a Jesuit run boy school named College Louis-le-Grand (1704-11).

Haydn ( 1981, p. 11) revealed that the College Louis-le-Grand only was able to teach him only “Latin and nonsense. ” Like any gifted child, Voltaire was different from other boys, as he shown biases on either games or sports and he used his free time in intellectual discourse with his professors in school. It was in this time that he started to write verses, which were creative enough to fascinate his school heads. Upon Voltaire’s completion of his education, his father decided that he will become an advocate like him.

This decision was resented by Voltaire for he wants to continue developing his literary skills instead of studying law; thus, he devoted himself to verses that are witty, blasphemous and even spiteful. According to Besterman (1969) Voltaire’s father offered to buy a government post for him but flatly refused it arguing that his talents incline stronger towards education (p. 111). In Holland where his father prepared a post for him, Voltaire did not stop to write verses and it was in this place where he met his first love.

His love story ended very quickly, as it was too difficult both of them to meet. Also, the woman preferred someone else resulting for Voltaire’s to be deeply hurt; thus, concentrating all his efforts on literature and to live only for its sake. As mentioned earlier, Voltaire’s verses were sacrilegious producing a lot of pamphlets and epigrams. Voltaire’s offensive epigram resulted to his banishment to Sully for one year and upon his return he concentrated on his first play leading to his acceptance to the theatre.

Be that as it may, he was under suspicion when someone started writing verses against the government. The government’s suspicion of Voltaire’s activities resulted to his imprisonment to Bastille (a prison in Paris, mentioned formally as Bastille Saint-Antoine—Number 232 (“Bastille”, Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1911)). In Bastille, he continued to work on his plays and at the same time he changed his name from Arouet to Voltaire. Voltaire commented that “[he] was very unlucky under [his] first name. [He] want to see if this one will succeed any better. ” (Voltaire, 1982, p. 10).

Some historians state, that by changing his name to Voltaire he wanted to finally break his relation to his family. Voltaire was allowed to leave Bastille under the condition that he would go to England. There he was met by English philosophers and poets: Edward Young, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole and Thomas Gray. That time Lock (English philosopher, from him Voltaire learned about the establishing of the foundations of English Empiricism and the beginnings of the Enlightenment in England. Lock’s major work is the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), Maurois, 1932, p.

113) was already dead, but his ideas were in the air. What was really vital for Voltaire was that England was a country, where anyone could write and speak out his ideas and thoughts. He felt that this was the “promised land. ” He learned English very quickly and soon could use it as his native language. He paid a lot of attention to the Quaker’s religion was enchanted by their indulgence and simplicity. Enraptured with England, Voltaire said that he found there “greatness without insolence and without Bastilles” (Besterman, 1969, p. 38).

As Voltaire himself belonged to people who like to speak out what they have in mind, he liked Lock and Newton’s ideas (English mathematician, author of Principia Mathematica (1687, “Mathematical Principles”) dealing with laws of inertia, action and reaction, acceleration and force (Newton’s laws) and he was very much interested in Newton’s ideas of rationality (Maurois, 1932, p. 115), in their philosophy he found inspiration for his struggle against oppression and tyranny. Haydn (1981) did mentioned one of Voltaire’s acts, which was connected with Jeans Calas from Toulouse, the town of the highest respect for religion (p.

80). Jean Calas and his family were Protestants, one son, being also a Protestant wanted to study law, but was not allowed to take practice because of religious matter. In utter despair he hanged himself. Family members didn’t want to talk about suicide, people started to talk that father killed his son in order to impede his joining the Catholic Church. Thus the body of the boy was buried with the corresponding ceremonies of the Catholic Church and his father was arrested and convicted.

There were neither motives nor witnesses. After a number of tortures Calas was burned, his possessions were taken away and his children were sent to Catholic institutions. When Voltaire got to know about this matter, Calas was already dead, but he could not stand aside, he had to fight for six years in order to get the official confirmation that Calas was not guilty. This case took a lot of effort and money of Voltaire, but it was vitally important for him not only to help those people but to break the system itself.

In England he was working on his English Letters – they presented the doctrines of English philosophers and ideas about life, but Voltaire was afraid to publish them in France. He spent three years in England and then he was allowed to return to Paris. Mohan (2005, p. 181) revealed that Voltaire really admired England’s political system for it senses of rationality and liberty and recommending for its application on other countries. The Voltaire’s fame grew from his verses and epigrams, but Paris’ intellectuals were eager to watch his play – Oedipe.

Voltaire became a celebrated playwright at the age of twenty-four, after his first play Oedipe ran for forty-five nights. He was guaranteed a pension, a high position in the society, luxury, but all of this was of little value for Voltaire; thus, he never stop on producing verses, plays and epigrams ‘till his death at the age of eighty-four. During Voltaire’s lifetime, he denied his authorship of many works, like for example the essay on Natural Rights, the Philosophical Dictionary or the Encyclopedia as he out reasoned that he only produced flattery verses for the king and beautiful verses for court ladies.

Voltaire also wrote a play Mahomet, which was declared profane. When his English Letters were published, Voltaire decided to disappear and to hide in a remote part of France in Madame du Chatelet and her husband’s estate (Haydn, 1981, p. 101). Madame du Chatelet was an intelligent and attractive woman. She was keen on mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy and was both his love and intellectual partner for sixteen years. Madame du Chatelet had a great influence on French development on scientific thought about metaphysics and physics.

She worked on Newtonian – Cartesian debate interpretation and Voltaire called her his guide in the introduction of his work Elements de la philosophie de Newton (Besterman,1969, p. 100). Candide, a novel published in 1759, is considered to be the brightest and the sharpest disapproval of philosophy, nobility, the church and tyranny. It is not quite correct to consider it an example of Enlightenment text, as it presents the utmost satire of philosophies and ideas of Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment philosophy is said to base upon the faith into reason of power and rational thinking in order to build a better social conditions and structure. Philosophers of this era were fighting against superstition and looking for reforms in the society. Voltaire felt repugnance towards Christian power and haughtiness of noble people and he rejected the acceptance of many Enlightenment philosophies, as reflected in his work – Candide. “It attacks the school of optimism that contends that rational thought can curtail the evils perpetrated by human beings” (Voltaire, 1946, p.

4). Voltaire satirized the ideas of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz about God and his great plan to make the world good, with the help of horrors the main heroes had to encounter, underlining cruelty of humans and indifference prevailing in the natural world. He also scoffs at abstract the philosophical ideas and arguments in comparison to real world. Religious leaders in the novel Candide are immoral and corrupt. At the end of the novel readers find very important symbol – the Garden. Candide and his mates are happy to raise a garden.

By one of the heroes their garden is compared to the Garden of Eden, where Eve and Adam were highly pleased before their fall. But in reality, in the novel the garden represents the end of ordeals and trials of the main heroes and they are not simply enjoying their time there, they have to plunge into hard simple work. While there are troubles and sufferings in the world, within the garden vegetables are cultivated in piece. Thus for the characters the garden is the symbol of life, in spite of all the outside sufferings and miseries.

To the theme of evil and miseries Voltaire also applied in his other works: classic tale Zadig (1747), in ‘Poem of the Lisbon’ Earthquake’. His historical works included: History of Charles XII, King of Sweden (1731), The Age of Louis XIV (1752), The Age of Louis XV (1746 – 1752), Annals of the Empire – Charlemagne, A. D. 742 – Henry VII 1313, Vol. I (1754), Annals of the Empire – Louis of Bavaria, 1315 to Ferdinand II 1631 Vol. II (1754), History of the Russian Empire Under Peter the Great (Vol. I 1759; Vol. II 1763). ( Jackobs. 2005, p. 3)

For many generations, Voltaire’s name is associated with a great writer, philosopher and personality as he followed his nature and devoted his life to writing his pieces of literature and establishing his moral and philosophical views, which were against French politics and Church dogmas. During his lifetime he was fighting for the ideas of liberty – for him “Liberty of thought is the life of the soul. ” (Essay on Epic Poetry, 1727). He produced a great number of verses, plays, essays, historical overviews. He studied natural sciences and philosophical issues.

He was able to overcome hardships and imprisonment, lived some time in exile, but he never stopped working and produced around 80 volumes of writings. Conclusion Voltaire’s intellectual works resonate through France’s fight for its Independence in the 18th century. His literary works and intellectual discourse espoused for the promotion of justice and reason. It was his ideals and skills that he became the enlightenment’s propagandist. Indeed, Voltaire was France’s clearest, most prolific and most enduring voice of dissent.


Besterman, T (1969). Voltaire. University of Chicago Press, 14-28, 30-115Haydn, M (1981). Voltaire: A Biography. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Jackobs, I (8 October 2005, 25 November 2005) “Voltaire, author and philosopher. ” Lucidcafe, 3-8 Maurois A (1932). Voltaire. Translated by Hamish Miles. Peter Davies, Ltd. , Edinburgh, 35-128 Mohan, R (June 2005). Voltaire’s images of india. Journal of World History – Volume 16, Number 2, 173-185 Voltaire. (1982). Candide and other tales. Ed. H. M. Brailsford, Trans. Tobias Smollett. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 10-12 Voltaire. (1946). Candide. Ed. and Trans. Norman L. Torrey, Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2-25

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