It is important to note that the age of enlightment was the age of reason. During this period, the power to reason was mobilized, and opposed superstition, science and intellectual interchange were promoted. This not only encouraged precipitation of ideas but also led to rapid dispersion of knowledge. This led to an increase in consumption and purchase of reading materials all over Europe and all over the world.
Essay on Man by Alexander Pope
This was a unique essay that tried to vindicate or describe the different ways of God to man. Pope poses a serious issue in the essay. Can man understand God plans for the whole universe when he is only limited to see the actual world? In this way, Pope addresses the fact that man cannot judge God from the little that he knows. This is because man’s knowledge is limited. This does not mean that man is in any way imperfect or deemed imperfect but simply means that man is exactly suited for his rank and place in creation. In other words, man is a part of God’s order. The weaker things are beneath man the stronger things are above man. Pope also suggests that man’s happiness depends greatly on the hope for a better future and ignorance of the events in the future (Earnst, 433). This simply means that, in order for man to be happy, he needs to accept his place in the creation instead of judging God’s imperfections and perfections. Man’s complains and unreasonableness only makes him more miserable and unhappy.
Candide by Francoise Voltaire
This is an essay about a German baron who grows up in the castle. He takes on an adventurous journey and ends up facing various misfortunes. In this essay, Voltaire attacks and criticizes the optimism philosophy that states that God is perfect and everything God has created is perfect, as well. During this journey, the ordinary man experiences hypocrisy of the church, poverty, wars and vulgar men. This prospect is based on the Voltaire’s anti church sentiments, antiwar sentiments and satire. Voltaire tries to present different kinds of evil that are not only present but also evident in the world. He focuses on the question about the origin of evil. These attributes only help people in the same situation to ponder when faced with similar evils in their lives (Pat, 324).
Similarities between Pope’s and Voltaire’s Essay on Man
While the Essay on Man accepts the fact that what is right is right and cannot be changed, Candida popularizes the philosophy of optimism and thus challenges and mocks this prospect. Many people see the Essay on Man as a very deductive, useful and beautiful poem while Candide is a satire or a criticism on the essay of man. Pope and other enlightment authors claim that benevolence motivates the behavior of man and not self interest. On the other hand, Voltaire insists that human behavior is determined by self interests and selfish impulses. However, the two philosophers were representatives of the enlightment period and made a significant impact on the literary world through their essays and poems. In both essays, the authors deal with the problem and existence of evil. Both books experienced serious scandal and great success.
Pope’s beliefs are based on the infinite wisdom from God and the existence of man for the general goodness. Voltaire respected Pope’s ideals and tried to adopt them. However, Voltaire’s perception and view on the same does not last for long. This change of views is caused by the loss of a dear thing, which he supposed was actually perfect. Voltaire agrees that Pope’s attributes are not only noble but also taught with altruistic intentions but refutes the fact that these conditions would ever exist. Pope claims in the essay that not all harmony and discord can be understood and that above pride, universal good and partial evil only one thing is true, and that is what is right. On the other hand, Voltaire refuses to accept this concept. He attributes this to the fact that Pope’s ideas and ideals cannot be applied to reality or real life. In this way, Voltaire adopts a mocking approach and attitude towards the Pope’s work. This is seen by many philosophers as harsh, unfair and brush. However, in this way Voltaire is able to strengthen his claims by exploiting the Pope’s interpretations and arguments (Pope, 169).
The most common foundation of Voltaire’s argument is on the forbidden fruit. In this case, he questions the reasons why Pope would write about the ideals of man and a perfect world but still mention the forbidden fruit. He suggests that this is not only contradictory but is also impractical. While Pope focuses on the planet and satellite relationship, Voltaire insists that the relationship is already given. The issue is not about the differences in this relationship but simply the fact that the relationship is already a known fact. The approach Voltaire takes is one of a protagonist who has suffered brutality, human vices and extremely harsh treatments and hardships. The lack of respect for the words of hope from the Pope only shows the reasons for Voltaire’s optimistic views.
There are many themes used in Voltaire’s Candide and the Pope’s Essay on Man. Voltaire suggests that the reason for using these themes was ‘’ to bring amusement on a small number of men with wit’’ (Candide 10). These themes have been seen as a direct assault to Popes work. Voltaire’s Candide is based on the thesis that worldly ideas are determined by order and reason. In this case, chance and accident both play a crucial role. However, Pope seems to deny the matter of free will which is embraced by Voltaire. Voltaire uses anti heroism to bring out mockery in this context. In other words, he uses mockery as an object or theme against philosophers from the enlightment period. After his many difficult encounters, Voltaire still believes that everything is actually for the best. However, Voltaire insists that this doctrine is illogical and controversial. In this case, he uses the theme of optimism to interpret the effects and the cause of the events in the story. This only proves that Voltaire is optimistic.
It is necessary to note that during the period of enlightment many philosophers and scholars only had one attribute. They all believed that reason was extremely important because it could be used to answer everything. However, Voltaire was against this prospect. He saw it as an optimistic aspect on the same. The argument based on optimism was very sophisticated and complex, and Voltaire sought to simplify this theme (67). The crucial question is ‘’ what is optimism? ‘’. Does it view life in a positive attitude while suffering many challenges in life? In this case, Voltaire uses the theme of optimism to satirize the foolishness that is acquired from the same (54).
Pope’s satire deals with men’s character. This is found in the sections or parts in which pope speaks about his family and himself and later when Pope imitates the first epistle.
Theme of Religion
Voltaire also satirizes the matter of religion. According to Voltaire, religion is similar to a blanket of optimism. In this way, he asserted that both the bad and the good die and suffer. According to Voltaire, this is enough evidence that God is not in charge. He not only believes that God is not in charge but also that God abandoned the world. He insists that religion is full of hypocrisy and that religious practices are simply an underlying satire. He blames the religious leaders for man’s fall and insists that they have undermined the very foundation of Christianity and religion as a whole.
It is evident that Voltaire’s Candide offers or brings out very sad theme which is hidden beneath philosophical jokes. According to Voltaire, it is impossible to find happiness and live in contentment. In all his arguments, Voltaire manages to criticize the theme of religion, optimism and military.
Role of Fate and Providence and Free will
The fall of man initiated a debate that questioned free will fate and fore knowledge in the book. This question is not based on or does not focus on the theological aspects but on the root of belief that God exists. However, Pope deals with this question by dealing with the world of man and nature of God. In his essay, Pope concludes by using an exhortation to encourage the reader to be at peace because the universe is under an orderly design resulting from a benevolent. He asserts that even though it may be difficult to see what is right, it remains right. This is a provident submission to show absolute submission of the future state and the present state. Pope in the essay insists that every man has a free will to accept or reject these teachings and to live a moral life (Maynand, 255). This simply means that the state of man and nature of man as an individual is in respect to himself. Pope insists that man’s business is not to try to find out God’s business but to study his own frailties, nature and power. He bases this fact on two principles namely; principle of reason and principle of self love. According to Pope, these two principles have the same end but self love should be stronger. This ascertains the vice and virtue in the nature of man. Imperfections and passions are the ends or results of these principles. Man has the free will to choose which path to take.
Existence and Problem of Evil
In the Essay of Man, epistle 1 X, Pope sates that ‘’ all chance and direction which thou canst not see, all discourse, harmony not understood, all partial evil, universal good, one truth is clear, whatever is right is right.’’ In this line, Pope suggests that good or evil is because of the discourse that one decides to take and that whatever discourse one decides to take what is right will still be right. It is important to note that both Pope and Voltaire accept that evil exists. However, they do not agree on how to deal with the problem of evil (Baines, 109).
The enlightment period authors did not only leave a mark in the literary world but made a significant impact on the literature that will be remembered for many generations to come. The Essay on Man and Candide are examples of books written during this period. The authors use reason and themes to argue and defend their work. However, both books have experienced scandal and success.