Essay On French Philosopher Voltaire

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Essay On French Philosopher Voltaire



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LITERATURE - Voltaire

It also allows me to gain knowledge of the several disastrous historical events that occurred during the mid s. Dickens had proficiently depicted the causes and effects of the French Revolution, as well as similar issues in England during the same time. Dickens draws the parallel and neutrality when he represented the two power rivals during pre-revolutionary and post revolutionary period. Throughout the novel, Dickens illustrates the theme of cruelty and inhumanity of men to their fellow countryman in France. This theme grows with each chapter and each brutal event in the novel.

Before the starting of the revolution, the majority of French people were extremely exposed to oppression, cruelty, tyranny, and social distinction by the aristocrats. The French Revolution had some good outcomes and started with good intentions. In the end, the revolution was a gruesome disaster that altered France forever. The French Revolution was a watershed moment in European history that changed French society, politics, and international relations. The course the revolution took alarmed all of Europe and caused all royalty to be scared that a similar occurrence might happen to them.

This became apparent when Voltaire was thrown into the Bastille for being disrespectful towards the government. The first stage borrowed ideas from Smith, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Locke whereas the second stage got their ideas from Rousseau, principles of Desim, and Becccaria. Montesquieu and Smith influenced the Thermidorian Reaction the most. French citizens revolted against their government to due to the success of the American Revolution and enlightenment ideology. However, they too, will enlighten the rest of Europe with their…. In this time period France was able to pull influence from the enlightenment and use it to fuel their revolution. The enlightenment was a massive movement that ushered its influence throughout France helping to form a new era through the French Revolution.

He was seen as indecisive, introverted and everything a king was not supposed to be. So, they formed an alliance with each other called the National Assembly. But people started to revolt against King Louis. Once the Reign of Terror started, the government started killing those in and out of republic who were against any of their rule. After this terrible time, the people gave rule to Napolean Bonaparte, who helped France to its former greatness. It was issued by the commander in chief of the Austro-Prussian armies and said that it would restore the liberty to the king and his family, protect France and set Paris free among other things. It was intended to help the monarchy but had the opposite effect.

The French were furious by the foreign intervention and cause many people who were once pro-monarchy to turn against it. Essays Essays FlashCards. Browse Essays. Voltaire saw in the controversy a new call to action, and he joined forces with the project soon after its appearance, penning numerous articles that began to appear with volume 5 in As this polemic crystallized and grew in both energy and influence, Voltaire embraced its terms and made them his cause. In this program, the philosophes were not unified by any shared philosophy but through a commitment to the program of defending philosophie itself against its perceived enemies. They were also imagined as activists fighting to eradicate error and superstition from the world.

This effort achieved victory in , and soon the philosophes were attempting to infiltrate the academies and other institutions of knowledge in France. Voltaire and his allies had paved the way for this victory through a barrage of writings throughout the s and s that presented philosophie like that espoused by Turgot as an agent of enlightened reform and its critics as prejudicial defenders of an ossified tradition. Voltaire did bring out one explicitly philosophical book in support this campaign, his Dictionnaire philosophique of — Yet to fully understand the brand of philosophie that Voltaire made foundational to the Enlightenment, one needs to recognize that it just as often circulated in fictional stories, satires, poems, pamphlets, and other less obviously philosophical genres.

Public philosophic campaigns such as these that channeled critical reason in a direct, oppositionalist way against the perceived injustices and absurdities of Old Regime life were the hallmark of philosophie as Voltaire understood the term. Voltaire lived long enough to see some of his long-term legacies start to concretize. With the ascension of Louis XVI in and the appointment of Turgot as Controller-General, the French establishment began to embrace the philosophes and their agenda in a new way. Critics of Voltaire and his program for philosophie remained powerful, however, and they would continue to survive as the necessary backdrop to the positive image of the Enlightenment philosophe as a modernizer, progressive reformer, and courageous scourge against traditional authority that Voltaire bequeathed to later generations.

Here, as a frail and sickly octogenarian, Voltaire was welcomed by the city as the hero of the Enlightenment that he now personified. Voltaire died several weeks after these events, but the canonization that they initiated has continued right up until the present. Western philosophy was profoundly shaped by the conception of the philosophe and the program for Enlightenment philosophie that Voltaire came to personify. The model he offered of the philosophe as critical public citizen and advocate first and foremost, and as abstruse and systematic thinker only when absolutely necessary, was especially influential in the subsequent development of the European philosophy. Also influential was the example he offered of the philosopher measuring the value of any philosophy according by its ability to effect social change.

The link between Voltaire and Marx was also established through the French revolutionary tradition, which similarly adopted Voltaire as one of its founding heroes. Voltaire was the first person to be honored with re-burial in the newly created Pantheon of the Great Men of France that the new revolutionary government created in In a similar way, Voltaire remains today an iconic hero for everyone who sees a positive linkage between critical reason and political resistance in projects of progressive, modernizing reform. Nevertheless, others found in Voltaire both a model of the well-oriented philosophe and a set of particular philosophical positions appropriate to this stance. Each side of this equation played a key role in defining the Enlightenment philosophie that Voltaire came to personify.

The great debate between Samuel Clarke and Leibniz over the principles of Newtonian natural philosophy was also influential as Voltaire struggled to understand the nature of human existence and ethics within a cosmos governed by rational principles and impersonal laws. Voltaire adopted a stance in this text somewhere between the strict determinism of rationalist materialists and the transcendent spiritualism and voluntarism of contemporary Christian natural theologians. For Voltaire, humans are not deterministic machines of matter and motion, and free will thus exists.

But humans are also natural beings governed by inexorable natural laws, and his ethics anchored right action in a self that possessed the natural light of reason immanently. This stance distanced him from more radical deists like Toland, and he reinforced this position by also adopting an elitist understanding of the role of religion in society. For Voltaire, those equipped to understand their own reason could find the proper course of free action themselves. But since many were incapable of such self-knowledge and self-control, religion, he claimed, was a necessary guarantor of social order.

This stance distanced Voltaire from the republican politics of Toland and other materialists, and Voltaire echoed these ideas in his political musings, where he remained throughout his life a liberal, reform-minded monarchist and a skeptic with respect to republican and democratic ideas. In the Lettres philosophiques , Voltaire had suggested a more radical position with respect to human determinism, especially in his letter on Locke, which emphasized the materialist reading of the Lockean soul that was then a popular figure in radical philosophical discourse. Voltaire also defined his own understanding of the soul in similar terms in his own Dictionnaire philosophique. In these cases, one often sees Voltaire defending less a carefully reasoned position on a complex philosophical problem than adopting a political position designed to assert his conviction that liberty of speech, no matter what the topic, is sacred and cannot be violated.

Part of the deep cultural tie that joins Voltaire to this dictum is the fact that even while he did not write these precise words, they do capture, however imprecisely, the spirit of his philosophy of liberty. In his voluminous correspondence especially, and in the details of many of his more polemical public texts, one does find Voltaire articulating a view of intellectual and civil liberty that makes him an unquestioned forerunner of modern civil libertarianism.

He never authored any single philosophical treatise on this topic, however, yet the memory of his life and philosophical campaigns was influential in advancing these ideas nevertheless. But Voltaire also contributed to philosophical libertinism and hedonism through his celebration of moral freedom through sexual liberty. In particular, through his cultivation of a happily libertine persona, and his application of philosophical reason toward the moral defense of this identity, often through the widely accessible vehicles of poetry and witty prose, Voltaire became a leading force in the wider Enlightenment articulation of a morality grounded in the positive valuation of personal, and especially bodily, pleasure, and an ethics rooted in a hedonistic calculus of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

He also advanced this cause by sustaining an unending attack upon the repressive and, to his mind, anti-human demands of traditional Christian asceticism, especially priestly celibacy, and the moral codes of sexual restraint and bodily self-abnegation that were still central to the traditional moral teachings of the day. This same hedonistic ethics was also crucial to the development of liberal political economy during the Enlightenment, and Voltaire applied his own libertinism toward this project as well. In the s, he drafted a poem called Le Mondain that celebrated hedonistic worldly living as a positive force for society, and not as the corrupting element that traditional Christian morality held it to be.

In his Essay sur les moeurs he also joined with other Enlightenment historians in celebrating the role of material acquisition and commerce in advancing the progress of civilization. Adam Smith would famously make similar arguments in his founding tract of Enlightenment liberalism, On the Wealth of Nations , published in Voltaire was certainly no great contributor to the political economic science that Smith practiced, but he did contribute to the wider philosophical campaigns that made the concepts of liberty and hedonistic morality central to their work both widely known and more generally accepted. One is the importance of skepticism, and the second is the importance of empirical science as a solvent to dogmatism and the pernicious authority it engenders.

Among the philosophical tendencies that Voltaire most deplored, in fact, were those that he associated most powerfully with Descartes who, he believed, began in skepticism but then left it behind in the name of some positive philosophical project designed to eradicate or resolve it. Such explanations, Voltaire argued, are fictions, not philosophy, and the philosopher needs to recognize that very often the most philosophical explanation of all is to offer no explanation at all.

But even if his personal religious views were subtle, Voltaire was unwavering in his hostility to church authority and the power of the clergy. For similar reasons, he also grew as he matured ever more hostile toward the sacred mysteries upon which monarchs and Old Regime aristocratic society based their authority. The philosophical authority of romanciers such as Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz was similarly subjected to the same critique, and here one sees how the defense of skepticism and liberty, more than any deeply held opposition to religiosity per se, was often the most powerful motivator for Voltaire. From this perspective, Voltaire might fruitfully be compared with Socrates, another founding figure in Western philosophy who made a refusal to declaim systematic philosophical positions a central feature of his philosophical identity.

Voltaire was also, like Socrates, a public critic and controversialist who defined philosophy primarily in terms of its power to liberate individuals from domination at the hands of authoritarian dogmatism and irrational prejudice. Yet while Socrates championed rigorous philosophical dialectic as the agent of this emancipation, Voltaire saw this same dialectical rationalism at the heart of the dogmatism that he sought to overcome. Voltaire often used satire, mockery and wit to undermine the alleged rigor of philosophical dialectic, and while Socrates saw this kind of rhetorical word play as the very essence of the erroneous sophism that he sought to alleviate, Voltaire cultivated linguistic cleverness as a solvent to the false and deceptive dialectic that anchored traditional philosophy.

Against the acceptance of ignorance that rigorous skepticism often demanded, and against the false escape from it found in sophistical knowledge—or what Voltaire called imaginative philosophical romances—Voltaire offered a different solution than the rigorous dialectical reasoning of Socrates: namely, the power and value of careful empirical science. Here one sees the debt that Voltaire owed to the currents of Newtonianism that played such a strong role in launching his career. In his Principia Mathematica ; 2 nd rev. While Newtonian epistemology admitted of many variations, at its core rested a new skepticism about the validity of apriori rationalist accounts of nature and a new assertion of brute empirical fact as a valid philosophical understanding in its own right.

European Natural philosophers in the second half of the seventeenth century had thrown out the metaphysics and physics of Aristotle with its four part causality and teleological understanding of bodies, motion and the cosmic order. In its place, however, a new mechanical causality was introduced that attempted to explain the world in equally comprehensive terms through the mechanisms of an inert matter acting by direct contact and action alone. This approach lead to the vortical account of celestial mechanics, a view that held material bodies to be swimming in an ethereal sea whose action pushed and pulled objects in the manner we observe. What could not be observed, however, was the ethereal sea itself, or the other agents of this supposedly comprehensive mechanical cosmos.

Yet rationality nevertheless dictated that such mechanisms must exist since without them philosophy would be returned to the occult causes of the Aristotelian natural tendencies and teleological principles. Figuring out what these point-contact mechanisms were and how they worked was, therefore, the charge of the new mechanical natural philosophy of the late seventeenth century.

Figures such as Descartes, Huygens, and Leibniz established their scientific reputations through efforts to realize this goal. Newton pointed natural philosophy in a new direction. He offered mathematical analysis anchored in inescapable empirical fact as the new foundation for a rigorous account of the cosmos. From this perspective, the great error of both Aristotelian and the new mechanical natural philosophy was its failure to adhere strictly enough to empirical facts. Vortical mechanics, for example, claimed that matter was moved by the action of an invisible agent, yet this, the Newtonians began to argue, was not to explain what is really happening but to imagine a fiction that gives us a speciously satisfactory rational explanation of it.

Natural philosophy needs to resist the allure of such rational imaginings and to instead deal only with the empirically provable. Moreover, the Newtonians argued, if a set of irrefutable facts cannot be explained other then by accepting the brute facticity of their truth, this is not a failure of philosophical explanation so much as a devotion to appropriate rigor. Few questioned that Newton had demonstrated an irrefutable mathematical law whereby bodies appear to attract one another in relation to their masses and in inverse relation to the square of the distance between them.

But was this rigorous mathematical and empirical description a philosophical account of bodies in motion? Critics such as Leibniz said no, since mathematical description was not the same thing as philosophical explanation, and Newton refused to offer an explanation of how and why gravity operated the way that it did. The Newtonians countered that phenomenal descriptions were scientifically adequate so long as they were grounded in empirical facts, and since no facts had yet been discerned that explained what gravity is or how it works, no scientific account of it was yet possible. They further insisted that it was enough that gravity did operate the way that Newton said it did, and that this was its own justification for accepting his theory.

They further mocked those who insisted on dreaming up chimeras like the celestial vortices as explanations for phenomena when no empirical evidence existed to support of such theories. The previous summary describes the general core of the Newtonian position in the intense philosophical contests of the first decades of the eighteenth century. His contribution, therefore, was not centered on any innovation within these very familiar Newtonian themes; rather, it was his accomplishment to become a leading evangelist for this new Newtonian epistemology, and by consequence a major reason for its widespread dissemination and acceptance in France and throughout Europe.

Both Hume and Voltaire began with the same skepticism about rationalist philosophy, and each embraced the Newtonian criterion that made empirical fact the only guarantor of truth in philosophy. His attachment was to the new Newtonian empirical scientists, and while he was never more than a dilettante scientist himself, his devotion to this form of natural inquiry made him in some respects the leading philosophical advocate and ideologist for the new empirico-scientific conception of philosophy that Newton initiated. For Voltaire and many other eighteenth-century Newtonians the most important project was defending empirical science as an alternative to traditional natural philosophy.

In particular, Voltaire fought vigorously against the rationalist epistemology that critics used to challenge Newtonian reasoning. His famous conclusion in Candide , for example, that optimism was a philosophical chimera produced when dialectical reason remains detached from brute empirical facts owed a great debt to his Newtonian convictions. His alternative offered in the same text of a life devoted to simple tasks with clear, tangible, and most importantly useful ends was also derived from the utilitarian discourse that Newtonians also used to justify their science. In this respect, his philosophy as manifest in each was deeply indebted to the epistemological convictions he gleaned from Newtonianism.

Voltaire also contributed directly to the new relationship between science and philosophy that the Newtonian revolution made central to Enlightenment modernity. Especially important was his critique of metaphysics and his argument that it be eliminated from any well-ordered science. At the center of the Newtonian innovations in natural philosophy was the argument that questions of body per se were either irrelevant to, or distracting from, a well focused natural science. Against Leibniz, for example, who insisted that all physics begin with an accurate and comprehensive conception of the nature of bodies as such, Newton argued that the character of bodies was irrelevant to physics since this science should restrict itself to a quantified description of empirical effects only and resist the urge to speculate about that which cannot be seen or measured.

This removal of metaphysics from physics was central to the overall Newtonian stance toward science, but no one fought more vigorously for it, or did more to clarify the distinction and give it a public audience than Voltaire. It also accused Leibniz of becoming deluded by his zeal to make metaphysics the foundation of physics. In this way, Voltaire should be seen as the initiator of a philosophical tradition that runs from him to Auguste Comte and Charles Darwin, and then on to Karl Popper and Richard Dawkins in the twentieth century.

The result has been the production of three major collections of his writings including his vast correspondence, the last unfinished. The scholarly literature on Voltaire is vast, and growing larger every day. The summary here, therefore, will be largely restricted to scholarly books, with only a few articles of singular import listed. Paris: Lefevre, — Moland and G. Fleming ed. Du Mont, Shorter Writings of Voltaire , J.

Rodale ed. Barnes, Tallentyre tr. Applegate ed. Ungar, Voltaire: Selected Writings , Christopher Thacker ed. Voltaire: Selections , Paul Edwards ed. Brumfitt ed. Pollack tr. Epistle of M. Voltaire to the King of Prussia , Glasgow, Swallow, Eckler, The Sermon of the Fifty , J. Paxton, London: Cass, Birmingham, AL: Gryphon Editions, Philosophical Dictionary Edited by Theodore Besterman. London: Penguin Books, Translated by Peter Gay. New York: Basic Books, Steiner ed. Leonard Tancock ed. Ernest Dilworth ed.

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