Man vs. Candide Essay

During the period of Enlightenment, many philosophers began a new way of thinking. For philosopher Alexander Pope in An Essay on Man, Pope believed that, “Whatever is, is right” (L. 294), in that God is in control and every human being is a part of a greater design of God. Voltaire later challenged that belief in Candide with the idea that God does not produce order, but instead, we must produce it ourselves and use reason to give our lives meaning. Pope’s position is more optimistic, while Voltaire’s position takes on a pessimistic view in that it does not allow for the belief in some sort of higher purpose. Drawing from personal experience, Pope’s belief that we perceive troubles as troubles only because we cannot see the entire design is more accurate.

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Alexander Pope’s position is that God is in complete control. Everything good and bad that happens to people is a part of God’s plan. Every person has a specific purpose in this world, because we are all a part of a greater good. There is a “Great Chain of Being,” and man’s downfall is when he begins to question it, “There must be, somewhere, such a rank as Man: / And all the question (wrangle e’er so long) / Is only this, if God has placed him wrong?” (L. 48-50). Pope’s theory that “Whatever is, is right” (L. 294), also ties in with the belief that everything happens for a reason. I, like Pope, believe that everything a human does is a part of a bigger plan, or may happen for a good reason.

For example, one may be running late for work and because they were late, they missed the person that ran the red light, which would have resulted in a wreck for our person that was late to work. Or, that person could have been on time to work and could have ended up in a wreck, which might have been a step in their purpose for life. Everybody has a purpose in this world and everything positive and negative that affects us is for the best.

In Candide, Voltaire satirizes Pope’s An Essay on Man by questioning the role of God and mocking the notion that the world is an all-good place. Voltaire brings up the problem of imperfection in the “Great Chain of Being” and shows through Candide that the world is the best possible world and is determined by reason and order, “…and Pangloss sometimes used to say to Candide: -all events are linked together in the best of possible worlds”(pg. 413). With that notion, Voltaire is right because there is nothing in this world that is perfect or even close to perfect, but it is the best possible world we have. Voltaire acknowledges that the world we live in includes both good and bad and joy and suffering.

I can see the accuracy in Voltaire’s theory where man does have the power to make his own decisions in life, but at the same time I feel that our decisions go into a pre-developed plan. I have left several hard decisions that I’ve had to make, decide themselves. Even though I left it up in the air, I eventually partially made a decision, but I also had the help of a greater force. We might all have several paths laid out for us in the beginning, and depending on a few drastic choices that we make will determine which of those few paths we end up going down. Voltaire creates the opportunity that man can make his own difference in the world and be happy by giving man control over his life and not resting it all on God.

Voltaire’s Candide and Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man both make foundational points. Pope’s essay is more optimistic while Voltaire’s is more pessimistic. The flaw in Pope’s essay is that Pope is too optimistic in his philosophy because most of his ideas are unrealistic. Man has to make some of his decisions on his own, even if God is in total control. Voltaire’s satire on the essay should have included a more positive outlook on the world that allowed for some reason for living or the belief in a higher purpose. If both theories were combined, then a good balance would be presented. Although both philosophers come from different positions, both try to find the ultimate happiness for man. Man must eventually try and achieve the ability to accomplish things and some sense of happiness along with the ability to cope with life in positive ways.

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