Voltaire a collection of critical essays


The WORKS of VOLTAIRE

Bottiglia Publication Englewood Cliffs, N. Subject Voltaire, -- Criticism and interpretation.

Voltaire (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Library Locations Map Details. Library Links. Embed Experimental. Layout options: Carousel Grid List Card. Include data citation:. Copy to clipboard Close. Cite Data - Experimental. Structured data from the Bibframe namespace is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4. Voltaire is revealed not only through his correspondence, here extensively quoted, but through the statements others made about him in anecdotes, memoirs, and other contemporary documents.

New information is introduced regarding Voltaire's sojourn in England, his later relations with English men of letters, his domestic turmoils at the court of Frederick the Great, and his contact with French contemporaries such as Montesquieu and Diderot. For the first time in any biography, attention is given to Voltaire's extensive knowledge of Spanish literature and its influence on his own work, particularly Candide.

Voltaire is portrayed as a conscious participant in the Enlightenment. In his early years he was interested primarily in aesthetics and abstract philosophy; later, he passionately dedicated himself to humanitarian causes with ideological implications.


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Professor Aldridge brings forward evidence pointing to the contrast between these two periods in Voltaire's life. The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Tallentyre in her biographical book The Friends of Voltaire.

Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire's attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall's summary was inspired by a quotation found in a Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Riche, in which he was reported to have said, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. Then, in his Dictionnaire philosophique , containing such articles as "Abraham", "Genesis", "Church Council", he wrote about what he perceived as the human origins of dogmas and beliefs, as well as inhuman behavior of religious and political institutions in shedding blood over the quarrels of competing sects.

Amongst other targets, Voltaire criticized France's colonial policy in North America, dismissing the vast territory of New France as " a few acres of snow " " quelques arpents de neige ". Voltaire also engaged in an enormous amount of private correspondence during his life, totalling over 20, letters. Theodore Besterman 's collected edition of these letters, completed only in , fills volumes.

In Voltaire's correspondence with Catherine the Great he derided democracy. He wrote, "Almost nothing great has ever been done in the world except by the genius and firmness of a single man combating the prejudices of the multitude. Like other key Enlightenment thinkers, Voltaire was a deist.

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Is it to believe that which is evident? It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason. In a essay, Voltaire supported the toleration of other religions and ethnicities: "It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other.

I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God? In one of his many denunciations of priests of every religious sect, Voltaire describes them as those who "rise from an incestuous bed, manufacture a hundred versions of God, then eat and drink God, then piss and shit God.

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Historians have described Voltaire's description of the history of Christianity as "propagandistic". Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out. It is characteristic of fanatics who read the holy scriptures to tell themselves: God killed, so I must kill; Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Rachel stole: so I must steal, deceive, lie.

But, wretch, you are neither Rachel, nor Jacob, nor Abraham, nor God; you are just a mad fool, and the popes who forbade the reading of the Bible were extremely wise. Voltaire's opinion of the Bible was mixed. Although influenced by Socinian works such as the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum , Voltaire's skeptical attitude to the Bible separated him from Unitarian theologians like Fausto Sozzini or even Biblical-political writers like John Locke.

The deeply Christian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father the year of Voltaire's death, saying, "The arch-scoundrel Voltaire has finally kicked the bucket As Christianity advances, disasters befall the [Roman] empire—arts, science, literature, decay—barbarism and all its revolting concomitants are made to seem the consequences of its decisive triumph—and the unwary reader is conducted, with matchless dexterity, to the desired conclusion—the abominable Manicheism of Candide , and, in fact, of all the productions of Voltaire's historic school—viz.

However, Voltaire also acknowledged the self-sacrifice of Christians. He wrote: "Perhaps there is nothing greater on earth than the sacrifice of youth and beauty, often of high birth, made by the gentle sex in order to work in hospitals for the relief of human misery, the sight of which is so revolting to our delicacy. Peoples separated from the Roman religion have imitated but imperfectly so generous a charity. The attack, launched at first against clericalism and theocracy, ended in a furious assault upon Holy Scripture, the dogmas of the Church, and even upon the person of Jesus Christ Himself, who [he] depicted now as a degenerate".

According to Orthodox rabbi Joseph Telushkin , the most significant Enlightenment hostility against Judaism was found in Voltaire; [] thirty of the articles in his Dictionnaire philosophique dealt with Jews and described them in consistently negative ways.

Voltaire Collection Critical Essays

Whatever anti-semitism Voltaire may have felt, Gay suggests, derived from negative personal experience. His remarks on the Jews and their "superstitions" were essentially no different from his remarks on Christians. Telushkin states that Voltaire did not limit his attack to aspects of Judaism that Christianity used as a foundation, repeatedly making it clear that he despised Jews. Some authors link Voltaire's anti-Judaism to his polygenism. According to Joxe Azurmendi this anti-Judaism has a relative importance in Voltaire's philosophy of history. However, Voltaire's anti-Judaism influences later authors like Ernest Renan.

According to the historian Will Durant , Voltaire had initially condemned the persecution of Jews on several occasions including in his work Henriade. However, subsequently, Voltaire had become strongly anti-Semitic after some regrettable personal financial transactions and quarrels with Jewish financiers.


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In his Essai sur les moeurs Voltaire had denounced the ancient Hebrews using strong language; a Catholic priest had protested against this censure. The anti-Semitic passages in Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique were criticized by Issac Pinto in Subsequently, Voltaire agreed with the criticism of his anti-Semitic views and stated that he had been "wrong to attribute to a whole nation the vices of some individuals"; [] he also promised to revise the objectionable passages for forthcoming editions of the Dictionnaire philosophique , but failed to do so.

Voltaire's views about Islam remained negative as he considered the Quran to be ignorant of the laws of physics. Referring to the prophet, Voltaire continued in his letter, "But that a camel-merchant should stir up insurrection in his village; that in league with some miserable followers he persuades them that he talks with the angel Gabriel; that he boasts of having been carried to heaven, where he received in part this unintelligible book, each page of which makes common sense shudder; that, to pay homage to this book, he delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse, at least if he was not born a Turk, or if superstition has not extinguished all natural light in him.

It must be admitted that he removed almost all of Asia from idolatry" and that "it was difficult for such a simple and wise religion, taught by a man who was constantly victorious, could hardly fail to subjugate a portion of the earth. As a historian he devoted several chapters to Islam, [] [] [] Voltaire highlighted the Arabian, Turkish courts, and conducts.

The play is a study of religious fanaticism and self-serving manipulation. The character Muhammad orders the murder of his critics. Voltaire described Muhammad as an "impostor", a "false prophet", a "fanatic" and a "hypocrite". In his play, Mohammed was "whatever trickery can invent that is most atrocious and whatever fanaticism can accomplish that is most horrifying. Mahomet here is nothing other than Tartuffe with armies at his command.

Voltaire continues about Islam, saying:. Nothing is more terrible than a people who, having nothing to lose, fight in the united spirit of rapine and of religion. In a letter recommending the play to Pope Benedict XIV , Voltaire described Muhammad as "the founder of a false and barbarous sect" and "a false prophet". Voltaire wrote: "Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect.

To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Commenting on the sacred texts of the Hindus, the Vedas , Voltaire observed:.

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Essay about Candide by Voltaire

The Veda was the most precious gift for which the West had ever been indebted to the East. He regarded Hindus as "a peaceful and innocent people, equally incapable of hurting others or of defending themselves. The works of Confucius were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China.

Translations of Confucian texts influenced European thinkers of the period, [] particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilisation. Confucius has no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions; flattered not the emperor under whom he lived With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment , the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancient regime of Europe.

Voltaire rejected the biblical Adam and Eve story and was a polygenist who speculated that each race had entirely separate origins. His most famous remark on slavery is found in Candide , where the hero is horrified to learn "at what price we eat sugar in Europe" after coming across a slave in French Guiana who has been mutilated for escaping, who opines that, if all human beings have common origins as the Bible taught, it makes them cousins, concluding that "no one could treat their relatives more horribly".

Elsewhere, he wrote caustically about "whites and Christians [who] proceed to purchase negroes cheaply, in order to sell them dear in America". Voltaire has been accused of supporting the slave trade as per a letter attributed to him, [] [] [] although it has been suggested that this letter is a forgery "since no satisfying source attests to the letter's existence.

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In his Philosophical Dictionary , Voltaire endorses Montesquieu 's criticism of the slave trade: "Montesquieu was almost always in error with the learned, because he was not learned, but he was almost always right against the fanatics and the promoters of slavery. Zeev Sternhell argues that despite his shortcomings, Voltaire was a forerunner of liberal pluralism in his approach to history and non-European cultures.

Voltaire - His Ideas in a Nutshell

This great misunderstanding about Chinese rituals has come about because we have judged their usages by ours, for we carry the prejudices of our contentious spirit to the end of the world. When writing about India, he declares, "It is time for us to give up the shameful habit of slandering all sects and insulting all nations! According to Victor Hugo : "To name Voltaire is to characterize the entire eighteenth century. The more I read Voltaire the more I love him. He is a man always reasonable, never a charlatan, never a fanatic.

In Russia, Catherine the Great had been reading Voltaire for sixteen years prior to becoming Empress in The content of these letters has been described as being akin to a student writing to a teacher.

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