Candide

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Religion and Philosophy vs. The World Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Optimism and Disillusion Theme Icon
The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon
Religion and Philosophy vs. The World Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Candide, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Religion and Philosophy vs. The World Theme Icon

Candide satirizes the huge gap between the world and the way it is philosophically and religiously explained. The doctrines of religious groups and philosophers active during Voltaire’s life are made to look ridiculous and out of touch with reality when juxtaposed with the events of the novel. Pangloss' philosophy of optimism appears foolish—even insincere—when set beside the misfortunes of his life: exile, enslavement, execution, vivisection, syphilis, and academic obscurity. His explanations also become more circuitous and outlandish as the narrative proceeds. By the very end, Pangloss is suggesting that all of the miseries the characters endured were necessary to bring them to the present moment: enjoying candied pistachios in the garden.

Candide also criticizes religion as a means of making judgments about the world. Despite his good character and judgment, Candide is unfairly mistreated by religious zealots of all kinds, who take him to be an enemy because of his ignorance of their beliefs and doctrines. In the end, Candide rejects the dogma and sophistication of religion and philosophy. Refusing to enter any further into the debates of Martin and Pangloss, he comes to the pragmatic conclusion that “we must cultivate our garden”—in other words, that practical reason and hard work are more useful than theology and philosophy in making sense of the world. Like many of the conclusions reached by Candide, this reflects a trend in the Europe of Voltaire's era: science and more politically focused philosophy were taking the place of theology, which since medieval times had been known as “the Queen of the Sciences.”

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Religion and Philosophy vs. The World Quotes in Candide

Below you will find the important quotes in Candide related to the theme of Religion and Philosophy vs. The World.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.”

Related Characters: Pangloss (speaker)
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening pages of the novel, we're introduced to two of its main characters: Professor Pangloss and his pupil Candide. Candide is a classic "blank slate" narrator: he just soaks up information and experience. Here, for example, he learns from his professor that the world consists of everything that is the case; furthermore, the fact that everything in the world "fits together" (like a nose and spectacles) and was presumably created by a just God proves that the world is the best it can possibly be. Every event has a cause, and the ultimate result of any event must be happy in the end. In short, Pangloss believes that everything happens "for the best."

The passage is, needless to say, illogical and backwards, a parody of the optimism of Voltaire's contemporaries. Voltaire satirizes the famous "argument from design"--the idea that the world "fits together" and therefore must have been made by a benevolent God. But the examples that Voltaire puts in Pangloss's mouth prove that he doesn't take the argument from design very seriously: we all know that the nose wasn't formed to bear spectacles; it's the other way around. Humans haven't been given their place in the universe; rather, they've actively manipulated their environments to produce a comfortable world to live in (just as humans invented spectacles to fit on the nose).

The passage is a satire of religion and religious optimism in all its forms. There were many religious fanatics in Voltaire's lifetime who believed that everything was a blessing from God--even events that seemed tragic. Even the philosopher Leibnitz wasn't immune to this logic, and argued that evil is meant to produce good (i.e., everything happens for the best).

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Chapter 3 Quotes

“My friend,” said the orator to him, “do you believe the Pope to be Anti-Christ?”
“I have not heard it,” answered Candide; “but whether he be, or whether he be not, I want bread.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), The Protestant Orator (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide stumbles upon a group of pious Protestants. The Protestants ask Candide to admit that the Pope is a villain--the Antichrist, in fact. Candide, who barely knows where he is or who his new "friends" are, replies that he doesn't particularly care about the Pope; he just wants some food.

The passage is often interpreted as a satire of the schism between the Protestants and the Catholics that arose during and after the life of Martin Luther. For more than 1000 years, Christianity in the West was generally unified and uniform; however, in the late Middle Ages, a group of Christians called the Protestants rebelled against the Christian (or Catholic) church for what it perceived as the corruption of religious leadership. The schism prompted hundreds of years of radical, bloody warfare throughout "civilized" Europe, prompting many intellectuals, including Voltaire, to point out how absurd the schism really was: why argue over Gods and Popes when people are going hungry? The passage is also a good example of Candide's boundless innocence: he just wants to eat, sleep, and be happy. At times, Voltaire makes fun of Candide's simplicity, and yet he seems to see virtue in Candide's down-to-earth nature: Candide could never be seduced by religious fanaticism.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“It is more likely,” said he, “mankind have a little corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves; God has given them neither cannon of four-and-twenty pounders, nor bayonets; and yet they have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. Into this account I might throw not only bankrupts, but Justice which seizes on the effects of bankrupts to cheat the creditors.”

Related Characters: Jacques the Anabaptist (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jacques and his companions Pangloss and Candide are traveling to the city of Lisbon. Jacques disagrees with Pangloss and Candide about the nature of good and evil. Jacques insists that evil is real, and that it emanates from human nature. Jacques lists a formidable number of examples, including war (and the various machines of war).

Jacques's reaction to Pangloss's naive optimism could be taken as a more "modern" position on human nature. Many of the Europeans who lived through long, bloody religious wars were forced to conclude that man, quite aside from being inherently virtuous, has the capacity for violence and destruction--how else to explain entire nations ripping each other apart over religious conflict?

Chapter 5 Quotes

“What can be the sufficient reason of this phenomenon?” said Pangloss.
“This is the Last Day!” cried Candide.

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), Pangloss (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and Pangloss have just witnessed the famous Lisbon Earthquake, a massive tragedy and one of the key events in religious history. The Lisbon Earthquake went down as a symbol of the unpredictability of the world: Lisbon was regarded as one of the holiest cities on the planet, and yet God seemingly chose to destroy it. Voltaire parodies the naive acceptance of tragedy that followed the earthquake, depicting Pangloss and Candide bickering over the "causes" of the catastrophe (as Candide is buried under wreckage, by the way).

Candide and Pangloss believe that it is important to identify the causes of the earthquake, and conclude that God is judging all of mankind (it's the Biblical "Last Day" of mankind). The point of the scene is that Pangloss and Candide can't accept that today's accident is just a random event, and move past this to actually help the people being hurt. Instead, they feel the universe must have a "plan," and therefore God must have intended the earthquake to happen--and the philosophy behind the earthquake is more important than the individuals affected by it.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Candide witnesses a sea-change in Lisbon. Following the disaster of the earthquake, the leaders of Lisbon conclude that the only way to avoid another disaster is to please God by persecuting all religious heretics. Innocent people are horribly tortured and killed in order to prove the city's loyalty to God. Candide is horrified by the carnage he witnesses, all the more so because it's done in the name of divinity. He remembers Pangloss's old pronouncement that the world is the best of all possible worlds; he wonders what other worlds could be worse than the one he's living in. Pangloss himself has been sent away to be hanged for his supposed heresy, further reinforcing the foolishness of Pangloss's abstract optimism.

Chapter 14 Quotes

“It is an admirable government. The kingdom is upwards of three hundred leagues in diameter, and divided into thirty provinces; there the Fathers possess all, and the people nothing; it is a masterpiece of reason and justice.”

Related Characters: Cacambo (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Cacambo tells Candide about the land of the Jesuits in Paraguay. Although Cacambo seems to find the Jesuits' kingdom admirable in every way, he describes it in such a sense that it's obvious to us that the kingdom is a tyranny. Cacambo claims that the Jesuit leadership has stripped the natives of all their property, all in the name of religion. The Jesuits claim to use their intelligence and authority to run their territory with "reason and justice," but based on everything about religion and reason we've seen in the novel so far, we can be pretty sure that the Jesuits' government isn't all that reasonable or just.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“A Jesuit! a Jesuit! we shall be revenged, we shall have excellent cheer, let us eat the Jesuit, let us eat him up!”

Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and Cacambo run into some trouble. They shoot a pair of monkeys during their walk through the forest, only to learn that they've accidentally shot two partly-human figures who were lovers to two of the native women. Candide and Cacambo are promptly tied up and prepared for eating: the natives are going to enact their revenge by eating their "Jesuit" prisoners alive.

A couple things here. First, it bears noting that the passage reflects Voltaire's racist views of non-Europeans (there seems to be some idea here that "natives" are partly monkey). And yet as before, Voltaire's racism and stereotyping is somewhat mitigated by the near universality of his criticism: Candide and Cacambo, as representatives of the European order, come across as clueless about the real world. Furthermore, the passage reminds us of all the pent-up hatred the natives reserve for their Jesuit oppressors (clearly, the Jesuits have just been starving their subjects, rather than leading by reason, justice, and Christian ideals). Cacambo and Candide don't really understand native culture, and in return, the natives misinterpret Cacambo and Candide's identities, mistaking them for Jesuits.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“What is this optimism?” said Cacambo.
“Alas!” said Candide, “it is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), Cacambo (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and Cacambo, bearing gifts of gold, come across a poor African slave who's missing a limb. Candide is so moved by the slave's pain--he's spent his entire life serving others and being abused by them--that he briefly gives up on optimism itself. Candide has always believed that everything bad happens for a good reason. Here, however, he starts to see how silly his optimism really is: as he tells Cacambo, optimism is just a way to "spin" bad things as good things.

During Voltaire's lifetime, the slave trade boomed, after centuries of existing on a much smaller scale. The discovery of the New World led to the need for cheap (or free) labor--hence the vital importance of African slaves. Slaves were treated horribly, and never saw any of the wealth they mined from the ground. The spectacle of so many humans being mistreated would have been enough to make a pessimist of anybody--even Candide the eternal optimist.

Chapter 20 Quotes

“...but I own to you that when I cast an eye on this globe, or rather on this little ball, I cannot help thinking that God has abandoned it to some malignant being.”

Related Characters: Martin (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and the scholar Martin, his new associate, debate about the essential goodness of the world. While Candide continues to maintain that the world can be a good place (in spite of all the horror he's witnessed during his travels), Martin takes a different position, arguing that the world may have been created by God, but it has lately been in the hands of a devil of some kind.

The passage shows a different kind of position than the ones we've read about so far: Martin doesn't believe that the universe is a totally random, chaotic place, but neither does he believe that the world is uniformly good. His position is relatively close to the doctrine of Deism, which maintains that God created the world but now lets it run itself, like a great cosmic clock.

Chapter 25 Quotes

“But is there not a pleasure,” said Candide “ in criticizing everything, in pointing out faults where others see nothing but beauties?”
“That is to say,” replied Martin, “that there is some pleasure in having no pleasure.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), Martin (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and his friend Martin come to the house of the powerful Senator Pococuranté, who lives in great luxury. Pococuranté is, however, an unhappy man--he criticizes all his worldly possessions, and seems to despise everything about his life. Where Martin, who's more cynical than Candide, claims that the Senator must be unhappy, through and through, Candide--ever the optimist--claims that the Senator must get some kind of pleasure out of being so dissatisfied. Candide eventually comes to the odd conclusion that it's possible to be happy about having nothing to be happy about.

The notion that it's possible to be happy in one's misery is actually an age-old tenet of Christian literature, dating back at least to Saint Augustine's Confessions. The passage also alludes to an earlier quote, in which the Old Woman wonders aloud why she didn't kill herself while in the depths of misery. It would seem that there's something about being alive, in and of itself, thats pleasurable, even if every facet of that life is sad.

Conclusion Quotes

“What signifies it," said the Dervish, "whether there be evil or good? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he trouble his head whether the mice on board are at their ease or not?”

Related Characters: The Dervish (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In this enigmatic passage, Candide comes to an old Dervish (a Turkish holy man) and asks him for help achieving enlightenment. The Dervish doesn't give Candide the information he was hoping for; instead, the Dervish irritably tells Candide to mind his own business. There's no point in hunting for meaning in the world; the fact that God made the world doesn't mean that the world must have meaning. The Dervish clarifies his argument with an analogy: the man who builds a ship and sends the ship across the ocean doesn't care about the mice that live onboard the ship, and certainly hasn't built the ship to accommodate the mice's needs.

The passage is an amusing refutation of the argument from design: the Dervish, quite aside from arguing that the world is built "for" human beings, claims that the universe (God, the Almighty, etc.) is basically indifferent to human beings' suffering. If there is a God, it's unlikely he cares about human beings (instead, he thinks of them like mice)--the Christian idea that God made the world "for" mankind is, in the Dervish's opinion (and probably Voltaire's, too) arrogant nonsense.

“I have only twenty acres,” replied the old man; “I and my children cultivate them; our labour preserves us from three great evils—weariness, vice, and want.”

Related Characters: The Old Turkish Man (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

After a novel's worth of traveling and debating, the characters reach an old Turkish Man who works hard on a farm with his children. The Turkish Man represents, arguably, the closest thing in the novel to enlightenment or peace. Instead of sitting around like Professor Pangloss and debating the causes and meaning of the universe, the Turkish Man works on his property. If there is a path to happiness and peace, it's implied, that path consists of a lot of hard, real-world work.

The passage might as well be a moral for Voltaire's book. Unlike the religious scholars in the pre-Enlightenment era, Voltaire doesn't believe that we should kick back and wait for God to take care of everything (or, following the same twisted logic, embrace every single thing that happens as "God's will"). Instead, we should actively try to change the world and improve it on our own: humans are the architects of their own world, not God.

“You are right,” said Pangloss, “for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle.”

Related Characters: Pangloss (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Professor Pangloss responds to the example set by the Old Turkish man, who has just finished explaining the importance of work and labor. Pangloss, despite spending most of the book blindly blessing every event as "God's will," immediately converts to the Old Man's point of view and now claims that it's important to work in the real world, rather than trusting in divine providence.

Why does Pangloss change his mind so quickly? Perhaps the passage is meant to show that Pangloss is just a follower, easily convinced of any point of view, provided that he can find Biblical (or philosophical) justification for it. In a way, the passage is one of the most prophetic in the novel: it illustrates the way that religious factions can fight and even kill over their beliefs, and yet also change their beliefs at the drop of a hat. (For example, in modern times, Christian leaders openly believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun; 500 years before, their predecessors tried to kill Galileo because he dared to argue this scientific truth. A whole string of Panglosses moved Christianity from one point of view to  the other.)

“Let us work,” said Martin, “without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

Related Characters: Martin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel approaches an ending, each one of the main characters comes to the same conclusion (work hard and embrace the limits of one's life), albeit for different, and highly revealing reasons. While Professor Pangloss concludes that man should work because there's Biblical justification for doing so, Martin comes to the same conclusion because he's a compromiser and a pessimist. Martin seems to believe that the world is full of pain and suffering; it's telling, then, that he claims that working is the "only way" to find happiness in the world. One could argue that Martin is the most pragmatic of the characters: instead of sticking to his guns, he embraces a new point of view because he recognizes its real-world potential.

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, everything and nothing has changed. Pangloss continues to philosophize about the "best of all possible worlds," and yet he's now working in a garden, showing that he's willing to get his hands dirty and work for himself, instead of trusting in God that everything will work out for the best. Candide, by contrast, seems to have changed greatly. As the novel began, he was a foolish, naive young man who trusted that everything had a silver lining. Over the course of the book, Candide hasn't entirely lost his optimism, but he has come to see the futility of totally surrendering to "divine providence." The only way to find happiness in the real world is to involve oneself in the real world: thus, Candide resolves to work hard on his garden and trust in his own actions and morals.

The notion of "cultivating our garden" could be taken as a metaphor for the entire Enlightenment project that Voltaire celebrated. Instead of trusting custom and tradition (and thus, religion), Voltaire advocated for secular humanism, according to which all men were created equal, and should be judged by what they achieve in the real world, rather than what their aristocratic ancestors achieved hundreds of years ago. It's for this reason that this quote remains famous and applicable even now, hundreds of years later.