Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Voltaire essay

Landon Holloway      
Dr. Oliver


Philosophy is as old as ancient Greece itself. It has given us answers to life and has persuaded the lives of many individuals in the world. One of the most well-known philosophers in the world is François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire. He was born in 1694 and he died in 1778. He was well known for his stand against tyranny and bigotry. He was considered a satirist and had a skeptical world view. His ideals deeply influenced the French Revolution. Even though he has been compared greatly to Rousseau, he strongly disliked him. He is down in history as one of the most controversial philosophers in history. Voltaire was exiled many times for his beliefs. The powers over him, and the people had a great hatred for him. He had a great reputation for calling out political leaders for any injustices they act on their people. He is still considered a great writer in this day. His plays, books, and pamphlets have greatly inspired people all around the world.

Voltaire was born in Paris in a middle class family and was the youngest of five children on November 6th, 1694. His father worked in the Royal treasury and his mother was from a Noble family in Poitou province. He studied at Louis-le-Grand and was taught by the Jesuits at the college. Throughout his life he learned five different languages including; Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and English. His first studies were in French law, later he devoted himself to writing. However, his father wanted him to be a lawyer. He started off as a secretary to the French ambassador of Holland. Through that time he kept studying literature and writing his own work. He strongly opposed the French government. Voltaire was a strong advocate for Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and separation of the church and state. He along with many other, believe men should have the right to worship any god they please. Many Christians disagreed with this. His views were ahead of his times ,and they attracted some enemies around France. The Catholic Church strongly opposed his views. The Catholic Church was known to quickly extinguish anyone that opposed them. Luckily for Voltaire, his life was not ended by them.

He wanted to take power away from the church, and give more freedom to the people. Much like many other revolutions, his government strongly disliked him. Power is a hard thing for any church or government to give up. The people during the time period were very religious, and most of the powerful did not want the change in laws. This caused him to be imprisoned and exiled many times. In his early twenties alone he spent a year of his time in prison, where he wrote his first play “Oedipe”. Oedipe was his first success and established him as a writer. After he was let out of prison he then adopted the name Voltaire. He later offended the Chevalier de Rohan in 1726. This caused him to be throw into exile once again without a trial and he spent three years in England from 1726 to 1729. He impressed by the way England gave freedom of speech and religion to its people. He studied the teachings of John Locke, while he was in England. Voltaire was very impressed by the research of Sir Isaac Newton.

Voltaire then published his finding in France when he returned. It was called "Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais" ("Philosophical letters on the English"), and made very many people angry. Once again Voltaire was exiled in 1734. He spend his second exile in Chateau de Cirey, it lasted from 1734 to 1749. It was owned by Marquis Florent-Claude du Châtelet and his wife. He began a fifteen year relationship with the Marquise, both as lovers and as collaborators in their intellectual pursuits, during which they collected and studied over 21,000 books and performed experiments in the natural sciences in a laboratory. He continued writing books in his time there. Later, he renounced all organized religion and became a strong advocate for the separation of church and state. At the time the Catholic Church was in charge of the law. Voltaire wanted the people to have the freedom to speak out against the church or the government. This is much like the beliefs of the American revolution.

After Marquise died in 1749, Voltaire left for Potsdam to join Frederick the great. Voltaire attracted controversy in 1753 for an attack on the president of Belin Academy of Science, hurting his relations with Fredrick. Documents were burned and he fled toward Paris to avoid prison, but Louis XV had him banned from Paris. Instead, he went to Switzerland, where he bought a large estate. He was welcomed, but his work was banned from the nation. Even Switzerland noticed his effects on government and stamped out the movement before it began. It seemed that Voltaire got into trouble every time he went to a new land.  Once again, he left another country. He settled in an estate called Ferny where he lived his last 20 years, just before his death. He continued writing on his time. He wrote his famous book Leibniz.

He returned to Paris in 1778, and he was welcomed. He was then 83 years old. However, he died in Paris on May 30th, 1778. His last words were "For God's sake, let me die in peace". He was denied burial on the church ground due to being an enemy of the church. Instead, he was buried in Champagne and, in 1791, he was moved to a resting place in the Pantheon in Paris. His heart was taken from his body as well as his brain. They later disappeared in an action 100 years later. Voltaire was a well-rounded writer. He produced writings in every form, from plays, poetry, novels, essays, historical scientific works, over 21,000 letters, and his two thousand books and pamphlets. He wrote man romances, and had man conversational prefaces. His book Candid was written in 1759. It was what he was best known for and most successful, for example, attacked the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz and his religious and philosophical optimism in a masterpiece of satire and irony. Voltaire rejected Blaise Pascal’s pessimistic views on life. He believed that man was in the search for virtue, rather than being depraved.

His largest philosophical work was the “Dictionnaire philosophique”, it was published 1764 and comprised of articles contributed by him to the "Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers". It targeted French politicians and religious leaders of France. He is honored in France as a fighter for civil rights and as someone that stood up against tyranny. He stood against hypocrisies and injustices of the Ancient Regime, which involved an unfair balance of power and taxes between different social classes. Voltaire saw the politicians as parasites. They stole from the poor and gave to the rich. He saw the commoners as ignorant and the church as a force useful only to provoke backing for revolutionaries. Voltaire argued for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in France, suggesting a bias towards Liberalism, he actually distrusted democracy. He saw an enlightened leader advised by a philosopher, as the way to bring change. He argued that it was in the monarch's rational interest to improve the power and wealth of his subjects and kingdom.

Many think Voltaire as an atheist, although he did believe in God and built a chapel. The reason he is thought to be is an atheist is from his book "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him". Many people interpret this as saying that God doesn’t need to exist. In the rest of the article is attacks the actions of organized religion, rather than towards the concept of religion itself. Like many of the key figures during the European enlightenment movement, Voltaire considered himself a Deist. He greatly spread Deism in England and France during his time in both of those places. He did not believe that absolute faith, based upon any particular or singular religious text or tradition of revelation, was needed to believe in God. He wrote, "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". He believed the universe was based on reason and respect for nature reflected the Pantheism which was increasingly popular throughout the 17th centuries.
He was not an Atheist, but he opposed organized religion greatly. He was very critical of the Catholic church ,and in particular he believed that the Bible was an outdated legal and moral reference, and that it was a work of Man and not a divine gift, all of which gained him somewhat of a bad reputation around the Catholic church and supporters. His policy on Islam was that it was “a false and barbarous sect” to “a wise, severe, chaste, and humane religion.” Voltaire also opposed the ideals of Hinduism and the works of Brahmin priests. Voltaire is remembered for many aphorisms, but they have been quoted out of contexts often. "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him", as has been mentioned, is still hotly debated as to its meaning and intentions. "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds", from his novella "Candide", is actually a parody of the optimism of Leibniz and religion. He is often quoted for an apocryphal saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
Many of his books have lived long past him, such as his book Leibniz. One letter her wrote that stood out to me the most was, “The letter to the first commissioner”. He starts off the letter saying “ I implore you not to clip the wings of our writers so closely, nor to turn into barn door fowls those who , allowed a start, might become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the mind to soar, slavery makes it cheap.” He was telling the commissioner not limit the opinions of writers so much, by providing a bird’s wings being clipped causing him to not be truly free. He then brought evidence of how ancient Rome never limited the writings of their citizens. If Rome censored their writings they would have the teachings of Cicero. He also, brought out evidence of the same laws in England that gave them the writings of John Locke, a very important writer in the freedoms of English citizens. Voltaire addressed the fact that money can be made off of the writings of Frenchman, much like how the Dutch did.

Voltaire was a very controversial person of the time. Much like many other well-known people in history, he challenged what people thought. Hs writing were read all over the world, and were burned all over the world. He was hated by many and hated by many more. He may have been very popular among the commoners, but he was rather disliked by many Nobleman. He challenged the government and the church. Many people in his time and before lost their lives to such offenses. His writings of freedom is much like our own in the US constitution. He believed in the right to free speech, which was stamped out by the French government until the French revolution occurred. Although, he is died many years ago, we still read his words of wisdom and take them into our own lives. He may be dead and hated by many in the past, but his works will live long past us.


Mastin, Luke. Philosophers. N.p., 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
Liukkonen, Petri. Kirjasto. Ed. Ari Pesonen. N.p., 2008. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

1 comment:

  1. "Philosophy is as old as ancient Greece itself." A lot older, in fact, when you correct for western bias.

    "the people had a great hatred for him" - which people? Anyway, I'm a big fan. And did you know it's his birthday today?