Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Dylan Smith, H01, Post #3, Voltaire
In this third installment, I'll discuss why Voltaire stands out to me.
Voltaire’s philosophy is one of the very few that has truly impacted me personally. His arguments for civil rights was ahead of its time, and resembles the calls that were heard in later years. The idea that all people deserved equal treatment would be echoed later. His call for separation of church and state was a risky move at that time in history. All in all, it seems that Voltaire was a man ahead of his time, and often found himself in trouble for it. I find this outspokenness intriguing, his abrasive personality invigorating, and his unbridled tongue and wit entertaining.
One of the first points of Voltaire’s philosophy that speaks to me is the idea of separation of church and state, along with his distaste for the hierarchy and controlling tendencies of the Church. I like that he criticizes the Church, but not religion itself. Voltaire seems to be of the opinion that religion itself is a good thing, but condemns the use of it as a mechanism for manipulating people. I tend to agree with Voltaire’s stance here. The practice of religion in itself is a positive thing. Most religions are peaceful institutions that promote good morals, selfless acts, and love for other people. However, religion can easily be used as a manipulative device to satisfy another agenda that is in no way related to the religion itself, which is what Voltaire warned away from. We see this today in events like the attacks on the World Trade Center by Islamic extremists, or even the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church. Voltaire’s stance, along with mine, seems to be wary of any perversion of religion to satisfy another cause.
However, Voltaire made his single largest impact on me personally through his most famous work, Candide. In this work, Voltaire challenges Leibniz’s optimism. But for me, this is not the most important aspect of the book. At the same time as it challenges optimism, it seems to warn against becoming disconnected from the real world and from practical thought. The characters take foolish actions while on a journey with a sense of a higher spirituality, or they “have their heads in the clouds”. Only after they shun lofty thoughts and keep their minds on earthly work do they find peace. This is where the value of Candide is for me. It is all well and good to philosophize about grand lofty ideas, how things should be, and theoretical situations. But, it is crucial to not let these thoughts interfere with living practically and take care of your “real world” responsibilities. These questions are all great to ask, but what practical use do they have? In many cases, none really. This is why I keep my personal philosophy to how I should live my life. Like it or not, I am stuck on earth. Therefore, it stands to reason that my main concern should be with decisions that affect how I act here in my everyday life. I guess Voltaire and I could be considered pragmatic, in that sense. To be clear, it seems that neither Voltaire, nor I denounce asking the “big questions” completely. They can and should be asked, but only after a level of satisfaction in a person’s “everyday philosophy” has been acquired. To use Voltaire’s words, asking those questions “is all well, but we must tend our garden.”