Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review - "Candide" by Voltaire

In reading this review, please be warned that I have only limited knowledge of philosophy and “Candide” is a reputed philosophical satire.

I'm just going to record what I was able to grasp. The moral of the story would appear to be that since there is a limitless amount of unpredictable chaos in life, much of which is catastrophic, evil and wretched, be it man-made (like rape, war, massacre, plague, religious intolerance) or from force majeure (like earthquake, shipwreck), that one can be easily tempted to give up all hope on mankind, but that despair is not the answer.

The author takes the protagonist Candide from place to place, putting him through the most horrible ordeals in order to make him see the falsity in the philosophical thinking mode of his teacher Dr. Pangloss, which is unadulterated optimism no matter how dire the life situation is. In the end, Candide has seen too much absurdity and pain in life and evil in people to still believe in Pangloss's theory. But neither does that mean life is not worth living. Candide has come to learn that humans by nature have a penchant for living, no matter how harrowing life is (as the old woman who has survived unspeakable atrocities says, 'A hundred times I wanted to kill myself, but still I loved life!').

So perhaps some measure of deprivation and evil is actually beneficial, because it gives purpose and contrast to life. Besides, too much comfort and complacency only breeds boredom and lethargy (like the rich Venetian nobleman Pococurante who has everything but shows no interest in anything). Candide finally comes to the conclusion that "we must cultivate our garden", meaning that despite all, we should all strive to develop our own individual talent for our own good and the good of society.

I rather like the uplifting conclusion. I just feel that in terms of philosophical notion, it sounds a bit like Albert Camus's absurdism and revolt.

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