The Delusion of Optimism: a brief analysis of Voltaire’s Candide

“Well, my dear Pangloss, Candide said to him, now that you have been hanged, dissected beaten to a pulp, and sentenced to the galleys, do you still think everything is for the best in this world?”

The main philosophical idea that is challenged in Voltaire’s Candide is the idea that our world is the best of all possible worlds.  It means that out of all possibilities, this world is the best, meaning everything in this world must be for the best.  Therefore, we should have an optimistic outlook on our life and the bad things that happen to us should not be viewed at as all that bad.  Candide, in this story, after everything that happens to him, finally begins to question that school of thought.  He begins to ask how this world can be the best and by the end of the story, he finally admits that some things in life are just bad.  In this life we just have to “cultivate our garden” or take care of what is in front of us.

I think it is helpful to examine the theme of this story within the context of a Christian worldview.  To begin, we must understand that God created this world out of nothing and he said that it was good.  In the beginning, all of creation was in perfect communion with God and with others.  It was good.  However, in the fall when sin entered the world, this goodness was marred.  We were no longer perfect, but corrupt and guilty.  As a result, death entered the world and our relationships with God and each other were broken.  When God saw that humanity had traded the infinite for the finite, he, because of his character, was not content allowing us to die back into non existence, so he created a plan to redeem the world.  He sent his eternal Son to be born as a human, a “second Adam”, to die in our place and make us right with God.  But he didn’t just die, he rose again three days later, displaying his great power over death, putting an end to death’s hold over us.  When Christ returns to redeem all of creation, heaven and earth will become one.  All will be made right and we will become perfect, as God originally designed.  Until then, we are charged with carrying out God’s kingdom work here on earth.

Because Christ has not yet returned, there is still evil in the world.  I don’t think that we have to believe that this evil is all for good or for some sort of purpose.  Because of the fall, sin entered the world and our world is no longer good as God intended it to be.  So I think that Candide should be able to challenge the notion that this world is the best of all possible worlds.  Within the Christian worldview, this world is not the best right now, but soon, when Christ returns, pain and evil will be eliminated and we will be able to say that this is the best of all possible worlds.  As 2 Peter 5:10-11 says:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (ESV).



2 thoughts on “The Delusion of Optimism: a brief analysis of Voltaire’s Candide

    • Thanks for the feedback! I was not attempting to make any arguments for or against Christianity, I was simply explaining the main theme through the lens of a philosophical worldview. If there is anyway that I could have better accomplished this goal, or if I misrepresented the theistic worldview in any way, I would love your input.


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