This shirt displays Voltaire’s (a french enlightenment philosopher) text called ‘Candide’ which literally translates ‘optimism’. In the mid 18th century most notably a devastating earthquake occurred in Lisbon 1755, a horrific seven year’s war in the German states and the unjust execution of the English Admiral John Byng. This is a philosophical tale in which the characters embody ideological trends at the time. This text serves as a paradigmatic emblem of the current enlightenment philosophy. It simultaneously functions as comical satire criticizing the pervasive optimistic determinist philosophy espoused by the enlightenment philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who posited principle of sufficient reason- ‘nothing can be so without there being a reason why it is so’. In consequence the reality we experience is ‘the best of all possible worlds’. In the novel the main character Candide embarks on a journey around the world stumbling from one episode of irrational catastrophe of suffering to the next such as rape, cannibalism, slavery, shipwreck and so on. Candide is trained and accompanied by his tutor Dr. Pangloss literally translates ‘everything glossed over’ who is a staunch proponent of this optimistic determinist philosophy, constantly uttering after all the loathsome events ‘all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds’. The reader is continually confronted with how well does the current enlightenment optimistic determinism views hold up against real life catastrophes. Throughout the course of the journey the naive optimism is slowly eroded and Candide naturally questions , ‘If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are others?’. The subjective experience of Candide articulated in this text is one we can all relate to (of course for most of us to a lesser degree). At the time of a break up, loss of a job, an untimely death we are confronted with perplexing mystery. At first seeming order/orientation of a theology, doctrine or a current understanding of the way things are going is suddenly disrupted by an unwanted intruder of suffering . As a result we are forced to reorient our lives, evolve and nuance our paradigms. At the end of the journey Voltaire proposes an antidote to the chaos of suffering I will leave for the seeker to investigate further.
See our tribute to Voltaire by viewing the Omneity Candide Tee.
For further reading see ‘Candide’, Voltaire by Penguin books.