Voltaire, born François-Marie Arouet, was one of the most famous of French enlightenment thinkers or philosophers. As an author, Voltaire worked in a variety of different media, including novels, short stories, plays, essays, poetry and pamphlets. His most famous work is likely the scathing satire, "Candide," subtitled "Optimism."Continue Reading
Voltaire was born into a bourgeois family in 1694. By his early 20s, his writing was already scandalous enough to first earn him exile to Tulle in 1715 and then imprisonment in the Bastille by 1717. Voltaire was an outspoken opponent of radical religion and wrote extensively on the subject. His "Dictionnaire philosophique," in particular, was an encyclopedic work espousing enlightenment rationalism over the teachings of the Catholic church. Voltaire also opposed capital punishment and torture in an age when the exercise of each was commonplace.
Voltaire's philosophical writings often displayed his intense creativity and acerbic wit, along with an ability to analyze society and its entailing hypocrisies. His short story "Micromega," for example, not only assaults the philosophical, theological and scientific conceits of humankind but offers one of the very first science fiction stories involving travel in outer space. "Candide" also takes on questions of philosophy, depicting the frailties of positivist worldviews through the roaming of a hapless idiot-savant. In addition to his philosophical works, Voltaire also wrote poetry and dramas, the latter including a reworking of the classical Greek tragedy, "Oedipus."
Although Voltaire encountered persecution in his home country and then exile abroad in England, he eventually made his way home, dying in his sleep in Paris in 1778, about a decade before the onset of the French Revolution, a struggle in which many idealists and thinkers would frequently invoke his thought.Learn more about Classics
The Classical, or Baroque, period in Europe, which lasted from 1775 to 1825, was a time of musical, artistic and literary innovation, seeing Wolfgang Mozart's rise to fame and sudden death, Ludvig van Beethoven's arrival in Vienna and declarations from thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire upon the sovereignty of the individual. It was also a time for radical political uprisings in France and the United States.Full Answer >
The French Revolution of 1789, while based on the ever-growing popular Enlightenment ideals put forth by philosophers such as Descartes, Voltaire, and Diderot, ultimately failed because the change in regime created a severe power vacuum. This allowed radicals to seize power and sow chaos within France.Full Answer >
Overall, Voltaire had a pessimistic view of human nature. He believed that there was no such thing as a perfect world, but that the world could be made better with some work.Full Answer >
Voltaire's contributions to Enlightenment philosophy were primarily in the form of the popularization of British ideals amongst French intellectuals and his outspoken calls to action when it came to promoting the "common sense" ideas of the Enlightenment. According to Oxford University's Voltaire Society, Voltaire's contributions to the Enlightenment were generally not particularly original, and his philosophy was based heavily on the works of English writers like Newton and Locke.Full Answer >