How Did Voltaire Contribute to the Enlightenment?

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.

Unlike English philosophers who generally restricted themselves to non-fiction prose pamphlets and treatises, Voltaire expressed his ideas in the form of fiction. This served to bring Enlightenment philosophy to readers who would not have otherwise encountered it. Works like “Candide” remain popular even today, and the Voltaire Society notes that these pieces of fiction are the primary exposure to Enlightenment philosophy familiar to many modern readers.

In many ways, Voltaire’s Enlightenment philosophy is much like that of his contemporaries; however, there is one major difference that is worth noting. According to the European Graduate School, Voltaire was a harsh critic of religious dogma, but, unlike other men of the Enlightenment, he never expressed atheist beliefs. He was a staunch Deist and an outspoken critic of atheism, especially as he grew older.