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The Story of Philosophy Series – Is Voltaire’s Candide still relevant?

July 25, 2021 at 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm BST

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Join London ii hosts Flick Hardingham and Irene JK to discuss the key themes raised in Voltaire’s Candide and their relevance in today’s society, while questioning the role of satire in driving change. 

Even the British acknowledged Voltaire as Europe’s most famous public intellectual, and his Candide as a prime example of literature as news.

The renowned French philosopher authored Candide – 18th century Europe’s most talked about novel – in just three days in 1759.

Julian Barnes writes for the Guardian,

“This philosophical tale may be described as an attack on Leibnitzian optimism – and, more broadly, on all prepackaged systems of thought and belief – a satire on churches and churchmen, and a pessimistic rumination on human nature and the problem of free will. But it was no fable inhabiting some make-believe or symbolic location; rather, it was a report on the current state of the world, deliberately set among the headlines of the day.”

Our goal is to foster and facilitate meaningful conversations to decode the text and explore the story of the human behind the thoughts, before turning the lens towards ourselves, our lives and our worlds. In this salon, we will explore:

  • Candide challenges archaic belief systems, focusing primarily on religion, and other powers that control the world – money, rank, violence and sex. To what extent are these powers still at play today? Are we doing any better?
  • Voltaire liked to stir the prejudices of his largely Christian readers and was not known for keeping his opinions to himself. What allowed Voltaire to stay safe, despite his very open assault on the establishment? What can we learn from this?
  • The philosopher believed that satire had an important role to play in stimulating change. He viewed it as the necessary expression of moral rage. As Julian Barnes states, “If satire worked – if the hypocrite and liar, publicly chastised, reformed themselves – then satire would no longer be needed.” How can we use satire and the arts to ensure history does not repeat itself?
  • The text’s subtitle is ‘Candide – or Optimism’, pointing to Voltaire’s desire to destroy the hope of his age, centred around science, love, technical progress and reason. He did not view the world as a “pre-established harmony”, but for the most part mean and devilish. Do we agree this is the best approach?
  • Finally, we might explore the book’s soft and stoic close, where the famous quote, ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’ (we must cultivate our garden) came from. Should we distance ourselves from the state of the nation, knowing that man at state level achieves very little, and focus solely on what’s in front of us and within our control?

This salon is the fifth of an 11-month Interintellect series exploring the evolution and story of Western philosophers and their ideas through ‘The Story of Philosophy’ by Will Durant. In subsequent months, we will explore key philosophers in turn by reading the relevant chapter of Durant’s book and additional texts. Click here to find out more about this salon series and join us on this journey exploring the story of philosophy.

Active Participation

The group will be most valuable for everyone if we all set out to contribute what we can in the spirit of vigorous and open discussion. Please approach your reading and discussion with an open but active mind and sincere intent.

We look forward to seeing you there.

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July 25, 2021
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm BST
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