Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's

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François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Works: Candide


Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • French philosopher and writer; critic of the Church and aristocrats; enemy of tyranny, bigotry, religious intolerance, war, and injustice; interested in literature, history, philosophy, and science

  • son of a minor treasury official in Paris; middle-class background

  • attended a Jesuit school, the Collège Louis-le-Grand

  • decided against the study of law and, contrary to his father's wishes, chose literature

  • 1717, criticized a corrupt aristocrat (the Duc d'Orléans), was banished from Paris and sentenced to eleven months of imprisonment in the Bastille (1717-1718)

  • while in prison, he wrote his first play, Oedipus (Oedipe)

  • 1718, adopted the pen-name Voltaire

  • preference for Deism (a rational approach to religion rejecting formal cults and rituals, superstitions, and supernaturalism, and believing instead that the order of nature manifests the existence of God)

  • became rich by 1726 through successful financial speculations in the Company of the Indies (Compagnie des Indes)

  • 1726, offended a powerful aristocrat (the Chevalier de Rohan), exiled in England 1726-1728

  • interested in the ideas of John Locke and Sir Isaac Netwon; admired the liberalism of English institutions

  • 1734, fled Paris after publication of his Philosophical Letters (Lettres Philosophiques)

  • extended stay and friendship with Madame du Châtelet at Cirey in Champagne; pursuit of scientific research and study of different cultures and religions

  • 1750, visited Berlin as guest of Frederick II of Prussia

  • 1754, moved to Switzerland

  • 1759, purchased an estate called "Ferney" near the French-Swiss border where he lived until just before his death; Ferney became center of intellectual activity in Europe

  • during his exile, wrote numerous books, plays, pamphlets, and letters; widespread influence on European intellectual life; called the "Innkeeper of Europe"

  • 1778, returned to Paris and was received triumphantly

Main Works

  • History of Charles XII (Histoire de Charles XII) (1731), historical narrative critical of the devastation brought about by the military campaigns of the Swedish king Charles XII

  • Philosophical Letters (Lettres philosophiques) (1734), fictional letters demonstrating the benefits of religious tolerance; praise of John Locke and Empiricism; critique of Descartes and Pascal; concludes the purpose of life is not to reach heaven but to ensure human happiness through the practice and development of the arts and sciences

  • Zadig (1747), philosophical tale; Babylonian sage Zadig suffers persecution and misfortune and ends up doubting Providence

  • Vision of Babouc (Vision de Babouc) (1748), story attacking the philosophical optimism of Gottfried von Leibniz

  • The Century of Louis XIV (Le Siècle de Louis XIV) (1751), examination of arts, sciences, social life, military events, and politics during the age of Louis XIV; critical of the military disasters and religious persecution under the French king; also shows some admiration for the monarch

  • Micromégas (1752), a tale about the smallness of human beings when measured in a cosmic scale

  • Essay on Manners (Essai sur les moeurs) (1756), history of customs and morals since the end of the Roman Empire; interest in Eastern cultures; shows humanity evolving out of barbarity

  • Candide (1759), philosophical tale of the misfortunes and eventual enlightenment of a naive young man named Candide who travels half the world following his beloved Cunégonde

  • Philosophical Dictionary (Dictionnaire philosophique) (1764), Voltaire's own encyclopedic compendium of knowledge.


  • John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher whose work contributed to the establishing of the foundations of English Empiricism and the beginnings of the Enlightenment in England. His major work is the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689). Voltaire admired Locke and was influenced by his ideas.

  • Sir Isaac Netwon (1642-1727), English mathematician, author of Principia Mathematica (1687, "Mathematical Principles") dealing with laws of inertia, action and reaction, acceleration and force (Newton's laws). Voltaire greatly admired his work.

  • Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716), German mathematician and philosopher; inventor of calculus; satirized in Candide for his belief in a kind of optimistic determinism which placed on God alone the ability to bring about change and transformation.

  • Seven Years' War (1756-1763), worldwide conflict over colonial possessions and European hegemony involving an alliance of France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Spain against Great Britain, Prussia, and Hanover; as a result Britain acquired Canada and Florida, Spain got Cuba and the Philippines, while France won colonies in India and Africa as well as Guadeloupe and Martinique

  • American Revolutionary War, 1776; uprising against English colonial rule and political and economic oppression; inspired by the ideals of the French Enlightenment

  • French Revolution, 1789; popular uprising against the monarchy of Louis XVI; ideals of liberty, equality, and brotherhood; issuing of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen"

Selected Quotations

  • "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

  • "Common sense is not so common"



Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Matthew C. Peckham in the creation of this page.


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