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Essay on Candide: The Human Nature
“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” In the story “Candide,” “human nature” is one of the mainly argued themes that can be seen from the traits and attitudes of each of the characters. Indeed, as the above quote describes, the story discusses the idea about the belief in the innate goodness of man. In my essay, I would like to seek the truth of the phrase “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” by comparing the work with two external great philosophers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Zhu Xi, who were also great thinkers of the concept of “human nature.” The essay seeks to do this by looking at Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Noble Savage” and Zhu Xi’s “The Five Cardinal Confucian Virtues” to see if their arguments are the same or different from Candide’s human nature.
According to Pangloss, a tutor of Candide in “Candide,” the world that human beings live in is the best that could be. If there are possibly other worlds, then this is the best one for human survival. In this particular philosopher’s view, everything in the world was created in such a way that they are the best. The argument here implies that even the evil things humans experience do work for the betterment of another creature and that in the end, such things contribute towards human civilization. As such, human beings should learn to bear with or get used to the negative happenings in their lives because if they were to live in another world, the experiences would be much worse. In Pangloss’s view, there has to be a cause for there to be an effect. He further argued that the castle belonging to the Baron in “Candide” was the best castle ever, more so because it was found in the best possible world (Voltaire 1). This statement shows that the best things only exist and happen in the world because the world is the best that could be. Pangloss uses the “Baron’s castle” and “My Lady” as ideal examples to justify his claims about the nature of the world and humans.
Pangloss’s assertions are connected to the idea of “Optimism” which bases its arguments about the world on hope. The world is explained by optimism in a manner that seeks to bestow hope into humans as its inhabitants. People should have the hope that they have a good Creator and that He could not have created a bad world for them. Humanity has its limitations and such limitations should not make them to begin to think that humanity is bad. Instead, they should only see that humanity is good if they want to transcend its limitations. As much as there could be some bad things about the design of the world, it is only necessary that humans put up with such things and hope that that is the best that exists. The Creator must have deemed such things necessary for human existence. They most probably have a role to play in the betterment of the human race, as already suggested.
One old woman in the story “Candide” tells of the ordeal she underwent and even thought of committing suicide. She says, “I have been a hundred times upon the point of killing myself, but still I was fond of life. This ridiculous weakness is, perhaps, one of the dangerous principles implanted in our nature” (Voltaire 30). This shows that in spite of all the negative happenings, the human nature would still compel an individual to have hope in life. In the case of this woman, she had passed through “hell” on earth but could not actualize the thought of killing herself even though she came so close to doing it. As she says, she was still “fond of life”, implying that there was still more good that life could offer despite her tribulations. She adds, “For what can be more absurd than to persist in carrying a burden of which we wish to be eased? to detest, and yet to strive to preserve our existence?” (Voltaire 30). The sense in this particular quote is that humans should do all they can to deal with the burdens they face in the world but not bow to pressures of quitting through suicide. They have to persevere because they live in the best possible world. Quitting would mean giving up the necessary struggle of continuing to exist in the best world. This would be detrimental as there exists no better place to live in than the world humans live in, according to the story.
One of the philosophers who believed in and popularized the phrase “noble savage” was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As a term, “noble savage” suggests that inherently, human beings are good. In addition, their lives are moral even though they live it in a savage state. This argument reflects Pangloss’s arguments in the story “Candide.” Just like Pangloss, Rousseau believed that though the world might be uncontrolled, fierce, or violent in nature, humans should continue living in it because they lead a good and moral life. They should continue doing that which is good in spite of the unfortunate mishaps in life. According to Rousseau, men guided by the nature’s state are not aware of that which is evil and that which is good. However, their independence coupled with “the peacefulness of their passions, and their ignorance of vice” (Uoregon.edu 1) ensures that they do not engage in evil. This argument implies that all humans have the capacity and the spirit to ignore that which is bad and pursue good. The world is such a nice place that was nicely created by God and therefore the unfortunate happenings in it should not make humans give up or deter them from doing what is good. Instead, they should strive to turn bad situations into good ones as much as they possibly can.
Another idea that was fronted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in rooting for the “noble savage” is that every human is entitled to private property ownership. This marks the beginning of the development of the first rules of justice. Rousseau’s conception of justice holds that without private property, there cannot be the development of first justice rules “for, to secure each man his own, it had to be possible for each to have something” (Uoregon.edu 1). The essence of Rousseau’s argument in this statement is that the world provides for every human being to own at least something. This idea of distributive justice as explained by Rousseau is one of the aspects that make the world inhabited by humans the best of all worlds. This is in line with Pangloss’s assertions that though sufferance might be there, humans should be in a position to bear with it because it is a component of the best world. One of the major reasons why they should always persevere is that the world provides a lot of good things like, in this case, individual ownership of private property. Perhaps in other worlds, individuals are not even allowed to own private property or lay claim to individual ownership of anything.
Rousseau further shows the innate goodness of man by claiming that all humans have enlarged desires. He further contends that though the enlarged desires might lead to inequality, they are generally good for human existence. Furthermore, Rousseau appreciates that originally, human desires would result into materialism. He however believes that the same desires often culminate in better health and living conditions that are more comfortable (Uoregon.edu 1). This whole argument justifies the goodness of human desires; that being selfish is actually good. The argument here is that it is out of the desires that such important aspects as law and justice were born. Ideally, some of the aspects that are always blamed for the bad happenings in the world are human selfishness and human desires. However, here is a case where Rousseau justifies the importance of the existence of such aspects. In this respect, Pangloss in “Candide” shares the same thought with Rousseau as both the two claim that in spite of such negative happenings, the world remains to be the best among other worlds. It is even probable that without these negativities, the world would have been less perfect.
Furthermore, according to Rousseau, the nature of human is such that human is neither moral nor vicious. They are, in his view, “innocent” beings (Scott 189). In “Candide,” the old woman complains about the sufferance she underwent in the hands of fellow humans (Voltaire 30). As indicated in the story, she never committed suicide even though she had thought of doing that. The connection between Rousseau’s arguments and “Candide” in this respect is in the nature of man. While Pangloss in “Candide” asserts that the world is the best amongst other worlds, Rousseau believes human is neither moral nor vicious. As such, the old woman in “Candide” should not blame her ordeal on the nature of humans but appreciate that that is what the world can at times offer. She should contend with it because it occurred in the “best world” containing humans who are naturally good.
Another philosopher who believed in the innate goodness of man was Zhu Xi who was a great proponent of “The Five Cardinal Confucian Virtues.” One of these virtues is ren. Ren is the humanity, charity, and benevolence virtue (Huang 183). This virtue holds that humans are charitable and benevolent in handling other humans. It is a virtue shared by the entire humanity. The second virtue is Yi, which implies uprightness and honesty. This virtue requires that in spite of whatever challenges a human being may be going through, they have to remain honest and upright because that is what human nature dictates. This is a reflection of the arguments in “Candide” where Pangloss, the philosopher, explains that humans should be in a position to withstand hardships in life because the Creator provided them with the best world possible. In this respect, they should not indulge in negative deeds because of the negative experiences they face from time to time. It is not their nature to do that; they are naturally and innately good. Moreover, they live in a good world, the best of all worlds for that matter.
The third Cardinal Confucian virtue is Li, which refers to worship, ceremony, politeness, good manners, propriety, or correct behavior (Huang 183). Generally, this particular virtue is all about the behavior and manners of human beings. According to the virtue, humans are naturally well behaved and good mannered. That is why they would never counter wrong with wrong. Their natural behavior would not allow them. The other two Confucian virtues are Zhi and Xin. The former means knowledge while the latter is the virtue of integrity and faithfulness (Huang 183). All these virtues actually make all humans to be good people who make the world a good place to live in. This may explain why Pangloss believed that the world is the best there is. When the innate nature of humans makes them to have all these wonderful virtues, what would make the world a bad place to live in?
Another belief that was held by Zhu Xi was that it is due to civilization that primordial chaos exists and that nature is in a constant motion. This argument implies that it is normal for chaos to occur in the world given that it is what drives civilization (Iun.edu 1). In this regard, people should not deem the sufferance in the world to be unfortunate. Instead, they should take it as an important component of the world. This is because whatever happens in the world happens with a reason especially because, as pointed out by Pangloss in “Candide”, the world is the best that can ever be. Therefore, there would be no point faulting its occurrences.
In conclusion, the arguments on the nature of humans are the same for Pangloss in “Candide”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Zhu Xi. They all share the belief that humans are innately good and live in the best world. Their arguments are pegged on the idea that humans can deal with whatever misfortunes that might come their way. Humans do this as they continue living in the world that their Creator provided to them. Another of their arguments is that the negative happenings in the world should be taken as worthy components of the world because after all, it is the best ever world that there is.
Huang, Yong. Why be moral?. SUNY Press, 2014. Print.
“Iun.Edu”. Zhu Xi’s Views on human nature. Web. Accessed 13 Mar 2016.
Scott, John. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: human nature and history. Taylor & Francis, 2006. Print.
Uregon.edu. Rousseau and the noble savage myth. N.p., 1995. https://pages.uoregon.edu/jboland/rousseau.html. Accessed 10 Mar 2016.
Voltaire,. Candide. 1st ed. Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project, 1759. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.