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| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
“”I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to misattribute it to Voltaire.
François-Marie Arouet (1694—1778), better known by his "trade" name Voltaire, was a poet, playwright, novelist, historian, and philosopher who embodied the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century absolutist France. Voltaire was an Anglophile, and was instrumental in bringing the works of Newton and Locke from England to French intellectual circles. He is widely considered one of the greatest and most gifted Enlightenment writers.
Views and ideas
“”Though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of God is the problem to begin with.
|—Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything|
As self-proclaimed deist, Voltaire loathed organized religion and intolerance between creeds. Strong anti-clericalism pervades most of Voltaire's writings. He believed that all religions attempt to teach morality and that all are based on just precepts — it is only the particulars of religious beliefs that are "absurd." As a deist, he was a supporter of the "clockmaker" argument for the existence of God. Voltaire despised superstition and optimism, themes that surface in the novel Candide, his most widely-known work. Voltaire subscribed to the revolutionary Enlightenment notion that "custom is a greater decider of difference than nature," a principle that still holds for today's anthropologists and all who practice multiculturalism.
That said, no man is perfect. Voltaire was also a virulent anti-Semite, referring to the Jewish people as "calculating animals," "plagiarists in everything," and "the biggest tramps who have ever spoiled the face of the earth." He was also a Eurocentric racist, an Islamophobe, and derided Africans as "less intelligent than apes." In A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary he denounced the Egyptians as being "contemptible" and argued that their characters were fundamentally flawed simply because he disagreed with Egyptian governmental policy regarding slavery. Jeez, Volty. Everyone today would have loved you if it wasn't for that.[notes 1]
- "Man is free at the moment he wishes to be."
- "Love truth, but pardon error."
- "To hold a pen is to be at war."
- "It is dangerous to be right in matters where established authorities are wrong."
- "A witty saying proves nothing."
- "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."
- "Christianity is without a doubt the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and the most bloody religion that has ever infected the world."[notes 2]
- "The Holy Roman Empire is neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."
A thorough search of his writings has never turned up his saying that while he disagrees with someone, Voltaire defends his right to say it. The quote was falsely attributed to him due to the fact that its creator, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, was a woman. Hall wrote it as part of a biography on him, and few to this day grant her credit as its creator.
- Despite this, he does sympathetically portray a mutilated black slave in Candide, who laments his treatment and says that if, as the priests taught, all people descend from Adam, that means they're cousins, and "no one could treat their relatives more horribly." This wasn't so contradictory as it might seem. Abolitionists weren't immune from the racial prejudices of their time; while a handful were genuine egalitarians, most (including Abraham Lincoln) believed that black people were inferior, though opposing their enslavement.
- And he was good friends with Benjamin Franklin. Let's see what the "America is a Christian nation" crowd thinks about that.
- "And at the end of a few days they resolved also to devour the women."
- sketerpot on LessWrong about Evelyn Beatrice Hall
- The New York Times: Voltaire and the Jews Arthur Hertzberg, September 30, 1990
- The History of Anti-Semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner pg. 89
- Written in a letter to Frederick the Great