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by Voltaire

 Table of Contents

Dr. Pangloss

Character Analysis

Dr. Pangloss and his philosophy are the principal focus of Voltaire’s satire. Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s tutor and mentor, teaches that in this best of all possible worlds, everything happens out of absolute necessity, and that everything happens for the best. This philosophy parodies the beliefs of Gottfried Leibniz, an Enlightenment era thinker who believed that the world was perfect and that all evil in it was simply a means to greater good.

Every twist of the plot, every new natural disaster, disease, and incident of robbery or assault in Candide is intended to prove Pangloss’s Optimism utterly absurd and out of touch with reality. Pangloss’s personal sufferings alone are more than unusually extreme. In regard to his own misfortune, Pangloss responds that it is necessary to the greater good. The result is that the philosopher appears utterly blind to his own experiences as well as the horrors endured by his friends.

Voltaire also uses Dr. Pangloss to attack what he considers useless, impractical metaphysical speculations on unknown topics. Hence the philosopher being a tutor of "metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology." Such scholars, Voltaire informs us, spend all their time talking instead of doing (note that "pangloss" means "all-tongue"). Check out the point where Candide is on the verge of death and, rather than get him water, Pangloss talks. Or the time when everyone should be cultivating the garden and Pangloss...talks. Following the earthquake, Pangloss also comforts people by…talking. Pangloss is so busy blabbing that he is unable to take good advice when it slams him in the face, namely the dervish telling him to hold his tongue.

In addition to being unrealistic, Pangloss’s way of living is impractical. Completely absorbed in theorizing, Pangloss and his student are unable to live their lives. In this sense, Voltaire seems to critique not only Pangloss’s particular philosophy of Optimism, but more broadly, his crippling absorption in philosophy in general.

Dr. Pangloss Timeline