Study Guide

Dr. Pangloss in Candide

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Dr. Pangloss

Dr. Feelgood

If you're feeling blue, call up Dr. Pangloss. He won't give you years of therapy—nope, nothing invasive for this good doctor. Instead, he'll tell you about his cure-all philosophy... which basically boils down to "don't worry, be happy."

Yeah. Dude's a quack.

Dr. Pangloss and his philosophy are the principal focus of Voltaire’s biting satire. As Candide’s tutor and mentor, Dr. P teaches that in this, the best of all possible worlds, everything happens out of absolute necessity and everything happens for the best... even during a volcano:

"For," said he, "all that is for the best. If there is a volcano at Lisbon it cannot be elsewhere. It is impossible that things should be other than they are; for everything is right." (5.14)

Sounds about right? Nope, we don't think so either. 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 a 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 (and this is a book full of extreme suffering). In regard to his own misfortune, Pangloss responds that it is necessary to the greater good. Check out his sunny attitude when he gets syphilis:

"Oh, Pangloss!" cried Candide, "what a strange genealogy! Is not the Devil the original stock of it?"

"Not at all," replied this great man, "it was a thing unavoidable, a necessary ingredient in the best of worlds; for if Columbus had not in an island of America caught this disease, which contaminates the source of life, frequently even hinders generation, and which is evidently opposed to the great end of nature, we should have neither chocolate nor cochineal. We are also to observe that upon our continent, this distemper is like religious controversy, confined to a particular spot. The Turks, the Indians, the Persians, the Chinese, the Siamese, the Japanese, know nothing of it; but there is a sufficient reason for believing that they will know it in their turn in a few centuries. In the meantime, it has made marvelous progress among us, especially in those great armies composed of honest well-disciplined hirelings, who decide the destiny of states; for we may safely affirm that when an army of thirty thousand men fights another of an equal number, there are about twenty thousand of them p-x-d on each side." (4.16)

The result is that the philosopher appears utterly blind to his own experiences and to the horrors endured by his friends.

You'd Have Been Better Off Studying Underwater Basket-Weaving, Dr. P.

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 something to drink, Pangloss talks:

"Alas!" said he to Pangloss, "get me a little wine and oil; I am dying."

"This concussion of the earth is no new thing," answered Pangloss. "The city of Lima, in America, experienced the same convulsions last year; the same cause, the same effects; there is certainly a train of sulphur under ground from Lima to Lisbon."

"Nothing more probable," said Candide; "but for the love of God a little oil and wine." (5.9-11)

Or the time when everyone should be cultivating the garden and Pangloss... talks.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:

"There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunégonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbéd the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden." (30.29-31)

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 uber-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.

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