Wednesday, April 22, 2009

History 112: Candide and Kant (Q&A)

1. During his lifetime how did the public react to the works of Voltaire? Was he praised or like many others was it not until many years later, possibly after his death was his works recognized for what it was?
2. Did Voltaire get in any trouble with the Church for this work? It seems to have some negativity toward religion?

Voltaire is another good example of what I have said previously: you can get away with being heterodox as long as you know how to play your politics. Voltaire flipped back and forth from being successful and unsuccessful in this political game throughout his life. At various times he was imprisoned and exiled and at other times he wined and dined with kings and nobles. This is the contradiction of Voltaire; he made a name for himself as this anti establishment figure and he cashed in on this notoriety to become an international celebrity. (This is not that different from artists who denounce big corporations and then attend events sponsored by big corporations.) Candide itself was a major bestseller in its day. Unfortunately for Voltaire he did not reap the financial awards as there was not much in the way of effective copyright laws in the eighteenth century. Before the nineteenth century almost no one was able to make a living from being a writer.

3. Do you know, or have any guesses, as to which STD Pangloss is talking about in this section?

"O my dear Candide, you must remember Pacquette, that pretty wench, who waited on our noble Baroness; in her arms I tasted the pleasures of Paradise, which produced these Hell torments with which you see me devoured. She was infected with an ailment, and perhaps has since died of it; she received this present of a learned Franciscan, who derived it from the fountainhead; he was indebted for it to an old countess, who had it of a captain of horse, who had it of a marchioness, who had it of a page, the page had it of a Jesuit, who, during his novitiate, had it in a direct line from one of the fellow adventurers of Christopher Columbus; for my part I shall give it to nobody, I am a dying man."

Dr. Pangloss has syphilis, a “popular” disease during the eighteenth century. Voltaire goes with the popular assumption, still being debated to this day, that syphilis came from the New World. Notice the clergymen involved in this "genealogy" of transmission. You have a Franciscan giving it to Pacquette. (One assumes while doing other things besides for confession.) And you also have a pedophile Jesuit. Voltaire sticks all sorts of subversive material most of it between the lines to avoid censors.

4. Kant praises Frederick II for the tolerance within his country. Was he Kant's patron, or was Kant giving him acknowledItalicgment and using the state as an example simply because it was a good example at the time?

One assumes that Kant had Frederick II of Prussia in mind when he talked about the tolerant ruler. I do not think that Kant was directly funded by Frederick II, but Kant was a professor at the University of Konigsberg, so he was not in a position to mouth off against the government. Voltaire actually was personally very close to Frederick II.

5. In Kant's essay when he is discussing how the restrictive phrase "Do not argue" always comes up in the context of everyday relations with others, he says, "Only one ruler in the World says, "Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!" Who is the ruler he is referring to?

I assume that he is referring to “Reason.” Reason is the authority against which everything must be judged. We have been discussing the move away from traditional authority based on ancient books and religious leaders. This essay by Kant is one of the classic statements of this transition.

6. Ok, maybe I'm not understanding the reading correctly. But does Kant believe that there should be no government because government obstructs/discourages our ability to think and reason? And that Enlightenment can only happen when people go against their government (aka "emergence from his self-impost immaturity")?

As we have already seen, particularly with Rousseau, the Enlightenment search for liberty has an ironic tendency to turn into apologies for authoritarian forms of government. If you read carefully Kant is mainly interested in religious freedom, political freedom seems to fall by the wayside. This is particularly important within the context of Frederick II, who was very tolerant in terms of religion but maintained a highly authoritarian regime in all other regards. As one Enlightenment philosopher commented: your Berlin freedom consists of saying any nonsense about religion. Let someone stand on the streets and talk about liberty and you will see that you live in the most oppressed land in Europe.
Kant’s emphasis on Duty is also going to have repercussions in terms of individual freedom as nineteenth and twentieth century German history will show.

7. Has enlightenment, as Kant describes it, ever been achieved? He warns that it is a slow process, because if it happens too quickly, the masses will cling to a new set of prejudices and never work past their "immaturity." I cannot think of a time when there was not some sort of great unthinking mass, as Kant call's the general public, clinging to some sort of prejudices or popular ideology. What are your thoughts?

As Kant states: "Do we presently live in an enlightened age?" the answer is, "No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment." I do not think that any era could ever live up to Kant’s standards. Being an enlightened individual, committed to challenging authority and finding things out for oneself is difficult; the alternative is just so tempting. This is one of the first things that one has to realize when trying to follow this path. If you think that it is some slogan you can choose to adopt you are probably not one of the enlightened. Enlightenment is something that only a few people in any generation could ever hope to achieve.

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