Notes on Candide Themes

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Candide Topic Tracking: Flawed Logic

Chapter 1

Flawed Logic 1: Voltaire points out the absurdity of optimism through the use of irony, hyperbole, understatement, and especially flawed logic. For instance, the narrator reasons that the Baron is powerful because his castle has a door and some windows; the Baroness is respected because she weighs three hundred and fifty pounds. And when Pangloss demonstrates the principles of cause and effect, he cites the nose as an example. It was made to wear glasses, so the cause of noses are spectacles, while the effects of spectacles are noses. Based on these premises, Pangloss concludes that this is the best of all possible worlds, and all is well.

The narrator also reasons that because Candide finds Cunégonde very attractive, he listens attentively to Pangloss. The two statements have no logical relationship.

Chapter 2

Flawed Logic 2: The soldiers at the inn make the ridiculous statement that great people who are five feet tall like Candide don't have to pay for their dinners. And when they explain that men are supposed to help one another, then they put Candide in shackles and force him to join their army.

Of all the possible reasons to pardon Candide, the King of the Bulgarians pardons him on the grounds that Candide is a philosopher, but one who doesn't know much about the world.

Chapter 3

Flawed Logic 3: Candide sees dying people, corpses, and body parts in the burned villages, but he still thinks of Cunégonde.

Candide goes to Holland because Christians live there. The Baron was Christian. Presumably the Bulgarians and the Abares were Christian as well. Candide reasons that the people in Holland will be equally nice to him.

The orator wants to know if Candide is for a good cause--or rather is Candide a Protestant. But when Candide hears the orator say "cause"--one of Pangloss's philosophical catch phrases-Candide offers the orator a short lesson in optimism, ending with the absurd conclusion that everything has happened for the best.

Chapter 4

Flawed Logic 4: Candide naively speculates that his departure from the castle precipitated Cunégonde's death.

Though Pangloss attributes glorious things to romantic and physical love, he identifies it as the source of his miserable condition. Candide questions love itself, pointing out that his love for Cunégonde brought him nothing but trouble.

Just as spectacles were the necessary consequence of noses, Pangloss sees his venereal disease as a necessary consequence of Europe's acquisition of New World commodities like chocolate and cochineal.

After extolling the merits of his venereal disease, Pangloss tells Candide that it has made "marvelous progress" in Europe, particularly among soldiers, not unlike those who raped and killed Cunégonde, who he calls "honest", and "well-bred". Candide replies that this is "admirable".

Chapter 5

Flawed Logic 5: Pangloss chastises the sailor when he engages a prostitute. Pangloss's only moral objection is that the timing is inappropriate.

Candide shows signs of doubting Pangloss's logic, saying that Pangloss's theory explaining the cause of the earthquake is just probable. Pangloss is outraged that Candide should doubt him. However, despite Pangloss's firm belief that he proved his theory, he has no evidence to support it.

Pangloss offers his petty condolences to the survivors. He reasons that the earthquake happened for the best because his speculative theory states that things could not have be otherwise.

Chapter 6

Flawed Logic 6: Leaders in Lisbon think burning a few people at the stake will prevent future earthquakes. This is only slightly less outrageous than Pangloss's theory that a train of sulfur connecting Lisbon and Lima caused the earthquake, although Pangloss's explanation appears somewhat more scientific.

Chapter 7

Flawed Logic 7: Cunégonde states that being raped only strengthens a woman's resolve to be virtuous.

Cunégonde breaks up the somber mood of her story by repeatedly shifting focus from the sordid events to irrelevant and lighthearted details; the Bulgarian soldier was six feet tall; the Bulgarian captain thinks she is pretty, has nice skin, but is not smart; Don Issachar's house is more splendid than the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh; she gets a good seat at the auto-da-fé where refreshments are served; Candide's skin is whiter than that of the Bulgarian captain.

Chapter 10

Flawed Logic 8: Candide naively wonders why the reverend Franciscan father did not leave enough money for them when he stole all of Cunégonde's money. According to Pangloss, who advocates equal distribution of wealth, leaving behind some of Cunégonde's money would have been more logical. Candide stupidly connects thievery with the meaning of what would now be called a kind of socialist doctrine.

Like many characters in Candide, Cunégonde strings together phrases that often have meaningless, if not absurd, relationships. They are linked by the conjunctions "but", and "for". This is a non sequitur--the connection of two or more ideas that have no logical or meaningful relationship. For example, Cunégonde tells Candide, "I love you with all of my heart, but my soul is still shocked by what I have seen and undergone." Chapter 10, pg. 39.

Chapter 16

Flawed Logic 9: When Candide murders the girls' lover, Cacambo calls it a "masterpiece".

Cacambo observes that murdering one's neighbor is a universal norm, and thus assumes that it is not only a natural right but a law, and a just one at that. This is similar to all the positive international laws mentioned previously in Candide. Instead of being prohibitive, these laws direct people to commit atrocities. Like the philosophy of optimism, this inversion of the moral code results in similar absurdities: if immoral acts like murder are a necessary component to the best of all possible worlds, striving to be just or moral is futile.

Chapter 22

Flawed Logic 10: The narrator inverts the logical progression of the statement, which describes how medicine and blood-letting "help" Candide worsen his condition. The narrator creates the expectation that these therapies are going to make Candide well, but he concludes by saying they make Candide's health worse. Statements like this reinforce the comical absurdity of Candide's world.

Chapter 24

Flawed Logic 11: Candide makes the sweeping statement that, besides the people of Eldorado, everyone he meets is unfortunate and miserable. But Candide seems to be unmoved by the force of his own statement when he naively reckons that the smiling couple is happy. Having had plenty of experiences to cultivate a healthy skepticism, Candide remains stupidly optimistic.

Chapter 27

Flawed Logic 12: The absurdities which result from Candide's frequent misuse of language has great comic effect. He asks Pangloss how he was hanged and yet is still alive. He asks the Baron's son how he did not kill him. Both questions seem backward in the sense that Candide emphasizes actions that, in the real world, have the irreversible effect of death: killing, and hanging.

Chapter 28

Flawed Logic 13: Like Candide, Pangloss misuses language, producing unintentionally absurd effects. He tells Candide that he was hung and dissected. Although he obviously survived each affair, the finality these verbs communicate when used in the past tense produces a comical breech between his version of events and reality. Thus the gravity of being hung and dissected is entirely undermined; instead of being painful or tragic events, they are amusing.

The surgeon's wife superstitiously tells her husband that he should know better than to dissect people possessed by the devil. She tells him to fetch a priest for an exorcism. Because of her ridiculous superstition, the surgeon's wife looks for the most fantastic and implausible explanation for what was simply an unsuccessful hanging.

Chapter 30

Flawed Logic 14: Pangloss admitted earlier that he was always miserable and never believed in optimism. At the end of Candide, however, he offers another pathetic argument in favor of optimism. He cites the necessity of events in Candide's life, saying they were responsible for his present happiness. But the chaotic events of Candide's life defy any logical ordering according to cause and effect.

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