How representative is Voltaires LIngenu on the Enlightenment?
Further it gives them the possibility of exploring the interesting alternatives offered by algorithmically or machine-generated classes. The collocation search generates word-clouds or word lists that are clickable to obtain concordances for any of the words immediately. Further improvements include new author attributions, various text corrections, and better cross-referencing functionality.
This release also contains a beautiful new set of high-resolution plate images. Clickable thumbnail versions lead to larger images that can be viewed in much greater detail than was previously possible. Our hope is that this first experiment will demonstrate the value of linking digital resources openly in ways that can add value to existing projects and, at the same time, increase the visibility of the excellent works contained in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment back catalogue.
Due to copyright restrictions in the correspondence files we cannot make the full dataset publicly available, however we are keen to allow researchers access to this important resource on a case-by-case basis. Students and scholars who wish to access the PhiloLogic4 build of TV2 should contact me here. Electronic Enlightenment EE , an online collection of edited correspondence from the early modern period, has been an invaluable resource for me as a first-year modern languages student at Durham University.
In reading letters to and from Voltaire on EE, I began to better appreciate the extent of religious contention in eighteenth-century France. This is confirmed through a study of his correspondence, where we see him playing with different voices. Bouillon, , vol. Without this letter, I would not have started to explore so keenly this facet of eighteenth-century society.
It prompted me to look further into the Calas story, and to learn about the inferior position of Protestants in France at the time. It is clear that he advocated religious freedom, and sought to denounce the Catholic Church, since he poses assertive questions such as: Pierre Bayle at approximately 27 years of age. Portrait by Louis Elle-Ferdinand le jeune. Hyperconnected, multidisciplinary, transnational — the buzzwords of twenty-first century digital communication could just as easily apply to the pan-European Republic of Letters in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
An empire of paper rather than Facebook posts or tweets, the Republic of Letters transcended national boundaries as writers and thinkers criticized, complemented, and commented on the controversies of the moment in a dense nexus of correspondence. These erudite intellectual exchanges between friends and foes fostered the heated debates which shaped modern thought.
Bringing together articles and reviews of new publications from contributors across Europe, and with a Europe-wide distribution, Pierre Bayle was a man in dialogue with his peers and his times, constantly challenging the consensus and engaging with the opinions of others in his own analysis of the quest for philosophical and historical certainty. Marked by his early experiences of religious intolerance a recurrent theme in his work as a Protestant living in predominantly Catholic seventeenth century France, Bayle settled in tolerant Rotterdam where he dedicated himself to a life of creative ferment and intellectual rigour.
He is perhaps best-known for his monumental Dictionnaire historique et critique — a hybrid and polymathic bestseller. His circle of correspondents was expanding apace. At a time when numerous projects — Early Modern Letters Online , Mapping the Republic of Letters , and Electronic Enlightenment — are using modern technology and graphics to find new ways of recreating the Republic of Letters, this volume of correspondence has a vital place in our understanding of the period. Pierre Bayle is a model for our age of networking. From the dense web of articles in his Dictionnaire to his border-transcending Nouvelles and correspondence, his networks illuminate the intellectual exchanges firing the bold new thought which sparked the Enlightenment.
Le Rayonnement de Bayle , ed. Click here for a list of books and articles published by the Voltaire Foundation on Pierre Bayle or his work. What are the ethics of writing, answering, and editing letters? Without aiming to rival Lacan, much less Poe, I too will start my story with a purloined letter, or rather with some purportedly purloined letters. In late Voltaire began a many-year quarrel with Laurent Angliviel de La Beaumelle the ongoing VF edition of whose correspondence has just received the prestigious Prix Edouard Bonnefous. Already a master in the art of the polemical printed letter from his Lettres philosophiques to his printing of the letters of the Calas family as a means of defending them before the public, , as discussed in volume 56B of the Complete Works of Voltaire , Voltaire returned to the charge against La Beaumelle in with a published Lettre de Monsieur de Voltaire.
Voltaire thus staked out another tenuous position on the ever-slippery slope of eighteenth-century epistolary conduct: Cowards and rogues were not the only authors of unsigned letters, though: When he too employed the media of print posting a reply to his unknown correspondent in the Journal de Lausanne and of epistolary guesswork writing a reply to the wrong woman, mistaking her for the author of the initial missive , Rosalie de Constant wrote again, begging him to burn both her letters.
At the center of his work was a new conception of philosophy and the philosopher that in several crucial respects influenced the modern concept of each. Yet in other ways Voltaire was not a philosopher at all in the modern sense of the term. He wrote as many plays, stories, and poems as patently philosophical tracts, and he in fact directed many of his critical writings against the philosophical pretensions of recognized philosophers such as Leibniz, Malebranche, and Descartes.
He was, however, a vigorous defender of a conception of natural science that served in his mind as the antidote to vain and fruitless philosophical investigation. In clarifying this new distinction between science and philosophy, and especially in fighting vigorously for it in public campaigns directed against the perceived enemies of fanaticism and superstition, Voltaire pointed modern philosophy down several paths that it subsequently followed. To capture Voltaire's unconventional place in the history of philosophy, this article will be structured in a particular way.
First, a full account of Voltaire's life is offered, not merely as background context for his philosophical work, but as an argument about the way that his particular career produced his particular contributions to European philosophy. Second, a survey of Voltaire's philosophical views is offered so as to attach the legacy of what Voltaire did with the intellectual viewpoints that his activities reinforced.
Voltaire only began to identify himself with philosophy and the philosophe identity during middle age. His work Lettres philosophiques , published in when he was forty years old, was the key turning point in this transformation. Before this date, Voltaire's life in no way pointed him toward the philosophical destiny that he was later to assume.
His early orientation toward literature and libertine sociability, however, shaped his philosophical identity in crucial ways. In its fusion of traditional French aristocratic pedigree with the new wealth and power of royal bureaucratic administration, the d'Arouet family was representative of elite society in France during the reign of Louis XIV. First as a law student, then as a lawyer's apprentice, and finally as a secretary to a French diplomat, Voltaire attempted to fulfill his father's wishes. But in each case, he ended up abandoning his posts, sometimes amidst scandal.
Escaping from the burdens of these public obligations, Voltaire would retreat into the libertine sociability of Paris. It was here in the s, during the culturally vibrant period of the Regency government between the reigns of Louis XIV and XV — , that Voltaire established one dimension of his identity.
His wit and congeniality were legendary even as a youth, so he had few difficulties establishing himself as a popular figure in Regency literary circles.
He also learned how to play the patronage game so important to those with writerly ambitions. Thanks, therefore, to some artfully composed writings, a couple of well-made contacts, more than a few bon mots, and a little successful investing, especially during John Law's Mississippi Bubble fiasco, Voltaire was able to establish himself as an independent man of letters in Paris. His literary debut occurred in with the publication of his Oedipe , a reworking of the ancient tragedy that evoked the French classicism of Racine and Corneille.
The play was first performed at the home of the Duchesse du Maine at Sceaux, a sign of Voltaire's quick ascent to the very pinnacle of elite literary society. Its published title page also announced the new pen name that Voltaire would ever after deploy. During the Regency, Voltaire circulated widely in elite circles such as those that congregated at Sceaux, but he also cultivated more illicit and libertine sociability as well. Philosophy was also a part of this mix, and during the Regency the young Voltaire was especially shaped by his contacts with the English aristocrat, freethinker,and Jacobite Lord Bolingbroke.
The chateau served as a reunion point for a wide range of intellectuals, and many believe that Voltaire was first introduced to natural philosophy generally, and to the work of Locke and the English Newtonians specifically, at Bolingbroke's estate. It was certainly true that these ideas, especially in their more deistic and libertine configurations, were at the heart of Bolingbroke's identity.
Yet even if Voltaire was introduced to English philosophy in this way, its influence on his thought was most shaped by his brief exile in England between — The occasion for his departure was an affair of honor. A very powerful aristocrat, the Duc de Rohan, accused Voltaire of defamation, and in the face of this charge the untitled writer chose to save face and avoid more serious prosecution by leaving the country indefinitely.
In the spring of , therefore, Voltaire left Paris for England. It was during his English period that Voltaire's transition into his mature philosophe identity began. Bolingbroke, whose address Voltaire left in Paris as his own forwarding address, was one conduit of influence. In particular, Voltaire met through Bolingbroke Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Gay, writers who were at that moment beginning to experiment with the use of literary forms such as the novel and theater in the creation of a new kind of critical public politics.
Swift's Gulliver's Travels , which appeared only months before Voltaire's arrival, is the most famous exemplar of this new fusion of writing with political criticism. Later the same year Bolingbroke also brought out the first issue of the Craftsman , a political journal that served as the public platform for his circle's Tory opposition to the Whig oligarchy in England. The Craftsman helped to create English political journalism in the grand style, and for the next three years Voltaire moved in Bolingbroke's circle, absorbing the culture and sharing in the public political contestation that was percolating all around him.
Voltaire did not restrict himself to Bolingbroke's circle alone, however. After Bolingbroke, his primary contact in England was a merchant by the name of Everard Fawkener. Fawkener introduced Voltaire to a side of London life entirely different from that offered by Bolingbroke's circle of Tory intellectuals. This included the Whig circles that Bolingbroke's group opposed. It also included figures such as Samuel Clarke and other self-proclaimed Newtonians. Voltaire did not meet Newton himself before Sir Isaac's death in March, , but he did meet his sister—learning from her the famous myth of Newton's apple, which Voltaire would play a major role in making famous.
Voltaire also came to know the other Newtonians in Clarke's circle, and since he became proficient enough with English to write letters and even fiction in the language, it is very likely that he immersed himself in their writings as well. Voltaire also visited Holland during these years, forming important contacts with Dutch journalists and publishers and meeting Willem 'sGravesande and other Dutch Newtonian savants. Given his other activities, it is also likely that Voltaire frequented the coffeehouses of London even if no firm evidence survives confirming that he did.
It would not be surprising, therefore, to learn that Voltaire attended the Newtonian public lectures of John Theophilus Desaguliers or those of one of his rivals. Whatever the precise conduits, all of his encounters in England made Voltaire into a very knowledgeable student of English natural philosophy.
When French officials granted Voltaire permission to re-enter Paris in , he was devoid of pensions and banned from the royal court at Versailles. But he was also a different kind of writer and thinker. For one, these two sides of Voltaire's intellectual identity were forever intertwined, and he never experienced an absolute transformation from one into the other at any point in his life.
But the English years did trigger a transformation in him. After his return to France, Voltaire worked hard to restore his sources of financial and political support. The financial problems were the easiest to solve. In , the French government staged a sort of lottery to help amortize some of the royal debt. A friend perceived an opportunity for investors in the structure of the government's offering, and at a dinner attended by Voltaire he formed a society to purchase shares.
Voltaire participated, and in the fall of that year when the returns were posted he had made a fortune. Voltaire's inheritance from his father also became available to him at the same time, and from this date forward Voltaire never again struggled financially. This result was no insignificant development since Voltaire's financial independence effectively freed him from one dimension of the patronage system so necessary to aspiring writers and intellectuals in the period. In particular, while other writers were required to appeal to powerful financial patrons in order to secure the livelihood that made possible their intellectual careers, Voltaire was never again beholden to these imperatives.
Gradually, however, through a combination of artfully written plays, poems, and essays and careful self-presentation in Parisian society, Voltaire began to regain his public stature. In the fall of , when the next stage in his career began to unfold, Voltaire was residing at the royal court of Versailles, a sign that his re-establishment in French society was all but complete.
During this rehabilitation, Voltaire also formed a new relationship that was to prove profoundly influential in the subsequent decades. She was also a uniquely accomplished woman. Her father also ensured that Emilie received an education that was exceptional for girls at the time.
She studied Greek and Latin and trained in mathematics, and when Voltaire reconnected with her in she was a very knowledgeable thinker in her own right even if her own intellectual career, which would include an original treatise in natural philosophy and a complete French translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica —still the only complete French translation ever published—had not yet begun. For Voltaire, the events that sent him fleeing to Cirey were also the impetus for much of his work while there.
‘L’Ingénu’ and Electronic Enlightenment
While in England, Voltaire had begun to compose a set of letters framed according to the well-established genre of a traveler reporting to friends back home about foreign lands. Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes, which offered a set of fictionalized letters by Persians allegedly traveling in France, and Swift's Gulliver's Travels were clear influences when Voltaire conceived his work.
But unlike the authors of these overtly fictionalized accounts, Voltaire innovated by adopting a journalistic stance instead, one that offered readers an empirically recognizable account of several aspects of English society. Originally titled Letters on England , Voltaire left a draft of the text with a London publisher before returning home in Once in France, he began to expand the work, adding to the letters drafted while in England, which focused largely on the different religious sects of England and the English Parliament, several new letters including some on English philosophy.
The new text, which included letters on Bacon, Locke, Newton and the details of Newtonian natural philosophy along with an account of the English practice of inoculation for smallpox, also acquired a new title when it was first published in France in Before it appeared, Voltaire attempted to get official permission for the book from the royal censors, a requirement in France at the time. His publisher, however, ultimately released the book without these approvals and without Voltaire's permission.
This made the first edition of the Lettres philosophiques illicit, a fact that contributed to the scandal that it triggered, but one that in no way explains the furor the book caused. Historians in fact still scratch their heads when trying to understand why Voltaire's Lettres philosophiques proved to be so controversial.
The only thing that is clear is that the work did cause a sensation that subsequently triggered a rapid and overwhelming response on the part of the French authorities. The book was publicly burned by the royal hangman several months after its release, and this act turned Voltaire into a widely known intellectual outlaw. Had Voltaire been able to avoid the scandal triggered by the Lettres philosophiques , it is highly likely that he would have chosen to do so.
Yet once it was thrust upon him, he adopted the identity of the philosophical exile and outlaw writer with conviction, using it to create a new identity for himself, one that was to have far reaching consequences for the history of Western philosophy. At first, Newtonian science served as the vehicle for this transformation.
In the decades before , a series of controversies had erupted, especially in France, about the character and legitimacy of Newtonian science, especially the theory of universal gravitation and the physics of gravitational attraction through empty space. Voltaire positioned his Lettres philosophiques as an intervention into these controversies, drafting a famous and widely cited letter that used an opposition between Newton and Descartes to frame a set of fundamental differences between English and French philosophy at the time.
Voltaire did not invent this framework, but he did use it to enflame a set of debates that were then raging, debates that placed him and a small group of young members of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris into apparent opposition to the older and more established members of this bastion of official French science. Voltaire offered this book as a clear, accurate, and accessible account of Newton's philosophy suitable for ignorant Frenchman a group that he imagined to be large.
But he also conceived of it as a machine de guerre directed against the Cartesian establishment, which he believed was holding France back from the modern light of scientific truth. Vociferous criticism of Voltaire and his work quickly erupted, with some critics emphasizing his rebellious and immoral proclivities while others focused on his precise scientific views. As he fought fiercely to defend his positions, an unprecedented culture war erupted in France centered on the character and value of Newtonian natural philosophy.
The couple also added to their scientific credibility by receiving separate honorable mentions in the Paris Academy prize contest on the nature of fire. Voltaire likewise worked tirelessly rebutting critics and advancing his positions in pamphlets and contributions to learned periodicals.
How representative is Voltaires L'Ingenu on the Enlightenment?
This apparent victory in the Newton Wars of the s and s allowed Voltaire's new philosophical identity to solidify. Especially crucial was the way that it allowed Voltaire's outlaw status, which he had never fully repudiated, to be rehabilitated in the public mind as a necessary and heroic defense of philosophical truth against the enemies of error and prejudice. From this perspective, Voltaire's critical stance could be reintegrated into traditional Old Regime society as a new kind of legitimate intellectual martyrdom.
Since Voltaire also coupled his explicitly philosophical writings and polemics during the s and s with an equally extensive stream of plays, poems, stories, and narrative histories, many of which were orthogonal in both tone and content to the explicit campaigns of the Newton Wars, Voltaire was further able to reestablish his old identity as an Old Regime man of letters despite the scandals of these years.
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This royal office also triggered the writing of arguably Voltaire's most widely read and influential book, at least in the eighteenth century, Essais sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations , a pioneering work of universal history. The position also legitimated him as an officially sanctioned savant. Had this assimilationist trajectory continued during the remainder of Voltaire's life, his legacy in the history of Western philosophy might not have been so great.
Yet during the s, a set of new developments pulled Voltaire back toward his more radical and controversial identity and allowed him to rekindle the critical philosophe persona that he had innovated during the Newton Wars. The first step in this direction involved a dispute with his onetime colleague and ally, Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis. Maupertuis had preceded Voltaire as the first aggressive advocate for Newtonian science in France.
When Voltaire was preparing his own Newtonian intervention in the Lettres philosophiques in , he consulted with Maupertuis, who was by this date a pensioner in the French Royal Academy of Sciences. It was largely around Maupertuis that the young cohort of French academic Newtonians gathered during the Newton wars of s and 40s, and with Voltaire fighting his own public campaigns on behalf of this same cause during the same period, the two men became the most visible faces of French Newtonianism even if they never really worked as a team in this effort.
But in Maupertuis surprised all of French society by moving to Berlin to accept the directorship of Frederick the Great's newly reformed Berlin Academy of Sciences. Maupertuis's thought at the time of his departure for Prussia was turning toward the metaphysics and rationalist epistemology of Leibniz as a solution to certain questions in natural philosophy. Voltaire found this Leibnizian turn dyspeptic, and he began to craft an anti-Leibnizian discourse in the s that became a bulwark of his brand of Newtonianism.
Yet after she died in , and Voltaire joined Maupertuis at Frederick the Great's court in Berlin, this anti-Leibnizianism became the centerpiece of a rift with Maupertuis. Voltaire's public satire of the President of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Berlin published in late , which presented Maupertuis as a despotic philosophical buffoon, forced Frederick to make a choice.
‘L’Ingénu’ and Electronic Enlightenment | Voltaire Foundation: Welcome - University of Oxford
He sided with Maupertuis, ordering Voltaire to either retract his libelous text or leave Berlin. Voltaire chose the latter, falling once again into the role of scandalous rebel and exile as a result of his writings. This event proved to be Voltaire's last official rupture with establishment authority. Rather than returning home to Paris and restoring his reputation, Voltaire instead settled in Geneva. When this austere Calvinist enclave proved completely unwelcoming, he took further steps toward independence by using his personal fortune to buy a chateau of his own in the hinterlands between France and Switzerland.
Voltaire installed himself permanently at Ferney in early , and from this date until his death in he made the chateau his permanent home and capital, at least in the minds of his intellectual allies, of the emerging French Enlightenment. While the singular defense of Newtonian science had focused Voltaire's polemical energies in the s and s, after the program became the defense of philosophie tout court and the defeat of its perceived enemies within the ecclesiastical and aristo-monarchical establishment.
This entanglement of philosophy with social criticism and reformist political action, a contingent historical outcome of Voltaire's particular intellectual career, would become his most lasting contribution to the history of philosophy. The first volume of this compendium of definitions appeared in , and almost instantly the work became buried in the kind of scandal to which Voltaire had grown accustomed. Voltaire saw in the controversy a new call to action, and he joined forces with the project soon after its appearance, penning numerous articles that began to appear with volume 5 in As this polemic crystallized and grew in both energy and influence, Voltaire embraced its terms and made them his cause.
In this program, the philosophes were not unified by any shared philosophy but through a commitment to the program of defending philosophie itself against its perceived enemies. They were also imagined as activists fighting to eradicate error and superstition from the world. This effort achieved victory in , and soon the philosophes were attempting to infiltrate the academies and other institutions of knowledge in France.
Voltaire and his allies had paved the way for this victory through a barrage of writings throughout the s and s that presented philosophie like that espoused by Turgot as an agent of enlightened reform and its critics as prejudicial defenders of an ossified tradition. Voltaire did bring out one explicitly philosophical book in support this campaign, his Dictionnaire philosophique of — Yet to fully understand the brand of philosophie that Voltaire made foundational to the Enlightenment, one needs to recognize that it just as often circulated in fictional stories, satires, poems, pamphlets, and other less obviously philosophical genres.
Voltaire's most widely known text, for instance, Candide, ou l'Optimisme, first published in , is a fictional story of a wandering traveler engaged in a set of farcical adventures. Yet contained in the text is a serious attack on Leibnizian philosophy, one that in many ways marks the culmination of Voltaire's decades long attack on this philosophy started during the Newton wars. Voltaire often attached philosophical reflection to this political advocacy, such as when he facilitated a French translation of Cesare Beccaria's treatise on humanitarian justice and penal reform and then prefaced the work with his own essay on justice and religious toleration Calas was a French protestant persecuted by a Catholic monarchy.
Public philosophic campaigns such as these that channeled critical reason in a direct, oppositionalist way against the perceived injustices and absurdities of Old Regime life were the hallmark of philosophie as Voltaire understood the term. Voltaire lived long enough to see some of his long-term legacies start to concretize. With the ascension of Louis XVI in and the appointment of Turgot as Controller-General, the French establishment began to embrace the philosophes and their agenda in a new way.
Critics of Voltaire and his program for philosophie remained powerful, however, and they would continue to survive as the necessary backdrop to the positive image of the Enlightenment philosophe as a modernizer, progressive reformer, and courageous scourge against traditional authority that Voltaire bequeathed to later generations. During Voltaire's lifetime, this new acceptance translated into a final return to Paris in early Here, as a frail and sickly octogenarian, Voltaire was welcomed by the city as the hero of the Enlightenment that he now personified.
Voltaire died several weeks after these events, but the canonization that they initiated has continued right up until the present. Western philosophy was profoundly shaped by the conception of the philosophe and the program for Enlightenment philosophie that Voltaire came to personify. The model he offered of the philosophe as critical public citizen and advocate first and foremost, and as abstruse and systematic thinker only when absolutely necessary, was especially influential in the subsequent development of the European philosophy.
Also influential was the example he offered of the philosopher measuring the value of any philosophy according by its ability to effect social change. In this respect, Karl Marx's famous thesis that philosophy should aspire to change the world, not merely interpret it, owes more than a little debt Voltaire. The link between Voltaire and Marx was also established through the French revolutionary tradition, which similarly adopted Voltaire as one of its founding heroes.
Voltaire was the first person to be honored with re-burial in the newly created Pantheon of the Great Men of France that the new revolutionary government created in This act served as a tribute to the connections that the revolutionaries saw between Voltaire's philosophical program and the cause of revolutionary modernization as a whole. In a similar way, Voltaire remains today an iconic hero for everyone who sees a positive linkage between critical reason and political resistance in projects of progressive, modernizing reform.
Voltaire's philosophical legacy ultimately resides as much in how he practiced philosophy, and in the ends toward which he directed his philosophical activity, as in any specific doctrine or original idea. Yet the particular philosophical positions he took, and the way that he used his wider philosophical campaigns to champion certain understandings while disparaging others, did create a constellation appropriately called Voltaire's Enlightenment philosophy. True to Voltaire's character, this constellation is best described as a set of intellectual stances and orientations rather than as a set of doctrines or systematically defended positions.
Nevertheless, others found in Voltaire both a model of the well-oriented philosophe and a set of particular philosophical positions appropriate to this stance. Each side of this equation played a key role in defining the Enlightenment philosophie that Voltaire came to personify.
Central to this complex is Voltaire's conception of liberty. Around this category, Voltaire's social activism and his relatively rare excursions into systematic philosophy also converged. The question was particularly central to European philosophical discussions at the time, and Voltaire's work explicitly referenced thinkers like Hobbes and Leibniz while wrestling with the questions of materialism, determinism, and providential purpose that were then central to the writings of the so-called deists, figures such as John Toland and Anthony Collins.
The great debate between Samuel Clarke and Leibniz over the principles of Newtonian natural philosophy was also influential as Voltaire struggled to understand the nature of human existence and ethics within a cosmos governed by rational principles and impersonal laws. Voltaire adopted a stance in this text somewhere between the strict determinism of rationalist materialists and the transcendent spiritualism and voluntarism of contemporary Christian natural theologians. For Voltaire, humans are not deterministic machines of matter and motion, and free will thus exists. But humans are also natural beings governed by inexorable natural laws, and his ethics anchored right action in a self that possessed the natural light of reason immanently.
This stance distanced him from more radical deists like Toland, and he reinforced this position by also adopting an elitist understanding of the role of religion in society. For Voltaire, those equipped to understand their own reason could find the proper course of free action themselves. But since many were incapable of such self-knowledge and self-control, religion, he claimed, was a necessary guarantor of social order. This stance distanced Voltaire from the republican politics of Toland and other materialists, and Voltaire echoed these ideas in his political musings, where he remained throughout his life a liberal, reform-minded monarchist and a skeptic with respect to republican and democratic ideas.
In the Lettres philosophiques , Voltaire had suggested a more radical position with respect to human determinism, especially in his letter on Locke, which emphasized the materialist reading of the Lockean soul that was then a popular figure in radical philosophical discourse. Voltaire also defined his own understanding of the soul in similar terms in his own Dictionnaire philosophique.
What these examples point to is Voltaire's willingness, even eagerness, to publicly defend controversial views even when his own, more private and more considered writings often complicated the understanding that his more public and polemical writings insisted upon. In these cases, one often sees Voltaire defending less a carefully reasoned position on a complex philosophical problem than adopting a political position designed to assert his conviction that liberty of speech, no matter what the topic, is sacred and cannot be violated.
Part of the deep cultural tie that joins Voltaire to this dictum is the fact that even while he did not write these precise words, they do capture, however imprecisely, the spirit of his philosophy of liberty. In his voluminous correspondence especially, and in the details of many of his more polemical public texts, one does find Voltaire articulating a view of intellectual and civil liberty that makes him an unquestioned forerunner of modern civil libertarianism. He never authored any single philosophical treatise on this topic, however, yet the memory of his life and philosophical campaigns was influential in advancing these ideas nevertheless.
The absence of a singular text that anchors this linkage in Voltaire's collected works in no way removes the unmistakable presence of Voltaire's influence upon Kant's formulation. Voltaire's notion of liberty also anchored his hedonistic morality, another key feature of Voltaire's Enlightenment philosophy. One vehicle for this philosophy was Voltaire's salacious poetry, a genre that both reflected in its eroticism and sexual innuendo the lived culture of libertinism that was an important feature of Voltaire's biography.
But Voltaire also contributed to philosophical libertinism and hedonism through his celebration of moral freedom through sexual liberty. Voltaire's avowed hedonism became a central feature of his wider philosophical identity since his libertine writings and conduct were always invoked by those who wanted to indict him for being a reckless subversive devoted to undermining legitimate social order. Voltaire's refusal to defer to such charges, and his vigor in opposing them through a defense of the very libertinism that was used against him, also injected a positive philosophical program into these public struggles that was very influential.
In particular, through his cultivation of a happily libertine persona, and his application of philosophical reason toward the moral defense of this identity, often through the widely accessible vehicles of poetry and witty prose, Voltaire became a leading force in the wider Enlightenment articulation of a morality grounded in the positive valuation of personal, and especially bodily, pleasure, and an ethics rooted in a hedonistic calculus of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
He also advanced this cause by sustaining an unending attack upon the repressive and, to his mind, anti-human demands of traditional Christian asceticism, especially priestly celibacy, and the moral codes of sexual restraint and bodily self-abnegation that were still central to the traditional moral teachings of the day. This same hedonistic ethics was also crucial to the development of liberal political economy during the Enlightenment, and Voltaire applied his own libertinism toward this project as well. In the wake of the scandals triggered by Mandeville's famous argument in The Fable of the Bees a poem, it should be remembered that the pursuit of private vice, namely greed, leads to public benefits, namely economic prosperity, a French debate about the value of luxury as a moral good erupted that drew Voltaire's pen.
In the s, he drafted a poem called Le Mondain that celebrated hedonistic worldly living as a positive force for society, and not as the corrupting element that traditional Christian morality held it to be. In his Essay sur les moeurs he also joined with other Enlightenment historians in celebrating the role of material acquisition and commerce in advancing the progress of civilization. Adam Smith would famously make similar arguments in his founding tract of Enlightenment liberalism, On the Wealth of Nations , published in