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Saturday, January 27, 2007

On Voltaire

Rousseau sent his latest article to Voltaire for review; Voltaire after having read, wrote to him, “Your latest work is the most intelligent effort, that I could never anticipate of its kind, to make us think that we actually are not humans at all, and that we should leave up our present day civilization and should go to Jungles and Deserts as naturally. Really we are just like other animals and we in fact do wrong when we do such inferior and mean acts like thinking and living on the basis of our intellect and wisdom.”

Voltaire was a profound advocate of using the light of intellect and wisdom. Rousseau on the other hand was known for his anti-rational philosophy.

Despite being against using the intellect and wisdom, Rousseau however himself was a strong supporter of a kind of thoughtful dogmatism. Voltaire, being an advocate of using intellect and wisdom, was of the view that humans must be free in their thinking. That is, there should be, as he thought, complete liberty of thought because if there is any restriction on freethinking, we humans then cannot live a life, which would be based on the light of intellect and wisdom.

The very tricky and “wise” attacks on wisdom by Rousseau however put Voltaire under a dilemma for he was very much against all what Rousseau wanted to preach and at the same time he could not ask Rousseau to stop his non-sense anti-rational preaches because if he asked him so, actually he would be putting a restriction on thinking of Rousseau. Obviously, if he tried to put any such restriction, he would go against his own point of view that was in support of full liberty in thinking.

How did Voltaire manage to come out of this dilemma? It was in the form of his famous reply to Rousseau, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Why Voltaire thought it necessary to disapprove of the Rousseau’s point of view but to still hold his right to preach whatever he wanted to say?

Voltaire’s position actually was an accurate reflection of all the intellectual environment of the west of his day. It is very important to mention however that the Voltaire’s intellectual environment was gradually so developed that now it was possible for him to take the position where he was disapproving and holding some that sort of things which really could not be so disapproved or held out just a few centuries ago.