Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

Born: 1694. Died: 1778.


- All religions of the supernatural are based on ignorance and superstition.

- The natural and human evils in the world cannot be reconciled with the view that this is the best of all possible worlds.

- The order in the universe indicates that there is a Designer, but not necessarily a moral or immoral one.

- People should not be punished for their ideas.

- Although we can have no complete explanations of nature, the best accounts of nature are empirical and materialistic.

- There is a natural basis for ethics and justice.

- The human situation can be improved by eliminating superstition and fanaticism.


Francois Marie Arouet (pen name Voltaire) was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. Voltaire's intelligence, wit and style made him one of France's greatest writers and philosophers.

Young Francois Marie received his education at "Louis-le-Grand," a Jesuit college in Paris where he said he learned nothing but "Latin and the Stupidities." He left school at 17 and soon made friends among the Parisian aristocrats. His humorous verses made him a favorite in society circles. In 1717, his sharp wit got him into trouble with the authorities. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months for writing a scathing satire of the French government. During his time in prison Francois Marie wrote "Oedipe" which was to become his first theatrical success and adopted his pen name "Voltaire."

In 1726, Voltaire insulted the powerful young nobleman, "Chevalier De Rohan," and was given two options: imprisonment or exile. He chose exile and from 1726 to 1729 lived in England. While in England Voltaire was attracted to the philosophy of John Locke and ideas of mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton. He studied England's Constitutional Monarchy and its religious tolerance. Voltaire was particularly interested in the philosophical rationalism of the time, and in the study of the natural sciences. After returning to Paris he wrote a book praising English customs and institutions. It was interpreted as criticism of the French government and in 1734, Voltaire was forced to leave Paris again.

At the invitation of his highly-intelligent woman friend, "Marquise du Chatelet," Voltaire moved into her "Chateau de Cirey" near Luneville in eastern France. They studied the natural sciences together for several years. In 1746, Voltaire was voted into the "Academie Francaise." In 1749, after the death of "Marquise du Chatelet" and at the invitation of the King of Prussia, "Frederick the Great," he moved to Potsdam (near Berlin in Germany). In 1753, Voltaire left Potsdam to return to France.

In 1759, Voltaire purchased an estate called "Ferney" near the French-Swiss border where he lived until just before of his death. Ferney soon became the intellectual capital of Europe. Voltaire worked continuously throughout the years, producing a constant flow of books, plays and other publications. He wrote hundreds of letters to his circle of friends. He was always a voice of reason. Voltaire was often an outspoken critic of religious intolerance and persecution.

Voltaire returned to a hero's welcome in Paris at age 83. The excitement of the trip was too much for him and he died in Paris. Because of his criticism of the church Voltaire was denied burial in church ground. He was finally buried at an abbey in Champagne. In 1791 his remains were moved to a resting place at the Pantheon in Paris.

In 1814 a group of "ultras" (right-wing religious) stole Voltaire's remains and dumped them in a garbage heap. No one was the wiser for some 50 years. His enormous sarcophagus (opposite Rousseau's) was checked and the remains were gone. His heart, however, had been removed from his body, and now lies in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. His brain was also removed, but after a series of passings-on over 100 years, disappeared after an auction.

Major Works of Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

- Candide, or the Philosophy of Optimism, 1759
- Essay on Manners, 1754
- Letters Concerning the English Nation, 1733
- Philosophical Dictionary, 1764
- Philosophical Letters, 1734
- Questions on the Encyclopedia, 1764
- The Philosophy of Newton, 1738
- Remarks on Pascal, 1733
- Treatise on Metaphysics, 1734
- Treatise on Tolerance, 1763

Quotes from Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

- "Englishmen! You want to kill me because I am a Frenchman! Am I not punished enough, in not being an Englishman?" (to a Francophobic London crowd 1727)

- "Thou sleepest, Brutus, and yet Rome is in chains." (from "The Death of Caesar", 1731)

- "The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture, the amphitheaters, for wild beasts to fight in." (from a letter to the police commissioner of Paris, 1733)

- "If there had been a censorship of the press in Rome, we should have had today neither Horace nor Juvenal, nor the philosophical writings of Cicero." (from a letter to the police commissioner of Paris, 1733)

- "All styles are good, except the tiresome kind." (from "L'Enfant prodigue", 1736)

- "The secret of being a bore ... is to tell everything." (from "Discours en Veis Sur 1'Homme", 1737)

- "The only reward to be expected from literature is contempt if one fails and hatred if one succeeds." (from a letter to Mademoiselle Quinault, 1738)

- "The public is a ferocious beast; one must either chain it up or flee from it." (from a letter to Mademoiselle Quinault, 1738)

- "The first king was a successful soldier." (from "Merope", 1743)

- "He slandered the world in revenge for his complete lack of success in it." (from "Zadig", 1747)

- "I am persecuted by everything in the world, and even by things which are not!" (from "Zadig", 1747)

- "[The passions] are the winds that fill the ship's sails. Sometimes they submerge the ship, but without them the ship could not sail." (from "Zadig", 1747)

- "All roads lead to Rome." (from a letter to Madame de Fontaine, 1750)

- "Cacambo: What is optimism?
   Candide: Alas! It is the mania of maintaining that everything is well when we are wretched." (from "Candide, or the Philosophy of Optimism", 1759)

- "Dr. Pangloss: All events are linked up in this the best of all possible worlds." (from "Candide, or the Philosophy of Optimism", 1759)

- "In this country [England] it is a good thing to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others." (from "Candide, or the Philosophy of Optimism", 1759)

- "Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need." (from "Candide, or the Philosophy of Optimism", 1759)

- "A country cannot gain unless another loses." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "A divine power is at work in the sensation of the meanest insect as well as in the brain of a Newton." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "The art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens and giving it to the other." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "I have seen men incapable of learning, I have never seen any incapable of virtue." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "I would detest individual tyranny less than collective tyranny. A despot always has some good moments; a group of despots, never." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "If you are attacked on your style, never answer; your work alone should reply." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "In this world we run the risk of having to choose between being either the anvil or the hammer." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "It is impossible on our wretched globe for men living in society not to be divided into two classes, one of oppressors, the other of the oppressed." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Madness is a disease of the brain, which necessarily prevents a man from thinking and acting like other men." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "The man who, in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today may have wished to live had he waited a week." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Men are born equal and ... violence and ability made the first masters. The present ones have been made by laws." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Men who are occupied in the restoration of health to other men, by the joint exertion of skill and humanity, are above all the great of the earth. They even partake of divinity, since to preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "The most superstitious times have always been those of the most horrible crimes." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Nothing is more estimable than a physician who, having studied nature from his youth, knows the properties of the human body, the diseases which assail it, the means which will benefit it, exercises his art with caution, and pays equal attention to the rich and the poor." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "One always begins with the simple, then comes the complex, and by superior enlightenment one often reverts in the end to the simple. Such is the course of human intelligence." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Our wretched species is so made that those who walk [on] the beaten path always throw stones at those who teach a new path." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "The punishment of criminals should be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing and a man condemned to public labor still serves the fatherland and is a living lesson." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Reason consists of always seeing things as they are." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "The superstitious man is to the rascal what the slave is to the tyrant." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "There is no sect in geometry." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "There is only one morality ... just as there is only one geometry." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "This is the character of truth: it is of all time, It is for all men, it has only to show itself to be recognized, and one cannot argue against it." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "This self-love is the instrument of our conservation; it resembles the instrument that perpetuates the species: It is necessary, it is dear to us, it gives us pleasure, and it must be hidden." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "What is toleration? It is the prerogative of humanity. We are all steeped in weaknesses and errors: Let us forgive one another's follies, it is the first law of nature." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "What is virtue, my friend? It is to do good. Do it, that is enough. We shall not worry about your motives." (from "Philosophical Dictionary", 1764)

- "Your nation is divided into two species: the one of idle monkeys, who mock at everything; and the other of tigers, who tear." (from a letter to Madame du Deffand, 1766)

- "Men use thought only to justify their wrongdoings and speech only to conceal their thoughts." (from "Le Chapon et la Poularde", 1766)

- "We use ideas merely to justify our evil, and speech merely to conceal our ideas." (from "Le Chapon et la Poularde", 1766)

- "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one." (from a letter to Frederick II, 1767)

- "You are perfectly right, Sire. A wise and courageous prince, with money, troops, and laws, can perfectly well govern men without the aid of religion, "which was made only to deceive them; but the stupid people would soon make one for themselves, and as long as there are fools and rascals there will be religions." (from a letter to Frederick II, 1767)

- "I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it." (from a letter to M. Damilaville, 1767)

- ""If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." I am rarely satisfied with my lines, but I own that I have a father's tenderness for that one." (from a letter to M. Saurin, 1770)

- "The body of an athlete and the soul of a sage-these are what we require to be happy." (from a letter to Helvetius)

- "If Machiavelli had had a prince for [his] disciple, the first thing he would have recommended him to do would have been to write a book against Machiavell[ian]ism." (from "Memoirs")

- "It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." (from "A Cynic's Breviary" by J. R. Solly)

- "Dieu et liberte! [God and liberty!]" (from "Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men" by Samuel Arthur Bent)

- "A consideration of petty circumstances is the tomb of great things." (from "My Study Windows" by James Russell Lowell)

- "The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease."

- "His Sacred Majesty, Chance, decides everything."

- "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."


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