Essay #2- Voltaire - Price 1 Jonathan Price 203547464 GE...

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Price 1 Jonathan Price 203547464 GE Cluster History of Modern Thought 21A Discussion Section 1B Paper #2: Voltaire’s contribution to the Enlightenment Realistic Idealism This statement, "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility,” the first of Les Déclarations des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, is so fundamental that it is singularly the right that aims to put into practice the ideals of the Enlightenment- a tall order indeed. All Enlightenment ideals are based in the idea that no man has inherent precedence over another, meaning that no man is above the law, natural or human. It follows that the only thing on which one’s status is society may be based is his merit, which is how he has applied his labor to contribute to society. The other tenets of Enlightenment thinking follow from these axioms naturally. Reason is the backbone for all of the ideals that follow and is the means by which all of the other tenets may be deduced. This statement not only precedes other ideals, but is the justification for all the other ideals that the Enlightenment embodies. This statement owes its intellectual debts in a number of ways to Voltaire, primarily based on Voltaire’s comparison of the societal institutions in England versus those in France. In these comparisons, he covers English superiority in terms of meritocracy, secularism, tolerance, republican ideals, laissez-faire capitalism, and scientific progress. The point of these ideals is to have a functioning, maximized society in which people may follow that which pleases them without infringing upon the rights of others which is fundamental to the foundation of Enlightenment thinking. The basis for all of the Enlightenment ideals that Voltaire discusses is the belief that all men are equal under the law, which leads their worth to be contingent upon their utility.
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Price 2 The most fundamental of the ideals of the Enlightenment is Reason, because it facilitates consistency of thought and forces humans to function in reality. Voltaire, made serious in his Treatise on Toleration because of the recent death of Jean Calas, set aside his satiric wit for a moment and spoke frankly about reason in relation to religious toleration and civility, citing its ability to “slowly, but infallibly, enlighten men” and its “[greater] power to make obedience to the laws attractive than force has to compel.” 1 Reason is not an ideal to be followed simply because it is seems to be a virtue, but rather because it has very real consequences on mens’ actions and on society. The silencing of fanaticism is simply the natural effect of applying reason to one’s views. As opposed to the archaic view that men need to be forced to comply with authority to establish order, a better option has revealed itself. A system that does not infringe upon the rights of others and allows for liberty is ultimately more functional than one that relies
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  • Winter '08
  • Jacob/Hunt
  • Voltaire, Age of Enlightenment

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