During the time of the enlightenment, there was a group of people known as philosophes, people who
brought 'the light of knowledge to their ignorant fellow creatures'(McKay, 601).The prevalent ideals of these
thinkers were progress, reason, and the search for natural law. Of these thinkers, Francois Marie Arouet, or
Voltaire was undoubtedly the most famous. One of the more interesting of the enlightenment figures, Voltaire
used wit and clever satire to convey his messages. In some cases, he shared the same view as other philosophes,
but in others his opinion was very different.
Voltaire said that It didn't matter what people said, he believed they had freedom of speech and he would
defend that right(16). Like the other Enlightenment thinkers, Voltaire talked about how wonderful freedom of
speech would be, and despised those that did not give it. He himself had been imprisoned because of something he
said. Voltaire did not believe there were accidents, there has to be a reason for everything.(18)
This goes along
with the new way of thinking. Nothing happened 'by accident', everything had a reason or law which could
explain it. He also says the same thing when he says there are no chances, everything has a cause.(19) Again, he
displays his agreement with Enlightenment ideals. One of the main goals of these thinkers progress, and to them
that meant a break from harsh absolutism and the censorship of the church. 'Liberty can only be achieved when
the last king is strangled by the entrails of the last priest'(23). Voltaire was not a democrat, but he felt King's
should act as they do in England, not France. The thinkers wanted an 'enlightened absolutist', not a sun king.
Philosophes generally criticized the Christian Church and Voltaire was very venomous to the priest class. In
saying that he didn't want to be a martyr(15), Voltaire acts like a philosoph, who although they criticize people and
suggest new ways, they are not revolutionaries, and do not want to die for their cause.
Voltaire did not completely agree with the Enlightenment ideals, and some of his sayings drifted of the
main path. In saying that stupid people are prejudiced(22) he veers astray from the norm. He himself was anti-
Semitic, and most enlightenment thinkers were prejudiced towards the peasant. In saying that boring people tell
everything(3), Voltaire disagrees with popular Enlightenment belief, because the goal of the others was too
broadcast there ideas and spread them, so they talked about them a lot.
Voltaire was the most famous of the Enlightenment thinkers, and not without reason. Although he
generally followed the Enlightenment ideals of progress, reason and natural law, he also had some very original
thoughts at the time. Despite his razor sharp tongue, he was good friends with two of the most powerful monarchs
of Europe, and died a millionaire. This man continues to intrigue people with his wit and satire even today.