- (1694–1778)French man of letters and philosopher. Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet, into a wealthy Parisian family, and educated at the Jesuit school of Louis-le-Grand. His satirical writing led to exiles in Holland (1713) and England (1726–9; it was said that he went to England a poet and returned a philosopher). He returned to France, and published the Lettres philosophiques (1734, trs. as Philosophical Letters on the English Nation ), whose admiration for the liberal spirit of England made it necessary for him to retire to the country to avoid arrest. For the next fifteen years he lived mainly in the country of Lorraine in the company of the savant Mme du Châtelet. After a period in Prussia he settled in 1755 in a château near Geneva, where he published Essai sur les múurs et l’esprit des nations (1756, trs. as Essays on the Manners and Spirit of Nations, 1758) and Candide, ou l’optimisme (1759, trs. as Candide, or All for the Best, 1759). This was followed by the equally satirical Dictionnaire philosophique (1764, trs. as Philosophical Dictionary, 1764). He subsequently lived in France, but only returned to Paris shortly before his death, to be hailed as the greatest French champion of the Enlightenment, and his generation's most courageous spokesman for freedom and toleration.Philosophically Voltaire imbibed the combination of science, empiricism, and religious awe characteristic of Newton and Locke . Although he wrote passionately against the metaphysical speculations of his predecessors, especially Leibniz, Voltaire was prepared to take refuge in ignorance, for instance of the nature of the soul, or the way to reconcile evil with divine providence. Himself a deist, he became famous as the implacable opponent of organized Christian religion, whose baleful effects were all too visible in the world of his time (‘those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities’). Although his lustre as a philosopher does not match his eminence as a man of letters, poet, and playwright, Voltaire remains a central example of the philosopher as a politically engaged, liberal humanist.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.