Les harmonies de l'espace et les déchirures du temps, chez Voltaire entre 1734 et 1769

Title: Les harmonies de l'espace et les déchirures du temps, chez Voltaire entre 1734 et 1769
Author: Wagner, Jacques
Source document: Études romanes de Brno. 2011, vol. 32, iss. 1, pp. [7]-16
  • ISSN
    1803-7399 (print)
    2336-4416 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license

Notice: These citations are automatically created and might not follow citation rules properly.

Voltaire firmly turned down the classical idea of tragic time which supposedly submitted man to death and evil without remission. As early as his Lettres philosophiques published in 1734 he made shift of his discovery of Newton and built up the representation of a world inhabitable by man at last thanks to his ability to be, and to computation which was rid of its frightening eternal silence Pascal had covered it with. Space, being at last given back to man by Newtonian reason, and revealing one of the Creator's secrets under the name of "attraction", the question remained of historical time, which classical thought made the symbol of the creature's unmovable finitude. Voltaire, inspired by the Newtonian model, manages to bring to light a surge of order in the midst of historical turmoils and in the lethal play of passions. He does not falter to evoke the possibility of making the Golden Age happen on earth thanks to the example of William Penn. Yet this task of reconstructing an intellectual landscape which declining classicism had wrecked with its Augustinian and Jansenist pessimism, came up against concrete realities which troubled Voltaire, especially in 1715 – the earthquake in Lisbon – to the point when he gave up all recourse to optimistic doctrines, as shows his article "Bien (tout est bien)" (Good [all is good]) in his Dictionnaire philosophique. However, reacting against his own defeatism he manages to piece together the essential conditions for his rejection of the tragic or the absurd – which never stop threatening mankind if only because of the horrors filling up the history of mankind – through two rock-solid foundations of his thought: natural morality supposedly shared by all sensible human beings and its practical consequences (virtuous action or benevolence as caring for civil peace, education or the development of civilization) and lyrical contemplation of the celestial mechanism which invites us to tolerance. If the absurd and the tragic remain lurking in the hollow of historical time the Newtonian model of a space brought under control by reason lives on in spite of all the temptations to give in. Voltaire combines pessimistic thought with optimistic will.
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