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VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU AND THE LISBON EARTHQUAKE OF 1755

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on 8 October 2014

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Transcript of VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU AND THE LISBON EARTHQUAKE OF 1755

VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU AND THE LISBON EARTHQUAKE OF 1755
THE ENLIGHTENMENT
Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire and Rousseau along with many other western philosophers sparked the Enlightment.
Also known as the age of reason, it a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in late 17th-century Europe, emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Born in Geneva in 1712, in 1742 Rousseau went to Paris to become a musician and composer.

When in Paris Rousseau starts writing about various political subjects such as “What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by the natural law?”

Rousseau’s discourse (essay answer) to the question was greatly read and discussed and made him a prominent philosopher in France. His fame was boosted by the fact his opera “Le Devin du village” was a huge success.



Over the course of his life Rousseau would publish many books on the subject of politics such as “The social contract”

Rousseau believed in society over the individual, he believed while one should have individual rights, that society and that individual’s responsibility to society came first.

He believed that “the bigger the state, the more powerful the monarchy would become and the more strength the government would be able to exert on the population.” He believed in democracy and that only a small city state such as Geneva was the best place for freedom to flourish. Basically, “the larger the bureaucracy, the more power required for government discipline.”
Voltaire
Interesting Quotes:
“Common sense is not so common.”

“Opinion has caused more trouble on this earth than plagues and earthquakes”

“To hold a pen is to be at war.”


Born in Paris in 1694.

Voltaire was a political philosopher often fighting against censorship, religious superstitions, and intolerance with his favorite weapon: satire. He spoke out against the French government and the roman catholic church.

While being against religious superstitions, Voltaire did defend religious freedoms.

He believed that the existence of God was a question of reason rather than faith. He believed all men are brothers regardless of religion as they were created by the same God.

Voltaire perceived the French bourgeoisie to be too small and ineffective, the aristocracy to be parasitic and corrupt, the commoners as ignorant and superstitious.

Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses. To Voltaire, only an enlightened monarch or an enlightened absolutist, advised by philosophers like himself, could bring about change as it was in the king's rational interest to improve the power and wealth of his subjects and kingdom. Voltaire essentially believed enlightened despotism to be the key to progress and change.





He was also fighting against the limitiations of censorship, religious dogma, intolerance, and the institutions of his time. His works, and the works of fellow Enlightenment writers, influenced both the French and the American revolutions.
Voltaire and Rousseau have very different view points and, as such, were basically arch-enemies.
Although they are two of the most famous of the great French philosophes, Rousseau and Voltaire hated each other. In fact, it would be hard to ever envision the urbane and suave Voltaire and the radically democratic Rousseau ever seeing eye to eye on much:
Voltaire believed that through education and reason man could separate himself from the beasts while Rousseau thought that it was precisely all this which made men "unnatural" and corrupted. Like many intellectuals, Rousseau was a great lover of mankind as a collective but singularly unable to appreciate or get along with any individual persons who he encountered in his life.
On the other hand, Voltaire was not a person you wanted to engage in a literary tête-a-tête as his scorn and ridicule were lethal.
Anecdote time!
Rousseau sent Voltaire a copy of his "The Social Contract" and Voltaire wrote him the following:


"I have received your new book against the human race, and thank you for it. Never was such a cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid. One longs, in reading your book, to walk on all fours. But as I have lost that habit for more than sixty years, I feel unhappily the impossibility of resuming it. Nor can I embark in search of the savages of Canada, because the maladies to which I am condemned render a European surgeon necessary to me; because war is going on in those regions; and because the example of our actions has made the savages nearly as bad as ourselves."


Modern Day Comparaison: 9/11
911 changed how the West thought about many things and did indeed usher in a new era of civilization. Some of these things include:
The war on terror: It took more than nine years, but the United States found and killed the al-Qaeda leader who bankrolled the 9/11 attacks. The threat of terrorism remains, as al-Qaeda-related groups surface in parts of the Middle East and Africa and has lead to many wars and skirmishes, most of them featuring the USA.
Security and surveillance has also become a major part of the new Western Civilization, as many security and surveillance implimentations that seemed dystopian 20 years ago are now widespread reality.
Critical Questions:

Can a single event really change a society’s
worldview?
The Earthquake's Facts

When: November 1st, 1755, on a Holiday known as All Saints Day.
Where: Lisbon, Portugal
What: 8.5 on the Richter scale, killed 700000 people and created massive tsunami.
Reaction to the Quake
At first, people blamed it on the sins of the city, due to it destroying all churches on a religious holiday.
However, the Catholic Church's weakening grip on society was slowly snapping, and the great thinkers were much more influential, especially our two French philosophers.
Voltaire's Point of View
Questioning blind faith in God and the fatalism that “Optimism”, the then popular way of thinking engendered, Voltaire wrote mockingly in the preface to his “Poem on the Disaster in Lisbon:
“‘All is well, the heirs of the dead will increase their fortunes, masons will make money rebuilding the buildings, beasts feed off the bodies buried in the debris: this is the necessary effect of the necessary causes; your particular misfortune is nothing, you will contribute to the general welfare’
CONSENSUS: BASICALLY THE INTERNET TROLL OF HIS TIME
Naturally, Rousseau disagrees
He objected in a letter to Voltaire (August 1756) to his pessimism and rooted the effects of the disaster not in nature or in human nature but in social conditions:
“Without leaving your Lisbon subject, concede, for example, that it was hardly nature who assembled there twenty-thousand houses of six or seven stories. If the residents of this large city had been more evenly dispersed and less densely housed, the losses would have been fewer or perhaps none at all. Everyone would have fled at the first shock, and would have been seen two days later, twenty leagues away and as happy as if nothing had happened. But we have to stay and expose ourselves to further tremors, many obstinately insisted, because what we would have to leave behind is worth more than what we could carry away. How many unfortunates perished in this disaster for wanting to take – one his clothing, another his papers, a third his money? They know so well that a person has become the least part of himself, and that he is hardly worth saving if all the rest is lost.

“You would have liked – and who would not have liked – the earthquake to have happened in the middle of some desert, rather than in Lisbon. Can we doubt that they also happen in deserts? But no one talks about those, because they have no ill effects for city gentlemen (the only men about whom anyone cares anything).”
Warning: Might have too much text block for some. Blame me for being too interested in the subject and writing a lot about it
-Olivier
Oh also thank you for listening to this presentation!
Why is this so important to humanism?
The earthquake introduced the thought that things aren't dictated by a benevolent deity, which was(and still mostly is) the christian worldview. It introduced the thought of things happening not because of God, but because of scientific/social/economical/political reasons. The spread of rationalism resulting from this disaster sparked not only the latter part of the Enlightenment, but also 19 and 20th thinking
By Patrick Jacobe and Olivier Cadotte
Rousseau and Voltaire had very different views on humanity,but can both of them still be considered humanists?
Why 9/11?
No event in the last 15 years has sparked as much controversy and has changed the world as much as 9/11. From Conspiracy theories to the War on Terror, this event transformed the West forever.
Full transcript