Pangloss  

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"It is demonstrable, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings." --Dr. Pangloss in Candide, tr. Tobias Smollett

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Pangloss is a character in Voltaire's novel Candide. He tutors Candide while they are living in the castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia, Germany, and later joins Candide in some of his misadventures. Like most characters in Candide, Pangloss is a "flat character": he has only a few personality traits that do not evolve much throughout the story.

According to Voltaire, Pangloss was a teacher of "metaphysico-theologico-cosmolonigology".

Pangloss is a follower of, or as many have argued, a caricature or outright satire of the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who in his Theodicy theorized that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds. Consequently, Pangloss constantly argues that "there is no effect without a cause"—in other words, everything in existence, from the human nose to natural disasters, is meant to suit a specific purpose.

However, this worldview causes Pangloss not only to remain optimistic in the face of incredible tragedy but to justify it. For instance, while Candide, Pangloss and Candide's friend Jacques the Anabaptist are sailing to Lisbon, a storm hits and Jacques is washed overboard. Pangloss stops Candide from leaping into the sea in an attempt to save him, claiming that "the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for [Jacques] to drown in".

As Pangloss himself suffers a series of misfortunes—including a botched execution attempt by the Inquisition and being enslaved on a Turkish galley—he does adopt a more realistic outlook by the end of the novel, saying that "he had always suffered horribly; but having once maintained that everything was for the best; he had continued to maintain it without believing it" (93). This goes to show that Pangloss does not believe his own philosophy, however he maintains it to retain his self-respect as a philosopher. In fact, a few pages later, he is noted to argue for his philosophy to Candide, though this does not mean he himself believes in it.

The name Pangloss was created through use of Greek Prefix pan- meaning all, or every, and of the English word gloss, meaning a superficial or deceptive attractiveness. Thus Pangloss gave his disciple Candide a tempting, yet false, interpretation of life, since he attempted to justify and demonstrate the true necessity and finality of despicable human acts or tragic natural events.

Panglossianism

The term "panglossianism" describes baseless optimism of the sort exemplified by Pangloss's beliefs, which are the opposite of his fellow traveller Martin's pessimism and emphasis on free will. The phrase "panglossian pessimism" has been used to describe the pessimistic position that, since this is the best of all possible worlds, it is impossible for anything to get any better.

The panglossian paradigm is a term coined by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin to refer to the notion that everything has specifically adapted to suit specific purposes. Instead, they argue, accidents and exaptation (the use of old features for new purposes) play an important role in the process of evolution. Some other scientists however argue that the implication that many (or most) adaptionists are panglossians is a straw man.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pangloss" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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