chapter  4
Complacency in analysis and everyday life
Pages 16

These lines refer to the disastrous earthquake of Lisbon in 1756, which resulted in great destruction and the death of many thousands; the Inquisition followed it by burning a number of people to death, since the University of Coimbra knew this to be a reliable method of preventing earthquakes.Both events feature in Voltaire’s tale of Candide; or the Optimist (Voltaire 1759). In that story they provide further tests of Dr Pangloss’s indestructible belief that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds; this belief also remains unchanged by Dr Pangloss’s subsequent hanging, which, owing to his executioner’s incompetence, leads to the initiation of a post-mortem while he is still alive. In Candide and Dr Pangloss we have a literary antecedent to the complaisant patient and the complacent analyst.Candide, the complaisant, is happy to accept his mentor’s dictum and remain his most agreeable pupil, and Pangloss, the complacent,while he can continue to teach his metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology to such a receptive person remains through all adversity convinced that this is the best of all possible worlds. ‘Observe, for instance,’ he comments, ‘the nose is formed for spectacles therefore we wear spectacles.The legs are visibly designed for stockings; accordingly we wear stockings’ (Voltaire 1759:108).We must note, however, that Dr Pangloss does not say that things are right or good, but only ‘that they cannot be otherwise than they are’, so ‘they who assert that everything is right do not express themselves correctly; they should say, that everything is best’ (Voltaire 1759: 108). In other words, it is not moral idealism but a theology of realism, a sort of ideal pragmatism or idealisation of adaptation.