François-Marie Arouet

Enlightenment Period

Voltaire (1694–1778)

François-Marie d'Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer and public activist who played a singular role in defining the eighteenth-century movement called the Enlightenment. At the center of his work was a new conception of philosophy and the philosopher that in several crucial respects influenced the modern concept of each. Yet in other ways Voltaire was not a philosopher at all in the modern sense of the term. He was, however, a vigorous defender of a conception of natural science. In clarifying this new distinction between science and philosophy, and especially in fighting vigorously for it in public campaigns directed against the perceived enemies of fanaticism and superstition, Voltaire pointed modern philosophy down several paths that it subsequently followed.

Contributions & Professions

Voltaire's major fall into four categories: poetry, plays, historical works and philosophical works. His most well-known poetry includes the epic poems Henriade and The Maid of Orleans, which he started writing in 1730, but never fully completed. Voltaire's popular philosophic works took the form of the short stories Micromégas and Plato's Dream, along with his famed satirical novella Candide. In 1764, he published another of his most important philosophical works, Dictionnaire philosophique, an encyclopedic dictionary embracing the concepts of Enlightenment and rejecting the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church.