François-Marie d’Arouet (1694–1778), 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 wrote as many plays, stories, and poems as patently philosophical tracts, and he in fact directed many of his critical writings against the philosophical pretensions of recognized philosophers such as Leibniz, Malebranche, and Descartes.
He was, however, a vigorous defender of a conception of natural science that served in his mind as the antidote to vain and fruitless philosophical investigation. 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.
“If God did not exist, He would have to be invented.” But all nature cries aloud that he does exist: that there is a supreme intelligence, an immense power, an admirable order, and everything teaches us our own dependence on it.
- Voltaire quoting himself in his Letter to Prince Frederick William of Prussia (1770–11-28), translated by S.G. Tallentyre, Voltaire in His Letters, 1919.
Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.
- Examen important de milord Bolingbroke (1736): Conclusion