How representative is Voltaires L'Ingenu on the Enlightenment?

Essay, 2005

7 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Oliver Christl (Author)


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Concept of Freedom

III. The Criticism on Christianity

IV. The Concept of Nature and the Civilized Society

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction

The intellectual movement of the Enlightenment developed a rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues. The major representatives of this philosophy tried to discover valid principles governing humanity, nature, and society. They attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance and censorship. One of the most prominent Enlightenment philosophers was François-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen-name Voltaire.

This essay tries to point out how representative Voltaire’s L’Ingénu is on the Enlightenment.

Therefore, in examining three major concepts of the Enlightenment that are found in the novel, the investigation first focuses on the representation of the idea of freedom, then on the novel’s criticism on Christianity and, finally, on Voltaire’s elaboration on the concept of Nature in connection with the civilized society.

II. The Concept of Freedom

The Enlightenment was a constant fight for personal liberty, legal equality and the freedom of thought and expression.[1] Voltaire has found his ideal of freedom by observing political life in his time and by comparing the different forms of government existing in theory. In the Europe of those days he thought this ideal to be realized best in the English constitution, as it provided a concrete protection for every citizen’s possessions and personal security.[2] Being successful in transferring the ideas of freedom he has experienced in the English society to France, Voltaire has greatly influenced the French Enlightenment movement.[3] The appraisal of the English society also found its way into his novel L’Ingénu . After having arrived at the French coast, the protagonist L’Ingénu, a Huron, meets the Abbé de Kerkabon and his sister Mademoiselle de Kerkabon, who are soon determined to baptize the young man. L’Ingé is astonished and annoyed by this attempt to influence his believes and simply tells his hosts, that “in England everyone was allowed to live as he liked” and that he would leave the following day.[4] At another occasion, when L’Ingénu is unjustly thrown into prison, he exclaims: “Are there no laws in this country, that men are condemned without a hearing? It’s not like that in England.”[5]


[1] Anchor, R., The Enlightenment Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), p. 58.

[2] Cassirer, E., Die Philosophie der Aufklärung (Tübingen: Verlag von J.C.B. Mohr, 1932), p. 336.

[3] Cf. Anchor, R., The Enlightenment Tradition , p. 57f.

[4] Voltaire, Zadic/L’Ingénu (London: Penguin, 1964), p. 111.

[5] Ibid., p. 161.

Excerpt out of 7 pages


How representative is Voltaires L'Ingenu on the Enlightenment?
University of Birmingham
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Voltaires, Ingenu, Enlightenment
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Oliver Christl (Author), 2005, How representative is Voltaires L'Ingenu on the Enlightenment?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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