About This Quote
Source: Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. Print. Additional Information: This quote is commonly misattributed to the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire; however, it was actually written by scholar and author Peter Gay, who was summarizing the lessons of Voltaire's work Candide. The following passage from Peter Gay's The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism (1966) is the source of this quote.
Here, in that concluding sentence of the tale, Voltaire has fused the lessons of ancient philosophy into a prescription: Men are thrown into the world to suffer and to dominate their suffering. Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats; life is a desert, but we can transform our corner into a garden. Talk is entertaining, but it is useful only when it directs us to our duties and possibilities, since action is irresponsible without a clear conception of duty and unrealistic without a fair appreciation of our possibilities. It is the task of philosophy to discover,... what is within our power and what is beyond it. Candide is thus a morality tale in the most concrete sense possible; it teaches, by example, the supremacy of realistic moral thinking.