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Voltaire: Setting the Role of Public Intellectual

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Chapter Summary

Critical practice depends on not just viewing social dynamics from a lay-moral perspective, but the additional requirement of willingness to recommend negation, intervention, reform, even revolution when that standard is violated. Working more like artists than technicians, they gain notoriety in the role of public intellectual, presenting their judgments and recommendations on cultural conditions as if speaking for the general well-being. François-Marie Arouet Voltaire's writings show exceptional literary form: during his life, even his political detractors attended his plays and read most everything he wrote. The relation between a cultural critic and the elite structure of society is necessarily tangled. This chapter shows Voltaire's critical method, and focuses on a couple of his better documented texts. Voltaire's appreciation for physical, material, empirical data and inductive reasoning, rather than metaphysical speculation, contributed to his famous condemnation of the rationalist-idealist philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz.

Keywords: citical practice; cultural criticism; François-Marie Arouet Voltaire; Gottfried Leibniz; metaphysical meditations; public intellectual; rationalist-idealist philosophy



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