Voltaire (1694–1778)

François Marie Arouet, also known as Voltaire, was a writer, historian, and philosopher, and almost certainly the most important figure of the French Enlightenment. The impact of this French author and philosopher on Western thought was so profound that he is simply known as “Voltaire”—the name he adopted in 1718. With a philosophy based on both skepticism and rationalism, on both tolerance and scientific curiosity, he intellectually straddled the France of his birth—a superstitious, class-bound society under the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV—and the France of his death—a society on the brink of demanding “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” through revolution. His plays lampooning society and his nonfiction works on history, politics, religion, and philosophy made him the best-known intellectual of his day, with such prominent admirers ...

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