Voltaire is the pen name for the man who began life as François Marie Arouet (1694–1778) and who became one of the most famous and infamous philosophers of the Enlightenment. Voltaire was a celebrity and a controversial figure in his lifetime. His satirical pieces landed him in the Bastille on more than one occasion, but these incarcerations did not cause his quill pen to run dry.
Voltaire was virulently anti-Christian and considered himself to be a Deist. Voltaire bounced around Europe for many years. Invited to leave his native France, he crossed the Channel to England where he learned and wrote in the language. Back in France, he wrote
In his life, Voltaire was in and out of favor, alternately locked up and the toast of the royal court. He was a prolific writer in a variety of genres, from philosophy to fiction to verse. He was feted in Prussia and run out of Berlin. He finally returned to France where he lived out his remaining years and wrote his magnum opus,
Voltaire's most famous work is
Voltaire, through his dismissal of metaphysics and his championing of the human spirit, and his belief that fiction and literature should be used as vehicles to promote philosophy and social change, was a precursor to the twentieth-century French existentialists, including Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. But Voltaire, unlike the existentialists, believed in God. He affirmed his faith with characteristic wit when he proclaimed that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him. But all nature proclaims that He exists.”