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Dominican University Sources of European History Since 1900 Paper

Dominican University Sources of European History Since 1900 Paper

Question Description


Title of Source: “ Torture” from Philosophical Dictionary

Primary or Secondary Source? Why? This is a primary source because it is an excerpt from Voltaire’s own works.

Type of Document (speech, treaty, memoir, etc.): This is an entry from the Philosophical Dictionary, a work published by Voltaire.

Date: 1769

Author(s): Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet)

Author’s (Authors’) Background(s): Voltaire was one of the key French writers during the Enlightenment. He used his wit and humor to ridicule any practices or institutions that he believed were outdated or irrational. He investigated “serious moral, religious, and ethical truths.”

Audience: Given the vocabulary level and the subject matter, one can assume that he wrote for the educated, middle or bourgeois class to “enlighten “ them.

Historical Context: This work was written during the High Enlightenment period in France. During that time the philosophes wrote works, which were critical of the institutions, practices, and beliefs of their day, such as the church, religious intolerance, inhumane torture. Voltaire, as well as others, urged reforms so that these organizations, practices, and beliefs would be reformed on a rational basis rather than one based on superstition or tradition.

Brief Summary/Key Points: In this excerpt from one of his entries in his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire described “torture.” He used humor to criticize the use of torture by the French government. He attributed the origin of torture to “a highwayman.” He continued to discuss how conquerors then used this torture as a way of discovering if “some vile plot was being hatched against them, as, for instance, that of being free…” Finally he mentioned that the Russians, whom the French considered to be barbaric, have, in fact, outlawed torture as well as granted universal toleration. He warned the French, “ Woe to a nation which, long civilized is still led by atrocious ancient practices!” It is a clear attack on what Voltaire saw as irrational and barbaric practices in France

Identification of Any Bias: Voltaire criticized torture as being inhumane and irrational, but did not offer any reasons why it might have been an effective practice. It was a one-sided attack on this practice; although one images that it might have been difficult to discuss the “positive” side of barbaric practices

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