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Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment

Discover one of the most intriguing, influential—and elusive—thinkers of the modern world.

Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 126.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Save your money, read the Wikipedia entry 12 lectures for Voltaire is absurdly inadequate. TGC, what were you thinking? The result is so superficial as to be a complete waste of time. Instructor is forced to rush through everything. Example -- In Lecture 2 we cover the following: Voltaire's formal education; disagreement with father over career choice; attachment to & detachment from a diplomatic mission; scandalous love affair; two stints in the Bastille; financial acumen; becomes most celebrated author in Paris. I wanted to know a lot more about all these topics but they were squeezed into 30 minutes! Can't blame the instructor for being forced into superficial coverage; however I have to say that I found him uninspiring. His delivery has a monotonous cadence that makes listening a chore. Skip this one.
Date published: 2022-10-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great content, terrible technical problems What a tease! Here is a topic I am very interested in, with a very good lecturer, yet (a) there is no video to go with the lecture, and WORSE (b) after about 10 minutes, the first two lectures stop abruptly due to "unknown errors". I was first listening to it on my phone when this happened, so I tried listening on my desktop, where exactly the same thing happened. It seems like this is a problem that should be fixed quickly.
Date published: 2022-03-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Superficial. A qualified author but he didn't penetrate beneath introductory sentences about Voltaire's life and works. E.g., how much of Newton's Principia did Voltaire understand. E.g., Voltaire's weath. E.g., Voltaire's plays. E.g., Voltaire and Christianity. I love Voltaire as a companion for thinking about various subjects. I didn't like this author as a companion.
Date published: 2021-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enlightened! The life of Voltaire is fascinating, and Professor Kors brings it out vividly. But I also appreciate that Prof Kors points out that Voltaire didn't say some of the "famous" things that are attributed to him, and that Voltaire's philosophy is not as celebrated today as it was in the late 18th Century. If there is one key theme for this course, it is toleration, and how that has evolved over time, thanks to people like Voltaire.
Date published: 2021-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Enlightenment! I knew that Voltaire was important, but had no idea that he was one of the most important people in history and that I and millions of others have benefited from his accomplishments.
Date published: 2021-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I only wish the Lecturer had cited as an excellent source, "The Story of Civilization: Volume 9, The Age of Volatire" by Will Durant.
Date published: 2019-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice title Good course. I enjoyed the course and it is a good complement to the French Revolution course.
Date published: 2019-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation Due to a recent interest in the Enlightenment, I decided to give this a try as I had little to no exposure to Voltaire, other than knowing his name. I bought the audio version in order to listen to it during my commute, and I was a little hesitant about grasping all the info because I couldn't take notes while driving. Dr. Kors gave an excellent presentation and was very easy to keep up with. I thoroughly enjoyed this course & have purchased "The Birth of the Modern Mind" in order to continue along in the study of the Enlightenment. High marks all around.
Date published: 2019-06-11
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Join intellectual historian and professor Alan Charles Kors as he shares with you his view of Voltaire as one of the most intriguing, influential—and elusive—thinkers of the modern world. Focusing on the most enduring aspects of Voltaire's work and thought, Professor Kors sketches a vibrant, thought-provoking vision of Voltaire as "the father of the Enlightenment" and one of the great literary personalities of all time.


Alan Charles Kors

Voltaire always has the last laugh on us all, which may be by design. Laughter was a weapon for Voltaire, and irony was essential to that laughter.


University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Alan Charles Kors is Henry Charles Lea Professor of European History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching since 1968. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and his master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He received postdoctoral fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

Professor Kors won two awards for distinguished college teaching and the Engalitcheff Award for defense of academic freedom. He is president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Professor Kors is the author and editor of several books on European intellectual history, including D’Holbach’s Coterie: An Enlightenment in ParisAtheism in France, 1660-1729: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief; and Anticipations of the Enlightenment in England, France, and Germany. He is editor-in-chief of the four-volume Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. With Harvey A. Silverglate, he is coauthor of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses.

Professor Kors has served as a member of the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities and on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals.

By This Professor

“The Patriarch”—An Overview

01: “The Patriarch”—An Overview

Studying the elusive and changeable thought of Voltaire demands a complex approach that takes into his massive writings, their influence, and the internal debates and dilemmas that shadow his life's work.

33 min
The Education of a Philosophe

02: The Education of a Philosophe

In early 18th-century Paris, Voltaire is exposed to great philosophical debates and new religious ideas. He seems on the verge of success until a quarrel causes a four-year exile to England that will reshape his outlook.

32 min
Philosophical Letters, Part I

03: Philosophical Letters, Part I

Voltaire is impressed by Bacon, Newton, and Locke, and by the prospect that knowledge gained from experience can improve the human condition. His Philosophical Letters (1734) explain and popularize British empiricism.

31 min
Philosophical Letters, Part II

04: Philosophical Letters, Part II

Voltaire contrasts his idealized portrait of prosperous, free, and tolerant England with the aristocracy, intolerance, and traditionalism of France. In some chapters, he accomplishes nothing less than a revaluation of what is important to a progressive and free human life.

32 min
The Years of Cirey

05: The Years of Cirey

Banished from Paris, Voltaire seeks refuge with the Marquise du Châtelet, a remarkable thinker who had mastered the intellectual legacies of the 17th century. His 15 years with her turn out to be the most productive of his life.

31 min
From Optimism to Humanism

06: From Optimism to Humanism

Emilie du Châtelet's death in 1749 throws Voltaire into a long period of sorrow and uncertainty that ends with the publication of his most enduring philosophical tale: Candide, or Optimism (1759). With Candide—and in part to his own surprise—he becomes a crusader for "the party of humanity."

31 min
Voltaire and the Philosophical Tale

07: Voltaire and the Philosophical Tale

Contemporaries and probably Voltaire himself would have expected his plays and poems to be his most enduring works. But his many "philosophical tales," including Candide, became the prime vehicles for his ideas and made him the most widely read Enlightenment author.

31 min
Voltaire at Ferney

08: Voltaire at Ferney

At the end of Candide, Voltaire calls for the cultivation of the human garden as the only antidote to despair. At his estate at Ferney on the Swiss border, he takes his own advice both literally and metaphorically—and also rises to the peak of his public influence.

31 min
Voltaire and God

09: Voltaire and God

Throughout his intellectual life, Voltaire wrestles with the problem of knowledge of God. A convinced Deist, he opposes revealed religion and atheism with equal vigor even while wondering how to reconcile God's existence with God's providence.

31 min
Voltaire and History

10: Voltaire and History

While writing everything from a life of Charles XII of Sweden (1731) to a history of the world (1756), Voltaire pioneers the critical use of sources and the weaving of narratives that present a philosophic vision of human affairs.

30 min
Voltaire and Tradition

11: Voltaire and Tradition

No issue means more to Voltaire than ending religious intolerance and persecution, and in no domain does he do more to change the conscience and the practices of European civilization.

31 min

12: Apotheosis

Voltaire has been a cultural icon for centuries now. While posterity's judgment of him has not been constant, few other authors can claim to have affected so deeply the way a whole civilization thinks and feels.

31 min