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Pangloss is a character in Voltaire's novel Candide. He tutors Candide while they are living in the castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia, Germany, and later joins Candide in some of his misadventures. Like most characters in Candide, Pangloss is a "flat character": he has only a few personality traits that do not evolve much throughout the story.
According to Voltaire, Pangloss was a teacher of "metaphysico-theologico-cosmo-lonigology."
Pangloss is a follower of, or as many have argued, a caricature or outright satire of the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who in his Theodicy theorized that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds. Consequently, Pangloss constantly argues that "there is no effect without a cause" — in other words, everything in existence, from the human nose to natural disasters, is meant to suit a specific purpose.
However, this worldview causes Pangloss to not only remain optimistic in the face of incredible tragedy, but leads him to justify it. For instance, while Candide, Pangloss and Candide's friend Jacques are sailing to Lisbon, a storm hits and Jacques is washed overboard. Pangloss stops Candide from saving Jacques, claiming that "the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for [Jacques] to drown in".
Even though Pangloss himself suffers a series of misfortunes — including a botched execution attempt by the Inquisition and being enslaved on a Turkish galley — he doesn't adopt a more realistic outlook by the end of the novel.
The name Pangloss was created through use of Greek prefixes and suffixes pan- meaning all, or every, and -gloss, meaning language. Therefore, Dr. Pangloss was called a scholar by saying that he knew all languages. Voltaire would have claimed that this was his way of showing what people found to be as a trustworthy and respectable person. (However, another possible translation of "Pangloss" is "all tongue," i.e., one who speaks incessantly without thinking.)
The term "panglossianism" describes baseless optimism of the sort exemplified by Pangloss's beliefs, which are the opposite of his fellow traveller Martin's pessimism and emphasis on free will. The phrase "panglossian pessimism" has been used to describe the pessimistic position that, since this is the best of all possible worlds, it is impossible for anything to get any better.
The panglossian paradigm is a term coined by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin to refer to the notion that everything has specifically adapted to suit specific purposes. Instead, they argue, accidents and exaptation (the use of old features for new purposes) play an important role in the process of evolution.
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