Voltaire (November 21, 1694-May 30, 1778) was a French writer, historian, philosopher and lawyer and one of the main representatives of the Enlightenment, period which emphasized the power of human reason, science and respect for humanity. In 1746 Voltaire was appointed member of the French Academy in which he occupied the seat number 33.
His morality was based on the belief of freedom of thought and respect for all individuals. He did believe that literature should deal with the problems of its time. These views made Voltaire a key figure in the philosophical movement of the eighteenth century, which was represented by writers of the famous French Encyclopedia. His defense of a literature committed to social problems makes Voltaire a predecessor among the writers of twentieth-century, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and other French existentialists.
In his famous book known as "Treatise on Tolerance" of 1763, Voltaire invites to promote tolerance among religions, attacking religious fanaticism. The French philosopher defends in his Treatise the freedom of religion and also criticizes the religious wars as a violent and barbaric practice.
In this work he states that “for a government to have the right to punish the errors of men it is necessary that their errors must take the form of crime; they do not take the form of crime unless they disturbed society; they disturb society when they engender fanaticism; hence men must avoid fanaticism in order to deserve toleration”.
On whether intolerance should be considered a human right, Voltaire clearly says that the natural right is that which belongs to all human beings. The human right should be based on this natural right, and the great principle of both is: Do not unto others what you would that they do not unto you. Now, in virtue of this principle, one man cannot say to another: “Believe what I believe, and what thou canst not believe, or thou shalt perish”. Therefore, Voltaire reaffirms the following:
“The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs”.
Therefore, Voltaire advocated in his famous “Philosophical Letters”; for the notion of the right to freedom as a real means to promote religious tolerance and a peaceful civil society.