Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

AMERICA.

Since framers of systems are continually conjecturing on the manner in which America can have been peopled, we will be equally consistent in saying that He who caused flies to exist in those regions caused men to exist there also. However pleasant it may be to dispute, it cannot be denied that the Supreme Being, who lives in all nature, has created, about the forty-eighth degree, two-legged animals without feathers, the color of whose skin is a mixture of white and carnation, with long beards approaching to red; about the line, in Africa and its islands, negroes without beards; and in the same latitude, other negroes with beards, some of them having wool, and some hair, on their heads; and among them other animals quite white, having neither hair nor wool, but a kind of white silk. It does not very clearly appear what should have prevented God from placing on another continent animals of the same species, of a copper color, in the same latitude in which, in Africa and Asia, they are found black; or even from making them without beards in the very same latitude in which others possess them.

To what lengths are we carried by the rage for systems joined with the tyranny of prejudice! We see these animals; it is agreed that God has had the power to place them where they are; yet it is not agreed that he has so placed them. The same persons who readily admit that the beavers of Canada are of Canadian origin, assert that the men must have come there in boats, and that Mexico must have been peopled by some of the descendants of Magog. As well might be said that if there be men in the moon they must have been taken thither by Astolpho on his hippogriff, when he went to fetch Roland’s senses, which were corked up in a bottle. If America had been discovered in his time, and there had then been men in Europe systematic enough to have advanced, with the Jesuit Lafitau, that the Caribbees descended from the inhabitants of Caria, and the Hurons from the Jews, he would have done well to have brought back the bottle containing the wits of these reasoners, which he would doubtless have found in the moon, along with those of Angelica’s lover.

The first thing done when an inhabited island is discovered in the Indian Ocean, or in the South Seas, is to inquire whence came these people? But as for the trees and the tortoises, they are, without any hesitation, pronounced to be indigenous; as if it was more difficult for Nature to make men than to make tortoises. One thing, however, which tends to countenance this system is that there is scarcely an island in the Eastern or in the Western Ocean which does not contain jugglers, quacks, knaves and fools. This, it is probable, gave rise to the opinion that these animals are of the same race with ourselves.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25