Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

NECESSARY— NECESSITY.

osmin.

Do you not assert that everything is necessary?

selim.

If all be not necessary, it follows that God does unnecessary things.

osmin.

That is to say, it was necessary for the Divine Nature to do what it has done.

selim.

I believe, or at least I suspect so. There are men who think differently. I do not understand them; but possibly they are right. I fear to dispute on this subject.

osmin.

It is, however, necessary for me to talk to you upon it.

selim.

In what manner? Would you speak of what is necessary to sustain life, or the evil to which people are reduced who cannot procure it?

osmin.

No; for that which is necessary to one is not always necessary to another. It is necessary for an Indian to possess rice, for an Englishman to eat animal food, as Russians must wear furs, and Africans gauze. One man believes that he has need of a dozen coach-horses, another limits himself to a pair of shoes, and a third walks gayly on his bare feet. I wish to speak to you of that which is necessary to all men.

selim.

It appears to me that God has given us all that is necessary in this sense: eyes to see, feet to walk, a mouth to eat, a gullet to swallow, a stomach to digest, a brain to reason, and organs to produce our kind.

osmin.

How happens it then that men are sometimes born who are deprived of a part of these necessary faculties?

selim.

Because the general laws of nature are liable to accidents which produce monsters; but in general man is provided with all things necessary to his existence in society.

osmin.

Are there not notions common to all men necessary to this purpose?

selim.

Yes; I have travelled with Paul Lucas, and wherever I went I saw that man respected his father and mother; that he thought himself bound to keep his promise; that he pitied oppressed innocence; that he detested persecution; that he regarded freedom of thinking as a right of nature, and the enemies of that freedom as the enemies of the human race. They who think differently appear to me to be badly organized, and monsters, like those who are born without eyes or heads.

osmin.

These necessary things — are they necessary in all times, and in all places?

selim.

Yes: otherwise they would not be necessary to human kind.

osmin.

Therefore, a new creed is not necessary to mankind. Men could live in society, and perform all their duties towards God, before they believed that Mahomet had frequent conversations with the angel Gabriel.

selim.

Nothing is more evident; it would be ridiculous to think that man could not perform his duties until Mahomet came into the world. It was no way necessary for men to believe the Koran. The world went on before the appearance of Mahomet, precisely as at present. If Mahometanism was necessary to the world, it would exist everywhere. God, who has given us two eyes to see the sun, would have bestowed upon us some means of discovering the truths of the Mahometan religion. That sect therefore resembles the arbitrary laws which change according to times and places, like fashions or the theories of physicians, which displace and succeed one another. The Mahometan religion cannot therefore be essentially necessary to man.

osmin.

But since it exists, God has permitted it.

selim.

Yes, as He permits all the world to abound in absurdities, errors, and calamities. This is not saying that men were absolutely created in order to be foolish and unhappy. God permits some men to be eaten by serpents, but we ought not to say that God made man to be eaten by serpents.

osmin.

What do you mean by saying that God permits? Can anything happen but by His orders? To permit and to will — are they not with Him the same thing?

selim.

He permits crime, but does not commit it.

osmin.

To commit a crime is to act against Divine justice — to disobey God. Therefore, as God cannot disobey Himself, He cannot commit crime; but He has so made man that man commits it frequently. How does that arise?

selim.

Some men can tell, but I am not one of them. All that I know is, that the Koran is ridiculous, although possessing here and there things which are passable. The Koran, however, is certainly not necessary to man — that I maintain. I perceive clearly that which is false, but know very little of that which is true.

osmin.

I thought that you would instruct me, but you teach me nothing.

selim.

Is it not something to know the men who deceive you, and the gross and dangerous errors they promulgate?

osmin.

I should have cause to complain of a physician who made me acquainted with poisonous plants, without instructing me in regard to such as are salutary.

selim.

I am no physician, nor are you a sick man; and it appears to me that I give you a very useful prescription, when I say to you: Distrust the inventions of charlatans; worship God; be an honest man; and believe that two and two make four.

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