Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


What is the opinion of all the nations of the north of America, and those which border the Straits of Sunda, on the best of governments, and best of religions; on public ecclesiastical rights; on the manner of writing history; on the nature of tragedy, comedy, opera, eclogue, epic poetry; on innate ideas, concomitant grace, and the miracles of Deacon Paris? It is clear that all these people have no opinions on things of which they have no ideas.

They have a confused feeling of their customs, and go not beyond this instinct. Such are the people who inhabit the shores of the Frozen Sea for the space of fifteen hundred leagues. Such are the inhabitants of the three parts of Africa, and those of nearly all the isles of Asia; of twenty hordes of Tartars, and almost all men solely occupied with the painful and continual care of providing their subsistence. Such are, at two steps from us, most of the Morlachians, many of the Savoyards, and some citizens of Paris.

When a nation begins to be civilized, it has some opinions which are quite false. It believes in spirits, sorcerers, the enchantment of serpents and their immortality; in possessions of the devil, exorcisms, and soothsayers. It is persuaded that seeds must grow rotten in the earth to spring up again, and that the quarters of the moon are the causes of accesses of fever.

A Talapoin persuades his followers that the god Sammonocodom sojourned some time at Siam, and that he cut down all the trees in a forest which prevented him from flying his kite at his ease, which was his favorite amusement. This idea takes root in their heads; and finally, an honest man who might doubt this adventure of Sammonocodom, would run the risk of being stoned. It requires ages to destroy a popular opinion. Opinion is called the queen of the world; it is so; for when reason opposes it, it is condemned to death. It must rise twenty times from its ashes to gradually drive away the usurper.

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