Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


To know the natural philosophy of the human race, it is necessary to read works of anatomy, or rather to go through a course of anatomy.

To be acquainted with the man we call “moral,” it is above all necessary to have lived and reflected. Are not all moral works contained in these words of Job? “Man that is born of a woman hath but a few days to live, and is full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not.”

We have already seen that the human race has not above two-and-twenty years to live, reckoning those who die at their nurses’ breasts, and those who for a hundred years drag on the remains of a miserable and imbecile life.

It is a fine apologue, that ancient fable of the first man who was at first destined to live twenty years at most, and who reduced it to five years by estimating one life with another. The man was in despair, and had near him a caterpillar, a butterfly, a peacock, a horse, a fox, and an ape.

“Prolong my life,” said he to Jupiter; “I am more worthy than these animals; it is just that I and my family should live long to command all beasts.” “Willingly,” said Jupiter; “but I have only a certain number of days to divide among the whole of the beings to whom I have granted life. I can only give to thee by taking away from others; for imagine not, that because I am Jupiter, I am infinite and all-powerful; I have my nature and my limits. Now I will grant thee some years more, by taking them from these six animals, of which thou art jealous, on condition that thou shalt successively assume their manner of living. Man shall first be a caterpillar, dragging himself along in his earliest infancy. Until fifteen, he shall have the lightness of a butterfly; in his youth, the vanity of a peacock. In manhood he must undergo the labors of a horse. Towards fifty, he shall have the tricks of a fox; and in his old age, be ugly and ridiculous like an ape. This, in general, is the destiny of man.”

Remark further, that notwithstanding these bounties of Jupiter, the animal man has still but two or three and twenty years to live, at most. Taking mankind in general, of this a third must be taken away for sleep, during which we are in a certain sense dead; thus there remain fifteen, and from these fifteen we must take at least eight for our first infancy, which is, as it has been called, the vestibule of life. The clear product will be seven years, and of these seven years the half at least is consumed in grief of all kinds. Take three years and a half for labor, fatigue, and dissatisfaction, and we shall have none remaining. Well, poor animal, will you still be proud?

Unfortunately, in this fable Jupiter forgot to dress this animal as he clothed the ass, horse, peacock, and even the caterpillar. Man had only his bare skin, which, continually exposed to the sun, rain, and hail, became chapped, tanned, and spotted. The male in our continent was disfigured by spare hairs on his body, which rendered him frightful without covering him. His face was hidden by these hairs. His skin became a rough soil which bore a forest of stalks, the roots of which tended upwards, and the branches of which grew downwards. It was in this state and in this image, that this animal ventured to paint God, when in course of time he learned the art of description.

The female being more weak, became still more disgusting and frightful in her old age; and, in short, without tailors, and mantua-makers, one-half of mankind would never have dared to show itself to the other. Yet, before having clothes, before even knowing how to speak, some ages must have passed away — a truth which has been proved, but which must be often repeated.

It is a little extraordinary that we should have harassed an innocent, estimable man of our time, the good Helvetius, for having said that if men had not hands, they could not build houses and work tapestry. Apparently, those who have condemned this proposition, have discovered a secret for cutting stones and wood, and working at the needle with their feet.

I liked the author of the work “On Mind.” This man was worth more than all his enemies together; but I never approved either the errors of his book, or the trivial truths which he so emphatically enforced. I have, however, boldly taken his part when absurd men have condemned him for these same truths.

I have no terms to express the excess of my contempt for those who, for example’s sake, would magisterially proscribe this passage: “The Turks can only be considered deists.” How then, pedant! would you have them regarded as atheists, because they adore only one God!

You condemn this other proposition: “The man of sense knows that men are what they must be; that all hatred against them is unjust; that a fool commits fooleries as a wild stock bears bitter fruits.”

So, crabbed stocks of the schools, you persecute a man because he hates you not! Let us, however, leave the schools, and pursue our subject.

Reason, industrious hands, a head capable of generalizing ideas, a language pliant enough to express them — these are great benefits granted by the Supreme Being to man, to the exclusion of other animals.

The male in general lives rather a shorter time than the female. He is also generally larger in proportion. A man of the loftiest stature is commonly two or three inches higher than the tallest woman.

His strength is almost always superior; he is more active; and having all his organs stronger, he is more capable of a fixed attention. All arts have been invented by him, and not by woman. We should remark, that it is not the fire of imagination, but persevering meditation and combination of ideas which have invented arts, as mechanics, gunpowder, printing, dialling, etc.

Man alone knows that he must die, and knows it only by experience. A child brought up alone, and transported into a desert island, would dream of death no more than a plant or a cat.

A singular man has written that the human body is a fruit, which is green until old age, and that the moment of death is that of maturity. A strange maturity, ashes and putrefaction! The head of this philosopher was not ripe. How many extravagances has the rage for telling novelties produced?

The principal occupations of our race are the provision of food, lodging, and clothing; all the rest are nearly accessory; and it is this poor accessory which has produced so many ravages and murders.

Different Races of Men.

We have elsewhere seen how many different races of men this globe contains, and to what degrees the first negro and the first white who met were astonished at one another.

It is likely enough that several weakly species of men and animals have perished. It is thus that we no longer discover any of the murex, of which the species has probably been devoured by other animals who several ages after visited the shores inhabited by this little shellfish.

St. Jerome, in his “History of the Father of the Desert,” speaks of a centaur who had a conversation with St. Anthony the hermit. He afterwards gives an account of a much longer discourse that the same Anthony had with a satyr.

St. Augustine, in his thirty-third sermon, addressed “To his Brothers in the Desert,” tell things as extraordinary as Jerome. “I was already bishop of Hippo, when I went into Ethiopia with some servants of Christ, there to preach the gospel. In this country we saw many men and women without heads, who had two great eyes in their breasts. In countries still more southerly, we saw a people who had but one eye in their foreheads,” etc.

Apparently, Augustine and Jerome then spoke “with economy;” they augmented the works of creation to raise greater admiration of the works of God. They sought to astonish men by fables, to render them more submissive to the yoke of faith.

We can be very good Christians without believing in centaurs, men without heads, or with only one eye, one leg, etc. But can we doubt that the interior structure of a negro may be different to that of a white, since the mucous netted membrane beneath the skin is white in the one, and black in the other? I have already told you so, but you are deaf.

The Albinos and the Darians — the first originally of Africa, and the second of the middle of America — are as different from us as from the negroes. There are yellow, red, and gray races. We have already seen that all the Americans are without beards or hair on their bodies, except the head and eyebrows. All are equally men, but only as a fir, an oak, and a pear tree are equally trees; the pear tree comes not from the fir, nor the fir from the oak.

But whence comes it, that in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, in an island named Otaheite, the men are bearded? It is to ask why we are so, while the Peruvians, Mexicans, and Canadians are not. It is to ask, why apes have tails, and why nature has refused us an ornament which, at least among us, is an extreme rarity.

The inclinations and characters of men differ as much as their climates and governments. It has never been possible to compose a regiment of Laplanders and Samoyeds, whilst the Siberians, their neighbors, become intrepid soldiers.

Neither can you make good grenadiers of a poor Darian or an Albino. It is not because they have partridge eyes, or that their hair and eyebrows are like the finest and whitest silk; but it is because their bodies, and consequently their courage, partake of the most extreme weakness. There is none but a blind man, and even an obstinate blind man, who can deny the existence of all these different species. It is as great and remarkable as that of apes.

That All Races of Men Have Constantly Lived in Society.

All the men whom we have discovered in the most uncultivated and frightful countries herd together like beavers, ants, bees, and several other species of animals.

We have never seen countries in which they lived separate; or in which the male only joined with the female by chance, and abandoned her the moment after in disgust; or in which the mother estranged herself from her children, after having brought them up; or in which human beings lived without family and society. Some poor jesters have abused their understandings so far as to hazard the astonishing paradox, that man is originally created to live alone, and that it is society which has depraved his nature. They might as well say that herrings were created to swim alone in the sea; and that it is by an excess of corruption, that they pass in a troop from the Frozen Ocean to our shores; that formerly cranes flew in the air singly, and that, by a violation of their natural instinct, they have subsequently chosen to travel in company.

Every animal has its instinct, and the instinct of man, fortified by reason, disposes him towards society, as towards eating and drinking. So far from the want of society having degraded man, it is estrangement from society which degrades him. Whoever lived absolutely alone, would soon lose the faculty of thinking and expressing himself; he would be a burden to himself, and it would only remain to metamorphose him into a beast. An excess of powerless pride, which rises up against the pride of others, may induce a melancholy man to fly from his fellows; but it is a species of depravity, and punishes itself. That pride is its own punishment, which frets itself into solitude and secretly resents being despised and forgotten. It is enduring the most horrible slavery, in order to be free.

We have enlarged the bounds of ordinary folly so far as to say that it is not natural for a man to be attached to a woman during the nine months of her pregnancy. The appetite is satisfied, says the author of these paradoxes; the man has no longer any want of woman, nor the woman of man; and the latter need not have the least care, nor perhaps the least idea of the effects of the transient intercourse. They go different ways, and there is no appearance, until the end of nine months, that they have ever been known to one another. Why should he help her after her delivery? Why assist to bring up a child whom he cannot instinctively know belongs to him alone?

All this is execrable; but happily nothing is more false. If this barbarous indifference was the true instinct of nature, mankind would always have acted thus. Instinct is unchangeable, its inconsistencies are very rare; the father would always abandon the mother, and the mother would abandon her child. There would have been much fewer men on earth than voracious animals; for the wild beasts better provided and better armed, have a more prompt instinct, more sure means of living, and a more certain nourishment than mankind.

Our nature is very different from the frightful romance which this man, possessed of the devil, has made of it. Except some barbarous souls entirely brutish, or perhaps a philosopher more brutal still, the roughest man, by a prevailing instinct, loves the child which is not yet born, the womb which bears it; and the mother redoubles her love for him from whom she has received the germ of a being similar to himself.

The instinct of the colliers of the Black Forest speaks to them as loudly, and animates them as strongly in favor of their children as the instinct of pigeons and nightingales induces them to feed their little ones. Time has therefore been sadly lost in writing these abominable absurdities.

The great fault of all these paradoxical books lies in always supposing nature very different from what it is. If the satires on man and woman written by Boileau were not pleasantries, they would sin in the essential point of supposing all men fools and all women coquettes.

The same author, an enemy to society, like the fox without a tail who would have his companions cut off theirs, thus in a magisterial style expresses himself:

“The first who, having enclosed an estate, took upon himself to say: ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of society. What crimes, wars, murders, miseries, and horrors, might have been spared to mankind if some one, seizing the stakes, or filling up the pit, had cried to his companions: ‘Take care how you listen to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits are common to all, and that the earth belongs to nobody!’ ”

Thus, according to this fine philosopher, a thief, a destroyer, would have been the benefactor of mankind, and we should punish an honest man who says to his children: “Let us imitate our neighbor; he has enclosed his field, the beasts will no longer ravage it, his land will become more fertile; let us work ours as he has labored his; it will aid us, and we shall improve it. Each family cultivating its own enclosure, we shall be better fed, more healthy, more peaceable, and less unhappy. We will endeavor to establish a distributive justice, which will console our unhappy race; and we shall be raised above the foxes and polecats, to whom this babbler would compare us.”

Would not this discourse be more sensible and honest than that of the savage fool who would destroy the good man’s orchard? What philosophy therefore is that which says things that common sense disclaims from China to Canada? Is it not that of a beggar, who would have all the rich robbed by the poor, in order that fraternal union might be better established among men?

It is true, that if all the hedges, forests, and plains were covered with wholesome and delicious fruits, it would be impossible, unjust, and ridiculous, to guard them.

If there are any islands in which nature produces food and all necessaries without trouble, let us go and live there, far from the trash of our laws; but as soon as you have peopled them, we must return to meum and tuum, and to laws which are often very bad, but which we cannot rationally abolish.

Is Man Born Wicked?

Is it not demonstrated that man is not born perverse and the child of the devil? If such was his nature, he would commit enormous crimes and barbarities as soon as he could walk; he would use the first knife he could find, to wound whoever displeased him. He would necessarily resemble little wolves and foxes, who bite as soon as they can.

On the contrary, throughout the world, he partakes of the nature of the lamb, while he is an infant. Why, therefore, and how is it, that he so often becomes a wolf and fox? Is it not that, being born neither good nor wicked, education, example, the government into which he is thrown — in short, occasion of every kind — determines him to virtue or vice?

Perhaps human nature could not be otherwise. Man could not always have false thoughts, nor always true affections; be always sweet, or always cruel.

It is demonstrable that woman is elevated beyond men in the scale of goodness. We see a hundred brothers enemies to each other, to one Clytemnestra.

There are professions which necessarily render the soul pitiless — those of the soldier, the butcher, the officer of justice, and the jailer; and all trades which are founded on the annoyance of others.

The officer, the soldier, the jailer, for example, are only happy in making others miserable. It is true, they are necessary against malefactors, and so far useful to society; but of a thousand men of the kind, there is not one who acts from the motive of the public good, or who even reflects that it is a public good.

It is above all a curious thing to hear them speak of their prowess as they count the number of their victims; their snares to entrap them, the ills which they have made them suffer, and the money which they have got by it.

Whoever has been able to descend to the subaltern detail of the bar; whoever has only heard lawyears reason familiarly among themselves, and applaud themselves for the miseries of their clients, must have a very poor opinion of human nature.

There are more frightful possessions still, which are, however, canvassed for like a canonship. There are some which change an honest man into a rogue, and which accustom him to lie in spite of himself, to deceive almost without perceiving it, to put a blind before the eyes of others, to prostrate himself by the interest and vanity of his situation, and without remorse to plunge mankind into stupid blindness.

Women, incessantly occupied with the education of their children, and shut up in their domestic cares, are excluded from all these professions, which pervert human nature and render it atrocious. They are everywhere less barbarous than men.

Physics join with morals to prevent them from great crimes; their blood is milder; they are less addicted to strong liquors, which inspire ferocity. An evident proof is, that of a thousand victims of justice in a thousand executed assassins, we scarcely reckon four women. It is also proved elsewhere, I believe, that in Asia there are not two examples of women condemned to a public punishment. It appears, therefore, that our customs and habits have rendered the male species very wicked.

If this truth was general and without exceptions, the species would be more horrible than spiders, wolves, and polecats are to our eyes. But happily, professions which harden the heart and fill it with odious passions, are very rare. Observe, that in a nation of twenty millions, there are at most two hundred thousand soldiers. This is but one soldier to two hundred individuals. These two hundred thousand soldiers are held in the most severe discipline, and there are among them very honest people, who return to their villages and finish their old age as good fathers and husbands.

The number of other trades which are dangerous to manners, is but small. Laborers, artisans, and artists are too much occupied often to deliver themselves up to crime. The earth will always bear detestable wretches, and books will always exaggerate the number, which, rather than being greater, is less than we say.

If mankind had been under the empire of the devil, there would be no longer any person upon earth. Let us console ourselves: we have seen, and we shall always see, fine minds from Pekin to la Rochelle; and whatever licentiates and bachelors may say, the Tituses, Trajans, Antoninuses, and Peter Bayles were very honest men.

Of Man in the State of Pure Nature.

What would man be in the state which we call that of pure nature? An animal much below the first Iroquois whom we found in the north of America. He would be very inferior to these Iroquois, since they knew how to light fires and make arrows. He would require ages to arrive at these two arts.

Man, abandoned to pure nature, would have, for his language, only a few inarticulate sounds; the species would be reduced to a very small number, from the difficulty of getting nourishment and the want of help, at least in our harsh climates. He would have no more knowledge of God and the soul, than of mathematics; these ideas would be lost in the care of procuring food. The race of beavers would be infinitely preferable.

Man would then be only precisely like a robust child; and we have seen many men who are not much above that state, as it is. The Laplanders, the Samoyeds, the inhabitants of Kamchatka, the Kaffirs, and Hottentots are — with respect to man in a state of pure nature — that which the courts of Cyrus and Semiramis were in comparison with the inhabitants of the Cévennes. Yet the inhabitants of Kamchatka and the Hottentots of our days, so superior to men entirely savage, are animals who live six months of the year in caverns, where they eat the vermin by which they are eaten.

In general, mankind is not above two or three degrees more civilized than the Kamchatkans. The multitude of brute beasts called men, compared with the little number of those who think, is at least in the proportion of a hundred to one in many nations.

It is pleasant to contemplate on one side, Father Malebranche, who treats familiarly of “the Word”; and on the other, these millions of animals similar to him, who have never heard speak of “the Word,” and who have not one metaphysical idea.

Between men of pure instinct and men of genius floats this immense number occupied solely with subsisting.

This subsistence costs us so much pains, that in the north of America an image of God often runs five or six leagues to get a dinner; whilst among us the image of God bedews the ground with the sweat of his brow, in order to procure bread.

Add to this bread — or the equivalent — a hut, and a poor dress, and you will have man such as he is in general, from one end of the universe to the other: and it is only in a multitude of ages that he has been able to arrive at this high degree of attainment.

Finally, after other ages, things got to the point at which we see them. Here we represent a tragedy in music; there we kill one another on the high seas of another hemisphere, with a thousand pieces of cannon. The opera and a ship of war of the first rank always astonish my imagination. I doubt whether they can be carried much farther in any of the globes with which the heavens are studded. More than half the habitable world, however, is still peopled with two-footed animals, who live in the horrible state approaching to pure nature, existing and clothing themselves with difficulty, scarcely enjoying the gift of speech, scarcely perceiving that they are unfortunate, and living and dying almost without knowing it.

Examination of a Thought of Pascal on Man.

“I can conceive a man without hands or feet, and I could even conceive him without a head, if experience taught me not that it is with the head he thinks. It is therefore thought which makes the being of man, without which we cannot conceive him.”—(Thoughts of Pascal.)

How! conceive a man, without feet, hands, and head? This would be as different a thing from a man as a gourd.

If all men were without heads, how could yours conceive that there are animals like yourselves, since they would have nothing of what principally constitutes your being? A head is something; the five senses are contained in it, and thought also. An animal, which from the nape of its neck downwards might resemble a man, or one of those apes which we call ourang-outang or the man of the woods, would no more be a man than an ape or a bear whose head and tail were cut off.

It is therefore thought which makes the being of a man. In this case, thought would be his essence, as extent and solidity are the essence of matter. Man would think essentially and always, as matter is always extended and solid. He would think in a profound sleep without dreams, in a fit, in a lethargy, in the womb of his mother. I well know that I never thought in any of these states; I confess it often; and I doubt not that others are like myself.

If thought was as essential to man as extent is to matter, it would follow that God cannot deprive this animal of understanding, since he cannot deprive matter of extent — for then it would be no longer matter. Now, if understanding be essential to man, he is a thinking being by nature, as God is God by nature.

If desirous to define God, as such poor beings as ourselves can define Him, I should say, that thought is His being, His essence; but as to man —!

We have the faculties of thinking, walking, talking, eating, and sleeping, but we do not always use these faculties, it is not in our nature.

Thought, with us, is it not an attribute? and so much an attribute that it is sometimes weak, sometimes strong, sometimes reasonable, and sometimes extravagant? It hides itself, shows itself, flies, returns, is nothing, is reproduced. Essence is quite another thing; it never varies; it knows nothing of more or less.

What, therefore, would be the animal supposed by Pascal? A being of reason. He might just as well have supposed a tree to which God might have given thought, as it is said that the gods granted voices to the trees of Dodona.

Operation of God on Man.

People who have founded systems on the communication of God with man have said that God acts directly physically on man in certain cases only, when God grants certain particular gifts; and they have called this action “physical premotion.” Diocles and Erophiles, those two great enthusiasts, maintain this opinion, and have partisans.

Now we recognize a God quite as well as these people, because we cannot conceive that any one of the beings which surround us could be produced of itself. By the fact alone that something exists, the necessary Eternal Being must be necessarily the cause of all. With these reasoners, we admit the possibility of God making himself understood to some favorites; but we go farther, we believe that He makes Himself understood by all men, in all places, and in all times, since to all he gives life, motion, digestion, thought, and instinct.

Is there in the vilest of animals, and in the most sublime philosophers, a being who can will motion, digestion, desire, love, instinct, or thought? No; but we act, we love, we have instincts; as for example, an invincible liking to certain objects, an insupportable aversion to others, a promptitude to execute the movements necessary to our preservation, as those of sucking the breasts of our nurses, swimming when we are strong and our bosoms large enough, biting our bread, drinking, stooping to avoid a blow from a stone, collecting our force to clear a ditch, etc. We accomplish a thousand such actions without thinking of them, though they are all profoundly mathematical. In short, we think and feel without knowing how.

In good earnest, is it more difficult for God to work all within us by means of which we are ignorant, than to stir us internally sometimes, by the efficacious grace of Jupiter, of which these gentlemen talk to us unceasingly?

Where is the man who, when he looks into himself, perceives not that he is a puppet of Providence? I think — but can I give myself a thought? Alas! if I thought of myself, I should know what ideas I might entertain the next moment — a thing which nobody knows.

I acquire a knowledge, but I could not give it to myself. My intelligence cannot be the cause of it; for the cause must contain the effect: Now, my first acquired knowledge was not in my understanding; being the first, it was given to me by him who formed me, and who gives all, whatever it may be.

I am astonished, when I am told that my first knowledge cannot alone give me a second; that it must contain it.

The proof that we give ourselves no ideas is that we receive them in our dreams; and certainly, it is neither our will nor attention which makes us think in dreams. There are poets who make verses sleeping; geometricians who measure triangles. All proves to us that there is a power which acts within us without consulting us.

All our sentiments, are they not involuntary? Hearing, taste, and sight are nothing by themselves. We feel, in spite of ourselves: we do nothing of ourselves: we are nothing without a Supreme Power which enacts all things.

The most superstitious allow these truths, but they apply them only to people of their own class. They affirm that God acts physically on certain privileged persons. We are more religious than they; we believe that the Great Being acts on all living things, as on all matter. Is it therefore more difficult for Him to stir all men than to stir some of them? Will God be God for your little sect alone? He is equally so for me, who do not belong to it.

A new philosopher goes further than you; it seemed to him that God alone exists. He pretends that we are all in Him; and we say that it is God who sees and acts in all that has life. “Jupiter est quodcumque vides; quodcumque moveris.”

To proceed. Your physical premotion introduces God acting in you. What need have you then of a soul? Of what good is this little unknown and incomprehensible being? Do you give a soul to the sun, which enlightens so many globes? And if this star so great, so astonishing, and so necessary, has no soul, why should man have one? God who made us, does He not suffice for us? What, therefore, is become of the axiom? Effect not that by many, which can be accomplished by one.

This soul, which you have imagined to be a substance, is therefore really only a faculty, granted by the Great Being, and not by a person. It is a property given to our organs, and not a substance. Man, his reason uncorrupted by metaphysics, could never imagine that he was double; that he was composed of two beings, the one mortal, visible, and palpable — the other immortal, invisible, and impalpable. Would it not require ages of controversy to arrive at this expedient of joining together two substances so dissimilar; tangible and intangible, simple and compound, invulnerable and suffering, eternal and fleeting?

Men have only supposed a soul by the same error which made them suppose in us a being called memory, which being they afterwards made a divinity.

They made this memory the mother of the Muses; they embodied the various talents of nature in so many goddesses, the daughters of memory. They also made a god of the secret power by which nature forms the blood of animals, and called it the god of sanguification. The Roman people indeed had similar gods for the faculties of eating and drinking, for the act of marriage, for the act of voiding excrements. They were so many particular souls, which produced in us all these actions. It was the metaphysics of the populace. This shameful and ridiculous superstition was evidently derived from that which imagined in man a small divine substance, different from man himself.

This substance is still admitted in all the schools; and with condescension we grant to the Great Being, to the Eternal Maker, to God, the permission of joining His concurrence to the soul. Thus we suppose, that for will and deed, both God and our souls are necessary.

But to concur signifies to aid, to participate. God therefore is only second with us; it is degrading Him; it is putting Him on a level with us, or making Him play the most inferior part. Take not from Him His rank and pre-eminence: make not of the Sovereign of Nature the mere servant of mankind.

Two species of reasoners, well credited in the world — atheists and theologians — will oppose our doubts.

The atheists will say, that in admitting reason in man and instinct in brutes, as properties, it is very useless to admit a God into this system; that God is still more incomprehensible than a soul; that it is unworthy a sage to believe that which he conceives not. They let fly against us all the arguments of Straton and Lucretius. We will answer them by one word only: “You exist; therefore there is a God.”

Theologians will give us more trouble. They will first tell us: “We agree with you that God is the first cause of all; but He is not the only one.” A high priest of Minerva says expressly: “The second agent operates by virtue of the first; the first induces a second; the second involves a third; all are acting by virtue of God, and He is the cause of all actions acting.”

We will answer, with all the respect we owe to this high priest: “There is, and there can only exist, one true cause. All the others, which are subsequent, are but instruments. I discover a spring — I make use of it to move a machine; I discovered the spring and made the machine. I am the sole cause. That is undoubted.”

The high priest will reply: “You take liberty away from men.” I reply: “No; liberty consists in the faculty of willing, and in that of doing what you will, when nothing prevents you. God has made man upon these conditions, and he must be contented with them.”

My priest will persist, and say, that we make God the author of sin. Then we shall answer him: “I am sorry for it; but God is made the author of sin in all systems, except in that of the atheists. For if He concurs with the actions of perverse men, as with those of the just, it is evident that to concur is to do, since He who concurs is also the creator of all.”

If God alone permits sin, it is He who commits it; since to permit and to do is the same thing to the absolute master of all. If He foresees that men will do evil, he should not form men. We have never eluded the force of these ancient arguments; we have never weakened them. Whoever has produced all, has certainly produced good and evil. The system of absolute predestination, the doctrine of concurrence, equally plunge us into this labyrinth, from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

All that we can say is, that evil is for us, and not for God. Nero assassinates his preceptor and his mother; another murders his relations and neighbors; a high priest poisons, strangles, and beheads twenty Roman lords, on rising from the bed of his daughter. This is of no more importance to the Being, the Universal Soul of the World, than sheep eaten by the wolves or by us, or than flies devoured by spiders. There is no evil for the Great Being; to Him it is only the play of the great machine which incessantly moves by eternal laws. If the wicked become — whether during their lives or subsequently — more unhappy than those whom they have sacrificed to their passions; if they suffer as they have made others suffer, it is still an inevitable consequence of the immutable laws by which the Great Being necessarily acts. We know but a very small part of these laws; we have but a very weak portion of understanding; we have only resignation in our power. Of all systems, is not that which makes us acquainted with our insignificance the most reasonable? Men — as all philosophers of antiquity have said — made God in their own image; which is the reason why the first Anaxagoras, as ancient as Orpheus, expresses himself thus in his verses: “If the birds figured to themselves a God, he would have wings; that of horses would run with four legs.”

The vulgar imagine God to be a king, who holds his seat of justice in his court. Tender hearts represent him as a father who takes care of his children. The sage attributes to Him no human affection. He acknowledges a necessary eternal power which animates all nature, and resigns himself to it.

General Reflection on Man.

It requires twenty years to raise man from the state of a plant, in which he abides in his mother’s womb, and from the pure animal state, which is the lot of his earliest infancy, to that in which the maturity of reason begins to dawn. He has required thirty ages to become a little acquainted with his own bodily structure. He would require eternity to become acquainted with his soul. He requires but an instant to kill himself.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01