Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Occult qualities have for a very long time been much derided; it would be more proper to deride those who do not believe in them. Let us for the hundredth time repeat that every principle, every primitive source of any of the works which come from the hand of the demiourgos, is occult, and eternally hidden from mortals.

What is the centripetal force, the force of gravitation, which acts without contact at such immense distances? What causes our hearts to beat sixty times a minute? What other power changes this grass into milk in the udder of a cow? and this bread into the flesh, blood, and bone of that child, who grows proportionally while he eats it, until he arrives at the height determined by nature, after which there is no art which can add a line to it.

Vegetables, minerals, animals, where is your originating principle? In the hands of Him who turns the sun on its axis, and who has clothed it with light. This lead will never become silver, nor this silver gold; this gold will never become diamond, nor this straw be transformed into lemons and bananas. What corpuscular system of physics, what atoms, determine their nature? You know nothing about it, and the cause will be eternally occult to you. All that surrounds us, all within us, is an enigma which it is not in the power of man to divine.

The furred ignoramus ought to have been aware of this truth when he said that beasts possess a vegetative and sensitive soul, and man a soul which is vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual. Poor man, kneaded up of pride, who has pronounced only words — have you ever seen a soul? Know you how it is made? We have spoken much of the soul in these inquiries, but have always confessed our ignorance. I now repeat this confession still more emphatically, since the more I read, the more I meditate, and the more I acquire, the more am I enabled to affirm that I know nothing.

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