Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Nicole, in his “Moral Essays,” written after two or three thousand volumes on morals (Treatise on Charity, chap. ii.), says, that “by means of the gibbets and tortures which are established in common, the tyrannical designs of the self-love of each individual are repressed.”

I will not examine whether we have gibbets in common, as we have fields and woods in common, and a common purse, or if thoughts are repressed by wheels; but it seems to me very strange that Nicole has taken highway robbery and murder for self-love. The distinctions must be a little more examined. He who should say that Nero killed his mother from self-love, that Cartouche had much self-love, would not express himself very correctly. Self-love is not a wickedness; it is a sentiment natural to all men; it is much more the neighbor of vanity than of crime.

A beggar of the suburbs of Madrid boldly asked alms; a passenger said to him: Are you not ashamed to carry on this infamous trade, when you can work? Sir, replied the mendicant, I ask you for money, and not for advice; and turned his back on him with Castilian dignity. This gentleman was a haughty beggar; his vanity was wounded by very little: he asked alms for love of himself, and would not suffer the reprimand from a still greater love of himself.

A missionary, travelling in India, met a fakir loaded with chains, naked as an ape, lying on his stomach, and lashing himself for the sins of his countrymen, the Indians, who gave him some coins of the country. What a renouncement of himself! said one of the spectators. Renouncement of myself! said the fakir, learn that I only lash myself in this world to serve you the same in the next, when you will be the horses and I the rider.

Those who said that love of ourselves is the basis of all our sentiments and actions were right; and as it has not been written to prove to men that they have a face, there is no occasion to prove to them that they possess self-love. This self-love is the instrument of our preservation; it resembles the provision for the perpetuity of mankind; it is necessary, it is dear to us, it gives us pleasure, and we must conceal it.

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