1. The difference between the mathematical and the intuitive
mind.-- In the one, the principles are palpable, but removed from
ordinary use; so that for want of habit it is difficult to turn
one's mind in that direction: but if one turns it thither ever so
little, one sees the principles fully, and one must have a quite
inaccurate mind who reasons wrongly from principles so plain that it
is almost impossible they should escape notice.
But in the intuitive mind the principles are found in common use
and are before the eyes of everybody. One has only to look, and no
effort is necessary; it is only a question of good eyesight, but it
must be good, for the principles are so subtle and so numerous that it
is almost impossible but that some escape notice. Now the omission
of one principle leads to error; thus one must have very clear sight
to see all the principles and, in the next place, an accurate mind not
to draw false deductions from known principles.
All mathematicians would then be intuitive if they had clear sight, for they do not reason incorrectly from principles known to them; and intuitive minds would be mathematical if they could turn their eyes to the principles of mathematics to which they are unused.
The reason, therefore, that some intuitive minds are not mathematical is that they cannot at all turn their attention to the principles of mathematics. But the reason that mathematicians are not intuitive is that they do not see what is before them, and that, accustomed to the exact and plain principles of mathematics, and not reasoning till they have well inspected and arranged their principles, they are lost in matters of intuition where the principles do not allow of such arrangement. They are scarcely seen; they are felt rather than seen; there is the greatest difficulty in making them felt by those who do not of themselves perceive them. These principles are so fine and so numerous that a very delicate and very clear sense is needed to perceive them, and to judge rightly and justly when they are perceived, without for the most part being able to demonstrate them in order as in mathematics, because the principles are not known to us in the same way, and because it would be an endless matter to undertake it. We must see the matter at once, at one glance, and not by a process of reasoning, at least to a certain degree. And thus it is rare that mathematicians are intuitive and that men of intuition are mathematicians, because mathematicians wish to treat matters of intuition mathematically and make themselves ridiculous, wishing to begin with definitions and then with axioms, which is not the way to proceed in this kind of reasoning. Not that the mind does not do so, but it does it tacitly, naturally, and without technical rules; for the expression of it is beyond all men, and only a few can feel it.
Intuitive minds, on the contrary, being thus accustomed to judge at a single glance, are so astonished when they are presented with propositions of which they understand nothing, and the way to which is through definitions and axioms so sterile, and which they are not accustomed to see thus in detail, that they are repelled and disheartened.
But dull minds are never either intuitive or mathematical.
Mathematicians who are only mathematicians have exact minds, provided all things are explained to them by means of definitions and axioms; otherwise they are inaccurate and insufferable, for they are only right when the principles are quite clear.
And men of intuition who are only intuitive cannot have the patience to reach to first principles of things speculative and conceptual, which they have never seen in the world and which are altogether out of the common.
2. There are different kinds of right understanding; some have right understanding in a certain order of things, and not in others, where they go astray. Some draw conclusions well from a few premises, and this displays an acute judgment.
Others draw conclusions well where there are many premises.
For example, the former easily learn hydrostatics, where the premises are few, but the conclusions are so fine that only the greatest acuteness can reach them.
And in spite of that these persons would perhaps not be great mathematicians, because mathematics contain a great number of premises, and there is perhaps a kind of intellect that can search with ease a few premises to the bottom and cannot in the least penetrate those matters in which there are many premises.
There are then two kinds of intellect: the one able to penetrate acutely and deeply into the conclusions of given premises, and this is the precise intellect; the other able to comprehend a great number of premises without confusing them, and this is the mathematical intellect. The one has force and exactness, the other comprehension. Now the one quality can exist without the other; the intellect can be strong and narrow, and can also be comprehensive and weak.
3. Those who are accustomed to judge by feeling do not understand the process of reasoning, for they would understand at first sight and are not used to seek for principles. And others, on the contrary, who are accustomed to reason from principles, do not at all understand matters of feeling, seeking principles and being unable to see at a glance.
4. Mathematics, intuition.-- True eloquence makes light of
eloquence, true morality makes light of morality; that is to say,
the morality of the judgement, which has no rules, makes light of
the morality of the intellect.
For it is to judgement that perception belongs, as science belongs to intellect. Intuition is the part of judgement, mathematics of intellect.
To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.5. Those who judge of a work by rule are in regard to others as those who have a watch are in regard to others. One says, "It is two hours ago"; the other says, "It is only three-quarters of an hour." I look at my watch, and say to the one, "You are weary," and to the other, "Time gallops with you"; for it is only an hour and a half ago, and I laugh at those who tell me that time goes slowly with me and that I judge by imagination. They do not know that I judge by my watch.
6. Just as we harm the understanding, we harm the feelings also.
The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them; and we cannot make this choice, if they be not already improved and not corrupted. Thus a circle is formed, and those are fortunate who escape it.
7. The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.
8. There are many people who listen to a sermon in the same way as they listen to vespers.
9. When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.10. People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.
11. All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life;
but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to
be feared than the theatre. It is a representation of the passions
so natural and so delicate that it excites them and gives birth to
them in our hearts, and, above all, to that of love, principally
when it is represented as very chaste and virtuous. For the more
innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they are likely to
be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which
immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are
seen so well represented; and, at the same time, we make ourselves a
conscience founded on the propriety of the feelings which we see
there, by which the fear of pure souls is removed, since they
imagine that it cannot hurt their purity to love with a love which
seems to them so reasonable.
So we depart from the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence, that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices which we have seen so well represented in the theatre.
12. Scaramouch, who only thinks of one thing.
The doctor, who speaks for a quarter of an hour after he has said everything, so full is he of the desire of talking.
13. One likes to see the error, the passion of Cleobuline, because she is unconscious of it. She would be displeasing, if she were not deceived.
14. When a natural discourse paints a passion or an effect, one feels within oneself the truth of what one reads, which was there before, although one did not know it. Hence one is inclined to love him who makes us feel it, for he has not shown us his own riches, but ours. And thus this benefit renders him pleasing to us, besides that such community of intellect as we have with him necessarily inclines the heart to love.
15. Eloquence, which persuades by sweetness, not by authority; as a tyrant, not as a king.
16. Eloquence is an art of saying things in such a way (1) that
those to whom we speak may listen to them without pain and with
pleasure; (2) that they feel themselves interested, so that
self-love leads them more willingly to reflection upon it.
It consists, then, in a correspondence which we seek to establish between the head and the heart of those to whom we speak, on the one hand, and, on the other, between the thoughts and the expressions which we employ. This assumes that we have studied well the heart of man so as to know all its powers and, then, to find the just proportions of the discourse which we wish to adapt to them. We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us, and make trial on our own heart of the turn which we give to our discourse in order to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we can assure ourselves that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to surrender. We ought to restrict ourselves, so far as possible, to the simple and natural, and not to magnify that which is little, or belittle that which is great. It is not enough that a thing be beautiful; it must be suitable to the subject, and there must be in it nothing of excess or defect.
17. Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.
18. When we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage
that there should exist a common error which determines the mind of
man, as, for example, the moon, to which is attributed the change of
seasons, the progress of diseases, etc. For the chief malady of man is
restless curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it
is not so bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose.
The manner in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Salomon de Tultie wrote is the most usual, the most suggestive, the most remembered, and the oftenest quoted, because it is entirely composed of thoughts born from the common talk of life. As when we speak of the common error which exists among men that the moon is the cause of everything, we never fail to say that Salomon de Tultie says that, when we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage that there should exist a common error, etc.; which is the thought above.
19. The last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in first.
20. Order.-- Why should I undertake to divide my virtues into four rather than into six? Why should I rather establish virtue in four, in two, in one? Why into Abstine et sustine ["Abstain and uphold." Stoic maxim.] rather than into "Follow Nature," or, "Conduct your private affairs without injustice," as Plato, or anything else? But there, you will say, everything is contained in one word. Yes, but it is useless without explanation, and when we come to explain it, as soon as we unfold this maxim which contains all the rest, they emerge in that first confusion which you desired to avoid. So, when they are all included in one, they are hidden and useless, as in a chest, and never appear save in their natural confusion. Nature has established them all without including one in the other.
21. Nature has made all her truths independent of one another. Our art makes one dependent on the other. But this is not natural. Each keeps its own place.
22. Let no one say that I have said nothing new; the arrangement
of the subject is new. When we play tennis, we both play with the same
ball, but one of us places it better.
I had as soon it said that I used words employed before. And in the same way if the same thoughts in a different arrangement do not form a different discourse, no more do the same words in their different arrangement form different thoughts!
23. Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects.24. Language.-- We should not turn the mind from one thing to another, except for relaxation, and that when it is necessary and the time suitable, and not otherwise. For he that relaxes out of season wearies, and he who wearies us out of season makes us languid, since we turn quite away. So much does our perverse lust like to do the contrary of what those wish to obtain from us without giving us pleasure, the coin for which we will do whatever is wanted.
25. Eloguence.-- It requires the pleasant and the real; but the pleasant must itself be drawn from the true.
26. Eloquence is a painting of thought; and thus those who, after having painted it, add something more, make a picture instead of a portrait.
27. Miscellaneous. Language.-- Those who make antitheses by forcing words are like those who make false windows for symmetry. Their rule is not to speak accurately, but to make apt figures of speech.
28. Symmetry is what we see at a glance; based on the fact that there is no reason for any difference, and based also on the face of man; whence it happens that symmetry is only wanted in breadth, not in height or depth.
29. When we see a natural style, we are astonished and
delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.
Whereas those who have good taste, and who, seeing a book, expect to
find a man, are quite surprised to find an author. Plus poetice quam humane locutus es. [Petronius, 90. "You have spoken more as a poet than as a man."]
Those honour Nature well who teach that she can speak on everything, even on theology.
30. We only consult the ear because the heart is wanting. The rule
Beauty of omission, of judgement.
31. All the false beauties which we blame in Cicero have their admirers, and in great number.
32. There is a certain standard of grace and beauty which consists
in a certain relation between our nature, such as it is, weak or
strong, and the thing which pleases us.
Whatever is formed according to this standard pleases us, be it house, song, discourse, verse, prose, woman, birds, rivers, trees, rooms, dress, etc. Whatever is not made according to this standard displeases those who have good taste.
And as there is a perfect relation between a song and a house which are made after a good model, because they are like this good model, though each after its kind; even so there is a perfect relation between things made after a bad model. Not that the bad model is unique, for there are many; but each bad sonnet, for example, on whatever false model it is formed, is just like a woman dressed after that model.
Nothing makes us understand better the ridiculousness of a false sonnet than to consider nature and the standard and, then, to imagine a woman or a house made according to that standard.
33. Poetical beauty.-- As we speak of poetical beauty, so ought we to speak of mathematical beauty and medical beauty. But we do not
do so; and the reason is that we know well what is the object of
mathematics, and that it consists in proofs, and what is the object of
medicine, and that it consists in healing. But we do not know in
what grace consists, which is the object of poetry. We do not know the
natural model which we ought to imitate; and through lack of this
knowledge, we have coined fantastic terms, "The golden age," "The
wonder of our times," "Fatal," etc., and call this jargon poetical
But whoever imagines a woman after this model, which consists in saying little things in big words, will see a pretty girl adorned with mirrors and chains, at whom he will smile; because we know better wherein consists the charm of woman than the charm of verse. But those who are ignorant would admire her in this dress, and there are many villages in which she would be taken for the queen; hence we call sonnets made after this model "Village Queens."
34. No one passes in the world as skilled in verse unless he has
put up the sign of a poet, a mathematician, etc. But educated people
do not want a sign and draw little distinction between the trade of
a poet and that of an embroiderer.
People of education are not called poets or mathematicians, etc.; but they are all these and judges of all these. No one guesses what they are. When they come into society, they talk on matters about which the rest are talking. We do not observe in them one quality rather than another, save when they have to make use of it. But then we remember it, for it is characteristic of such persons that we do not say of them that they are fine speakers, when it is not a question of oratory, and that we say of them that they are fine speakers, when it is such a question.
It is therefore false praise to give a man when we say of him, on his entry, that he is a very clever poet; and it is a bad sign when a man is not asked to give his judgement on some verses.
35. We should not be able to say of a man, "He is a mathematician," or "a preacher," or "eloquent"; but that he is "a gentleman." That universal quality alone pleases me. It is a bad sign when, on seeing a person, you remember his book. I would prefer you to see no quality till you meet it and have occasion to use it (Ne quid minis), ["Nothing in excess."] for fear some one quality prevail and designate the man. Let none think him a fine speaker, unless oratory be in question, and then let them think it.
36. Man is full of wants: he loves only those who can satisfy them all. "This one is a good mathematician," one will say. But I have nothing to do with mathematics; he would take me for a proposition. "That one is a good soldier." He would take me for a besieged town. I need, then, an upright man who can accommodate himself generally to all my wants.
37. Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything. For it is far better to know something about everything than to know all about one thing. This universality is the best. If we can have both, still better; but if we must choose, we ought to choose the former. And the world feels this and does so; for the world is often a good judge.
38. A poet and not an honest man.
39. If lightning fell on low places, etc., poets, and those who can only reason about things of that kind, would lack proofs.
40. If we wished to prove the examples which we take to prove
other things, we should have to take those other things to be
examples; for, as we always believe the difficulty is in what we
wish to prove, we find the examples clearer and a help to
Thus, when we wish to demonstrate a general theorem, we must give the rule as applied to a particular case; but if we wish to demonstrate a particular case, we must begin with the general rule. For we always find the thing obscure which we wish to prove and that clear which we use for the proof; for, when a thing is put forward to be proved, we first fill ourselves with the imagination that it is, therefore, obscure and, on the contrary, that what is to prove it is clear, and so we understand it easily.
41. Epigrams of Martial.-- Man loves malice, but not against
one-eyed men nor the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud.
People are mistaken in thinking otherwise.
For lust is the source of all our actions, and humanity, etc. We must please those who have humane and tender feelings. That epigram about two one-eyed people is worthless, for it does not console them and only gives a point to the author's glory. All that is only for the sake of the author is worthless. Ambitiosa recident ornamenta. [Horace, Epistle to the pious, 447. "They curtailed pretentious ornaments."]
42. To call a king "Prince" is pleasing, because it diminishes his rank.
43. Certain authors, speaking of their works, say: "My book," "My commentary," "My history," etc. They resemble middle-class people who have a house of their own and always have "My house" on their tongue. They would do better to say: "Our book," "Our commentary," "Our history," etc., because there is in them usually more of other people's than their own.
44. Do you wish people to believe good of you? Don't speak.
45. Languages are ciphers, wherein letters are not changed into letters, but words into words, so that an unknown language is decipherable.
46. A maker of witticisms, a bad character.
47. There are some who speak well and write badly. For the place and the audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than they think of without that warmth.
48. When we find words repeated in a discourse and, in trying to correct them, discover that they are so appropriate that we would spoil the discourse, we must leave them alone. This is the test; and our attempt is the work of envy, which is blind, and does not see that repetition is not in this place a fault; for there is no general rule.
49. To mask nature and disguise her. No more king, pope, bishop- but august monarch, etc.; not Paris-- the capital of the kingdom. There are places in which we ought to call Paris, "Paris," others in which we ought to call it the capital of the kingdom.
50. The same meaning changes with the words which express it. Meanings receive their dignity from words instead of giving it to them. Examples should be sought....
51. Sceptic, for obstinate.
52. No one calls another a Cartesian but he who is one himself, a pedant but a pedant, a provincial but a provincial; and I would wager it was the printer who put it on the title of Letters to a Provincial.
53. A carriage upset or overturned, according to the meaning. To spread abroad or upset, according to the meaning. (The argument by force of M. le Maitre over the friar.)
54. Miscellaneous.-- A form of speech, "I should have liked to apply myself to that."
55. The aperitive, virtue of a key, the attractive virtue of a hook.
56. To guess: "The part that I take in your trouble." The Cardinal
did not want to be guessed.
"My mind is disquieted." I am disquieted is better.
57. I always feel uncomfortable under such compliments as these: "I have given you a great deal of trouble," "I am afraid I am boring you," "I fear this is too long." We either carry our audience with us, or irritate them.
58. You are ungraceful: "Excuse me, pray." Without that excuse I would not have known there was anything amiss. "With reverence be it spoken..." The only thing bad is their excuse.
59. "To extinguish the torch of sedition"; too luxuriant. "The restlessness of his genius"; two superfluous grand words.
60. First part: Misery of man without God.
Second part: Happiness of man with God.
Or, First part: That nature is corrupt. Proved by nature itself.
Second part: That there is a Redeemer. Proved by Scripture.
61. Order.-- I might well have taken this discourse in an order like this: to show the vanity of all conditions of men, to show the vanity of ordinary lives, and then the vanity of philosophic lives, sceptics, stoics; but the order would not have been kept. I know a little what it is, and how few people understand it. No human science can keep it. Saint Thomas did not keep it. Mathematics keep it, but they are useless on account of their depth.
62. Preface to the first part.-- To speak of those who have treated of the knowledge of self; of the divisions of Charron, which sadden
and weary us; of the confusion of Montaigne; that he was quite aware
of his want of method and shunned it by jumping from subject to
subject; that he sought to be fashionable.
His foolish project of describing himself! And this not casually and against his maxims, since every one makes mistakes, but by his maxims themselves, and by first and chief design. For to say silly things by chance and weakness is a common misfortune, but to say them intentionally is intolerable, and to say such as that...
63. Montaigne.-- Montaigne's faults are great. Lewd words; this is bad, notwithstanding Mademoiselle de Gournay. Credulous; people without eyes. Ignorant; squaring the circle, a greater world. His opinions on suicide, on death. He suggests an indifference about salvation, without fear and without repentance. As his book was not written with a religious purpose, he was not bound to mention religion; but it is always our duty not to turn men from it. One can excuse his rather free and licentious opinions on some relations of life; but one cannot excuse his thoroughly pagan views on death, for a man must renounce piety altogether, if he does not at least wish to die like a Christian. Now, through the whole of his book his only conception of death is a cowardly and effeminate one.
64. It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in him.
65. What good there is in Montaigne can only have been acquired with difficulty. The evil that is in him, I mean apart from his morality, could have been corrected in a moment, if he had been informed that he made too much of trifles and spoke too much of himself.
66. One must know oneself. If this does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better.
67. The vanity of the sciences.-- Physical science will not console me for the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical sciences.
68. Men are never taught to be gentlemen and are taught everything else; and they never plume themselves so much on the rest of their knowledge as on knowing how to be gentlemen. They only plume themselves on knowing the one thing they do not know.
69. The infinites, the mean.-- When we read too fast or too slowly, we understand nothing.
70. Nature... -- Nature has set us so well in the centre, that if we change one side of the balance, we change the other also. This makes me believe that the springs in our brain are so adjusted that he who touches one touches also its contrary.
71. Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give him too much, the same.
72. Man's disproportion.-- This is where our innate knowledge leads us. If it be not true, there is no truth in man; and if it be true, he
finds therein great cause for humiliation, being compelled to abase
himself in one way or another. And since he cannot exist without
this knowledge, I wish that, before entering on deeper researches into
nature, he would consider her both seriously and at leisure, that he
would reflect upon himself also, and knowing what proportion there
is... Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and
grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround
him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to
illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in
comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him
wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine
point in comparison with that described by the stars in their
revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let
our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of
conception than nature that of supplying material for conception.
The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample
bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions
beyond an imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with
the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which
is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest
sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses
itself in that thought.
Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?
But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. Let him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which a little while ago was imperceptible in the universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with presumption.
For, in fact, what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.
What will he do then, but perceive the appearance of the middle of things, in an eternal despair of knowing either their beginning or their end. All things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the Infinite. Who will follow these marvellous processes? The Author of these wonders understands them. None other can do so.
Through failure to contemplate these Infinites, men have rashly rushed into the examination of nature, as though they bore some proportion to her. It is strange that they have wished to understand the beginnings of things, and thence to arrive at the knowledge of the whole, with a presumption as infinite as their object. For surely this design cannot be formed without presumption or without a capacity infinite like nature.
If we are well informed, we understand that, as nature has graven her image and that of her Author on all things, they almost all partake of her double infinity. Thus we see that all the sciences are infinite in the extent of their researches. For who doubts that geometry, for instance, has an infinite infinity of problems to solve? They are also infinite in the multitude and fineness of their premises; for it is clear that those which are put forward as ultimate are not self-supporting, but are based on others which, again having others for their support, do not permit of finality. But we represent some as ultimate for reason, in the same way as in regard to material objects we call that an indivisible point beyond which our senses can no longer perceive anything, although by its nature it is infinitely divisible.
Of these two Infinites of science, that of greatness is the most palpable, and hence a few persons have pretended to know all things. "I will speak of the whole," said Democritus.
But the infinitely little is the least obvious. Philosophers have much oftener claimed to have reached it, and it is here they have all stumbled. This has given rise to such common titles as First Principles, Principles of Philosophy, and the like, as ostentatious in fact, though not in appearance, as that one which blinds us, De omni scibili. [Title given by Pico della Mirandola to one of his proposed nine hundred theses, in 1486.]
We naturally believe ourselves far more capable of reaching the centre of things than of embracing their circumference. The visible extent of the world visibly exceeds us; but as we exceed little things, we think ourselves more capable of knowing them. And yet we need no less capacity for attaining the Nothing than the All. Infinite capacity is required for both, and it seems to me that whoever shall have understood the ultimate principles of being might also attain to the knowledge of the Infinite. The one depends on the other, and one leads to the other. These extremes meet and reunite by force of distance and find each other in God, and in God alone.
Let us, then, take our compass; we are something, and we are not everything. The nature of our existence hides from us the knowledge of first beginnings which are born of the Nothing; and the littleness of our being conceals from us the sight of the Infinite.
Our intellect holds the same position in the world of thought as our body occupies in the expanse of nature.
Limited as we are in every way, this state which holds the mean between two extremes is present in all our impotence. Our senses perceive no extreme. Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great distance or proximity hinders our view. Too great length and too great brevity of discourse tend to obscurity; too much truth is paralysing (I know some who cannot understand that to take four from nothing leaves nothing). First principles are too self-evident for us; too much pleasure disagrees with us. Too many concords are annoying in music; too many benefits irritate us; we wish to have the wherewithal to overpay our debts. Beneficia eo usque laeta sunt dum videntur exsolvi posse; ubi multum antevenere, pro gratia odium redditur. [Tacitus, Annals, iv. "Kindnesses are agreeable so long as one thinks them possible to render; further, recognition makes way for hatred.] "We feel neither extreme heat nor extreme cold. Excessive qualities are prejudicial to us and not perceptible by the senses; we do not feel but suffer them. Extreme youth and extreme age hinder the mind, as also too much and too little education. In short, extremes are for us as though they were not, and we are not within their notice. They escape us, or we them.
This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.
Let us, therefore, not look for certainty and stability. Our reason is always deceived by fickle shadows; nothing can fix the finite between the two Infinites, which both enclose and fly from it.
If this be well understood, I think that we shall remain at rest, each in the state wherein nature has placed him. As this sphere which has fallen to us as our lot is always distant from either extreme, what matters it that man should have a little more knowledge of the universe? If he has it, he but gets a little higher. Is he not always infinitely removed from the end, and is not the duration of our life equally removed from eternity, even if it lasts ten years longer?
In comparison with these Infinites, all finites are equal, and I see no reason for fixing our imagination on one more than on another. The only comparison which we make of ourselves to the finite is painful to us.
If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how incapable he is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he may perhaps aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some proportion. But the parts of the world are all so related and linked to one another that I believe it impossible to know one without the other and without the whole.
Man, for instance, is related to all he knows. He needs a place wherein to abide, time through which to live, motion in order to live, elements to compose him, warmth and food to nourish him, air to breathe. He sees light; he feels bodies; in short, he is in a dependent alliance with everything. To know man, then, it is necessary to know how it happens that he needs air to live, and, to know the air, we must know how it is thus related to the life of man, etc. Flame cannot exist without air; therefore, to understand the one, we must understand the other.
Since everything, then, is cause and effect, dependent and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.
The eternity of things in itself or in God must also astonish our brief duration. The fixed and constant immobility of nature, in comparison with the continual change which goes on within us, must have the same effect.
And what completes our incapability of knowing things is the fact that they are simple and that we are composed of two opposite natures, different in kind, soul and body. For it is impossible that our rational part should be other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are simply corporeal, this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of things, there being nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows itself. It is impossible to imagine how it should know itself.
So, if we are simply material, we can know nothing at all; and if we are composed of mind and matter, we cannot know perfectly things which are simple, whether spiritual or corporeal. Hence it comes that almost all philosophers have confused ideas of things, and speak of material things in spiritual terms, and of spiritual things in material terms. For they say boldly that bodies have a tendency to fall, that they seek after their centre, that they fly from destruction, that they fear the void, that they have inclinations, sympathies, antipathies, all of which attributes pertain only to mind. And in speaking of minds, they consider them as in a place, and attribute to them movement from one place to another; and these are qualities which belong only to bodies.
Instead of receiving the ideas of these things in their purity, we colour them with our own qualities, and stamp with our composite being all the simple things which we contemplate.
Who would not think, seeing us compose all things of mind and body, but that this mixture would be quite intelligible to us? Yet it is the very thing we least understand. Man is to himself the most wonderful object in nature; for he cannot conceive what the body is, still less what the mind is, and least of all how a body should be united to a mind. This is the consummation of his difficulties, and yet it is his very being. Modus quo corporibus adhaerent spiritus comprehendi ab hominibus non potest, et hoc tamen homo est. [St. Augustine, City of God, xxi. 10. "The manner in which the spirit is united to the body can not be understood by man; and yet it is man."] Finally, to complete the proof of our weakness, I shall conclude with these two considerations...
73. But perhaps this subject goes beyond the capacity of reason.
Let us therefore examine her solutions to problems within her
powers. If there be anything to which her own interest must have
made her apply herself most seriously, it is the inquiry into her
own sovereign good. Let us see, then, wherein these strong and
clear-sighted souls have placed it and whether they agree.
One says that the sovereign good consists in virtue, another in pleasure, another in the knowledge of nature, another in truth, Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas, [Virgil, Georgics, ii. "Happy is he who is able to know the causes of things."] another in total ignorance, another in indolence, others in disregarding appearances, another in wondering at nothing, nihil admirari prope res una quae possit facere et servare beatum, [Horace, Epistles, I. vi. 1. " To be astonished at nothing is nearly the only thing which can give and conserve happiness."] and the true sceptics in their indifference, doubt, and perpetual suspense, and others, wiser, think to find a better definition. We are well satisfied.
To transpose after the laws to the following title.
We must see if this fine philosophy has gained nothing certain from so long and so intent study; perhaps at least the soul will know itself. Let us hear the rulers of the world on this subject. What have they thought of her substance? 394. Have they been more fortunate in locating her? 395. What have they found \out about her origin, duration, and departure? Harum sententiarum,* 399. [Montaigne, Essays, ii.]
Is, then, the soul too noble a subject for their feeble lights? Let us, then, abase her to matter and see if she knows whereof is made the very body which she animates and those others which she contemplates and moves at her will. What have those great dogmatists, who are ignorant of nothing, known of this matter? 393. ii Harum sententiarum quae vera sit, Deus aliquis viderit. [Cicero, Disputationes Tusculanae, i, "Which of these opinions in the truth, a god will see."].
This would doubtless suffice, if Reason were reasonable. She is reasonable enough to admit that she has been unable to find anything durable, but she does not yet despair of reaching it; she is as ardent as ever in this search, and is confident she has within her the necessary powers for this conquest. We must therefore conclude, and, after having examined her powers in their effects, observe them in themselves, and see if she has a nature and a grasp capable of laying hold of the truth.
74. A letter On the Foolishness of Human Knowledge and Philosophy.
This letter before Diversion.
Felix qui potuit... Nihil admirari.
280 kinds of sovereign good in Montaigne.
75. Part I, 1, 2, c. 1, section 4. [Treatise on the Vacuum.]
Probability. -- It will not be difficult to put the case a stage lower, and make it appear ridiculous. To begin at the very beginning. What is more absurd than to say that lifeless bodies have passions, fears, hatreds-- that insensible bodies, lifeless and incapable of life, have passions which presuppose at least a sensitive soul to feel them, nay more, that the object of their dread is the void? What is there in the void that could make them afraid? Nothing is more shallow and ridiculous. This is not all; it is said that they have in themselves a source of movement to shun the void. Have they arms, legs, muscles, nerves?
76. To write against those who made too profound a study of science: Descartes.
77. I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God.
78. Descartes useless and uncertain.
79. Descartes. -- We must say summarily: "This is made by figure and motion," for it is true. But to say what these are, and to compose the machine, is ridiculous. For it is useless, uncertain, and painful. And were it true, we do not think all Philosophy is worth one hour of pain.
80. How comes it that a cripple does not offend us, but that a
fool does? Because a cripple recognises that we walk straight, whereas
a fool declares that it is we who are silly; if it were not so, we
should feel pity and not anger.
Epictetus asks still more strongly: "Why are we not angry if we are told that we have a headache, and why are we angry if we are told that we reason badly, or choose wrongly"? The reason is that we are quite certain that we have not a headache, or are not lame, but we are not so sure that we make a true choice. So, having assurance only because we see with our whole sight, it puts us into suspense and surprise when another with his whole sight sees the opposite, and still more so when a thousand others deride our choice. For we must prefer our own lights to those of so many others, and that is bold and difficult. There is never this contradiction in the feelings towards a cripple.
81. It is natural for the mind to believe and for the will to love; so that, for want of true objects, they must attach themselves to false.
82. Imagination. -- It is that deceitful part in man, that
mistress of error and falsity, the more deceptive that she is not
always so; for she would be an infallible rule of truth, if she were
an infallible rule of falsehood. But being most generally false, she
gives no sign of her nature, impressing the same character on the true
and the false.
I do not speak of fools, I speak of the wisest men; and it is among them that the imagination has the great gift of persuasion. Reason protests in vain; it cannot set a true value on things.
This arrogant power, the enemy of reason, who likes to rule and dominate it, has established in man a second nature to show how all-powerful she is. She makes men happy and sad, healthy and sick, rich and poor; she compels reason to believe, doubt, and deny; she blunts the senses, or quickens them; she has her fools and sages; and nothing vexes us more than to see that she fills her devotees with a satisfaction far more full and entire than does reason. Those who have a lively imagination are a great deal more pleased with themselves than the wise can reasonably be. They look down upon men with haughtiness; they argue with boldness and confidence, others with fear and diffidence; and this gaiety of countenance often gives them the advantage in the opinion of the hearers, such favour have the imaginary wise in the eyes of judges of like nature. Imagination cannot make fools wise; but she can make them happy, to the envy of reason which can only make its friends miserable; the one covers them with glory, the other with shame.
What but this faculty of imagination dispenses reputation, awards respect and veneration to persons, works, laws, and the great? How insufficient are all the riches of the earth without her consent!
Would you not say that this magistrate, whose venerable age commands the respect of a whole people, is governed by pure and lofty reason, and that he judges causes according to their true nature without considering those mere trifles which only affect the imagination of the weak? See him go to sermon, full of devout zeal, strengthening his reason with the ardour of his love. He is ready to listen with exemplary respect. Let the preacher appear, and let nature have given him a hoarse voice or a comical cast of countenance, or let his barber have given him a bad shave, or let by chance his dress be more dirtied than usual, then, however great the truths he announces, I wager our senator loses his gravity.
If the greatest philosopher in the world find himself upon a plank wider than actually necessary, but hanging over a precipice, his imagination will prevail, though his reason convince him of his safety. Many cannot bear the thought without a cold sweat. I will not state all its effects.
Every one knows that the sight of cats or rats, the crushing of a coal, etc., may unhinge the reason. The tone of voice affects the wisest, and changes the force of a discourse or a poem.
Love or hate alters the aspect of justice. How much greater confidence has an advocate, retained with a large fee, in the justice of his cause! How much better does his bold manner make his case appear to the judges, deceived as they are by appearances! How ludicrous is reason, blown with a breath in every direction!
I should have to enumerate almost every action of men who scarce waver save under her assaults. For reason has been obliged to yield, and the wisest reason takes as her own principles those which the imagination of man has everywhere rashly introduced. He who would follow reason only would be deemed foolish by the generality of men. We must judge by the opinion of the majority of mankind. Because it has pleased them, we must work all day for pleasures seen to be imaginary; and, after sleep has refreshed our tired reason, we must forthwith start up and rush after phantoms, and suffer the impressions of this mistress of the world. This is one of the sources of error, but it is not the only one.
Our magistrates have known well this mystery. Their red robes, the ermine in which they wrap themselves like furry cats, the courts in which they administer justice, the fleurs-de-lis, and all such august apparel were necessary; if the physicians had not their cassocks and their mules, if the doctors had not their square caps and their robes four times too wide, they would never have duped the world, which cannot resist so original an appearance. If magistrates had true justice, and if physicians had the true art of healing, they would have no occasion for square caps; the majesty of these sciences would of itself be venerable enough. But having only imaginary knowledge, they must employ those silly tools that strike the imagination with which they have to deal; and thereby, in fact, they inspire respect. Soldiers alone are not disguised in this manner, because indeed their part is the most essential; they establish themselves by force, the others by show.
Therefore our kings seek out no disguises. They do not mask themselves in extraordinary costumes to appear such; but they are accompanied by guards and halberdiers. Those armed and red-faced puppets who have hands and power for them alone, those trumpets and drums which go before them, and those legions round about them, make the stoutest tremble. They have not dress only, they have might. A very refined reason is required to regard as an ordinary man the Grand Turk, in his superb seraglio, surrounded by forty thousand janissaries.
We cannot even see an advocate in his robe and with his cap on his head, without a favourable opinion of his ability. The imagination disposes of everything; it makes beauty, justice, and happiness, which is everything in the world. I should much like to see an Italian work, of which I only know the title, which alone is worth many books, Della opinione regina del mondo. I approve of the book without knowing it, save the evil in it, if any. These are pretty much the effects of that deceptive faculty, which seems to have been expressly given us to lead us into necessary error. We have, however, many other sources of error.
Not only are old impressions capable of misleading us; the charms of novelty have the same power. Hence arise all the disputes of men, who taunt each other either with following the false impressions of childhood or with running rashly after the new. Who keeps the due mean? Let him appear and prove it. There is no principle, however natural to us from infancy, which may not be made to pass for a false impression either of education or of sense.
"Because," say some, "you have believed from childhood that a box was empty when you saw nothing in it, you have believed in the possibility of a vacuum. This is an illusion of your senses, strengthened by custom, which science must correct." "Because," say others, "you have been taught at school that there is no vacuum, you have perverted your common sense which clearly comprehended it, and you must correct this by returning to your first state." Which has deceived you, your senses or your education?
We have another source of error in diseases. They spoil the judgement and the senses; and if the more serious produce a sensible change, I do not doubt that slighter ills produce a proportionate impression.
Our own interest is again a marvellous instrument for nicely putting out our eyes. The justest man in the world is not allowed to be judge in his own cause; I know some who, in order not to fall into this self-love, have been perfectly unjust out of opposition. The sure way of losing a just cause has been to get it recommended to these men by their near relatives.
Justice and truth are two such subtle points that our tools are too blunt to touch them accurately. If they reach the point, they either crush it, or lean all round, more on the false than on the true.
Man is so happily formed that he has no... good of the true, and several excellent of the false. Let us now see how much... But the most powerful cause of error is the war existing between the senses and reason.
83. We must thus begin the chapter on the deceptive powers. Man is only a subject full of error, natural and ineffaceable, without grace.
Nothing shows him the truth. Everything deceives him. These two
sources of truth, reason and the senses, besides being both wanting in
sincerity, deceive each other in turn. The senses mislead the Reason
with false appearances, and receive from Reason in their turn the same
trickery which they apply to her; Reason has her revenge. The passions
of the soul trouble the senses, and make false impressions upon
them. They rival each other in falsehood and deception.
But besides those errors which arise accidentally and through lack of intelligence, with these heterogeneous faculties...
84. The imagination enlarges little objects so as to fill our souls with a fantastic estimate; and, with rash insolence, it belittles the great to its own measure, as when talking of God.
85. Things which have most hold on us, as the concealment of our few possessions, are often a mere nothing. It is a nothing which our imagination magnifies into a mountain. Another turn of the imagination would make us discover this without difficulty.
86. My fancy makes me hate a croaker, and one who pants when eating. Fancy has great weight. Shall we profit by it? Shall we yield to this weight because it is natural? No, but by resisting it...
87. Nae iste magno conatu magnas nugas dixerit. [Terence,
Heauton Timorumenos, III. v. 8. "There is one who
will say great foolishness with great effort."
583. Montaigne, Essays, ii.] Quasi quidquam infelicius sit homini cui sua figmenta dominantur. [Pliny, ii. "As though there were anyone more unhappy than a man dominated by his imagination."]
88. Children who are frightened at the face they have blackened are but children. But how shall one who is so weak in his childhood become really strong when he grows older? We only change our fancies. All that is made perfect by progress perishes also by progress. All that has been weak can never become absolutely strong. We say in vain, "He has grown, he has changed"; he is also the same.
89. Custom is our nature. He who is accustomed to the faith believes in it, can no longer fear hell, and believes in nothing else. He who is accustomed to believe that the king is terrible... etc. Who doubts, then, that our soul, being accustomed to see number, space, motion, believes that and nothing else?
90. Quod crebro videt non miratur, etiamsi cur fiat nescit; quod ante non viderit, id si evenerit, ostentum esse censet.[Cicero, De Divinatione ii. 22. "A common happening does not astonish, even though the cause is unknown; an event such as one has never seen before passes for a prodigy."]
91. Spongia solis. -- When we see the same effect always recur, we infer a natural necessity in it, as that there will be a tomorrow, etc. But Nature often deceives us, and does not subject herself to her own rules.
92. What are our natural principles but principles of custom? In children they are those which they have received from the habits of their fathers, as hunting in animals. A different custom will cause different natural principles. This is seen in experience; and if there are some natural principles ineradicable by custom, there are also some customs opposed to nature, ineradicable by nature or by a second custom. This depends on disposition.
93. Parents fear lest the natural love of their children may fade away. What kind of nature is that which is subject to decay? Custom is a second nature which destroys the former. But what is nature? For is custom not natural? I am much afraid that nature is itself only a first custom, as custom is a second nature.
94. The nature of man is wholly natural, omne animal. [Allusion to Gen. 7. 14. Ipsi et omne animal secundus genus suum."And every beast after his kind."]
There is nothing he may not make natural; there is nothing natural he may not lose.
95. Memory, joy, are intuitions; and even mathematical propositions become intuitions, for education produces natural intuitions, and natural intuitions are erased by education.
96. When we are accustomed to use bad reasons for proving natural effects, we are not willing to receive good reasons when they are discovered. An example may be given from the circulation of the blood as a reason why the vein swells below the ligature.
97. The most important affair in life is the choice of a calling; chance decides it. Custom makes men masons, soldiers, slaters. "He is a good slater," says one, and, speaking of soldiers, remarks, "They are perfect fools." But others affirm, "There is nothing great but war; the rest of men are good for nothing." We choose our callings according as we hear this or that praised or despised in our childhood, for we naturally love truth and hate folly. These words move us; the only error is in their application. So great is the force of custom that, out of those whom nature has only made men, are created all conditions of men. For some districts are full of masons, others of soldiers, etc. Certainly nature is not so uniform. It is custom then which does this, for it constrains nature. But sometimes nature gains the ascendancy and preserves man's instinct, in spite of all custom, good or bad.
98. Bias leading to error. -- It is a deplorable thing to see all
men deliberating on means alone, and not on the end. Each thinks how
he will acquit himself in his condition; but as for the choice of
condition, or of country, chance gives them to us.
It is a pitiable thing to see so many Turks, heretics, and infidels follow the way of their fathers for the sole reason that each has been imbued with the prejudice that it is the best. And that fixes for each man his condition of locksmith, soldier, etc.
Hence savages care nothing for Providence.
99. There is an universal and essential difference between the
actions of the will and all other actions.
The will is one of the chief factors in belief, not that it creates belief, but because things are true or false according to the aspect in which we look at them. The will, which prefers one aspect to another, turns away the mind from considering the qualities of all that it does not like to see; and thus the mind, moving in accord with the will, stops to consider the aspect which it likes and so judges by what it sees.
100. Self-love. -- The nature of self-love and of this human Ego is to love self only and consider self only. But what will man do? He
cannot prevent this object that he loves from being full of faults and
wants. He wants to be great, and he sees himself small. He wants to be
happy, and he sees himself miserable. He wants to be perfect, and he
sees himself full of imperfections. He wants to be the object of
love and esteem among men, and he sees that his faults merit only
their hatred and contempt. This embarrassment in which he finds
himself produces in him the most unrighteous and criminal passion that
can be imagined; for he conceives a mortal enmity against that truth
which reproves him and which convinces him of his faults. He would
annihilate it, but, unable to destroy it in its essence, he destroys
it as far as possible in his own knowledge and in that of others; that
is to say, he devotes all his attention to hiding his faults both from
others and from himself, and he cannot endure either that others
should point them out to him, or that they should see them.
Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a still greater evil to be full of them and to be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. We do not like others to deceive us; we do not think it fair that they should be held in higher esteem by us than they deserve; it is not, then, fair that we should deceive them and should wish them to esteem us more highly than we deserve.
Thus, when they discover only the imperfections and vices which we really have, it is plain they do us no wrong, since it is not they who cause them; they rather do us good, since they help us to free ourselves from an evil, namely, the ignorance of these imperfections. We ought not to be angry at their knowing our faults and despising us; it is but right that they should know us for what we are and should despise us, if we are contemptible.
Such are the feelings that would arise in a heart full of equity and justice. What must we say then of our own heart, when we see it in a wholly different disposition? For is it not true that we hate truth and those who tell it us, and that we like them to be deceived in our favour, and prefer to be esteemed by them as being other than what we are in fact? One proof of this makes me shudder. The Catholic religion does not bind us to confess our sins indiscriminately to everybody; it allows them to remain hidden from all other men save one, to whom she bids us reveal the innermost recesses of our heart and show ourselves as we are. There is only this one man in the world whom she orders us to undeceive, and she binds him to an inviolable secrecy, which makes this knowledge to him as if it were not. Can we imagine anything more charitable and pleasant? And yet the corruption of man is such that he finds even this law harsh; and it is one of the main reasons which has caused a great part of Europe to rebel against the Church.
How unjust and unreasonable is the heart of man, which feels it disagreeable to be obliged to do in regard to one man what in some measure it were right to do to all men! For is it right that we should deceive men?
There are different degrees in this aversion to truth; but all may perhaps be said to have it in some degree, because it is inseparable from self-love. It is this false delicacy which makes those who are under the necessity of reproving others choose so many windings and middle courses to avoid offence. They must lessen our faults, appear to excuse them, intersperse praises and evidence of love and esteem. Despite all this, the medicine does not cease to be bitter to self-love. It takes as little as it can, always with disgust, and often with a secret spite against those who administer it.
Hence it happens that, if any have some interest in being loved by us, they are averse to render us a service which they know to be disagreeable. They treat us as we wish to be treated. We hate the truth, and they hide it from us. We desire flattery, and they flatter us. We like to be deceived, and they deceive us.
So each degree of good fortune which raises us in the world removes us farther from truth, because we are most afraid of wounding those whose affection is most useful and whose dislike is most dangerous. A prince may be the byword of all Europe, and he alone will know nothing of it. I am not astonished. To tell the truth is useful to those to whom it is spoken, but disadvantageous to those who tell it, because it makes them disliked. Now those who live with princes love their own interests more than that of the prince whom they serve; and so they take care not to confer on him a benefit so as to injure themselves.
This evil is no doubt greater and more common among the higher classes; but the lower are not exempt from it, since there is always some advantage in making men love us. Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if each knew what his friend said of him in his absence, although he then spoke in sincerity and without passion.
Man is, then, only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart.
101. I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world. This is apparent from the quarrels which arise from the indiscreet tales told from time to time. I say, further, all men would be...
102. Some vices only lay hold of us by means of others, and these, like branches, fall on removal of the trunk.
103. The example of Alexander's chastity has not made so many continent as that of his drunkenness has made intemperate. It is not shameful not to be as virtuous as he, and it seems excusable to be no more vicious. We do not believe ourselves to be exactly sharing in the vices of the vulgar when we see that we are sharing in those of great men; and yet we do not observe that in these matters they are ordinary men. We hold on to them by the same end by which they hold on to the rabble; for, however exalted they are, they are still united at some point to the lowest of men. They are not suspended in the air, quite removed from our society. No, no; if they are greater than we, it is because their heads are higher; but their feet are as low as ours. They are all on the same level, and rest on the same earth; and by that extremity they are as low as we are, as the meanest folk, as infants, and as the beasts.
104. When our passion leads us to do something, we forget our duty; for example, we like a book and read it, when we ought to be doing something else. Now, to remind ourselves of our duty, we must set ourselves a task we dislike; we then plead that we have something else to do and by this means remember our duty.
105. How difficult it is to submit anything to the judgement of another, without prejudicing his judgement by the manner in which we submit it! If we say, "I think it beautiful," "I think it obscure," or the like, we either entice the imagination into that view, or irritate it to the contrary. It is better to say nothing; and then the other judges according to what really is, that is to say, according as it then is and according as the other circumstances, not of our making, have placed it. But we at least shall have added nothing, unless it be that silence also produces an effect, according to the turn and the interpretation which the other will be disposed to give it, or as he will guess it from gestures or countenance, or from the tone of the voice, if he is a physiognomist. So difficult is it not to upset a judgement from its natural place, or, rather, so rarely is it firm and stable!
106. By knowing each man's ruling passion, we are sure of pleasing him; and yet each has his fancies, opposed to his true good, in the very idea which he has of the good. It is a singularly puzzling fact.
107. Lustravit lampade terras. [Homer, Odyssey, xviii.] -- The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; myprosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. I sometimes struggle against luck, the glory of mastering it makes me master it gaily; whereas I am sometimes surfeited in the midst of good fortune.
108. Although people may have no interest in what they are saying, we must not absolutely conclude from this that they are not lying; for there are some people who lie for the mere sake of lying.
109. When we are well we wonder what we would do if we were ill,
but when we are ill we take medicine cheerfully; the illness persuades
us to do so. We have no longer the passions and desires for amusements
and promenades which health gave to us, but which are incompatible
with the necessities of illness. Nature gives us, then, passions and
desires suitable to our present state. We are only troubled by the
fears which we, and not nature, give ourselves, for they add to the
state in which we are the passions of the state in which we are not.
As nature makes us always unhappy in every state, our desires picture to us a happy state; because they add to the state in which we are the pleasures of the state in which we are not. And if we attained to these pleasures, we should not be happy after all; because we should have other desires natural to this new state.
We must particularise this general proposition....
110. The consciousness of the falsity of present pleasures, and the ignorance of the vanity of absent pleasures, cause inconstancy.
111. Inconstancy. -- We think we are playing on ordinary organs when playing upon man. Men are organs, it is true, but, odd, changeable, variable with pipes not arranged in proper order. Those who only know how to play on ordinary organs will not produce barmonies on these. We must know where are.
112. Inconstancy.-- Things have different qualities, and the soul different inclinations; for nothing is simple which is presented to the soul, and the soul never presents itself simply to any object. Hence it comes that we weep and laugh at the same thing.
113. Inconstancy and oddity. -- To live only by work, and to rule over the most powerful State in the world, are very opposite things. They are united in the person of the great Sultan of the Turks.
114. Variety is as abundant as all tones of the voice, all ways of
walking, coughing, blowing the nose, sneezing. We distinguish vines by
their fruit, and call them the Condrien, the Desargues, and such and
such a stock. Is this all? Has a vine ever produced two bunches
exactly the same, and has a bunch two grapes alike, etc.?
I can never judge of the same thing exactly in the same way. I cannot judge of my work, while doing it. I must do as the artists, stand at a distance, but not too far. How far, then? Guess.
115. Variety. -- Theology is a science, but at the same time how many sciences? A man is a whole; but if we dissect him, will he be the
head, the heart, the stomach, the veins, each vein, each portion of
a vein, the blood, each humour in the blood?
A town, a country-place, is from afar a town and a country-place. But, as we draw near, there are houses, trees, tiles, leaves, grass, ants, limbs of ants, in infinity. All this is contained under the name of country-place.
116. Thoughts. -- All is one, all is different. How many natures exist in man? How many vocations? And by what chance does each man ordinarily choose what he has heard praised? A well-turned heel.
117. The heel of a slipper. -- "Ah! How well this is turned! Here is a clever workman! How brave is this soldier!" This is the source of our inclinations and of the choice of conditions. "How much this man drinks! How little that one"! This makes people sober or drunk, soldiers, cowards, etc.
118. Chief talent, that which rules the rest.
119. Nature imitates herself A seed grown in good ground brings
forth fruit. A principle instilled into a good mind brings forth
fruit. Numbers imitate space, which is of a different nature.
All is made and led by the same master, root, branches, and fruits; principles and consequences.
120. Nature diversifies and imitates; art imitates and diversifies.
121. Nature always begins the same things again, the years, the days, the hours; in like manner spaces and numbers follow each other from beginning to end. Thus is made a kind of infinity and eternity. Not that anything in all this is infinite and eternal, but these finite realities are infinitely multiplied. Thus it seems to me to be only the number which multiplies them that is infinite.
122. Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons. Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves. It is like a nation which we have provoked, but meet again after two generations. They are still Frenchmen, but not the same.
123. He no longer loves the person whom he loved ten years ago. I quite believe it. She is no longer the same, nor is he. He was young, and she also; she is quite different. He would perhaps love her yet, if she were what she was then.
124. We view things not only from different sides, but with different eyes; we have no wish to find them alike.
125. Contraries. -- Man is naturally credulous and incredulous, timid and rash.
126. Description of man: dependency, desire of independence, need.
127. Condition of man: inconstancy, weariness, unrest.
128. The weariness which is felt by us in leaving pursuits to which we are attached. A man dwells at home with pleasure; but if he sees a woman who charms him, or if he enjoys himself in play for five or six days, he is miserable if he returns to his former way of living. Nothing is more common than that.
129. Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.
130. Restlessness. -- If a soldier, or labourer, complain of the hardship of his lot, set him to do nothing.
131. Weariness. -- Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.
132. Methinks Caesar was too old to set about amusing himself with conquering the world. Such sport was good for Augustus or Alexander. They were still young men and thus difficult to restrain. But Caesar should have been more mature.
133. Two faces which resemble each other make us laugh, when together, by their resemblance, though neither of them by itself makes us laugh.
134. How useless is painting, which attracts admiration by the resemblance of things, the originals of which we do not admire!
135. The struggle alone pleases us, not the victory. We love to see animals fighting, not the victor infuriated over the vanquished. We would only see the victorious end; and, as soon as it comes, we are satiated. It is the same in play, and the same in the search for truth. In disputes we like to see the clash of opinions, but not at all to contemplate truth when found. To observe it with pleasure, we have to see it emerge out of strife. So in the passions, there is pleasure in seeing the collision of two contraries; but when one acquires the mastery, it becomes only brutality. We never seek things for themselves, but for the search. Likewise in plays, scenes which do not rouse the emotion of fear are worthless, so are extreme and hopeless misery, brutal lust, and extreme cruelty.
136. A mere trifle consoles us, for a mere trifle distresses us.
137. Without examining every particular pursuit, it is enough to comprehend them under diversion.
138. Men naturally slaters and of all callings, save in their own rooms.
139. Diversion. -- When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which
they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many
quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have
discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single
fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who
has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home,
would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission
in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found
insufferable not to budge from the town; and men only seek
conversation and entering games, because they cannot remain with
pleasure at home.
But, on further consideration, when, after finding the cause of all our ills, I have sought to discover the reason of it, I have found that there is one very real reason, namely, the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.
Whatever condition we picture to ourselves, if we muster all the good things which it is possible to possess, royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king attended with every pleasure he can feel, if he be without diversion and be left to consider and reflect on what he is, this feeble happiness will not sustain him; he will necessarily fall into forebodings of dangers, of revolutions which may happen, and, finally, of death and inevitable disease; so that, if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself.
Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours and amuses us.
Reasons why we like the chase better than the quarry.
Hence it comes that men so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible. And it is, in fact, the greatest source of happiness in the condition of kings that men try incessantly to divert them and to procure for them all kinds of pleasures.
The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of himself. This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophise on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase, which turns away our attention from these, does screen us.
The advice given to Pyrrhus, to take the rest which he was about to seek with so much labour, was full of difficulties.
To bid a man live quietly is to bid him live happily. It is to advise him to be in a state perfectly happy, in which he can think at leisure without finding therein a cause of distress. This is to misunderstand nature.
As men who naturally understand their own condition avoid nothing so much as rest, so there is nothing they leave undone in seeking turmoil. Not that they have an instinctive knowledge of true happiness...
So we are wrong in blaming them. Their error does not lie in seeking excitement, if they seek it only as a diversion; the evil is that they seek it as if the possession of the objects of their quest would make them really happy. In this respect it is right to call their quest a vain one. Hence in all this both the censurers and the censured do not understand man's true nature.
And thus, when we take the exception against them, that what they seek with such fervour cannot satisfy them, if they replied- as they should do if they considered the matter thoroughly- that they sought in it only a violent and impetuous occupation which turned their thoughts from self, and that they therefore chose an attractive object to charm and ardently attract them, they would leave their opponents without a reply. But they do not make this reply, because they do not know themselves. They do not know that it is the chase, and not the quarry, which they seek.
Dancing: We must consider rightly where to place our feet.- A gentleman sincerely believes that hunting is great and royal sport; but a beater is not of this opinion.
They imagine that, if they obtained such a post, they would then rest with pleasure and are insensible of the insatiable nature of the if desire. They think they are truly seeking quiet, and they are only seeking excitement.
They have a secret instinct which impels them to seek amusement and occupation abroad, and which arises from the sense of their constant unhappiness. They have another secret instinct, a remnant of the greatness of our original nature, which teaches them that happiness in reality consists only in rest and not in stir. And of these two contrary instincts they form within themselves a confused idea, which hides itself from their view in the depths of their soul, inciting them to aim at rest through excitement, and always to fancy that the satisfaction which they have not will come to them, if, by surmounting whatever difficulties confront them, they can thereby open the door to rest.
Thus passes away all man's life. Men seek rest in a struggle against difficulties; and when they have conquered these, rest becomes insufferable. For we think either of the misfortunes we have or of those which threaten us. And even if we should see ourselves sufficiently sheltered on all sides, weariness of its own accord would not fail to arise from the depths of the heart wherein it has its natural roots and to fill the mind with its poison.
Thus so wretched is man that he would weary even without any cause for weariness from the peculiar state of his disposition; and so frivolous is he that, though full of a thousand reasons for weariness, the least thing, such as playing billiards or hitting a ball, is sufficient to amuse him.
But will you say what object has he in all this? The pleasure of bragging tomorrow among his friends that he has played better than another. So others sweat in their own rooms to show to the learned that they have solved a problem in algebra, which no one had hitherto been able to solve. Many more expose themselves to extreme perils, in my opinion as foolishly, in order to boast afterwards that they have captured a town. Lastly, others wear themselves out in studying all these things, not in order to become wiser, but only in order to prove that they know them; and these are the most senseless of the band, since they are so knowingly, whereas one may suppose of the others that, if they knew it, they would no longer be foolish.
This man spends his life without weariness in playing every day for a small stake. Give him each morning the money he can win each day, on condition he does not play; you make him miserable. It will perhaps be said that he seeks the amusement of play and not the winnings. Make him, then, play for nothing; he will not become excited over it and will feel bored. It is, then, not the amusement alone that he seeks; a languid and passionless amusement will weary him. He must get excited over it and deceive himself by the fancy that he will be happy to win what he would not have as a gift on condition of not playing; and he must make for himself an object of passion, and excite over it his desire, his anger, his fear, to obtain his imagined end, as children are frightened at the face they have blackened.
Whence comes it that this man, who lost his only son a few months ago, or who this morning was in such trouble through being distressed by lawsuits and quarrels, now no longer thinks of them? Do not wonder; he is quite taken up in looking out for the boar which his dogs have been hunting so hotly for the last six hours. He requires nothing more. However full of sadness a man may be, he is happy for the time, if you can prevail upon him to enter into some amusement; and however happy a man may be, he will soon be discontented and wretched, if he be not diverted and occupied by some passion or pursuit which prevents weariness from overcoming him. Without amusement there is no joy; with amusement there is no sadness. And this also constitutes the happiness of persons in high position, that they have a number of people to amuse them and have the power to keep themselves in this state.
Consider this. What is it to be superintendent, chancellor, first president, but to be in a condition wherein from early morning a large number of people come from all quarters to see them, so as not to leave them an hour in the day in which they can think of themselves? And when they are in disgrace and sent back to their country houses, where they lack neither wealth nor servants to help them on occasion, they do not fail to be wretched and desolate, because no one prevents them from thinking of themselves.
140. How does it happen that this man, so distressed at the death of his wife and his only son, or who has some great lawsuit which annoys him, is not at this moment sad, and that he seems so free from all painful and disquieting thoughts? We need not wonder; for a ball has been served him, and he must return it to his companion. He is occupied in catching it in its fall from the roof, to win a game. How can he think of his own affairs, pray, when he has this other matter in hand? Here is a care worthy of occupying this great soul and taking away from him every other thought of the mind. This man, born to know the universe, to judge all causes, to govern a whole state, is altogether occupied and taken up with the business of catching a hare. And if he does not lower himself to this and wants always to be on the strain, he will be more foolish still, because he would raise himself above humanity; and after all, he is only a man, that is to say capable of little and of much, of all and of nothing; he is neither angel nor brute, but man.
141. Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings.
142. Diversion -- Is not the royal dignity sufficiently great in
itself to make its possessor happy by the mere contemplation of what
he is? Must he be diverted from this thought like ordinary folk? I see
well that a man is made happy by diverting him from the view of his
domestic sorrows so as to occupy all his thoughts with the care of
dancing well. But will it be the same with a king, and will he be
happier in the pursuit of these idle amusements than in the
contemplation of his greatness? And what more satisfactory object
could be presented to his mind? Would it not be a deprivation of his
delight for him to occupy his soul with the thought of how to adjust
his steps to the cadence of an air, or of how to throw a ball
skilfully, instead of leaving it to enjoy quietly the contemplation of
the majestic glory which encompasses him? Let us make the trial; let
us leave a king all alone to reflect on himself quite at leisure,
without any gratification of the senses, without any care in his mind,
without society; and we will see that a king without diversion is a
man full of wretchedness. So this is carefully avoided, and near the
persons of kings there never fail to be a great number of people who
see to it that amusement follows business, and who watch all the
time of their leisure to supply them with delights and games, so
that there is no blank in it. In fact, kings are surrounded with
persons who are wonderfully attentive in taking care that the king
be not alone and in a state to think of himself, knowing well that
he will be miserable, king though he be, if he meditate on self.
In all this I am not talking of Christian kings as Christians, but only as kings.
143. Diversion. -- Men are entrusted from infancy with the care of their honour, their property, their friends, and even with the
property and the honour of their friends. They are overwhelmed with
business, with the study of languages, and with physical exercise; and
they are made to understand that they cannot be happy unless their
health, their honour, their fortune and that of their friends be in
good condition, and that a single thing wanting will make them
unhappy. Thus they are given cares and business which make them bustle
about from break of day. It is, you will exclaim, a strange way to
make them happy! What more could be done to make them miserable?-
Indeed! what could be done? We should only have to relieve them from
all these cares; for then they would see themselves: they would
reflect on what they are, whence they came, whither they go, and
thus we cannot employ and divert them too much. And this is why, after
having given them so much business, we advise them, if they have
some time for relaxation, to employ it in amusement, in play, and to
be always fully occupied.
How hollow and full of ribaldry is the heart of man!
144. I spent a long time in the study of the abstract sciences, and was disheartened by the small number of fellow-students in them. When I commenced the study of man, I saw that these abstract sciences are not suited to man and that I was wandering farther from my own state in examining them than others in not knowing them. I pardoned their little knowledge; but I thought at least to find many companions in the study of man and that it was the true study which is suited to him. I have been deceived; still fewer study it than geometry. It is only from the want of knowing how to study this that we seek the other studies. But is it not that even here is not the knowledge which man should have and that for the purpose of happiness it is better for him not to know himself?
145. One thought alone occupies us; we cannot think of two things at the same time. This is lucky for us according to the world, not according to God.
146. Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and
his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now,
the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and
Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man.
147. We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we desire to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavour to shine. We labour unceasingly to adorn and preserve this imaginary existence and neglect the real. And if we possess calmness, or generosity, or truthfulness, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to that imaginary existence. We would rather separate them from ourselves to join them to it; and we would willingly be cowards in order to acquire the reputation of being brave. A great proof of the nothingness of our being, not to be satisfied with the one without the other, and to renounce the one for the other! For he would be infamous who would not die to preserve his honour.
148. We are so presumptuous that we would wish to be known by all the world, even by people who shall come after, when we shall be no more; and we are so vain that the esteem of five or six neighbours delights and contents us.
149. We do not trouble ourselves about being esteemed in the towns through which we pass. But if we are to remain a little while there, we are so concerned. How long is necessary? A time commensurate with our vain and paltry life.
150. Vanity is so anchored in the heart of man that a soldier, a soldier's servant, a cook, a porter brags and wishes to have his admirers. Even philosophers wish for them. Those who write against it want to have the glory of having written well; and those who read it desire the glory of having read it. I who write this have perhaps this desire, and perhaps those who will read it...
151. Glory. -- Admiration spoils all from infancy. Ah! How well said! Ah! How well done! How well-behaved he is! etc.
The children of Port-Royal, who do not receive this stimulus of envy and glory, fall into carelessness.
152. Pride. -- Curiosity is only vanity. Most frequently we wish to know but to talk. Otherwise we would not take a sea voyage in order never to talk of it, and for the sole pleasure of seeing without hope of ever communicating it.
153. Of the desire of being esteemed by those with whom we are. -- Pride takes such natural possession of us in the midst of our woes,
errors, etc. We even lose our life with joy, provided people talk of
Vanity: play, hunting, visiting, false shame, a lasting name.
154. I have no friends to your advantage.
155. A true friend is so great an advantage, even for the greatest lords, in order that he may speak well of them and back them in their absence, that they should do all to have one. But they should choose well; for, if they spend all their efforts in the interests of fools, it will be of no use, however well these may speak of them; and these will not even speak well of them if they find themselves on the weakest side, for they have no influence; and thus they will speak ill of them in company.
156. Ferox gens, nullam esse vitam sine armis rati. [Livy, xxxiv. 17. "A brutal people, for whom, when they have
not armour, there is not life."] -- They prefer
death to peace; others prefer death to war.
Every opinion may be held preferable to life, the love of which is so strong and so natural.
157. Contradiction: contempt for our existence, to die for nothing, hatred of our existence.
158. Pursuits. -- The charm of fame is so great that we like every object to which it is attached, even death.
159. Noble deeds are most estimable when hidden. When I see some of these in history, they please me greatly. But after all they have not been quite hidden, since they have been known; and though people have done what they could to hide them, the little publication of them spoils all, for what was best in them was the wish to hide them.
160. Sneezing absorbs all the functions of the soul, as well as
work does; but we do not draw therefrom the same conclusions against
the greatness of man, because it is against his will. And although
we bring it on ourselves, it is nevertheless against our will that
we sneeze. It is not in view of the act itself; it is for another end.
And thus it is not a proof of the weakness of man and of his slavery
under that action.
It is not disgraceful for man to yield to pain, and it is disgraceful to yield to pleasure. This is not because pain comes to us from without, and we ourselves seek pleasure; for it is possible to seek pain, and yield to it purposely, without this kind of baseness. Whence comes it, then, that reason thinks it honourable to succumb under stress of pain, and disgraceful to yield to the attack of pleasure? It is because pain does not tempt and attract us. It is we ourselves who choose it voluntarily, and will it to prevail over us. So that we are masters of the situation; and in this man yields to himself. But in pleasure it is man who yields to pleasure. Now only mastery and sovereignty bring glory, and only slavery brings shame.
162. He who will know fully the vanity of man has only to consider
the causes and effects of love. The cause is a je ne sais quoi
(Corneille), and the effects are dreadful. This je ne sais quoi, so
small an object that we cannot recognise it, agitates a whole country,
princes, armies, the entire world.
Cleopatra's nose: had it been shorter, the whole aspect of the world would have been altered.
163. Vanity. -- The cause and the effects of love: Cleopatra.
164. He who does not see the vanity of the world is himself very vain. Indeed who do not see it but youths who are absorbed in fame, diversion, and the thought of the future? But take away diversion, and you will see them dried up with weariness. They feel then their nothingness without knowing it; for it is indeed to be unhappy to be in insufferable sadness as soon as we are reduced to thinking of self and have no diversion.
165. Thoughts.- In omnibus requiem quaesivi. [Ecclus. 24. 11. "With all these I have sought rest."] If our condition were truly happy, we not need diversion from thinking of it in order to make ourselves happy.
166. Diversion. -- Death is easier to bear without thinking of it than is the thought of death without peril.
167. The miseries of human life has established all this: as men have seen this, they have taken up diversion.
168. Diversion. -- As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.
169. Despite these miseries, man wishes to be happy, and only wishes to be happy, and cannot wish not to be so. But how will he set about it? To be happy he would have to make himself immortal; but, not being able to do so, it has occurred to him to prevent himself from thinking of death.
170. Diversion.- If man were happy, he would be the more so, the less he was diverted, like the Saints and God. Yes; but is it not to be happy to have a faculty of being amused by diversion? No; for that comes from elsewhere and from without, and thus is dependent, and therefore subject to be disturbed by a thousand accidents, which bring inevitable griefs.
171. Misery. -- The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.
172. We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate
the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course;
or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent
are we that we wander in the times which are not ours and do not think
of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we
dream of those times which are no more and thoughtlessly overlook that
which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We
conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and, if it be
delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain
it by the future and think of arranging matters which are not in our
power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.
Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.
173. They say that eclipses foretoken misfortune, because misfortunes are common, so that, as evil happens so often, they often foretell it; whereas if they said that they predict good fortune, they would often be wrong. They attribute good fortune only to rare conjunctions of the heavens; so they seldom fail in prediction.
174. Misery. -- Solomon and Job have best known and best spoken of the misery of man; the former the most fortunate, and the latter the most unfortunate of men; the former knowing the vanity of pleasures from experience, the latter the reality of evils.
175. We know ourselves so little that many think they are about to die when they are well, and many think they are well when they are near death, unconscious of approaching fever, or of the abscess ready to form itself.
176. Cromwell was about to ravage all Christendom; the royal family was undone, and his own for ever established, save for a little grain of sand which formed in his ureter. Rome herself was trembling under him; but this small piece of gravel having formed there, he is dead, his family cast down, all is peaceful, and the king is restored.
177. Three hosts. Would he who had possessed the friendship of the King of England, the King of Poland, and the Queen of Sweden, have believed he would lack a refuge and shelter in the world?
178. Macrobius: on the innocents slain by Herod.
179. When Augustus learnt that Herod's own son was amongst the infants under two years of age, whom he had caused to be slain, he said that it was better to be Herod's pig than his son. Macrobius, Saturnalia, ii. 4.
180. The great and the humble have the same misfortunes, the same griefs, the same passions; but the one is at the top of the wheel, and the other near the centre, and so less disturbed by the same revolutions.
181. We are so unfortunate that we can only take pleasure in a thing on condition of being annoyed if it turn out ill, as a thousand things can do, and do every hour. He who should find the secret of rejoicing in the good, without troubling himself with its contrary evil, would have hit the mark. It is perpetual motion.
182. Those who have always good hope in the midst of misfortunes, and who are delighted with good luck, are suspected of being very pleased with the ill success of the affair, if they are not equally distressed by bad luck; and they are overjoyed to find these pretexts of hope, in order to show that they are concerned and to conceal by the joy which they feign to feel that which they have at seeing the failure of the matter.
183. We run carelessly to the precipice, after we have put something before us to prevent us seeing it.
184. A letter to incite to the search after God.
And then to make people seek Him among the philosophers, sceptics, and dogmatists, who disquiet him who inquires of them.
185. The conduct of God, who disposes all things kindly, is to put religion into the mind by reason, and into the heart by grace. But to will to put it into the mind and heart by force and threats is not to put religion there, but terror; terorrem potius quam religionem.["Terror which is more powerful than religion."]
186. Nisi terrerentur et non docerentur, improba quasi dominatio videretur. (St. Augustine, Epistle 48 or 49), ["From fear that they are being led by terror, without guidance, domination appears tyrannical."] Contra Mendacium ad Consentium.
187. Order. -- Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is
true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not
contrary to reason; that it is venerable, to inspire respect for it;
then we must make it lovable, to make good men hope it is true;
finally, we must prove it is true.
Venerable, because it has perfect knowledge of man; lovable because it promises the true good.
188. In every dialogue and discourse, we must be able to say to those who take offence, "Of what do you complain?"
189. To begin by pitying unbelievers; they are wretched enough by their condition. We ought only to revile them where it is beneficial; but this does them harm.
190. To pity atheists who seek, for are they not unhappy enough? To inveigh against those who make a boast of it.
191. And will this one scoff at the other? Who ought to scoff? And yet, the latter does not scoff at the other, but pities him.
192. To reproach Milton with not being troubled, since God will reproach him.
193. Quid fiet hominibus qui minima contemnunt, majora non credunt? ["What will become of men who mistake small things and do not believe in greater?"]
194. ... Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack,
before attacking it. If this religion boasted of having a clear view
of God, and of possessing it open and unveiled, it would be
attacking it to say that we see nothing in the world which shows it
with this clearness. But since, on the contrary, it says that men
are in darkness and estranged from God, that He has hidden Himself
from their knowledge, that this is in fact the name which He gives
Himself in the Scriptures, Deus absconditus; [Is. 45. 15. "Thou art a God that hidest thyself."] and finally, if it endeavours equally to establish these two things: that God has set up in the Church visible signs to make Himself known to those who
should seek Him sincerely, and that He has nevertheless so disguised
them that He will only be perceived by those who seek Him with all
their heart; what advantage can they obtain, when, in the negligence
with which they make profession of being in search of the truth,
they cry out that nothing reveals it to them; and since that
darkness in which they are, and with which they upbraid the Church,
establishes only one of the things which she affirms, without touching
the other, and, very far from destroying, proves her doctrine?
In order to attack it, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.
The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us and which touches us so profoundly that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing what it is. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgment unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate end.
Thus our first interest and our first duty is to enlighten ourselves on this subject, whereon depends all our conduct. Therefore among those who do not believe, I make a vast difference between those who strive with all their power to inform themselves and those who live without troubling or thinking about it.
I can have only compassion for those who sincerely bewail their doubt, who regard it as the greatest of misfortunes, and who, sparing no effort to escape it, make of this inquiry their principal and most serious occupation.
But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look upon them in a manner quite different.
This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see what the least enlightened persons see.
We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy.
There is nothing more real than this, nothing more terrible. Be we as heroic as we like, that is the end which awaits the world. Let us reflect on this and then say whether it is not beyond doubt that there is no good in this life but in the hope of another; that we are happy only in proportion as we draw near it; and that, as there are no more woes for those who have complete assurance of eternity, so there is no more happiness for those who have no insight into it.
Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether completely unhappy and completely wrong. And if besides this he is easy and content, professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature.
How can people hold these opinions? What joy can we find in the expectation of nothing but hopeless misery? What reason for boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness? And how can it happen that the following argument occurs to a reasonable man?
"I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.
"As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilation or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be for ever assigned. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state."
Who would desire to have for a friend a man who talks in this fashion? Who would choose him out from others to tell him of his affairs? Who would have recourse to him in affliction? And indeed to what use in life could one put him?
In truth, it is the glory of religion to have for enemies men so unreasonable; and their opposition to it is so little dangerous that it serves, on the contrary, to establish its truths. For the Christian faith goes mainly to establish these two facts: the corruption of nature, and redemption by Jesus Christ. Now I contend that, if these men do not serve to prove the truth of the redemption by the holiness of their behaviour, they at least serve admirably to show the corruption of nature by sentiments so unnatural.
Nothing is so important to man as his own state, nothing is so formidable to him as eternity; and thus it is not natural that there should be men indifferent to the loss of their existence, and to the perils of everlasting suffering. They are quite different with regard to all other things. They are afraid of mere trifles; they foresee them; they feel them. And this same man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office, or for some imaginary insult to his honour, is the very one who knows without anxiety and without emotion that he will lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to trifles and this strange insensibility to the greatest objects. It is an incomprehensible enchantment, and a supernatural slumber, which indicates as its cause an all-powerful force.
There must be a strange confusion in the nature of man, that he should boast of being in that state in which it seems incredible that a single individual should be. However, experience has shown me so great a number of such persons that the fact would be surprising, if we did not know that the greater part of those who trouble themselves about the matter are disingenuous and not, in fact, what they say. They are people who have heard it said that it is the fashion to be thus daring. It is what they call "shaking off the yoke," and they try to imitate this. But it would not be difficult to make them understand how greatly they deceive themselves in thus seeking esteem. This is not the way to gain it, even I say among those men of the world who take a healthy view of things and who know that the only way to succeed in this life is to make ourselves appear honourable, faithful, judicious, and capable of useful service to a friend; because naturally men love only what may be useful to them. Now, what do we gain by hearing it said of a man that he has now thrown off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches our actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct, and that he thinks he is accountable for it only to himself.? Does he think that he has thus brought us to have henceforth complete confidence in him and to look to him for consolation, advice, and help in every need of life? Do they profess to have delighted us by telling us that they hold our soul to be only a little wind and smoke, especially by telling us this in a haughty and self-satisfied tone of voice? Is this a thing to say gaily? Is it not, on the contrary, a thing to say sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?
If they thought of it seriously, they would see that this is so bad a mistake, so contrary to good sense, so opposed to decency, and so removed in every respect from that good breeding which they seek, that they would be more likely to correct than to pervert those who had an inclination to follow them. And, indeed, make them give an account of their opinions, and of the reasons which they have for doubting religion, and they will say to you things so feeble and so petty, that they persuade you of the contrary. The following is what a person one day said to such a one very appositely: "If you continue to talk in this manner, you will really make me religious." And he was right, for who would not have a horror of holding opinions in which he would have such contemptible persons as companions!
Thus those who only feign these opinions would be very unhappy, if they restrained their natural feelings in order to make themselves the most conceited of men. If, at the bottom of their heart, they are troubled at not having more light, let them not disguise the fact; this avowal will not be shameful. The only shame is to have none. Nothing reveals more an extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man. Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to act with bravado before God. Let them then leave these impieties to those who are sufficiently ill-bred to be really capable of them. Let them at least be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let them recognise that there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.
But as for those who live without knowing Him and without seeking Him, they judge themselves so little worthy of their own care, that they are not worthy of the care of others; and it needs all the charity of the religion which they despise, not to despise them even to the point of leaving them to their folly. But because this religion obliges us always to regard them, so long as they are in this life, as capable of the grace which can enlighten them, and to believe that they may, in a little time, be more replenished with faith than we are, and that, on the other hand, we may fall into the blindness wherein they are, we must do for them what we would they should do for us if we were in their place, and call upon them to have pity upon themselves, and to take at least some steps in the endeavour to find light. Let them give to reading this some of the hours which they otherwise employ so uselessly; whatever aversion they may bring to the task, they will perhaps gain something, and at least will not lose much. But as for those who bring to the task perfect sincerity and a real desire to meet with truth, those I hope will be satisfied and convinced of the proofs of a religion so divine, which I have here collected, and in which I have followed somewhat after this order...
195. Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion,
I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who
live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so
important to them, and which touches them so nearly.
Of all their errors, this doubtless is the one which most convicts
them of foolishness and blindness, and in which it is easiest to
confound them by the first glimmerings of common sense and by
For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature; and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different directions, according to the state of that eternity, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgement, unless we regulate our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate end.
There is nothing clearer than this; and thus, according to the principles of reason, the conduct of men is wholly unreasonable, if they do not take another course.
On this point, therefore, we condemn those who live without thought of the ultimate end of life, who let themselves be guided by their own inclinations and their own pleasures without reflection and without concern, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning away their thought from it, think only of making themselves happy for the moment.
Yet this eternity exists, and death, which must open into it and threatens them every hour, must in a little time infallibly put them under the dreadful necessity of being either annihilated or unhappy for ever, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.
This resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who pass their life in it must be made to feel its extravagance and stupidity, by having it shown to them, so that they may be confounded by the sight of their folly. For this is how men reason, when they choose to live in such ignorance of what they are and without seeking enlightenment. "I know not," they say...
196. Men lack heart; they would not make a friend of it.
197. To be insensible to the extent of despising interesting things, and to become insensible to the point which interests us most.
198. The sensibility of man to trifles, and his insensibility to great things, indicates a strange inversion.
199. Let us imagine a number of men in chains and all condemned to death, where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of the condition of men.
200. A man in a dungeon, ignorant whether his sentence be
pronounced and having only one hour to learn it, but this hour enough,
if he knew that it is pronounced, to obtain its repeal, would act
unnaturally in spending that hour, not in ascertaining his sentence,
but in playing piquet. So it is against nature that man, etc. It is
making heavy the hand of God.
Thus not only the zeal of those who seek Him proves God, but also the blindness of those who seek Him not.
201. All the objections of this one and that one only go against themselves, and not against religion. All that infidels say ...
202. From those who are in despair at being without faith, we see that God does not enlighten them; but as to the rest, we see there is a God who makes them blind.
203. Fascinatio nugacitatis. [Wisd. of Sol. 4. 12. "Bewitching of naughtiness."] -- That passion may not harm us, let us act as if we had only eight hours to live.
204. If we ought to devote eight hours of life, we ought to devote a hundred years.
205. When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis. [Wisd. of Sol. 5. 15. "The remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day."]
206. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.
207. How many kingdoms know us not!
208. Why is my knowledge limited? Why my stature? Why my life to one hundred years rather than to a thousand? What reason has nature had for giving me such, and for choosing this number rather than another in the infinity of those from which there is no more reason to choose one than another, trying nothing else?
209. Art thou less a slave by being loved and favoured by thy master? Thou art indeed well off, slave. Thy master favours thee; he will soon beat thee.
210. The last act is tragic, however happy all the rest of the play is; at the last a little earth is thrown upon our head, and that is the end for ever.
211. We are fools to depend upon the society of our fellow-men. Wretched as we are, powerless as we are, they will not aid us; we shall die alone. We should therefore act as if we were alone, and in that case should we build fine houses, etc. We should seek the truth without hesitation; and, if we refuse it, we show that we value the esteem of men more than the search for truth.
212. Instability. -- It is a horrible thing to feel all that we possess slipping away.
213. Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.
214. Injustice. -- That presumption should be joined to meanness is extreme injustice.
215. To fear death without danger, and not in danger, for one must be a man.
216. Sudden death alone is feared; hence confessors stay with lords.
217. An heir finds the title-deeds of his house. Will he say, "Perhaps they are forged" and neglect to examine them?
218. Dungeon. -- I approve of not examining the opinion of Copernicus; but this...! It concerns all our life to know whether the soul be mortal or immortal.
219. It is certain that the mortality or immortality of the soul
must make an entire difference to morality. And yet philosophers
have constructed their ethics independently of this: they discuss to
pass an hour.
Plato, to incline to Christianity.
220. The fallacy of philosophers who have not discussed the immortality of the soul. The fallacy of their dilemma in Montaigne.
221. Atheists ought to say what is perfectly evident; now it is not perfectly evident that the soul is material.
222. Atheists. -- What reason have they for saying that we cannot rise from the dead? What is more difficult, to be born or to rise
again; that what has never been should be, or that what has been
should be again? Is it more difficult to come into existence than to
return to it? Habit makes the one appear easy to us; want of habit
makes the other impossible. A popular way of thinking!
Why cannot a virgin bear a child? Does a hen not lay eggs without a cock? What distinguishes these outwardly from others? And who has told us that the hen may not form the germ as well as the cock?
223. What have they to say against the resurrection, and against the child-bearing of the Virgin? Which is the more difficult, to produce a man or an animal, or to reproduce it? And if they had never seen any species of animals, could they have conjectured whether they were produced without connection with each other?
224. How I hate these follies of not believing in the Eucharist, etc.! If the Gospel be true, if Jesus Christ be God, what difficulty is there?
225. Atheism shows strength of mind, but only to a certain degree.
226. Infidels, who profess to follow reason, ought to be
exceedingly strong in reason. What say they then? "Do we not see," say
they, "that the brutes live and die like men, and Turks like
Christians? They have their ceremonies, their prophets, their doctors,
their saints, their monks, like us," etc. (Is this contrary to
Scripture? Does it not say all this?)
If you care but little to know the truth, here is enough of it to leave you in repose. But if you desire with all your heart to know it, it is not enough; look at it in detail. This would be sufficient for a question in philosophy; but not here, where it concerns your all. And yet, after a trifling reflection of this kind, we go to amuse ourselves, etc. Let us inquire of this same religion whether it does not give a reason for this obscurity; perhaps it will teach it to us.
227. Order by dialogues. -- What ought I to do? I see only darkness
everywhere. Shall I believe I am nothing? Shall I believe I am God?
"All things change and succeed each other." You are mistaken; there is...
228. Objection of atheists: "But we have no light."
229. This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides,
and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing
which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which
revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw
everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith.
But, seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a
state to be pitied; wherefore I have a hundred times wished that if
a God maintains Nature, she should testify to Him unequivocally, and
that, if the signs she gives are deceptive, she should suppress them
altogether; that she should say everything or nothing, that I might
see which cause I ought to follow. Whereas in my present state,
ignorant of what I am or of what I ought to do, I know neither my
condition nor my duty. My heart inclines wholly to know where is the
true good, in order to follow it; nothing would be too dear to me
I envy those whom I see living in the faith with such carelessness and who make such a bad use of a gift of which it seems to me I would make such a different use.
230. It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created, etc.; that original sin should be, and that it should not be.
231. Do you believe it to be impossible that God is infinite,
without parts? Yes. I wish therefore to show you an infinite and
indivisible thing. It is a point moving everywhere with an infinite
velocity; for it is one in all places and is all totality in every
Let this effect of nature, which previously seemed to you impossible, make you know that there may be others of which you are still ignorant. Do not draw this conclusion from your experiment, that there remains nothing for you to know; but rather that there remains an infinity for you to know.
232. Infinite movement, the point which fills everything, the moment of rest; infinite without quantity, indivisible and infinite.
233. Infinite- nothing. -- Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds number, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature
necessity, and can believe nothing else.
Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an infinite measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice. There is not so great a disproportion between our justice and that of God as between unity and infinity.
The justice of God must be vast like His compassion. Now justice to the outcast is less vast and ought less to offend our feelings than mercy towards the elect.
We know that there is an infinite, and are ignorant of its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is an infinity in number. But we do not know what it is. It is false that it is even, it is false that it is odd; for the addition of a unit can make no change in its nature. Yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this is certainly true of every finite number). So we may well know that there is a God without knowing what He is. Is there not one substantial truth, seeing there are so many things which are not the truth itself? We know then the existence and nature of the finite, because we also are finite and have extension. We know the existence of the infinite and are ignorant of its nature, because it has extension like us, but not limits like us. But we know neither the existence nor the nature of God, because He has neither extension nor limits.
But by faith we know His existence; in glory we shall know His nature. Now, I have already shown that we may well know the existence of a thing, without knowing its nature.
Let us now speak according to natural lights.
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is. This being so, who will dare to undertake the decision of the question? Not we, who have no affinity to Him.
Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, stultitiam; [I Cor. 1. 21.] and then you complain that they do not prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is in lacking proofs that they are not lacking in sense. "Yes, but although this excuses those who offer it as such and takes away from them the blame of putting it forward without reason, it does not excuse those who receive it." Let us then examine this point, and say, "God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. "No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all."
Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. "That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much." Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all divided; where-ever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.
For it is no use to say it is uncertain if we will gain, and it is certain that we risk, and that the infinite distance between the certainly of what is staked and the uncertainty of what will be gained, equals the finite good which is certainly staked against the uncertain infinite. It is not so, as every player stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty to gain a finite uncertainty, without transgressing against reason. There is not an infinite distance between the certainty staked and the uncertainty of the gain; that is untrue. In truth, there is an infinity between the certainty of gain and the certainty of loss. But the uncertainty of the gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake according to the proportion of the chances of gain and loss. Hence it comes that, if there are as many risks on one side as on the other, the course is to play even; and then the certainty of the stake is equal to the uncertainty of the gain, so far is it from fact that there is an infinite distance between them. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain. This is demonstrable; and if men are capable of any truths, this is one.
"I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards?" Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. "Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?"
True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness. "But this is what I am afraid of." And why? What have you to lose?
But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.
The end of this discourse. -- Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.
"Ah! This discourse transports me, charms me," etc.
If this discourse pleases you and seems impressive, know that it is made by a man who has knelt, both before and after it, in prayer to that Being, infinite and without parts, before whom he lays all he has, for you also to lay before Him all you have for your own good and for His glory, that so strength may be given to lowliness.
234. If we must not act save on a certainty, we ought not to act
on religion, for it is not certain. But how many things we do on an
uncertainty, sea voyages, battles! I say then we must do nothing at
all, for nothing is certain, and that there is more certainty in
religion than there is as to whether we may see to-morrow; for it is
not certain that we may see to-morrow, and it is certainly possible
that we may not, see it. We cannot say as much about religion. It is
not certain that it is; but who will venture to say that it is
certainly possible that it is not? Now when we work for to-morrow, and
so on an uncertainty, we act reasonably; for we ought to work for an
uncertainty according to the doctrine of chance which was demonstrated
Saint Augustine has seen that we work for an uncertainty, on sea, in battle, etc. But he has not seen the doctrine of chance which proves that we should do so. Montaigne has seen that we are shocked at a fool, and that habit is all-powerful; but he has not seen the reason of this effect.
All these persons have seen the effects, but they have not seen the causes. They are, in comparison with those who have discovered the causes, as those who have only eyes are in comparison with those who have intellect. For the effects are perceptible by sense, and the causes are visible only to the intellect. And although these effects are seen by the mind, this mind is, in comparison with the mind which sees the causes, as the bodily senses are in comparison with the intellect.
235. Rem viderunt, causam non viderunt. ["They have seen the thing; they have not seen the cause." St.Augustine, Contra Pelagium, iv.]
236. According to the doctrine of chance, you ought to put yourself to the trouble of searching for the truth; for if you die without worshipping the True Cause, you are lost. "But," say you, "if He had wished me to worship Him, He would have left me signs of His will." He has done so; but you neglect them. Seek them, therefore; it is well worth it.
237. Chances. -- We must live differently in the world, according to these different assumptions: (1) that we could always remain in it; (2) that it is certain that we shall not remain here long, and uncertain if we shall remain here one hour. This last assumption is our condition.
238. What do you then promise me, in addition to certain troubles, but ten years of self-love (for ten years is the chance), to try hard to please without success?
239. Objection. -- Those who hope for salvation are so far happy;
but they have as a counterpoise the fear of hell.
Reply.- Who has most reason to fear hell: he who is in ignorance whether there is a hell, and who is certain of damnation if there is; or he who certainly believes there is a hell and hopes to be saved if there is?
240. "I would soon have renounced pleasure," say they, "had I faith." For my part I tell you, "You would soon have faith, if you renounced pleasure." Now, it is for you to begin. If I could, I would give you faith. I cannot do so, nor therefore test the truth of what you say. But you can well renounce pleasure and test whether what I say is true.
241. Order. -- I would have far more fear of being mistaken, and of finding that the Christian religion was true, than of not being mistaken in believing it true.
242. Preface to the second part. -- To speak of those who have treated of this matter.
I admire the boldness with which these persons undertake to speak of God. In addressing their argument to infidels, their first chapter is to prove Divinity from the works of nature. I should not be astonished at their enterprise, if they were addressing their argument to the faithful; for it is certain that those who have the living faith in their hearts see at once that all existence is none other than the work of the God whom they adore. But for those in whom this light is extinguished, and in whom we purpose to rekindle it, persons destitute of faith and grace, who, seeking with all their light whatever they see in nature that can bring them to this knowledge, find only obscurity and darkness; to tell them that they have only to look at the smallest things which surround them, and they will see God openly, to give them, as a complete proof of this great and important matter, the course of the moon and planets, and to claim to have concluded the proof with such an argument, is to give them ground for believing that the proofs of our religion are very weak. And I see by reason and experience that nothing is more calculated to arouse their contempt.
It is not after this manner that Scripture speaks, which has a better knowledge of the things that are of God. It says, on the contrary, that God is a hidden God, and that, since the corruption of nature, He has left men in a darkness from which they can escape only through Jesus Christ, without whom all communion with God is cut off. Nemo novit Patrem, nisi Filius, et cui voluerit Filius revelare. [Matt 11. 27 "Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."]
This is what Scripture points out to us, when it says in so many places that those who seek God find Him. It is not of that light, "like the noonday sun," that this is said. We do not say that those who seek the noonday sun, or water in the sea, shall find them; and hence the evidence of God must not be of this nature. So it tells us elsewhere: Vere tu es Deus absconditus. [Is. 45. 15. "Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself."]
243. It is an astounding fact that no canonical writer has ever made use of nature to prove God. They all strive to make us believe in Him. David, Solomon, etc., have never said, "There is no void, therefore there is a God." They must have had more knowledge than the most learned people who came after them, and who have all made use of this argument. This is worthy of attention.
244. "Why! Do you not say yourself that the heavens and birds prove God?" No. "And does your religion not say so"? No. For although it is true in a sense for some souls to whom God gives this light, yet it is false with respect to the majority of men.
245. There are three sources of belief: reason, custom, inspiration. The Christian religion, which alone has reason, does not acknowledge as her true children those who believe without inspiration. It is not that she excludes reason and custom. On the contrary, the mind must be opened to proofs, must be confirmed by custom and offer itself in humbleness to inspirations, which alone can produce a true and saving effect. Ne evacuetur crux Christi.[I Cor. 1. 17. "Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect."]
246. Order. -- After the letter That we ought to seek God, to write the letter On removing obstacles, which is the discourse on "the machine," on preparing the machine, on seeking by reason.
247. Order. -- A letter of exhortation to a friend to induce him to seek. And he will reply, "But what is the use of seeking? Nothing is seen." Then to reply to him, "Do not despair." And he will answer that he would be glad to find some light, but that, according to this very religion, if he believed in it, it will be of no use to him, and that therefore he prefers not to seek. And to answer to that: The machine.
248. A letter which indicates the use of proofs by the machine. -- Faith is different from proof; the one is human, the other is a gift of God. Justus ex fide vivit. [Rom. 1. 17. "The just shall live by faith."] It is this faith that God Himself puts into the heart, of which the proof is often the instrument, fides ex auditu; [Rom. 10. 17. "Faith cometh by hearing."] but this faith is in the heart, and makes us not say scio, ["I know."] but credo. ["I believe."]
249. It is superstition to put one's hope in formalities; but it is pride to be unwilling to submit to them.
250. The external must be joined to the internal to obtain anything from God, that is to say, we must kneel, pray with the lips, etc., in order that proud man, who would not submit himself to God, may be now subject to the creature. To expect help from these externals is superstition; to refuse to join them to the internal is pride.
251. Other religions, as the pagan, are more popular, for they consist in externals. But they are not for educated people. A purely intellectual religion would be more suited to the learned, but it would be of no use to the common people. The Christian religion alone is adapted to all, being composed of externals and internals. It raises the common people to the internal, and humbles the proud to the external; it is not perfect without the two, for the people must understand the spirit of the letter, and the learned must submit their spirit to the letter.
252. For we must not misunderstand ourselves; we are as much automatic as intellectual; and hence it comes that the instrument by which conviction is attained is not demonstrated alone. How few things are demonstrated! Proofs only convince the mind. Custom is the source of our strongest and most believed proofs. It bends the automaton, which persuades the mind without its thinking about the matter. Who has demonstrated that there will be a to-morrow and that we shall die? And what is more believed? It is, then, custom which persuades us of it; it is custom that makes so many men Christians; custom that makes them Turks, heathens, artisans, soldiers, etc. (Faith in baptism is more received among Christians than among Turks.) Finally, we must have recourse to it when once the mind has seen where the truth is, in order to quench our thirst, and steep ourselves in that belief, which escapes us at every hour; for always to have proofs ready is too much trouble. We must get an easier belief, which is that of custom, which, without violence, without art, without argument, makes us believe things and inclines all our powers to this belief, so that our soul falls naturally into it. It is not enough to believe only by force of conviction, when the automaton is inclined to believe the contrary. Both our parts must be made to believe, the mind by reasons which it is sufficient to have seen once in a lifetime, and the automaton by custom, and by not allowing it to incline to the contrary. Inclina cor meum, Deus. [Ps. 119. 36. "Incline my heart, O Lord."] The reason acts slowly, with so many examinations and on so many principles, which must be always present, that at every hour it falls asleep, or wanders, through want of having all its principles present. Feeling does not act thus; it acts in a moment, and is always ready to act. We must then put our faith in feeling; otherwise it will be always vacillating.
253. Two extremes: to exclude reason, to admit reason only.
254. It is not a rare thing to have to reprove the world for too much docility. It is a natural vice like credulity, and as pernicious. Superstition.
255. Piety is different from superstition.
To carry piety as far as superstition is to destroy it.
The heretics reproach us for this superstitious submission. This is to do what they reproach us for...
Infidelity, not to believe in the Eucharist, because it is not seen.
Superstition to believe propositions. Faith, etc.
256. I say there are few true Christians, even as regards faith.
There are many who believe but from superstition. There are many who
do not believe solely from wickedness. Few are between the two.
In this I do not include those who are of truly pious character, nor all those who believe from a feeling in their heart.
257. There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable.
258. Unusquisque sibi Deum fingit. [Wisd. of Sol. 15. 8, 16. "He moulds a God... like unto himself."]
259. Ordinary people have the power of not thinking of that
about which they do not wish to think. "Do not meditate on the
passages about the Messiah, said the Jew to his son. Thus our people
often act. Thus are false religions preserved, and even the true
one, in regard to many persons.
But there are some who have not the power of thus preventing thought, and who think so much the more as they are forbidden. These undo false religions and even the true one, if they do not find solid arguments.
260. They hide themselves in the press and call numbers to their
Authority. -- So far from making it a rule to believe a thing because you have heard it, you ought to believe nothing without putting yourself into the position as if you had never heard it.
It is your own assent to yourself, and the constant voice of your own reason, and not of others, that should make you believe.
Belief is so important! A hundred contradictions might be true. If antiquity were the rule of belief, men of ancient time would then be without rule. If general consent, if men had perished?
False humanity, pride.
Lift the curtain. You try in vain; if you must either believe, or deny, or doubt. Shall we then have no rule? We judge that animals do well what they do. Is there no rule whereby to judge men?
To deny, to believe, and to doubt well, are to a man what the race is to a horse.
Punishment of those who sin, error.
261. Those who do not love the truth take as a pretext that it is disputed, and that a multitude deny it. And so their error arises only from this, that they do not love either truth or charity. Thus they are without excuse.
262. Superstition and lust. Scruples, evil desires. Evil fear; fear, not such as comes from a belief in God, but such as comes from a doubt whether He exists or not. True fear comes from faith; false fear comes from doubt. True fear is joined to hope, because it is born of faith, and because men hope in the God in whom they believe. False fear is joined to despair, because men fear the God in whom they have no belief. The former fear to lose Him; the latter fear to find Him.
263. "A miracle," says one, "would strengthen my faith." He says so when he does not see one. Reasons, seen from afar, appear to limit our view; but when they are reached, we begin to see beyond. Nothing stops the nimbleness of our mind. There is no rule, say we, which has not some exceptions, no truth so general which has not some aspect in which it fails. It is sufficient that it be not absolutely universal to give us a pretext for applying the exceptions to the present subject and for saying, "This is not always true; there are therefore cases where it is not so." It only remains to show that this is one of them; and that is why we are very awkward or unlucky, if we do not find one some day.
264. We do not weary of eating and sleeping every day, for hunger and sleepiness recur. Without that we should weary of them. So, without the hunger for spiritual things, we weary of them. Hunger after righteousness, the eighth beautitude.
265. Faith indeed tells what the senses do not tell, but not the contrary of what they see. It is above them and not contrary to them.
266. How many stars have telescopes revealed to us which did not exist for our philosophers of old! We freely attack Holy Scripture on the great number of stars, saying, "There are only one thousand and twenty-eight, we know it." There is grass on the earth, we see it- from the moon we would not see it- and on the grass are leaves, and in these leaves are small animals; but after that no more. O presumptuous man! The compounds are composed of elements, and the elements not. O presumptuous man! Here is a fine reflection. We must not say that there is anything which we do not see. We must then talk like others, but not think like them.
267. The last proceeding of reason is to recognise that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it. It is but feeble if it does not see so far as to know this. But if natural things are beyond it, what will be said of supernatural?
268. Submission. -- We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit. He who does not do so understands not the force of reason. There are some who offend against these three rules, either by affirming everything as demonstrative, from want of knowing what demonstration is; or by doubting everything, from want of knowing where to submit; or by submitting in everything, from want of knowing where they must judge.
269. Submission is the use of reason in which consists true Christianity.
270. Saint Augustine. -- Reason would never submit, if it did not judge that there are some occasions on which it ought to submit. It is then right for it to submit, when it judges that it ought to submit.
271. Wisdom sends us to childhood. Nisi efficiamini sicut parvuli.[Matt. 18. 3. "Except ye become as little children."]
272. There is nothing so conformable to reason as this disavowal of reason.273. If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element. If we offend the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.
274. All our reasoning reduces itself to yielding to feeling.
But fancy is like, though contrary to, feeling, so that we cannot distinguish between these contraries. One person says that my feeling is fancy, another that his fancy is feeling. We should have a rule. Reason offers itself; but it is pliable in every sense; and thus there is no rule.
275. Men often take their imagination for their heart; and they believe they are converted as soon as they think of being converted.
276. M. de Roannez said: "Reasons come to me afterwards, but at first a thing pleases or shocks me without my knowing the reason, and yet it shocks me for that reason which I only discover afterwards." But I believe, not that it shocked him for the reasons which were found afterwards, but that these reasons were only found because it shocked him.
277. The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will. You have rejected the one and kept the other. Is it by reason that you love yourself?
278. It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason.
This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.
Faith is a gift of God; do not believe that we said it was a gift of reasoning. Other religions do not say this of their faith. They only give reasoning in order to arrive at it, and yet it does not bring them to it.
279. Faith is a gift of God; do not believe that we said it was a gift of reasoning. Other religions do not say this of their faith. They only gave reasoning in order to arrive at it, and yet it does not bring them to it.
280. The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.
281. Heart, instinct, principles.
282. We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart,
and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and
reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The
sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose.
We know that we do not dream, and, however impossible it is for us
to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness
of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our
knowledge. For the knowledge of first principles, as space, time,
motion, number, is as sure as any of those which we get from
reasoning. And reason must trust these intuitions of the heart, and
must base them on every argument. (We have intuitive knowledge of
the tri-dimensional nature of space and of the infinity of number, and
reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is
double of the other. Principles are intuited, propositions are
inferred, all with certainty, though in different ways.) And it is
as useless and absurd for reason to demand from the heart proofs of
her first principles, before admitting them, as it would be for the
heart to demand from reason an intuition of all demonstrated
propositions before accepting them.
This inability ought, then, to serve only to humble reason, which would judge all, but not to impugn our certainty, as if only reason were capable of instructing us. Would to God, on the contrary, that we had never need of it, and that we knew everything by instinct and intuition! But nature has refused us this boon. On the contrary, she has given us but very little knowledge of this kind; and all the rest can be acquired only by reasoning.
Therefore, those to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate and justly convinced. But to those who do not have it, we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for God to give them spiritual insight, without which faith is only human and useless for salvation.
283. Order. -- Against the objection that Scripture has no order.
The heart has its own order; the intellect has its own, which is by principle and demonstration. The heart has another. We do not prove that we ought to be loved by enumerating in order the causes of love; that would be ridiculous.
Jesus Christ and Saint Paul employ the rule of love, not of intellect; for they would warm, not instruct. It is the same with Saint Augustine. This order consists chiefly in digressions on each point to indicate the end, and keep it always in sight.
284. Do not wonder to see simple people believe without reasoning. God imparts to them love of Him and hatred of self. He inclines their heart to believe. Men will never believe with a saving and real faith, unless God inclines their heart; and they will believe as soon as He inclines it. And this is what David knew well, when he said: Inclina cor meum, Deus, in... [Ps. 119. 36. "Incline my heart, O Lord, unto thy testimonies."]
285. Religion is suited to all kinds of minds. Some pay attention only to its establishment, and this religion is such that its very establishment suffices to prove its truth. Others trace it even to the apostles. The more learned go back to the beginning of the world. The angels see it better still, and from a more distant time.
286. Those who believe without having read the Testaments, do so because they have an inward disposition entirely holy, and all that they hear of our religion conforms to it. They feel that a God has made them; they desire only to love God; they desire to hate themselves only. They feel that they have no strength in themselves; that they are incapable of coming to God; and that if God does not come to them, they can have no communion with Him. And they hear our religion say that men must love God only, and hate self only; but that, all being corrupt and unworthy of God, God made Himself man to unite Himself to us. No more is required to persuade men who have this disposition in their heart, and who have this knowledge of their duty and of their inefficiency.
287. Those whom we see to be Christians without the knowledge of
the prophets and evidences, nevertheless judge of their religion as
well as those who have that knowledge. They judge of it by the
heart, as others judge of it by the intellect. God himself inclines
them to believe, and thus they are most effectively convinced.
I confess indeed that one of those Christians who believe without proofs will not, perhaps, be capable of convincing an infidel who will say the same of himself. But those who know the proofs of religion will prove without difficulty that such a believer is truly inspired by God, though he cannot prove it himself.
For God having said in His prophecies (which are undoubtedly prophecies) that in the reign of Jesus Christ He would spread His spirit abroad among nations, and that the youths and maidens and children of the Church would prophesy; it is certain that the Spirit of God is in these and not in the others.
288. Instead of complaining that God had hidden Himself, you
will give Him thanks for not having revealed so much of Himself; and
you will also give Him thanks for not having revealed Himself to
haughty sages, unworthy to know so holy a God.
Two kinds of persons know Him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever kind of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it.
289. Proof. -- 1. The Christian religion, by its establishment, having established itself so strongly, so gently, whilst so contrary
to nature. 2. The sanctity, the dignity, and the humility of a
Christian soul. 3. The miracles of Holy Scripture. 4. Jesus Christ
in particular. 5. The apostles in particular. 6. Moses and the
prophets in particular. 7. The Jewish people. 8. The prophecies. 9.
Perpetuity; no religion has perpetuity. 10. The doctrine which gives a
reason for everything. 11. The sanctity of this law. 12. By the course
of the world.
Surely, after considering what is life and what is religion, we should not refuse to obey the inclination to follow it, if it comes into our heart; and it is certain that there is no ground for laughing at those who follow it.
290. Proofs of religion. -- Morality, doctrine, miracles, prophecies, types.