Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Every person is a philosopher by nature; however, we are quickly dissuaded from this delightful activity by those who call philosophy impractical. But there is nothing more practical than knowing who you are and what you think. Try it sometime.

Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:49 pm

MILTON, ON THE REPROACH OF PLAGIARISM AGAINST

Some people have accused Milton of having taken his poem from the tragedy of "The Banishment of Adam" by Grotius, and from the "Sarcotis" of the Jesuit Masenius, printed at Cologne in 1654 and in 1661, long before Milton gave his "Paradise Lost."

As regards Grotius, it was well enough known in England that Milton had carried into his epic English poem a few Latin verses from the tragedy of "Adam." It is in no wise to be a plagiarist to enrich one's language with the beauties of a foreign language. No one accused Euripides of plagiarism for having imitated in one of the choruses of "Iphigenia" the second book of the Iliad; on the contrary, people were very grateful to him for this imitation, which they regarded as a homage rendered to Homer on the Athenian stage.

Virgil never suffered a reproach for having happily imitated, in the Æneid, a hundred verses by the first of Greek poets.

Against Milton the accusation was pushed a little further. A Scot, Will Lauder by name, very attached to the memory of Charles I., whom Milton had insulted with the most uncouth animosity, thought himself entitled to dishonour the memory of this monarch's accuser. It was claimed that Milton was guilty of an infamous imposture in robbing Charles I. of the sad glory of being the author of the "Eikon Basilika," a book long dear to the royalists, and which Charles I., it was said, had composed in his prison to serve as consolation for his deplorable adversity.

Lauder, therefore, about the year of 1752, wanted to begin by proving that Milton was only a plagiarist, before proving that he had acted as a forger against the memory of the most unfortunate of kings; he procured some editions of the poem of the "Sarcotis." It seemed evident that Milton had imitated some passages of it, as he had imitated Grotius and Tasso.

But Lauder did not rest content there; he unearthed a bad translation in Latin verse of the "Paradise Lost" of the English poet; and joining several verses of this translation to those by Masenius, he thought thereby to render the accusation more grave, and Milton's shame more complete. It was in that, that he was badly deceived; his fraud was discovered. He wanted to make Milton pass for a forger, and he was himself convicted of forging. No one examined Masenius' poem of which at that time there were only a few copies in Europe. All England, convinced of the Scot's poor trick, asked no more about it. The accuser, confounded, was obliged to disavow his manœuvre, and ask pardon for it.

Since then a new edition of Masenius was printed in 1757. The literary public was surprised at the large number of very beautiful verses with which the Sarcotis was sprinkled. It is in truth nothing but a long declamation of the schools on the fall of man: but the exordium, the invocation, the description of the garden of Eden, the portrait of Eve, that of the devil, are precisely the same as in Milton. Further, it is the same subject, the same plot, the same catastrophe. If the devil wishes, in Milton, to be revenged on man for the harm which God has done him, he has precisely the same plan in the work of the Jesuit Masenius; and he manifests it in verses worthy maybe of the century of Augustus. ("Sarcotis," I., 271 et seq.)

One finds in both Masenius and Milton little episodes, trifling digressions which are absolutely alike; both speak of Xerxes who covered the sea with his ships. Both speak in the same tone of the Tower of Babel; both give the same description of luxury, of pride, of avarice, of gluttony.

What most persuaded the generality of readers of Milton's plagiarism was the perfect resemblance of the beginning of the two poems. Many foreigners, after reading the exordium, had no doubt but that the rest of Milton's poem was taken from Masenius. It is a very great error and easy to recognize.

I do not think that the English poet imitated in all more than two hundred of the Jesuit of Cologne's verses; and I dare say that he imitated only what was worthy of being imitated. These two hundred verses are very beautiful; so are Milton's; and the total of Masenius' poem, despite these two hundred beautiful verses, is not worth anything at all.

Molière took two whole scenes from the ridiculous comedy of the "Pédant Joué" by Cyrano de Bergerac. "These two scenes are good," he said as he was jesting with his friends. "They belong to me by right: I recover my property." After that anyone who treated the author of "Tartufe" and "Le Misanthrope" as a plagiarist would have been very badly received.

It is certain that generally Milton, in his "Paradise", has in imitating flown on his own wings; and it must be agreed that if he borrowed so many traits from Grotius and from the Jesuit of Cologne, they are blended in the crowd of original things which are his; in England he is always regarded as a very great poet.

It is true that he should have avowed having translated two hundred of a Jesuit's verses; but in his time, at the court of Charles II., people did not worry themselves with either the Jesuits, or Milton, or "Paradise Lost", or "Paradise Regained". All those things were either scoffed at, or unknown.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:50 pm

MOHAMMEDANS

I tell you again, ignorant imbeciles, whom other ignoramuses have made believe that the Mohammedan religion is voluptuous and sensual, there is not a word of truth in it; you have been deceived on this point as on so many others.

Canons, monks, vicars even, if a law were imposed on you not to eat or drink from four in the morning till ten at night, during the month of July, when Lent came at this period; if you were forbidden to play at any game of chance under pain of damnation; if wine were forbidden you under the same pain; if you had to make a pilgrimage into the burning desert; if it were enjoined on you to give at least two and a half per cent. of your income to the poor; if, accustomed to enjoy possession of eighteen women, the number were cut down suddenly by fourteen; honestly, would you dare call that religion sensual?

The Latin Christians have so many advantages over the Mussulmans, I do not say in the matter of war, but in the matter of doctrines; the Greek Christians have so beaten them latterly from 1769 to 1773, that it is not worth the trouble to indulge in unjust reproaches against Islam.

Try to retake from the Mohammedans all that they usurped; but it is easier to calumniate them.

I hate calumny so much that I do not want even to impute foolishness to the Turks, although I detest them as tyrants over women and enemies of the arts.

I do not know why the historian of the Lower Empire maintains that Mohammed speaks in his Koran of his journey into the sky: Mohammed does not say a word about it; we have proved it.

One must combat ceaselessly. When one has destroyed an error, there is always someone who resuscitates it.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:50 pm

MOUNTAIN

It is a very old, very universal fable that tells of the mountain which, having frightened all the countryside by its outcry that it was in labour, was hissed by all present when it brought into the world a mere mouse. The people in the pit were not philosophers. Those who hissed should have admired. It was as fine for the mountain to give birth to a mouse, as for the mouse to give birth to a mountain. A rock which produces a rat is a very prodigious thing; and never has the world seen anything approaching this miracle. All the globes of the universe could not call a fly into existence. Where the vulgar laugh, the philosopher admires; and he laughs where the vulgar open their big, stupid eyes in astonishment.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:51 pm

NAKEDNESS

Why should one lock up a man or a woman who walked stark naked in the street? and why is no one shocked by absolutely nude statues, by pictures of the Madonna and of Jesus that may be seen in some churches?

It is probably that the human species lived long without being clothed.

People unacquainted with clothing have been found in more than one island and in the American continent.

The most civilized hide the organs of generation with leaves, woven rushes, feathers.

Whence comes this form of modesty? is it the instinct for lighting desires by hiding what it gives pleasure to discover?

Is it really true that among slightly more civilized nations, such as the Jews and half-Jews, there have been entire sects who would not worship God save by stripping themselves of all their clothes? such were, it is said, the Adamites and the Abelians. They gathered quite naked to sing the praises of God: St. Epiphanius and St. Augustine say so. It is true that they were not contemporary, and that they were very far from these people's country. But at all events this madness is possible: it is not even more extraordinary, more mad than a hundred other madnesses which have been round the world one after the other.

We have said elsewhere that to-day even the Mohammedans still have saints who are madmen, and who go naked like monkeys. It is very possible that some fanatics thought it was better to present themselves to the Deity in the state in which He formed them, than in the disguise invented by man. It is possible that they showed everything out of piety. There are so few well-made persons of both sexes, that nakedness might have inspired chastity, or rather disgust, instead of increasing desire.

It is said particularly that the Abelians renounced marriage. If there were any fine lads and pretty lasses among them, they were at least comparable to St. Adhelme and to blessed Robert d'Arbrisselle, who slept with the prettiest persons, that their continence might triumph all the more.

But I avow that it would have been very comic to see a hundred Helens and Parises singing anthems, giving each other the kiss of peace, and making agapæ.

All of which shows that there is no singularity, no extravagance, no superstition which has not passed through the heads of mankind. Happy the day when these superstitions do not trouble society and make of it a scene of disorder, hatred and fury! It is better without doubt to pray God stark naked, than to stain His altars and the public places with human blood.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:51 pm

NATURAL LAW

B: What is natural law?

A: The instinct which makes us feel justice.

B: What do you call just and unjust?

A: What appears such to the entire universe.

B: The universe is composed of many heads. It is said that in Lacedæmon were applauded thefts for which people in Athens were condemned to the mines.

A: Abuse of words, logomachy, equivocation; theft could not be committed at Sparta, when everything was common property. What you call "theft" was the punishment for avarice.

B: It was forbidden to marry one's sister in Rome. It was allowed among the Egyptians, the Athenians and even among the Jews, to marry one's sister on the father's side. It is but with regret that I cite that wretched little Jewish people, who should assuredly not serve as a rule for anyone, and who (putting religion aside) was never anything but a race of ignorant and fanatic brigands. But still, according to their books, the young Thamar, before being ravished by her brother Amnon, says to him:—"Nay, my brother, do not thou this folly, but speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee." (2 Samuel xiii. 12, 13.)

A: Conventional law all that, arbitrary customs, fashions that pass: the essential remains always. Show me a country where it was honourable to rob me of the fruit of my toil, to break one's promise, to lie in order to hurt, to calumniate, to assassinate, to poison, to be ungrateful towards a benefactor, to beat one's father and one's mother when they offer you food.

B: Have you forgotten that Jean-Jacques, one of the fathers of the modern Church, has said that "the first man who dared enclose and cultivate a piece of land" was the enemy "of the human race," that he should have been exterminated, and that "the fruits of the earth are for all, and that the land belongs to none"? Have we not already examined together this lovely proposition which is so useful to society (Discourse on Inequality, second part)?

A: Who is this Jean-Jacques? he is certainly not either John the Baptist, nor John the Evangelist, nor James the Greater, nor James the Less [19]; it must be some Hunnish wit who wrote that abominable impertinence or some poor joker bufo magro who wanted to laugh at what the entire world regards as most serious. For instead of going to spoil the land of a wise and industrious neighbour, he had only to imitate him; and every father of a family having followed this example, behold soon a very pretty village formed. The author of this passage seems to me a very unsociable animal.

B: You think then that by outraging and robbing the good man who has surrounded his garden and chicken-run with a live hedge, he has been wanting in respect towards the duties of natural law?

A: Yes, yes, once again, there is a natural law, and it does not consist either in doing harm to others, or in rejoicing thereat.

B: I imagine that man likes and does harm only for his own advantage. But so many people are led to look for their own interest in the misfortune of others, vengeance is so violent a passion, there are such disastrous examples of it; ambition, still more fatal, has inundated the world with so much blood, that when I retrace for myself the horrible picture, I am tempted to avow that man is a very devil. In vain have I in my heart the notion of justice and injustice; an Attila courted by St. Leo, a Phocas flattered by St. Gregory with the most cowardly baseness, an Alexander VI. sullied with so many incests, so many murders, so many poisonings, with whom the weak Louis XII., who is called "the good," makes the most infamous and intimate alliance; a Cromwell whose protection Cardinal Mazarin seeks, and for whom he drives out of France the heirs of Charles I., Louis XIV.'s first cousins, etc., etc.; a hundred like examples set my ideas in disorder, and I know no longer where I am.

A: Well, do storms stop our enjoyment of to-day's beautiful sun? Did the earthquake which destroyed half the city of Lisbon stop your making the voyage to Madrid very comfortably? If Attila was a brigand and Cardinal Mazarin a rogue, are there not princes and ministers who are honest people? Has it not been remarked that in the war of 1701, Louis XIV.'s council was composed of the most virtuous men? The Duc de Beauvilliers, the Marquis de Torci, the Maréchal de Villars, Chamillart lastly who passed for being incapable, but never for dishonest. Does not the idea of justice subsist always? It is upon that idea that all laws are founded. The Greeks called them "daughters of heaven," which only means daughters of nature. Have you no laws in your country?

B: Yes, some good, some bad.

A: Where, if it was not in the notions of natural law, did you get the idea that every man has within himself when his mind is properly made? You must have obtained it there, or nowhere.

B: You are right, there is a natural law; but it is still more natural to many people to forget it.

A: It is natural also to be one-eyed, hump-backed, lame, deformed, unhealthy; but one prefers people who are well made and healthy.

B: Why are there so many one-eyed and deformed minds?

A: Peace! But go to the article on "Power."

_______________

Notes:

[19] Jean=John: Jacques=James.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:52 pm

NATURE

Dialogue between the Philosopher and Nature

THE PHILOSOPHER:

Who are you, Nature? I live in you; for fifty years have I been seeking you, and I have not found you yet.

NATURE:

The ancient Egyptians, who lived, it is said, some twelve hundred years, made me the same reproach. They called me Isis; they put a great veil on my head, and they said that nobody could lift it.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

That is what makes me address myself to you. I have been able to measure some of your globes, know their paths, assign the laws of motion; but I have not been able to learn who you are.

Are you always active? are you always passive? did your elements arrange themselves, as water deposits itself on sand, oil on water, air on oil? have you a mind which directs all your operations, as councils are inspired as soon as they are assembled, although their members are sometimes ignoramuses? I pray you tell me the answer to your riddle.

NATURE:

I am the great everything. I know no more about it. I am not a mathematician; and everything is arranged in my world according to mathematical laws. Guess if you can how it is all done.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

Certainly, since your great everything does not know mathematics, and since all your laws are most profoundly geometrical, there must be an eternal geometer who directs you, a supreme intelligence who presides over your operations.

NATURE:

You are right; I am water, earth, fire, atmosphere, metal, mineral, stone, vegetable, animal. I feel indeed that there is in me an intelligence; you have an intelligence, you do not see it. I do not see mine either; I feel this invisible power; I cannot know it: why should you, who are but a small part of me, want to know what I do not know?

THE PHILOSOPHER:

We are curious. I want to know how being so crude in your mountains, in your deserts, in your seas, you appear nevertheless so industrious in your animals, in your vegetables?

NATURE:

My poor child do you want me to tell you the truth? It is that I have been given a name which does not suit me; my name is "Nature", and I am all art.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

That word upsets all my ideas. What! nature is only art?

NATURE:

Yes, without any doubt. Do you not know that there is an infinite art in those seas and those mountains that you find so crude? do you not know that all those waters gravitate towards the centre of the earth, and mount only by immutable laws; that those mountains which crown the earth are the immense reservoirs of the eternal snows which produce unceasingly those fountains, lakes and rivers without which my animal species and my vegetable species would perish? And as for what are called my animal kingdom, my vegetable kingdom and my mineral kingdom, you see here only three; learn that I have millions of kingdoms. But if you consider only the formation of an insect, of an ear of corn, of gold, of copper, everything will appear as marvels of art.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

It is true. The more I think about it, the more I see that you are only the art of I know not what most potent and industrious great being, who hides himself and who makes you appear. All reasoners since Thales, and probably long before him, have played at blind man's buff with you; they have said: "I have you!" and they had nothing. We all resemble Ixion; he thought he was kissing Juno, and all that he possessed was a cloud.

NATURE:

Since I am all that is, how can a being such as you, so small a part of myself, seize me? Be content, atoms my children, with seeing a few atoms that surround you, with drinking a few drops of my milk, with vegetating for a few moments on my breast, and with dying without having known your mother and your nurse.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

My dear mother, tell me something of why you exist, of why there is anything.

NATURE:

I will answer you as I have answered for so many centuries all those who have interrogated me about first principles: I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THEM.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

Would not non-existence be better than this multitude of existences made in order to be continually dissolved, this crowd of animals born and reproduced in order to devour others and to be devoured, this crowd of sentient beings formed for so many painful sensations, that other crowd of intelligences which so rarely hear reason. What is the good of all that, Nature?

NATURE:

Oh! go and ask Him who made me.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:52 pm

NECESSARY

OSMIN:

Do you not say that everything is necessary?

SELIM:

If everything were not necessary, it would follow that God had made useless things.

OSMIN:

That is to say that it was necessary to the divine nature to make all that it has made?

SELIM:

I think so, or at least I suspect it; there are people who think otherwise; I do not understand them; maybe they are right. I am afraid of disputes on this subject.

OSMIN:

It is also of another necessary that I want to talk to you.

SELIM:

What! of what is necessary to an honest man that he may live? of the misfortune to which one is reduced when one lacks the necessary?

OSMIN:

No; for what is necessary to one is not always necessary to the other: it is necessary for an Indian to have rice, for an Englishman to have meat; a fur is necessary to a Russian, and a gauzy stuff to an African; this man thinks that twelve coach-horses are necessary to him, that man limits himself to a pair of shoes, a third walks gaily barefoot: I want to talk to you of what is necessary to all men.

SELIM:

It seems to me that God has given all that is necessary to this species: eyes to see with, feet for walking, a mouth for eating, an œsophagus for swallowing, a stomach for digesting, a brain for reasoning, organs for producing one's fellow creature.

OSMIN:

How does it happen then that men are born lacking a part of these necessary things?

SELIM:

It is because the general laws of nature have brought about some accidents which have made monsters to be born; but generally man is provided with everything that is necessary to him in order to live in society.

OSMIN:

Are there notions common to all men which serve to make them live in society?

SELIM:

Yes. I have travelled with Paul Lucas, and wherever I went, I saw that people respected their father and their mother, that people believed themselves to be obliged to keep their promises, that people pitied oppressed innocents, that they hated persecution, that they regarded liberty of thought as a rule of nature, and the enemies of this liberty as enemies of the human race; those who think differently seemed to me badly organized creatures, monsters like those who are born without eyes and hands.

OSMIN:

Are these necessary things in all time and in all places?

SELIM:

Yes, if they were not they would not be necessary to the human species.

OSMIN:

So a belief which is new is not necessary to this species. Men could very well live in society and accomplish their duty to God, before believing that Mahomet had frequent interviews with the angel Gabriel.

SELIM:

Nothing is clearer; it would be ridiculous to think that man could not accomplish his duty to God before Mahomet came into the world; it was not at all necessary for the human species to believe in the Alcoran: the world went along before Mahomet just as it goes along to-day. If Mahometanism had been necessary to the world, it would have existed in all places; God who has given us all two eyes to see the sun, would have given us all an intelligence to see the truth of the Mussulman religion. This sect is therefore only like the positive laws that change according to time and place, like the fashions, like the opinions of the natural philosophers which follow one after the other.

The Mussulman sect could not be essentially necessary to mankind.

OSMIN:

But since it exists, God has permitted it?

SELIM:

Yes, as he permits the world to be filled with foolishness, error and calamity; that is not to say that men are all essentially made to be fools and miscreants. He permits that some men be eaten by snakes; but one cannot say—"God made man to be eaten by snakes."

OSMIN:

What do you mean when you say "God permits"? can nothing happen without His order? permit, will and do, are they not the same thing for Him?

SELIM:

He permits crime, but He does not commit it.

OSMIN:

Committing a crime is acting against divine justice, it is disobeying God. Well, God cannot disobey Himself, He cannot commit crime; but He has made man in such a way that man may commit many crimes: where does that come from?

SELIM:

There are people who know, but I do not; all that I know is that the Alcoran is ridiculous, although from time to time it has some tolerably good things; certainly the Alcoran was not at all necessary to man; I stick by that: I see clearly what is false, and I know very little that is true.

OSMIN:

I thought you would instruct me, and you teach me nothing.

SELIM:

Is it not a great deal to recognize people who deceive you, and the gross and dangerous errors which they retail to you?

OSMIN:

I should have ground for complaint against a doctor who showed me all the harmful plants, and who did not show me one salutary plant.

SELIM:

I am not a doctor, and you are not ill; but it seems to me I should be giving you a very good prescription if I said to you: "Put not your trust in all the inventions of charlatans, worship God, be an honest man, and believe that two and two make four."
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:52 pm

NEW NOVELTIES

It seems that the first words of Ovid's "Metamorphoses," In nova fert animus, are the motto of the human race. Nobody is touched by the admirable spectacle of the sun which rises, or rather seems to rise, every day; everybody runs to see the smallest little meteor which appears for an instant in that accumulation of vapours, called the sky, that surround the earth.

An itinerant bookseller does not burden himself with a Virgil, with a Horace, but with a new book, even though it be detestable. He draws you aside and says to you: "Sir, do you want some books from Holland?"

From the beginning of the world women have complained of the fickleness that is imputed to them in favour of the first new object which presents itself, and whose novelty is often its only merit. Many ladies (it must be confessed, despite the infinite respect we have for them) have treated men as they complain they have themselves been treated; and the story of Gioconda is much older than Ariosto.

Perhaps this universal taste for novelty is one of nature's favours. People cry to us: "Be content with what you have, desire nothing that is beyond your estate, restrain your curiosity, tame your intellectual disquiet." These are very good maxims; but if we had always followed them, we should still be eating acorns, we should be sleeping in the open air, and we should not have had Corneille, Racine, Molière, Poussin, Lebrun, Lemoine or Pigalle.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:53 pm

PHILOSOPHER

Philosopher, lover of wisdom, that is to say, of truth. All philosophers have had this dual character; there is not one in antiquity who has not given mankind examples of virtue and lessons in moral truths. They have all contrived to be deceived about natural philosophy; but natural philosophy is so little necessary for the conduct of life, that the philosophers had no need of it. It has taken centuries to learn a part of nature's laws. One day was sufficient for a wise man to learn the duties of man.

The philosopher is not enthusiastic; he does not set himself up as a prophet; he does not say that he is inspired by the gods. Thus I shall not put in the rank of philosophers either the ancient Zarathustra, or Hermes, or the ancient Orpheus, or any of those legislators of whom the nations of Chaldea, Persia, Syria, Egypt and Greece boasted. Those who styled themselves children of the gods were the fathers of imposture; and if they used lies for the teaching of truths, they were unworthy of teaching them; they were not philosophers; they were at best very prudent liars.

By what fatality, shameful maybe for the Western peoples, is it necessary to go to the far Orient to find a wise man who is simple, unostentatious, free from imposture, who taught men to live happily six hundred years before our vulgar era, at a time when the whole of the North was ignorant of the usage of letters, and when the Greeks were barely beginning to distinguish themselves by their wisdom?

This wise man is Confucius, who being legislator never wanted to deceive men. What more beautiful rule of conduct has ever been given since him in the whole world?

"Rule a state as you rule a family; one can only govern one's family well by setting the example.

"Virtue should be common to both husbandman and monarch.

"Apply thyself to the trouble of preventing crimes in order to lessen the trouble of punishing them.

"Under the good kings Yao and Xu the Chinese were good; under the bad kings Kie and Chu they were wicked.

"Do to others as to thyself.

"Love all men; but cherish honest people. Forget injuries, and never kindnesses.

"I have seen men incapable of study; I have never seen them incapable of virtue."

Let us admit that there is no legislator who has proclaimed truths more useful to the human race.

A host of Greek philosophers have since taught an equally pure moral philosophy. If they had limited themselves to their empty systems of natural philosophy, their names would be pronounced to-day in mockery only. If they are still respected, it is because they were just and that they taught men to be so.

One cannot read certain passages of Plato, and notably the admirable exordium of the laws of Zaleucus, without feeling in one's heart the love of honourable and generous actions. The Romans have their Cicero, who alone is worth perhaps all the philosophers of Greece. After him come men still more worthy of respect, but whom one almost despairs of imitating; Epictetus in bondage, the Antonines and the Julians on the throne.

Which is the citizen among us who would deprive himself, like Julian, Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius, of all the delicacies of our flabby and effeminate lives? who would sleep as they did on the ground? who would impose on himself their frugality? who, as they did, would march barefoot and bareheaded at the head of the armies, exposed now to the heat of the sun, now to the hoar-frost? who would command all their passions as they did? There are pious men among us; but where are the wise men? where are the resolute, just and tolerant souls?

There have been philosophers of the study in France; and all, except Montaigne, have been persecuted. It is, I think, the last degree of the malignity of our nature, to wish to oppress these very philosophers who would correct it.

I quite understand that the fanatics of one sect slaughter the enthusiasts of another sect, that the Franciscans hate the Dominicans, and that a bad artist intrigues to ruin one who surpasses him; but that the wise Charron should have been threatened with the loss of his life, that the learned and generous Ramus should have been assassinated, that Descartes should have been forced to flee to Holland to escape the fury of the ignorant, that Gassendi should have been obliged to withdraw several times to Digne, far from the calumnies of Paris; these things are a nation's eternal shame.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:53 pm

POWER, OMNIPOTENCE

I suppose that the man who reads this article is convinced that this world is formed with intelligence, and that a little astronomy and anatomy suffices to make this universal and supreme intelligence admired.

Can he know by himself if this intelligence is omnipotent, that is to say, infinitely powerful? Has he the least notion of the infinite, to understand what is an infinite power?

The celebrated historian philosopher, David Hume, says in "Particular Providence": "A weight of ten ounces is lifted in a balance by another weight; therefore this other weight is of more than ten ounces; but one can adduce no reason why it should weigh a hundred ounces."

One can say likewise: You recognize a supreme intelligence strong enough to form you, to preserve you for a limited time, to reward you, to punish you. Do you know enough of this power to demonstrate that it can do still more?

How can you prove by your reason that this being can do more than he has done?

The life of all animals is short. Could he make it longer?

All animals are the prey of each other: everything is born to be devoured. Could he form without destroying?

You do not know what nature is. You cannot therefore know if nature has not forced him to do only the things he has done.

This globe is only a vast field of destruction and carnage. Either the great Being has been able to make of it an eternal abode of delight for all sentient beings, or He has not been able. If He has been able and if He has not done so, fear to regard him as malevolent; but if He has not been able, fear not to look on Him as a very great power, circumscribed by nature in His limits.

Whether or no His power is infinite does not regard you. It is a matter of indifference to a subject whether his master possesses five hundred leagues of land or five thousand; he is subject neither more nor less.

Which would be the greater insult to this ineffable Being, to say: "He has made miserable men without being able to dispense with them, or He has made them for His pleasure?"

Many sects represent Him as cruel; others, for fear of admitting a wicked God, have the audacity to deny His existence. Is it not better to say that probably the necessity of His nature and the necessity of things have determined everything?

The world is the theatre of moral ill and physical ill; one is only too aware of it: and the "All is good" of Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke and Pope, is only a witty paradox, a poor joke.

The two principles of Zarathustra and Manes, so carefully scrutinized by Bayle, are a still poorer joke. They are, as has been observed already, Molière's two doctors, one of whom says to the other: "Grant me the emetic, and I will grant you the bleeding." Manichæism is absurd; and that is why it has had so many supporters.

I admit that I have not been enlightened by all that Bayle says about the Manichæans and the Paulicians. That is controversy; I would have preferred pure philosophy. Why discuss our mysteries beside Zarathustra's? As soon as you dare to treat of our mysteries, which need only faith and no reasoning, you open precipices for yourself.

The trash in our scholastic theology has nothing to do with the trash in Zarathustra's reveries.

Why debate original sin with Zarathustra? There was never any question of it save in St. Augustine's time. Neither Zarathustra nor any legislator of antiquity had ever heard speak of it.

If you dispute with Zarathustra, put under lock and key the old and the new Testaments which he did not know, and which one must revere without desiring to explain them.

What then should I have said to Zarathustra? My reason cannot admit two gods who fight, that is good only in a poem where Minerva quarrels with Mars. My feeble reason is much more content with a single great Being, whose essence was to make, and who has made all that nature has permitted Him, than it is satisfied with two great Beings, one of whom spoils the works of the other. Your bad principle Ahriman, has not been able to upset a single one of the astronomical and physical laws of the good principle Ormuzd; everything progresses in the heavens with the greatest regularity. Why should the wicked Ahriman have had power over this little globe of the world?

If I had been Ahriman, I should have attacked Ormuzd in his fine grand provinces of so many suns and stars. I should not have limited myself to making war on him in a little village.

There is much evil in this village: but whence have you the knowledge that this evil is not inevitable?

You are forced to admit an intelligence diffused over the universe; but (1) do you know, for instance, if this power reaches right to foreseeing the future? You have asserted it a thousand times; but you have never been able either to prove it, or to understand it. You cannot know how any being whatever sees what is not. Well, the future is not; therefore no being can see it. You are reduced to saying that He foresees it; but foreseeing is conjecturing. This is the opinion of the Socinians.

Well, a God who, according to you, conjectures, can be mistaken. In your system He is really mistaken; for if He had foreseen that His enemy would poison all His works here below, He would not have produced them; He would not have prepared for Himself the shame of being continually vanquished.

(2) Do I not do Him much more honour by saying that He has made everything by the necessity of His nature, than you do Him by raising an enemy who disfigures, who soils, who destroys all His works here below?

(3) It is not to have an unworthy idea of God to say that, having formed thousands of millions of worlds where death and evil do not dwell, it was necessary that evil and death should dwell in this world.

(4) It is not to disparage God to say that He could not form man without giving him self-esteem; that this self-esteem could not lead him without misguiding him almost always; that his passions are necessary, but that they are disastrous; that propagation cannot be executed without desire; that desire cannot animate man without quarrels; that these quarrels necessarily bring wars in their train, etc.

(5) When he sees part of the combinations of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, and this globe pierced everywhere like a sieve, from which escape in crowds so many exhalations, what philosopher will be bold enough, what scholastic foolish enough to see clearly that nature could stop the effects of volcanoes, the inclemencies of the atmosphere, the violence of the winds, the plagues, and all the destructive scourges?

(6) One must be very powerful, very strong, very industrious, to have formed lions which devour bulls, and to have produced men who invent arms to kill at one blow, not only bulls and lions, but even each other. One must be very powerful to have caused to be born spiders which spin webs to catch flies; but that is not to be omnipotent, infinitely powerful.

(7) If the great Being had been infinitely powerful, there is no reason why He should not have made sentient animals infinitely happy; He has not done so, therefore He was not able.

(8) All the sects of the philosophers have stranded on the reef of moral and physical ill. It only remains to avow that God having acted for the best has not been able to act better.

(9) This necessity settles all the difficulties and finishes all the disputes. We have not the impudence to say—"All is good." We say—"All is the least bad that is possible."

(10) Why does a child often die in its mother's womb? Why is another who has had the misfortune to be born, reserved for torments as long as his life, terminated by a frightful death?

Why has the source of life been poisoned all over the world since the discovery of America? why since the seventh century of our era does smallpox carry off the eighth part of the human race? why since all time have bladders been subject to being stone quarries? why the plague, war, famine, the inquisition? Turn in every direction, you will find no other solution than that everything has been necessary.

I speak here to philosophers only and not to theologians. We know well that faith is the thread in the labyrinth. We know that the fall of Adam and Eve, original sin, the immense power given to the devil, the predilection accorded by the great Being to the Jewish people, and the baptism substituted for the amputation of the prepuce, are the answers which explain everything. We have argued only against Zarathustra and not against the university of Conimbre or Coïmbre, to which we submit in our articles.
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