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 8:54 pm


We do not know any religion without prayers, even the Jews had some, although there was not among them any public form, until the time when they sang canticles in their synagogues, which happened very late.

All men, in their desires and their fears, invoked the aid of a deity. Some philosophers, more respectful to the Supreme Being, and less condescending to human frailty, for all prayer desired only resignation. It is indeed what seems proper as between creature and creator. But philosophy is not made to govern the world; she rises above the common herd; she speaks a language that the crowd cannot understand. It would be suggesting to fishwives that they should study conic sections.

Even among the philosophers, I do not believe that anyone apart from Maximus of Tyre has treated of this matter; this is the substance of Maximus' ideas.

The Eternal has His intentions from all eternity. If prayer accords with His immutable wishes, it is quite useless to ask of Him what He has resolved to do. If one prays Him to do the contrary of what He has resolved, it is praying Him to be weak, frivolous, inconstant; it is believing that He is thus, it is to mock Him. Either you ask Him a just thing; in this case He must do it, and the thing will be done without your praying Him for it; entreating Him is even to distrust Him: or the thing is unjust, and then you outrage Him. You are worthy or unworthy of the grace you implore: if worthy, He knows it better than you; if unworthy, you commit a crime the more in asking for what you do not deserve.

In a word, we pray to God only because we have made Him in our own image. We treat Him like a pasha, like a sultan whom one may provoke and appease.

In short, all nations pray to God: wise men resign themselves and obey Him.

Let us pray with the people, and resign ourselves with the wise men.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:54 pm


I have spent nearly forty years of my pilgrimage in two or three corners of this world seeking the philosopher's stone that is called Truth. I have consulted all the adepts of antiquity, Epicurus and Augustine, Plato and Malebranche, and I have remained in my poverty. Maybe in all these philosophers' crucibles there are one or two ounces of gold; but all the rest is residue, dull mud, from which nothing can be born.

It seems to me that the Greeks our masters wrote much more to show their intelligence than that they used their intelligence in order to learn. I do not see a single author of antiquity who had a coherent system, a clear, methodical system progressing from consequence to consequence.

When I wanted to compare and combine the systems of Plato, of the preceptor of Alexander, of Pythagoras and of the Orientals, here, more or less, is what I was able to gather:

Chance is a word empty of sense; nothing can exist without a cause. The world is arranged according to mathematical laws; it is therefore arranged by an intelligence.

It is not an intelligent being such as I am, who directed the formation of this world, for I cannot form a mite; therefore this world is the work of a prodigiously superior intelligence.

Does this being, who possesses intelligence and power in so high a degree, exist necessarily? It must be so, for either the being received existence from another, or from its own nature. If the being received existence from another, which is very difficult to imagine, I must have recourse to this other, and this other will be the prime author. To whichever side I turn I have to admit a prime author, potent and intelligent, who is such necessarily by his own nature.

Did this prime author produce things out of nothing? that is not imaginable; to create out of nothing is to change nothing into something. I must not admit such a production unless I find invincible reasons which force me to admit what my intelligence can never comprehend.

All that exists appears to exist necessarily, since it exists. For if to-day there is a reason for the existence of things, there was one yesterday, there was one in all time; and this cause must always have had its effect, without which it would have been during eternity a useless cause.

But how shall things have always existed, being visibly under the hand of the prime author? This power therefore must always have acted; in the same way, nearly, that there is no sun without light, so there is no movement without a being that passes from one point of space to another point.

There is therefore a potent and intelligent being who has always acted; and if this being had never acted, of what use would his existence have been to him?

All things are therefore eternal emanations of this prime author.

But how imagine that stone and mud are emanations of the eternal Being, potent and intelligent?

Of two things one, either the matter of this stone and this mud exist necessarily by themselves, or they exist necessarily through this prime author; there is no middle course.

Thus, therefore, there are only two choices to make, admit either matter eternal by itself, or matter issuing eternally from the potent, intelligent eternal Being.

But, either subsisting by its own nature, or emanated from the producing Being, it exists from all eternity, because it exists, and there is no reason why it should not have existed before.

If matter is eternally necessary, it is therefore impossible, it is therefore contradictory that it does not exist; but what man can affirm that it is impossible, that it is contradictory that this pebble and this fly have not existence? One is, nevertheless, forced to suppress this difficulty which astonishes the imagination more than it contradicts the principles of reasoning.

In fact, as soon as you have imagined that everything has emanated from the supreme and intelligent Being, that nothing has emanated from the Being without reason, that this Being existing always, must always have acted, that consequently all things must have eternally issued from the womb of His existence, you should no more refuse to believe in the matter of which this pebble and this fly, an eternal production, are formed, than you refuse to imagine light as an eternal emanation from the omnipotent Being.

Since I am a being with extension and thought, my extension and my thought are therefore necessary productions of this Being. It is evident to me that I cannot give myself either extension or thought. I have therefore received both from this necessary Being.

Can He give me what He has not? I have intelligence and I am in space; therefore He is intelligent, and He is in space.

To say that this eternal Being, this omnipotent God, has from all time necessarily filled the universe with His productions, is not to deprive Him of His liberty; on the contrary, for liberty is only the power of acting. God has always acted to the full; therefore God has always made use of the fullness of His liberty.

The liberty that is called liberty of indifference is a phrase without idea, an absurdity; for it would be determination without reason; it would be an effect without a cause. Therefore, God cannot have this so-called liberty which is a contradiction in terms. He has therefore always acted through this same necessity which makes His existence.

It is therefore impossible for the world to be without God, it is impossible for God to be without the world.

This world is filled with beings who succeed each other, therefore God has always produced beings who succeed each other.

These preliminary assertions are the basis of the ancient Oriental philosophy and of that of the Greeks. One must except Democritus and Epicurus, whose corpuscular philosophy combated these dogmas. But let us remark that the Epicureans relied on an entirely erroneous natural philosophy, and that the metaphysical system of all the other philosophers holds good with all the systems of natural philosophy. The whole of nature, excepting the vacuum, contradicts Epicurus; and no phenomenon contradicts the philosophy which I have just explained. Well, is not a philosophy which is in accord with all that passes in nature, and which contents the most careful minds, superior to all other non-revealed systems?

After the assertions of the ancient philosophers, which I have reconciled as far as has been possible for me, what is left to us? a chaos of doubts and chimeras. I do not think that there has ever been a philosopher with a system who did not at the end of his life avow that he had wasted his time. It must be admitted that the inventors of the mechanical arts have been much more useful to mankind than the inventors of syllogisms: the man who invented the shuttle surpasses with a vengeance the man who imagined innate ideas.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:54 pm


Prejudice is an opinion without judgment. Thus all over the world do people inspire children with all the opinions they desire, before the children can judge.

There are some universal, necessary prejudices, which even make virtue. In all countries children are taught to recognize a rewarding and revenging God; to respect and love their father and their mother; to look on theft as a crime, selfish lying as a vice before they can guess what is a vice and what a virtue.

There are then some very good prejudices; they are those which are ratified by judgment when one reasons.

Sentiment is not a simple prejudice; it is something much stronger. A mother does not love her son because she has been told she must love him; she cherishes him happily in spite of herself. It is not through prejudice that you run to the help of an unknown child about to fall into a precipice, or be eaten by a beast.

But it is through prejudice that you will respect a man clad in certain clothes, walking gravely, speaking likewise. Your parents have told you that you should bow before this man; you respect him before knowing whether he merits your respect; you grow in years and in knowledge; you perceive that this man is a charlatan steeped in arrogance, self-interest and artifice; you despise what you revered, and the prejudice cedes to judgment. Through prejudice you have believed the fables with which your childhood was cradled; you have been told that the Titans made war on the gods, and Venus was amorous of Adonis; when you are twelve you accept these fables as truths; when you are twenty you look on them as ingenious allegories.

Let us examine briefly the different sorts of prejudices, so as to set our affairs in order. We shall be perhaps like those who, at the time of Law's system, perceived that they had calculated imaginary riches.

Prejudices of the Senses

Is it not strange that our eyes always deceive us, even when we have very good sight, and that on the contrary our ears do not deceive us? Let your well-informed ear hear "You are beautiful, I love you"; it is quite certain that someone has not said "I hate you, you are ugly": but you see a smooth mirror; it is demonstrated that you are mistaken, it has a very uneven surface. You see the sun as about two feet in diameter; it is demonstrated that it is a million times bigger than the earth.

It seems that God has put truth in your ears, and error in your eyes; but study optics, and you will see that God has not deceived you, and that it is impossible for objects to appear to you otherwise than you see them in the present state of things.

Physical Prejudices

The sun rises, the moon also, the earth is motionless: these are natural physical prejudices. But that lobsters are good for the blood, because when cooked they are red; that eels cure paralysis because they wriggle; that the moon affects our maladies because one day someone observed that a sick man had an increase of fever during the waning of the moon; these ideas and a thousand others are the errors of ancient charlatans who judged without reasoning, and who, being deceived, deceived others.

Historical Prejudices

Most historical stories have been believed without examination, and this belief is a prejudice. Fabius Pictor relates that many centuries before him, a vestal of the town of Alba, going to draw water in her pitcher, was ravished, that she gave birth to Romulus and Remus, that they were fed by a she-wolf, etc. The Roman people believed this fable; they did not examine whether at that time there were vestals in Latium, whether it were probable that a king's daughter would leave her convent with her pitcher, whether it were likely that a she-wolf would suckle two children instead of eating them; the prejudice established itself.

A monk writes that Clovis, being in great danger at the battle of Tolbiac, made a vow to turn Christian if he escaped; but is it natural to address oneself to a foreign god on such an occasion? is it not then that the religion in which one was born acts most potently? Which is the Christian who, in a battle against the Turks, will not address himself to the Holy Virgin rather than to Mohammed? It is added that a pigeon brought the holy phial in its beak to anoint Clovis, and that an angel brought the oriflamme to lead him; prejudice believed all the little stories of this kind. Those who understand human nature know well that Clovis the usurper and Rolon (or Rol) the usurper turned Christian in order to govern the Christians more surely, just as the Turkish usurpers turned Mussulman in order to govern the Mussulmans more surely.

Religious Prejudices

If your nurse has told you that Ceres rules over the crops, or that Vistnou and Xaca made themselves men several times, or that Sammonocodom came to cut down a forest, or that Odin awaits you in his hall near Jutland, or that Mohammed or somebody else made a journey into the sky; if lastly your tutor comes to drive into your brain what your nurse has imprinted on it you keep it for life. If your judgment wishes to rise against these prejudices, your neighbours and, above all, your neighbours' wives cry out "Impious reprobate," and dismay you; your dervish, fearing to see his income diminish, accuses you to the cadi, and this cadi has you impaled if he can, because he likes ruling over fools, and thinks that fools obey better than others: and that will last until your neighbours and the dervish and the cadi begin to understand that foolishness is good for nothing, and that persecution is abominable.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:55 pm


Rare in natural philosophy is the opposite of dense. In moral philosophy, it is the opposite of common.

This last variety of rare is what excites admiration. One never admires what is common, one enjoys it.

An eccentric thinks himself above the rest of wretched mortals when he has in his study a rare medal that is good for nothing, a rare book that nobody has the courage to read, an old engraving by Albrecht Durer, badly designed and badly printed: he triumphs if he has in his garden a stunted tree from America. This eccentric has no taste; he has only vanity. He has heard say that the beautiful is rare; but he should know that all that is rare is not beautiful.

Beauty is rare in all nature's works, and in all works of art.

Whatever ill things have been said of women, I maintain that it is rarer to find women perfectly beautiful than passibly good.

You will meet in the country ten thousand women attached to their homes, laborious, sober, feeding, rearing, teaching their children; and you will find barely one whom you could show at the theatres of Paris, London, Naples, or in the public gardens, and who would be looked on as a beauty.

Likewise, in works of art, you have ten thousand daubs and scrawls to one masterpiece.

If everything were beautiful and good, it is clear that one would no longer admire anything; one would enjoy. But would one have pleasure in enjoying? that is a big question.

Why have the beautiful passages in "The Cid," "The Horaces," "Cinna," had such a prodigious success? Because in the profound night in which people were plunged, they suddenly saw shine a new light that they did not expect. It was because this beauty was the rarest thing in the world.

The groves of Versailles were a beauty unique in the world, as were then certain passages of Corneille. St. Peter's, Rome, is unique.

But let us suppose that all the churches of Europe were equal to St. Peter's, Rome, that all statues were Venus dei Medici, that all tragedies were as beautiful as Racine's "Iphigénie", all works of poetry as well written as Boileau's "Art Poétique", all comedies as good as "Tartufe", and thus in every sphere; would you then have as much pleasure in enjoying masterpieces become common as they made you taste when they were rare? I say boldly "No!"; and I believe that the ancient school, which so rarely was right, was right when it said: Ab assuetis non fit passio, habit does not make passion.

But, my dear reader, will it be the same with the works of nature? Will you be disgusted if all the maids are so beautiful as Helen; and you, ladies, if all the lads are like Paris? Let us suppose that all wines are excellent, will you have less desire to drink? if the partridges, pheasants, pullets are common at all times, will you have less appetite? I say boldly again "No!", despite the axiom of the schools, "Habit does not make passion": and the reason, you know it, is that all the pleasures which nature gives us are always recurring needs, necessary enjoyments, and that the pleasures of the arts are not necessary. It is not necessary for a man to have groves where water gushes to a height of a hundred feet from the mouth of a marble face, and on leaving these groves to go to see a fine tragedy. But the two sexes are always necessary to each other. The table and the bed are necessities. The habit of being alternately on these two thrones will never disgust you.

In Paris a few years ago people admired a rhinoceros. If there were in one province ten thousand rhinoceroses, men would run after them only to kill them. But let there be a hundred thousand beautiful women men will always run after them to ... honour them.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:55 pm


At the time when all France was mad about Law's system, and Law was controller-general, there came to him in the presence of a great assembly a man who was always right, who always had reason on his side. Said he to Law:

"Sir, you are the biggest madman, the biggest fool, or the biggest rogue who has yet appeared among us; and that is saying a great deal: this is how I prove it. You have imagined that a state's wealth can be increased tenfold with paper; but as this paper can represent only the money that is representative of true wealth, the products of the land and industry, you should have begun by giving us ten times more corn, wine, cloth, canvas, etc. That is not enough, you must be sure of your market. But you make ten times as many notes as we have of silver and commodities, therefore you are ten times more extravagant, or more inept, or more of a rogue than all the comptrollers who have preceded you. This is how I prove my major."

Hardly had he started his major than he was conducted to Saint-Lazare.

When he came out of Saint-Lazare, where he studied much and strengthened his reason, he went to Rome; he asked for a public audience of the Pope, on condition that he was not interrupted in his harangue; and he spoke to the Pope in these terms:

"Holy Father, you are an antichrist and this is how I prove it to Your Holiness. I call antichrist the man who does the contrary to what Christ did and commanded. Now Christ was poor, and you are very rich; he paid tribute, and you exact tribute; he submitted to the powers that were, and you have become a power; he walked on foot, and you go to Castel-Gandolfo in a sumptuous equipage; he ate all that one was so good as to give him, and you want us to eat fish on Friday and Saturday, when we live far from sea and river; he forbade Simon Barjona to use a sword, and you have swords in your service, etc., etc., etc. Therefore in this sense Your Holiness is antichrist. In every other sense I hold you in great veneration, and I ask you for an indulgence in articulo mortis."

My man was put in the Castello St. Angelo.

When he came out of the Castello St. Angelo, he rushed to Venice, and asked to speak to the doge.

"Your Serenity," he said, "must be a scatter-brain to marry the sea every year: for firstly, one only marries the same person once; secondly, your marriage resembles Harlequin's which was half made, seeing that it lacked but the consent of the bride; thirdly, who has told you that one day other maritime powers will not declare you incapable of consummating the marriage?"

He spoke, and was shut up in the Tower of St. Mark's.

When he came out of the Tower of St. Mark's, he went to Constantinople; he had audience of the mufti; and spoke to him in these terms:

"Your religion, although it has some good points, such as worship of the great Being, and the necessity of being just and charitable, is otherwise nothing but a rehash of Judaism and a tedious collection of fairy tales. If the archangel Gabriel had brought the leaves of the Koran to Mahomet from some planet, all Arabia would have seen Gabriel come down: nobody saw him; therefore Mahomet was a brazen impostor who deceived imbeciles."

Hardly had he pronounced these words than he was impaled. Nevertheless he had always been right, and had always had reason on his side.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:56 pm


I meditated last night; I was absorbed in the contemplation of nature; I admired the immensity, the course, the harmony of these infinite globes which the vulgar do not know how to admire.

I admired still more the intelligence which directs these vast forces. I said to myself: "One must be blind not to be dazzled by this spectacle; one must be stupid not to recognize the author of it; one must be mad not to worship Him. What tribute of worship should I render Him? Should not this tribute be the same in the whole of space, since it is the same supreme power which reigns equally in all space? Should not a thinking being who dwells in a star in the Milky Way offer Him the same homage as the thinking being on this little globe where we are? Light is uniform for the star Sirius and for us; moral philosophy must be uniform. If a sentient, thinking animal in Sirius is born of a tender father and mother who have been occupied with his happiness, he owes them as much love and care as we owe to our parents. If someone in the Milky Way sees a needy cripple, if he can relieve him and if he does not do it, he is guilty toward all globes. Everywhere the heart has the same duties: on the steps of the throne of God, if He has a throne; and in the depth of the abyss, if He is an abyss."

I was plunged in these ideas when one of those genii who fill the intermundane spaces came down to me. I recognized this same aerial creature who had appeared to me on another occasion to teach me how different God's judgments were from our own, and how a good action is preferable to a controversy.

He transported me into a desert all covered with piled up bones; and between these heaps of dead men there were walks of ever-green trees, and at the end of each walk a tall man of august mien, who regarded these sad remains with pity.

"Alas! my archangel," said I, "where have you brought me?"

"To desolation," he answered.

"And who are these fine patriarchs whom I see sad and motionless at the end of these green walks? they seem to be weeping over this countless crowd of dead."

"You shall know, poor human creature," answered the genius from the intermundane spaces; "but first of all you must weep."

He began with the first pile. "These," he said, "are the twenty-three thousand Jews who danced before a calf, with the twenty-four thousand who were killed while lying with Midianitish women. The number of those massacred for such errors and offences amounts to nearly three hundred thousand.

"In the other walks are the bones of the Christians slaughtered by each other for metaphysical disputes. They are divided into several heaps of four centuries each. One heap would have mounted right to the sky; they had to be divided."

"What!" I cried, "brothers have treated their brothers like this, and I have the misfortune to be of this brotherhood!"

"Here," said the spirit, "are the twelve million Americans killed in their fatherland because they had not been baptized."

"My God! why did you not leave these frightful bones to dry in the hemisphere where their bodies were born, and where they were consigned to so many different deaths? Why assemble here all these abominable monuments to barbarism and fanaticism?"

"To instruct you."

"Since you wish to instruct me," I said to the genius, "tell me if there have been peoples other than the Christians and the Jews in whom zeal and religion wretchedly transformed into fanaticism, have inspired so many horrible cruelties."

"Yes," he said. "The Mohammedans were sullied with the same inhumanities, but rarely; and when one asked amman, pity, of them and offered them tribute, they pardoned. As for the other nations there has not been one right from the existence of the world which has ever made a purely religious war. Follow me now." I followed him.

A little beyond these piles of dead men we found other piles; they were composed of sacks of gold and silver, and each had its label: Substance of the heretics massacred in the eighteenth century, the seventeenth and the sixteenth. And so on in going back: Gold and silver of Americans slaughtered, etc., etc. And all these piles were surmounted with crosses, mitres, croziers, triple crowns studded with precious stones.

"What, my genius! it was then to have these riches that these dead were piled up?"

"Yes, my son."

I wept; and when by my grief I had merited to be led to the end of the green walks, he led me there.

"Contemplate," he said, "the heroes of humanity who were the world's benefactors, and who were all united in banishing from the world, as far as they were able, violence and rapine. Question them."

I ran to the first of the band; he had a crown on his head, and a little censer in his hand; I humbly asked him his name. "I am Numa Pompilius," he said to me. "I succeeded a brigand, and I had brigands to govern: I taught them virtue and the worship of God; after me they forgot both more than once; I forbade that in the temples there should be any image, because the Deity which animates nature cannot be represented. During my reign the Romans had neither wars nor seditions, and my religion did nothing but good. All the neighbouring peoples came to honour me at my funeral: that happened to no one but me."

I kissed his hand, and I went to the second. He was a fine old man about a hundred years old, clad in a white robe. He put his middle-finger on his mouth, and with the other hand he cast some beans behind him. I recognized Pythagoras. He assured me he had never had a golden thigh, and that he had never been a cock; but that he had governed the Crotoniates with as much justice as Numa governed the Romans, almost at the same time; and that this justice was the rarest and most necessary thing in the world. I learned that the Pythagoreans examined their consciences twice a day. The honest people! how far we are from them! But we who have been nothing but assassins for thirteen hundred years, we say that these wise men were arrogant.

In order to please Pythagoras, I did not say a word to him and I passed to Zarathustra, who was occupied in concentrating the celestial fire in the focus of a concave mirror, in the middle of a hall with a hundred doors which all led to wisdom. (Zarathustra's precepts are called doors, and are a hundred in number.) Over the principal door I read these words which are the précis of all moral philosophy, and which cut short all the disputes of the casuists: "When in doubt if an action is good or bad, refrain."

"Certainly," I said to my genius, "the barbarians who immolated all these victims had never read these beautiful words."

We then saw the Zaleucus, the Thales, the Aniximanders, and all the sages who had sought truth and practised virtue.

When we came to Socrates, I recognized him very quickly by his flat nose. "Well," I said to him, "here you are then among the number of the Almighty's confidants! All the inhabitants of Europe, except the Turks and the Tartars of the Crimea, who know nothing, pronounce your name with respect. It is revered, loved, this great name, to the point that people have wanted to know those of your persecutors. Melitus and Anitus are known because of you, just as Ravaillac is known because of Henry IV.; but I know only this name of Anitus. I do not know precisely who was the scoundrel who calumniated you, and who succeeded in having you condemned to take hemlock."

"Since my adventure," replied Socrates, "I have never thought about that man; but seeing that you make me remember it, I have much pity for him. He was a wicked priest who secretly conducted a business in hides, a trade reputed shameful among us. He sent his two children to my school. The other disciples taunted them with having a father who was a currier; they were obliged to leave. The irritated father had no rest until he had stirred up all the priests and all the sophists against me. They persuaded the counsel of the five hundred that I was an impious fellow who did not believe that the Moon, Mercury and Mars were gods. Indeed, I used to think, as I think now, that there is only one God, master of all nature. The judges handed me over to the poisoner of the republic; he cut short my life by a few days: I died peacefully at the age of seventy; and since that time I pass a happy life with all these great men whom you see, and of whom I am the least."

After enjoying some time in conversation with Socrates, I went forward with my guide into a grove situated above the thickets where all the sages of antiquity seemed to be tasting sweet repose.

I saw a man of gentle, simple countenance, who seemed to me to be about thirty-five years old. From afar he cast compassionate glances on these piles of whitened bones, across which I had had to pass to reach the sages' abode. I was astonished to find his feet swollen and bleeding, his hands likewise, his side pierced, and his ribs flayed with whip cuts. "Good Heavens!" I said to him, "is it possible for a just man, a sage, to be in this state? I have just seen one who was treated in a very hateful way, but there is no comparison between his torture and yours. Wicked priests and wicked judges poisoned him; is it by priests and judges that you have been so cruelly assassinated?"

He answered with much courtesy—"Yes."

"And who were these monsters?"

"They were hypocrites."

"Ah! that says everything; I understand by this single word that they must have condemned you to death. Had you then proved to them, as Socrates did, that the Moon was not a goddess, and that Mercury was not a god?"

"No, these planets were not in question. My compatriots did not know at all what a planet is; they were all arrant ignoramuses. Their superstitions were quite different from those of the Greeks."

"You wanted to teach them a new religion, then?"

"Not at all; I said to them simply—'Love God with all your heart and your fellow-creature as yourself, for that is man's whole duty.' Judge if this precept is not as old as the universe; judge if I brought them a new religion. I did not stop telling them that I had come not to destroy the law but to fulfil it; I had observed all their rites; circumcised as they all were, baptized as were the most zealous among them, like them I paid the Corban; I observed the Passover as they did, eating standing up a lamb cooked with lettuces. I and my friends went to pray in the temple; my friends even frequented this temple after my death; in a word, I fulfilled all their laws without a single exception."

"What! these wretches could not even reproach you with swerving from their laws?"

"No, without a doubt."

"Why then did they put you in the condition in which I now see you?"

"What do you expect me to say! they were very arrogant and selfish. They saw that I knew them; they knew that I was making the citizens acquainted with them; they were the stronger; they took away my life: and people like them will always do as much, if they can, to whoever does them too much justice."

"But did you say nothing, do nothing that could serve them as a pretext?"

"To the wicked everything serves as pretext.

"Did you not say once that you were come not to send peace, but a sword?"

"It is a copyist's error; I told them that I sent peace and not a sword. I have never written anything; what I said can have been changed without evil intention."

"You therefore contributed in no way by your speeches, badly reported, badly interpreted, to these frightful piles of bones which I saw on my road in coming to consult you?"

"It is with horror only that I have seen those who have made themselves guilty of these murders."

"And these monuments of power and wealth, of pride and avarice, these treasures, these ornaments, these signs of grandeur, which I have seen piled up on the road while I was seeking wisdom, do they come from you?"

"That is impossible; I and my people lived in poverty and meanness: my grandeur was in virtue only."

I was about to beg him to be so good as to tell me just who he was. My guide warned me to do nothing of the sort. He told me that I was not made to understand these sublime mysteries. Only did I conjure him to tell me in what true religion consisted.

"Have I not already told you? Love God and your fellow-creature as yourself."

"What! if one loves God, one can eat meat on Friday?"

"I always ate what was given me; for I was too poor to give anyone food."

"In loving God, in being just, should one not be rather cautious not to confide all the adventures of one's life to an unknown man?"

"That was always my practice."

"Can I not, by doing good, dispense with making a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella?"

"I have never been in that country."

"Is it necessary for me to imprison myself in a retreat with fools?"

"As for me, I always made little journeys from town to town."

"Is it necessary for me to take sides either for the Greek Church or the Latin?"

"When I was in the world I never made any difference between the Jew and the Samaritan."

"Well, if that is so, I take you for my only master." Then he made me a sign with his head which filled me with consolation. The vision disappeared, and a clear conscience stayed with me.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:56 pm



Every sect, in whatever sphere, is the rallying-point of doubt and error. Scotist, Thomist, Realist, Nominalist, Papist, Calvinist, Molinist, Jansenist, are only pseudonyms.

There are no sects in geometry; one does not speak of a Euclidian, an Archimedean.

When the truth is evident, it is impossible for parties and factions to arise. Never has there been a dispute as to whether there is daylight at noon.

The branch of astronomy which determines the course of the stars and the return of eclipses being once known, there is no more dispute among astronomers.

In England one does not say—"I am a Newtonian, a Lockian, a Halleyan." Why? Those who have read cannot refuse their assent to the truths taught by these three great men. The more Newton is revered, the less do people style themselves Newtonians; this word supposes that there are anti-Newtonians in England. Maybe we still have a few Cartesians in France; that is solely because Descartes' system is a tissue of erroneous and ridiculous imaginings.

It is likewise with the small number of truths of fact which are well established. The records of the Tower of London having been authentically gathered by Rymer, there are no Rymerians, because it occurs to no one to combat this collection. In it one finds neither contradictions, absurdities nor prodigies; nothing which revolts the reason, nothing, consequently, which sectarians strive to maintain or upset by absurd arguments. Everyone agrees, therefore, that Rymer's records are worthy of belief.

You are Mohammedan, therefore there are people who are not, therefore you might well be wrong.

What would be the true religion if Christianity did not exist? the religion in which there were no sects; the religion in which all minds were necessarily in agreement.

Well, to what dogma do all minds agree? to the worship of a God and to integrity. All the philosophers of the world who have had a religion have said in all time—"There is a God, and one must be just." There, then, is the universal religion established in all time and throughout mankind.

The point in which they all agree is therefore true, and the systems through which they differ are therefore false.

"My sect is the best," says a Brahmin to me. But, my friend, if your sect is good, it is necessary; for if it were not absolutely necessary you would admit to me that it was useless: if it is absolutely necessary, it is for all men; how then can it be that all men have not what is absolutely necessary to them? How is it possible for the rest of the world to laugh at you and your Brahma?

When Zarathustra, Hermes, Orpheus, Minos and all the great men say—"Let us worship God, and let us be just," nobody laughs; but everyone hisses the man who claims that one cannot please God unless when one dies one is holding a cow's tail, and the man who wants one to have the end of one's prepuce cut off, and the man who consecrates crocodiles and onions, and the man who attaches eternal salvation to the dead men's bones one carries under one's shirt, or to a plenary indulgence which one buys at Rome for two and a half sous.

Whence comes this universal competition in hisses and derision from one end of the world to the other? It is clear that the things at which everyone sneers are not of a very evident truth. What shall we say of one of Sejan's secretaries who dedicated to Petronius a bombastic book entitled—"The Truths of the Sibylline Oracles, Proved by the Facts"?

This secretary proves to you first that it was necessary for God to send on earth several sibyls one after the other; for He had no other means of teaching mankind. It is demonstrated that God spoke to these sibyls, for the word sibyl signifies God's counsel. They had to live a long time, for it is the very least that persons to whom God speaks should have this privilege. They were twelve in number, for this number is sacred. They had certainly predicted all the events in the world, for Tarquinius Superbus bought three of their Books from an old woman for a hundred crowns. "What incredulous fellow," adds the secretary, "will dare deny all these evident facts which happened in a corner before the whole world? Who can deny the fulfilment of their prophecies? Has not Virgil himself quoted the predictions of the sibyls? If we have not the first examples of the Sibylline Books, written at a time when people did not know how to read or write, have we not authentic copies? Impiety must be silent before such proofs." Thus did Houttevillus speak to Sejan. He hoped to have a position as augur which would be worth an income of fifty thousand francs, and he had nothing. [20]

"What my sect teaches is obscure, I admit it," says a fanatic; "and it is because of this obscurity that it must be believed; for the sect itself says it is full of obscurities. My sect is extravagant, therefore it is divine; for how should what appears so mad have been embraced by so many peoples, if it were not divine?" It is precisely like the Alcoran which the Sonnites say has an angel's face and an animal's snout; be not scandalized by the animal's snout, and worship the angel's face. Thus speaks this insensate fellow. But a fanatic of another sect answers—"It is you who are the animal, and I who am the angel."

Well, who shall judge the suit? who shall decide between these two fanatics? The reasonable, impartial man learned in a knowledge that is not that of words; the man free from prejudice and lover of truth and justice; in short, the man who is not the foolish animal, and who does not think he is the angel.


Sect and error are synonymous. You are Peripatetic and I Platonician; we are therefore both wrong; for you combat Plato only because his fantasies have revolted you, and I am alienated from Aristotle only because it seems to me that he does not know what he is talking about. If one or the other had demonstrated the truth, there would be a sect no longer. To declare oneself for the opinion of the one or the other is to take sides in a civil war. There are no sects in mathematics, in experimental physics. A man who examines the relations between a cone and a sphere is not of the sect of Archimedes: he who sees that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the square of the two other sides is not of the sect of Pythagoras.

When you say that the blood circulates, that the air is heavy, that the sun's rays are pencils of seven refrangible rays, you are not either of the sect of Harvey, or the sect of Torricelli, or the sect of Newton; you agree merely with the truth demonstrated by them, and the entire universe will ever be of your opinion.

This is the character of truth; it is of all time; it is for all men; it has only to show itself to be recognized; one cannot argue against it. A long dispute signifies—"Both parties are wrong."



[20] Reference to the Abbé Houtteville, author of a book entitled—"The Truth of the Christian Religion, Proved by the Facts."
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:56 pm


Nicole in his "Essais de Morale," written after two or three thousand volumes of ethics ("Treatise on Charity," Chap. II), says that "by means of the wheels and gibbets which people establish in common are repressed the tyrannous thoughts and designs of each individual's self-esteem."

I shall not examine whether people have gibbets in common, as they have meadows and woods in common, and a common purse, and if one represses ideas with wheels; but it seems very strange to me that Nicole should take highway robbery and assassination for self-esteem. One should distinguish shades of difference a little better. The man who said that Nero had his mother assassinated through self-esteem, that Cartouche had much self-esteem, would not be expressing himself very correctly. Self-esteem is not wickedness, it is a sentiment that is natural to all men; it is much nearer vanity than crime.

A beggar in the suburbs of Madrid nobly begged charity; a passer-by says to him: "Are you not ashamed to practise this infamous calling when you are able to work?"

"Sir," answered the beggar, "I ask for money, not advice." And he turned on his heel with full Castillian dignity.

This gentleman was a proud beggar, his vanity was wounded by a trifle. He asked charity out of love for himself, and could not tolerate the reprimand out of further love for himself.

A missionary travelling in India met a fakir laden with chains, naked as a monkey, lying on his stomach, and having himself whipped for the sins of his compatriots, the Indians, who gave him a few farthings.

"What self-denial!" said one of the lookers-on.

"Self-denial!" answered the fakir. "Learn that I have myself flogged in this world in order to return it in another, when you will be horses and I horseman."

Those who have said that love of ourselves is the basis of all our opinions and all our actions, have therefore been quite right in India, Spain, and all the habitable world: and as one does not write to prove to men that they have faces, it is not necessary to prove to them that they have self-esteem. Self-esteem is the instrument of our conservation; it resembles the instrument of the perpetuity of the species: it is necessary, it is dear to us, it gives us pleasure, and it has to be hidden.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:58 pm



This is a vague, indeterminate term, which expresses an unknown principle of known effects that we feel in us. The word soul corresponds to the Latin anima, to the Greek πνεῦμα, to the term of which all nations have made use to express what they did not understand any better than we do.

In the proper and literal sense of the Latin and the languages derived from Latin, it signifies that which animates. Thus people have spoken of the soul of men, of animals, sometimes of plants, to signify their principal of vegetation and life. In pronouncing this word, people have never had other than a confused idea, as when it is said in Genesis—"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul; and the soul of animals is in the blood; and kill not my soul, etc."

Thus the soul was generally taken for the origin and the cause of life, for life itself. That is why all known nations long imagined that everything died with the body. If one can disentangle anything in the chaos of ancient histories, it seems that the Egyptians at least were the first to distinguish between the intelligence and the soul: and the Greeks learned from them to distinguish their νοῦς, their πνεῦμα, their σκιὰ. The Latins, following their example, distinguish animus and anima; and we, finally, have also had our soul and our understanding. But is that which is the principle of our life different from that which is the principle of our thoughts? is it the same being? Does that which directs us and gives us sensation and memory resemble that which is in animals the cause of digestion and the cause of their sensations and of their memory?

There is the eternal object of the disputes of mankind; I say eternal object; for not having any first notion from which we can descend in this examination, we can only rest for ever in a labyrinth of doubt and feeble conjecture.

We have not the smallest step where we may place a foot in order to reach the most superficial knowledge of what makes us live and of what makes us think. How should we have? we should have had to see life and thought enter a body. Does a father know how he has produced his son? does a mother how she conceived him? Has anyone ever been able to divine how he acts, how he wakes, how he sleeps? Does anyone know how his limbs obey his will? has anyone discovered by what art ideas are marked out in his brain and issue from it at his command? Frail automatons moved by the invisible hand which directs us on this stage of the world, which of us has been able to detect the wire which guides us?

We dare question whether the soul is "spirit" or "matter"; if it is created before us, if it issues from non-existence at our birth, if after animating us for one day on earth, it lives after us into eternity. These questions appear sublime; what are they? questions of blind men saying to other blind men—"What is light?"

When we want to learn something roughly about a piece of metal, we put it in a crucible in the fire. But have we a crucible in which to put the soul? "The soul is spirit," says one. But what is spirit? Assuredly no one has any idea; it is a word that is so void of sense that one is obliged to say what spirit is not, not being able to say what it is. "The soul is matter," says another. But what is matter? We know merely some of its appearances and some of its properties; and not one of these properties, not one of these appearances, seems to have the slightest connection with thought.

"Thought is something distinct from matter," say you. But what proof of it have you? Is it because matter is divisible and figurable, and thought is not? But who has told you that the first principles of matter are divisible and figurable? It is very probable that they are not; entire sects of philosophers maintain that the elements of matter have neither form nor extension. With a triumphant air you cry—"Thought is neither wood, nor stone, nor sand, nor metal, therefore thought does not belong to matter." Weak, reckless reasoners! gravitation is neither wood, nor sand, nor metal, nor stone; movement, vegetation, life are not these things either, and yet life, vegetation, movement, gravitation, are given to matter. To say that God cannot make matter think is to say the most insolently absurd thing that anyone has ever dared utter in the privileged schools of lunacy. We are not certain that God has treated matter like this; we are only certain that He can. But what matters all that has been said and all that will be said about the soul? what does it matter that it has been called entelechy, quintessence, flame, ether? that it has been thought universal, uncreated, transmigrant, etc.?

In these matters that are inaccessible to the reason, what do these romances of our uncertain imaginations matter? What does it matter that the Fathers of the first four centuries thought the soul corporeal? What does it matter that Tertullian, by a contradiction frequent in him, has decided that it is simultaneously corporeal, formed and simple? We have a thousand witnesses to ignorance, and not one that gives a glimmer of probability.

How then are we so bold as to assert what the soul is? We know certainly that we exist, that we feel, that we think. Do we want to take a step beyond? we fall into a shadowy abyss; and in this abyss we are still so madly reckless as to dispute whether this soul, of which we have not the least idea, was made before us or with us, and whether it perishes or is immortal.

The article SOUL, and all the articles of the nature of metaphysics, must start by a sincere submission to the incontrovertible dogmas of the Church. Revelation is worth more, without doubt, than the whole of philosophy. Systems exercise the mind, but faith illumines and guides it.

Do we not often pronounce words of which we have only a very confused idea, or even of which we have none at all? Is not the word soul an instance? When the clapper or valve of a bellows is out of order, and when air which is in the bellows leaves it by some unexpected opening in this valve, so that it is no longer compressed against the two blades, and is not thrust violently towards the hearth which it has to light, French servants say—"The soul of the bellows has burst." They know no more about it than that; and this question in no wise disturbs their peace of mind.

The gardener utters the phrase "the soul of the plants," and cultivates them very well without knowing what he means by this term.

The violin-maker poses, draws forward or back the "soul of a violin" beneath the bridge in the belly of the instrument; a puny piece of wood more or less gives the violin or takes away from it a harmonious soul.

We have many industries in which the workmen give the qualification of "soul" to their machines. Never does one hear them dispute about this word. Such is not the case with philosophers.

For us the word "soul" signifies generally that which animates. Our ancestors the Celts gave to their soul the name of seel, from which the English soul, and the German seel; and probably the ancient Teutons and the ancient Britons had no quarrels in their universities over this expression.

The Greeks distinguished three sorts of souls—ψυχὴ, which signified the sensitive soul, the soul of the senses; and that is why Love, child of Aphrodite, had so much passion for Psyche, and why Psyche loved him so tenderly: πνεῦμα, the breath which gives life and movement to the whole machine, and which we have translated by spiritus, spirit; vague word to which have been given a thousand different meanings: and finally νοῦς, the intelligence.

We possessed therefore three souls, without having the least notion of any of them. St. Thomas Aquinas (Summation of St. Thomas. Lyons edition, 1738) admits these three souls as a peripatetic, and distinguishes each of these three souls in three parts. ψυχὴ was in the breast, πνεῦμα was distributed throughout the body, and νοῦς was in the head. There has been no other philosophy in our schools up to our day, and woe betide any man who took one of these souls for the other.

In this chaos of ideas there was, nevertheless, a foundation. Men had noticed that in their passions of love, hate, anger, fear, their internal organs were stimulated to movement. The liver and the heart were the seat of the passions. If one thought deeply, one felt a strife in the organs of the head; therefore the intellectual soul was in the head. Without respiration no vegetation, no life; therefore the vegetative soul was in the breast which receives the breath of air.

When men saw in dreams their dead relatives or friends, they had to seek what had appeared to them. It was not the body which had been consumed on a funeral pyre, or swallowed up in the sea and eaten by the fishes. It was, however, something, so they maintained; for they had seen it; the dead man had spoken; the dreamer had questioned him. Was it ψυχὴ, was it πνεῦμα, was it νοῦς, with whom one had conversed in the dream? One imagined a phantom, an airy figure: it was σκιὰ, it was δαίμων, a ghost from the shades, a little soul of air and fire, very unrestricted, which wandered I know not where.

Eventually, when one wanted to sift the matter, it became a constant that this soul was corporeal; and the whole of antiquity never had any other idea. At last came Plato who so subtilized this soul that it was doubtful if he did not separate it entirely from matter; but that was a problem that was never solved until faith came to enlighten us.

In vain do the materialists quote some of the fathers of the Church who did not express themselves with precision. St. Irenæus says (liv. v. chaps. vi and vii) that the soul is only the breath of life, that it is incorporeal only by comparison with the mortal body, and that it preserves the form of man so that it may be recognized.

In vain does Tertullian express himself like this—"The corporeality of the soul shines bright in the Gospel." (Corporalitas animæ in ipso Evangelio relucescit, De Anima, cap. vii.) For if the soul did not have a body, the image of the soul would not have the image of the body.

In vain does he record the vision of a holy woman who had seen a very shining soul, of the colour of air.

In vain does Tatien say expressly (Oratio ad Græcos, c. xxiii.)—"The soul of man is composed of many parts."

In vain is St. Hilarius quoted as saying in later times (St. Hilarius on St. Matthew)—"There is nothing created which is not corporeal, either in heaven, or on earth, or among the visible, or among the invisible: everything is formed of elements; and souls, whether they inhabit a body, or issue from it, have always a corporeal substance."

In vain does St. Ambrose, in the sixth century, say (On Abraham, liv. ii., ch. viii.)—"We recognize nothing but the material, except the venerable Trinity alone."

The body of the entire Church has decided that the soul is immaterial. These saints fell into an error at that time universal; they were men; but they were not mistaken over immortality, because that is clearly announced in the Gospels.

We have so evident a need of the decision of the infallible Church on these points of philosophy, that we have not indeed by ourselves any sufficient notion of what is called "pure spirit," and of what is named "matter." Pure spirit is an expression which gives us no idea; and we know matter only by a few phenomena. We know it so little that we call it "substance"; well, the word substance means "that which is under"; but what is under will be eternally hidden from us. What is under is the Creator's secret; and this secret of the Creator is everywhere. We do not know either how we receive life, or how we give it, or how we grow, or how we digest, or how we sleep, or how we think, or how we feel.

The great difficulty is to understand how a being, whoever he be, has thoughts.


The author of the article SOUL in the "Encyclopedia" (the Abbé Yvon) followed Jaquelot scrupulously; but Jaquelot teaches us nothing. He sets himself also against Locke, because the modest Locke said (liv. iv, ch. iii, para. vi.)—"We possibly shall never be able to know whether any mere material being thinks or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas without revelation, to discover whether Omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to matter, so disposed, a thinking immaterial substance: it being, in respect of our notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking; since we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort of substances the Almighty has been pleased to give that power which cannot be in any created being but merely by the good pleasure and bounty of the Creator, for I see no contradiction in it, that the first eternal thinking Being should, if he pleased, give to certain systems of created senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of sense, perception and thought."

Those are the words of a profound, religious and modest man.

We know what quarrels he had to undergo on account of this opinion which appeared bold, but which was in fact in him only a consequence of his conviction of the omnipotence of God and the weakness of man. He did not say that matter thought; but he said that we have not enough knowledge to demonstrate that it is impossible for God to add the gift of thought to the unknown being called "matter", after according it the gift of gravitation and the gift of movement, both of which are equally incomprehensible.

Locke was not assuredly the only one who had advanced this opinion; it was the opinion of all antiquity, who, regarding the soul as very unrestricted matter, affirmed consequently that matter could feel and think.

It was Gassendi's opinion, as may be seen in his objections to Descartes. "It is true," says Gassendi, "that you know what you think; but you are ignorant of what species of substance you are, you who think. Thus although the operation of thought is known to you, the principle of your essence is hidden from you; and you do not know what is the nature of this substance, one of the operations of which is to think. You are like a blind man who, feeling the heat of the sun and being informed that it is caused by the heat of the sun, thinks he has a clear and distinct idea of this luminary; because if he were asked what the sun was, he could reply that it is a thing which heats, etc."

The same Gassendi, in his "Epicurean Philosophy," repeats several times that there is no mathematical evidence of the pure spirituality of the soul.

Descartes, in one of his letters to the Palatine Princess Elisabeth, says to her—"I confess that by the natural reason alone we can make many conjectures on the soul, and have gratifying hopes, but no certainty." And in that sentence Descartes combats in his letters what he puts forward in his works; a too ordinary contradiction.

In fine we have seen that all the Fathers of the first centuries of the Church, while believing the soul immortal, believed it at the same time material; they thought that it is as easy for God to conserve as to create. They said—"God made the soul thinking, He will preserve it thinking."

Malebranche has proved very well that we have no idea by ourselves, and that objects are incapable of giving us ideas: from that he concludes that we see everything in God. That is at the bottom the same thing as making God the author of all our ideas; for with what should we see in Him, if we had not instruments for seeing? and these instruments, it is He alone who holds them and guides them. This system is a labyrinth, one lane of which would lead you to Spinozism, another to Stoicism, another to chaos.

When one has had a good argument about spirit and matter, one always finishes by not understanding each other. No philosopher has been able with his own strength to lift this veil stretched by nature over all the first principles of things. Men argue, nature acts.


Of the Soul of Animals, and of some Empty Ideas

Before the strange system which supposes animals to be pure machines without any sensation, men had never thought that the beasts possessed an immaterial soul; and nobody had pushed recklessness to the point of saying that an oyster has a spiritual soul. Everyone concurred peaceably in agreeing that the beasts had received from God feeling, memory, ideas, and no pure spirit. Nobody had abused the gift of reason to the point of saying that nature had given the beasts all the organs of feeling so that they might not feel anything. Nobody had said that they cry when they are wounded, and that they fly when pursued, without experiencing pain or fear.

At that time people did not deny the omnipotence of God; He had been able to communicate to the organized matter of animals pleasure, pain, remembrance, the combination of a few ideas; He had been able to give to several of them, such as the monkey, the elephant, the hunting-dog, the talent of perfecting themselves in the arts which were taught to them; not only had He been able to endow nearly all carnivorous animals with the talent of warring better in their experienced old age than in their too trustful youth; not only, I say, had He been able to do these things, but He had done them: the universe bore witness thereto.

Pereira and Descartes maintained that the universe was mistaken, that God was a juggler, that He had given animals all the instruments of life and sensation, so that they might have neither life nor sensation, properly speaking. But I do not know what so-called philosophers, in order to answer Descartes' chimera, leaped into the opposite chimera; they gave liberally of pure spirit to the toads and the insects.

Between these two madnesses, the one refusing feeling to the organs of feeling, the other lodging a pure spirit in a bug, somebody thought of a middle path. It was instinct. And what is instinct? Oh, oh, it is a substantial form; it is a plastic form; it is I do not know what! it is instinct. I shall be of your opinion so long as you will call the majority of things, "I do not know what"; so long as your philosophy begins and ends with "I do not know what", I shall quote Prior to you in his poem on the vanity of the world.

The author of the article SOUL in the "Encyclopedia" explains himself like this:—"I picture the animals' soul as an immaterial and intelligent substance, but of what species? It must, it seems to me, be an active principle which has sensations, and which has only that.... If we reflect on the nature of the soul of animals, it supplies us with groundwork which might lead us to think that its spirituality will save it from annihilation."

I do not know how one pictures an immaterial substance. To picture something is to make an image of it; and up till now nobody has been able to paint the spirit. For the word "picture", I want the author to understand "I conceive"; speaking for myself, I confess I do not conceive it. I confess still less that a spiritual soul may be annihilated, because I do not conceive either creation or non-existence; because I have never been present at God's council; because I know nothing at all about the principle of things.

If I wish to prove that the soul is a real being, someone stops me by telling me that it is a faculty. If I assert that it is a faculty, and that I have the faculty of thinking, I am told that I am mistaken; that God, the eternal master of all nature, does everything in me, and directs all my actions and all my thoughts; that if I produced my thoughts, I should know the thought I will have in a minute; that I never know it; that I am only an automaton with sensations and ideas, necessarily dependent, and in the hands of the Supreme Being, infinitely more compliant to Him than clay is to the potter.

I confess my ignorance, therefore; I avow that four thousand tomes of metaphysics will not teach us what our soul is.

An orthodox philosopher said to a heterodox philosopher—"How have you been able to come to the point of imagining that the soul is mortal by nature, and eternal only by the pure wish of God?"

"By my own experience," said the other.

"How! are you dead?"

"Yes, very often. I suffered from epilepsy in my youth, and I assure you that I was completely dead for several hours. No sensation, no remembrance even of the moment that I fell ill. The same thing happens to me now nearly every night. I never feel the precise moment that I go to sleep; my sleep is absolutely dreamless. I cannot imagine by conjecture how long I have slept. I am dead regularly six hours out of the twenty-four. That is a quarter of my life."

The orthodox then asserted that he always thought during his sleep without knowing anything about it. The heterodox answered him—"I believe through revelation that I shall always think in the other life; but I assure you I think rarely in this one."

The orthodox was not mistaken in asserting the immortality of the soul, for faith and reason demonstrate this truth; but he might be mistaken in asserting that a sleeping man always thinks.

Locke admitted frankly that he did not always think while he was asleep: another philosopher has said—"Thought is characteristic of man; but it is not his essence."

Let us leave to each man the liberty and consolation of seeking himself, and of losing himself in his ideas.

It is good, however, to know, that in 1730 a philosopher[21] suffered a severe enough persecution for having confessed, with Locke, that his understanding was not exercised at every moment of the day and night, just as he did not use his arms and his legs at all moments. Not only did court ignorance persecute him, but the malignant influence of a few so-called men of letters was let loose against him. What in England had produced merely a few philosophical disputes, produced in France the most cowardly atrocities; a Frenchman suffered by Locke.

There have always been in the mud of our literature more than one of these miscreants who have sold their pens, and intrigued against their benefactors even. This remark is rather foreign to the article SOUL; but should one miss an opportunity of dismaying those who make themselves unworthy of the name of men of letters, who prostitute the little mind and conscience they have to a vile self-interest, to a fantastic policy, who betray their friends to flatter fools, who in secret powder the hemlock which the powerful and malicious ignoramus wants to make useful citizens drink?

In short, while we worship God with all our soul, let us confess always our profound ignorance of this soul, of this faculty of feeling and thinking which we possess from His infinite goodness. Let us avow that our feeble reasonings can take nothing away from, or add anything to revelation and faith. Let us conclude in fine that we should use this intelligence, the nature of which is unknown, for perfecting the sciences which are the object of the "Encyclopedia"; just as watchmakers use springs in their watches, without knowing what a spring is.


About the Soul, and About our Little Knowledge

On the testimony of our acquired knowledge, we have dared question whether the soul is created before us, whether it comes from non-existence into our body? at what age it came to settle between a bladder and the intestines cæcum and rectum? if it brought ideas with it or received them there, and what are these ideas? if after animating us for a few moments, its essence is to live after us into eternity without the intervention of God Himself? if being spirit, and God being spirit, they are both of like nature? These questions seem sublime; what are they? questions about light by men born blind.

What have all the philosophers, ancient and modern, taught us? a child is wiser than they are; he does not think about things of which he can form no conception.

You will say that it is sad for our insatiable curiosity, for our inexhaustible thirst for happiness, to be thus ignorant of ourselves! I agree, and there are still sadder things; but I shall answer you:

Sors tua mortalis, non est mortale quod optas.
—Ovid, Met. II. 56

"You have a man's fate, and a god's desires."

Once again, it seems that the nature of every principle of things is the Creator's secret. How does the air carry sound? how are animals formed? how do some of our limbs constantly obey our wills? what hand puts ideas in our memory, keeps them there as in a register, and pulls them out sometimes when we want them and sometimes in spite of ourselves? Our nature, the nature of the universe, the nature of the least plant, everything for us is sunk in a shadowy pit.

Man is an acting, feeling, thinking being: that is all we know of him: it is not given to us to know what makes us feel and think, or what makes us act, or what makes us exist. The acting faculty is as incomprehensible for us as the thinking faculty. The difficulty is less to conceive how a body of mud has feelings and ideas, than to conceive how a being, whatever it be, has ideas and feelings.

Here on one side the soul of Archimedes, on the other the soul of an idiot; are they of the same nature? If their essence is to think, they think always, and independently of the body which cannot act without them. If they think by their own nature, can the species of a soul which cannot do a sum in arithmetic be the same as that which measured the heavens? If it is the organs of the body which made Archimedes think, why is it that my idiot, who has a stronger constitution than Archimedes, who is more vigorous, digests better and performs all his functions better, does not think at all? It is, you say, because his brain is not so good. But you are making a supposition; you do not know at all. No difference has ever been found between healthy brains that have been dissected. It is even very probable that a fool's cerebellum will be in better condition than Archimedes', which has worked prodigiously, and which might be worn out and shrivelled.

Let us conclude therefore what we have already concluded, that we are ignoramuses about all first principles. As regards ignoramuses who pride themselves on their knowledge, they are far inferior to monkeys.

Now dispute, choleric arguers: present your petitions against each other; proffer your insults, pronounce your sentences, you who do not know one word about the matter.


Of Warburton's Paradox on the Immortality of the Soul

Warburton, editor and commentator of Shakespeare and Bishop of Gloucester, making use of English freedom, and abuse of the custom of hurling insults at one's adversaries, has composed four volumes to prove that the immortality of the soul was never announced in the Pentateuch, and to conclude from this same proof that Moses' mission is divine. Here is the précis of his book, which he himself gives, pages 7 and 8 of the first volume.

"1. The doctrine of a life to come, of rewards and punishments after death, is necessary to all civil society.

"2. The whole human race (and this is where he is mistaken), and especially the wisest and most learned nations of antiquity, concurred in believing and teaching this doctrine.

"3. It cannot be found in any passage of the law of Moses; therefore the law of Moses is of divine origin. Which I am going to prove by the two following syllogisms:

First Syllogism

"Every religion, every society that has not the immortality of the soul for its basis, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence; the Jewish religion had not the immortality of the soul for basis; therefore the Jewish religion was maintained by an extraordinary providence.

Second Syllogism

"All the ancient legislators have said that a religion which did not teach the immortality of the soul could not be maintained but by an extraordinary providence; Moses founded a religion which is not founded on the immortality of the soul; therefore Moses believed his religion maintained by an extraordinary providence."

What is much more extraordinary is this assertion of Warburton's, which he has put in big letters at the beginning of his book. He has often been reproached with the extreme rashness and bad faith with which he dares to say that all the ancient legislators believed that a religion which is not founded on pains and recompenses after death, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence; not one of them ever said it. He does not undertake even to give any example in his huge book stuffed with a vast number of quotations, all of which are foreign to his subject. He has buried himself beneath a pile of Greek and Latin authors, ancient and modern, for fear one might see through him on the other side of a horrible multitude of envelopes. When criticism finally probed to the bottom, he was resurrected from among all these dead men in order to load all his adversaries with insults.

It is true that towards the end of his fourth volume, after having walked through a hundred labyrinths, and having fought with everybody he met on the road, he comes at last to his great question which he had left there. He lays all the blame on the Book of Job which passes among scholars for an Arab work, and he tries to prove that Job did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Later he explains in his own way all the texts of Holy Writ by which people have tried to combat this opinion.

All one can say about it is that, if he was right, it was not for a bishop to be right in such a way. He should have felt that one might draw dangerous inferences; but everything in this world is a mass of contradiction. This man, who became accuser and persecutor, was not made bishop by a minister of state's patronage until immediately after he had written his book.

At Salamanca, Coimbre or Rome, he would have been obliged to recant and to ask pardon. In England he became a peer of the realm with an income of a hundred thousand livres; it was enough to modify his methods.


Of the Need of Revelation

The greatest benefit we owe to the New Testament is that it has revealed to us the immortality of the soul. It is in vain, therefore, that this fellow Warburton tried to cloud over this important truth, by continually representing in his legation of Moses that "the ancient Jews knew nothing of this necessary dogma, and that the Sadducees did not admit it in the time of our Lord Jesus."

He interprets in his own way the very words that have been put into Jesus Christ's mouth: "... have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (St. Matt. xxii. 31, 32). He gives to the parable of the wicked rich man a sense contrary to that of all the Churches. Sherlock, Bishop of London, and twenty other scholars refuted him. English philosophers even reproached him with the scandal of an Anglican bishop manifesting an opinion so contrary to the Anglican Church; and after that, this man takes it into his head to treat these persons as impious: like the character of Arlequin in the comedy of the Dévaliseur de maisons, who, after throwing the furniture out of the window, sees a man carrying some of it off, and cries with all his might "Stop thief!"

One should bless the revelation of the immortality of the soul, and of rewards and punishments after death, all the more that mankind's vain philosophy has always been sceptical of it. The great Cæsar did not believe in it at all, he made himself quite clear in full senate when, in order to stop Catalina being put to death, he represented that death left man without sensation, that everything died with him; and nobody refuted this view.

The Roman Empire was divided between two principal sects: that of Epicurus which asserted that deity was useless to the world, and that the soul perished with the body: and that of the Stoics who regarded the soul as part of the Deity, which after death was joined again to its origin, to the great everything from which it emanated. Thus, whether one believed the soul mortal, or whether one believed it immortal, all the sects were agreed in laughing at pains and punishments after death.

We still have a hundred monuments of this belief of the Romans. It is by virtue of this opinion graved profoundly in their hearts, that so many simple Roman citizens killed themselves without the least scruple; they did not wait for a tyrant to hand them over to the executioners.

The most virtuous men even, and those most persuaded of the existence of a God, hoped for no reward, and feared no punishment. Clement, who later was Pope and saint, began by himself doubting what the early Christians said of another life, and consulted St. Peter at Cæsarea. We are far from believing that St. Clement wrote the history that is attributed to him; but this history makes evident the need the human race had of a precise revelation. All that can surprise us is that so repressive and salutary a doctrine has left a prey to so many horrible crimes men who have so little time to live, and who see themselves squeezed between two eternities.


Souls of Fools and Monsters

A deformed child is born absolutely imbecile, it has no ideas and lives without ideas; we have seen examples of this. How shall this animal be defined? doctors have said that it is something between man and beast; others have said that it had a sensitive soul, but not an intellectual soul. It eats, drinks, sleeps, wakes, has sensations; but it does not think.

Is there another life for this creature, or is there none? The question has been posed, and has not yet been completely answered.

Some say that this creature must have a soul, because its father and mother had one. But by this reasoning one would prove that if it came into the world without a nose it would be deemed to have one, because its father and its mother had noses.

A woman gives birth to child with no chin, its forehead is receding and rather black, its nose is slim and pointed, its eyes are round, it bears not a bad resemblance to a swallow; the rest of its body, nevertheless, is made like ours. The parents have it baptised; by a plurality of votes it is considered a man and possessor of an immortal soul. But if this ridiculous little figure has pointed nails and beak-like mouth, it is declared a monster, it has no soul, and is not baptised.

It is well known that in London in 1726 there was a woman who gave birth every week to a rabbit. No difficulty was made about refusing baptism to this child, despite the epidemic mania there was for three weeks in London for believing that this poor rogue was making wild rabbits. The surgeon who attended her, St. André by name, swore that nothing was more true, and people believed him. But what reason did the credulous have for refusing a soul to this woman's children? she had a soul, her children should be provided with souls also; whether they had hands, whether they had paws, whether they were born with a little snout or with a face; cannot the Supreme Being bestow the gift of thought and sensation on a little I know not what, born of a woman, shaped like a rabbit, as well as to a little I know not what, shaped like a man? Shall the soul that was ready to lodge in this woman's fœtus go back again into space?

Locke makes the sound observation, about monsters, that one must not attribute immortality to the exterior of a body; that the form has nothing to do with it. This immortality, he says, is no more attached to the form of his face or his chest, than to the way his beard is dressed or his coat cut.

He asks what is the exact measure of deformity by which you can recognize whether or no a child has a soul? What is the precise degree at which it must be declared a monster and deprived of a soul?

One asks still further what would be a soul which never has any but fantastic ideas? there are some which never escape from them. Are they worthy or unworthy? what is to be done with their pure spirit?

What is one to think of a child with two heads? without deformity apart from this? Some say that it has two souls because it is provided with two pineal glands, with two corpus callosum, with two sensorium commune. Others reply that one cannot have two souls when one has only one chest and one navel. [22]

In fine, so many questions have been asked about this poor human soul, that if it were necessary to answer them all, this examination of its own person would cause it the most intolerable boredom. There would happen to it what happened to Cardinal de Polignac at a conclave. His steward, tired of never being able to make him settle his accounts, made the journey from Rome, and came to the little window of his cell burdened with an immense bundle of papers. He read for nearly two hours. At last, seeing that no reply was forthcoming, he put his head forward. The cardinal had departed nearly two hours before. Our souls will depart before their stewards have acquainted them with the facts: but let us be exact before God, whatever sort of ignoramuses we are, we and our stewards.



[21] Voltaire himself.

[22] The Chevalier d'Angos, learned astronomer, has carefully observed a two-headed lizard for several days; and he has assured himself that the lizard had two independent wills, each of which had an almost equal power over the body. When the lizard was given a piece of bread, in such a way that it could see it with only one head, this head wanted to go after the bread, and the other wanted the body to remain at rest.
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Re: Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

Postby admin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:58 pm


The ins and outs of all governments have been closely examined recently. Tell me then, you who have travelled, in what state, under what sort of government you would choose to be born. I imagine that a great land-owning lord in France would not be vexed to be born in Germany; he would be sovereign instead of subject. A peer of France would be very glad to have the privileges of the English peerage; he would be legislator. The lawyer and the financier would be better off in France than elsewhere.

But what country would a wise, free man, a man with a moderate fortune, and without prejudices, choose?

A member of the government of Pondicherry, a learned man enough, returned to Europe by land with a Brahmin better educated than the ordinary Brahmin. "What do you think of the government of the Great Mogul?" asked the councillor.

"I think it abominable," answered the Brahmin. "How can you expect a state to be happily governed by the Tartars? Our rajahs, our omrahs, our nabobs, are very content, but the citizens are hardly so; and millions of citizens are something."

Reasoning, the councillor and the Brahmin traversed the whole of Upper Asia. "I make the observation," said the Brahmin, "that there is not one republic in all this vast part of the world."

"Formerly there was the republic of Tyre," said the councillor, "but it did not last long; there was still another one in the direction of Arabia Petrea, in a little corner called Palestine, if one can honour with the name of republic a horde of thieves and usurers sometimes governed by judges, sometimes by a species of kings, sometimes by grand-pontiffs, become slave seven or eight times, and finally driven out of the country which it had usurped."

"I imagine," said the Brahmin, "that one ought to find very few republics on the earth. Men are rarely worthy of governing themselves. This happiness should belong only to little peoples who hide themselves in islands, or among the mountains, like rabbits who shun carnivorous beasts; but in the long run they are discovered and devoured."

When the two travellers reached Asia Minor, the councillor said to the Brahmin: "Would you believe that a republic was formed in a corner of Italy, which lasted more than five hundred years, and which owned Asia Minor, Asia, Africa, Greece, Gaul, Spain and the whole of Italy?"

"She soon became a monarchy, then," said the Brahmin.

"You have guessed right," said the other. "But this monarchy fell, and every day we compose beautiful dissertations in order to find the cause of its decadence and downfall."

"You take a deal of trouble," said the Indian. "This empire fell because it existed. Everything has to fall. I hope as much will happen to the Grand Mogul's empire."

"By the way," said the European, "do you consider that there should be more honour in a despotic state, and more virtue in a republic?"

The Indian, having had explained to him what we mean by honour, answered that honour was more necessary in a republic, and that one had more need of virtue in a monarchical state. "For," said he, "a man who claims to be elected by the people, will not be if he is dishonoured; whereas at the court he could easily obtain a place, in accordance with a great prince's maxim, that in order to succeed a courtier should have neither honour nor character. As regards virtue, one must be prodigiously virtuous to dare to say the truth. The virtuous man is much more at his ease in a republic; he has no one to flatter."

"Do you think," said the man from Europe, "that laws and religions are made for climates, just as one has to have furs in Moscow, and gauzy stuffs in Delhi?"

"Without a doubt," answered the Brahmin. "All the laws which concern material things are calculated for the meridian one lives in. A German needs only one wife, and a Persian three or four.

"The rites of religion are of the same nature. How, if I were Christian, should I say mass in my province where there is neither bread nor wine? As regards dogmas, that is another matter; the climate has nothing to do with them. Did not your religion begin in Asia, whence it was driven out? does it not exist near the Baltic Sea, where it was unknown?"

"In what state, under what domination, would you like best to live?" asked the councillor.

"Anywhere but where I do live," answered his companion. "And I have met many Siamese, Tonkinese, Persians and Turks who said as much."

"But, once again," persisted the European, "what state would you choose?"

The Brahmin answered: "The state where only the laws are obeyed."

"That is an old answer," said the councillor.

"It is none the worse for that," said the Brahmin.

"Where is that country?" asked the councillor.

"We must look for it," answered the Brahmin.
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