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air, which is a foreign body; or as we incessantly see all the objects near us by the light of the sun, whose rays are bodies foreign to our eyes. That superior reason over-rules and governs, to a certain degree, with an absolute power all men, even the least rational, and makes them all ever agree, in spite of themselves, upon those points. It is she that makes a savage in Canada think about a great many things, just as the Greek and Roman philosophers did. It is she that made the Chinese geometricians find out much of the same truths with the Europeans, whilst those nations so very remote were unknown one to another. It is she that makes people in Japan conclude, as in France, that two and two make four; nor is it apprehended that any nation shall ever change their opinion about it. It is she that makes men think nowadays about certain points, just as men thought about the same four thousand years ago. It is she that gives uniform thoughts to the most jealous and jarring men, and the most irreconcilable among themselves. It is by her that men of all ages and countries are, as it were, chained about an unmovable centre, and held in the bonds of amity by certain invariable rules, called first principles, notwithstanding the infinite variations of opinions that arise in them from their passion, avocations, and caprices, which over-rule all their other less clear judgments. It is through her that men, as depraved as they are, have not yet presumed openly to bestow on vice the name of virtue, and that they are reduced to dissemble, being just, sincere, moderate, benevolent, in order to gain one another's esteem. The most wicked and abandoned of men cannot be brought to esteem what they wish they could esteem, or to despise what they wish they could despise. It is not possible to force the eternal barrier of truth and justice. The inward master, called reason, intimately checks the attempt with absolute power, and knows how to set bounds to the most impudent folly of men. Though Vice has for many ages reigned with unbridled licentiousness, Virtue is still called Virtue; and the most brutish and rash of her adversaries cannot yet deprive her of her name. Hence it is that vice, though triumphant in the world, is still obliged to disguise itself under the mask of hypocrisy or sham honesty, to gain the esteem it has not the confidence to expect, if it should go barefaced. Thus, notwithstanding its impudence, it pays a forced homage to Virtue, by endeavoring to adorn itself with her fairest outside, in order to receive the honor and respect she commands from men. It is true virtuous men are exposed to censure; and they are, indeed, ever reprehensible in this life, through their natural imperfections; but yet the most vicious cannot totally efface in themselves the idea of true virtue. There never was yet any man upon earth that could prevail either with others, or himself, to allow, as a received maxim, that to be knavish, passionate, and mischievous, is more honorable than to be honest, moderate, good-natured, and benevolent.
Section 56 of “The Existence of God » complete.
WONDERS OF THE MEMORY AND BRAIN
THERE are two wonders equally incomprehensible. The first,
that my brain is a kind of book that contains a number al
most infinite of images and characters ranged in an order I did not contrive, and of which chance could not be the author. For I never had the least thought either of writing anything in my brain, or to place in any order the images and characters I imprinted in it. I had no other thought but only to see the objects that struck my senses. Neither could chance make so marvelous a book: even all the art of man is too imperfect ever to reach so high a perfection, therefore what hand had the skill to compose it ?
The second wonder I find in my brain is to see that my mind reads with so much ease, whatever it pleases, in that inward book; and read even characters it does not know. I never saw the traces or figures imprinted in my brain, and even the substance of my brain itself, which is like the paper of that book, is altogether unknown to me. All those numberless characters transpose themselves, and afterwards resume their rank and place to obey my command. I have, as it were, a divine power over a work I am unacquainted with, and which is incapable of knowledge. That which understands nothing, understands my thought and performs it instantly. The thought of man has no power over bodies: I am sensible of it by running over all nature. There is but one single body which my bare will moves, as if it were a Deity; and even moves the most subtle and nicest springs of it, without knowing them. Now, who is it that united my will to this body, and gave it so much power over it ?
Section 49 of «The Existence of God » complete. THE IDEAS OF THE MIND ARE UNIVERSAL, ETERNAL, AND
H, how great is the mind of man! He carries within him U wherewithal to astonish, and infinitely to surpass himself:
since his ideas are universal, eternal, and immutable. They are universal: for when I say it is impossible to be and not to be; the whole is bigger than a part of it; a line perfectly circular has no straight parts; between two points given the straight line is the shortest; the centre of a perfect circle is equally distant from all the points of the circumference; an equilateral triangle has no obtuse or right angle: all these truths admit of no exception. There never can be any being, line, circle, or triangle, but according to these rules. These axioms are of all times, or to speak more properly, they exist before all time, and will ever remain after any comprehensible duration. Let the universe be turned topsy-turvy, destroyed, and annihilated; and even let there be no mind to reason about beings, lines, circles, and triangles: yet it will ever be equally true in itself, that the same thing cannot at once be and not be; that a perfect circle can have no part of a straight line; that the centre of a perfect circle cannot be nearer one side of the circumference than the other. Men may, indeed, not think actually on these truths, and it might even happen that there should be neither universe nor any mind capable to reflect on these truths: but, nevertheless, they are still constant and certain in themselves, although no mind should be acquainted with them; just as the rays of the sun would not cease being real, although all men should be blind, and nobody have eyes to be sensible of their light. By affirming that two and two make four, says St. Augustine, man is not only certain that he speaks truth, but he cannot doubt that such a proposition was ever equally true, and must be so eternally. These ideas we carry within ourselves have no bounds, and cannot admit of any. It cannot be said that what I have affirmed about the centre of perfect circles is true 'only in relation to a certain number of circles; for that proposition is true, through evident necessity, with respect to all circles ad infinitum. These unbounded ideas can never be changed, altered, impaired, or defaced in us, for they make up the very essence of our reason. Whatever effort a man may make in his own mind, yet it is impossible for him ever to entertain a serious doubt about the truths which those ideas clearly represent to us. For instance, I never can seriously call in question, whether the whole is bigger than one of its parts, or whether the centre of a perfect circle is equally distant from all the points of the circumference. The idea of the infinite is in me like that of numbers, lines, circles, a whole, and a part. The changing our ideas would be, in effect, the annihilating reason itself. Let us judge and make an esti. mate of our greatness by the immutable infinite stamp within us, and which can never be defaced from our minds. But lest such a real greatness should dazzle and betray us, by flattering our vanity, let us hasten to cast our eyes on our weakness.
Section 52 of “The Existence of God » complete.
WEAKNESS OF MAN'S MIND
That same mind that incessantly sees the infinite, and, through
the rule of the infinite, all finite things, is likewise infinitely
ignorant of all the objects that surround it. It is altogether ignorant of itself, and gropes about in an abyss of dark. ness. It neither knows what it is, nor how it is united with a body; nor which way it has so much command over all the springs of that body, which it knows not. It is ignorant of its own thoughts and wills. It knows not, with certainty, either what it believes or wills. It often fancies to believe and will what it neither believes nor wills. It is liable to mistake, and its greatest excellence is to acknowledge it. To the error of its thoughts it adds the disorder and irregularity of its will and desires; so that it is forced to groan in the consciousness and experience of its corruption. Such is the mind of man, weak, uncertain, stinted, full of errors. Now, who is it that put the idea of the infinite, that is to say of perfection, in a subject so stinted and so full of imperfection ? Did it give itself so sublime, and so pure an idea, which is itself a kind of infinite in imagery? What finite being distinct from it was able to give it what bears no proportion with what is limited within any bounds ? Let us suppose the mind of man to be like a lookingglass, wherein the images of all the neighboring bodies imprint themselves. Now what being was able to stamp within us the image of the infinite, if the infinite never existed ? Who can put in a looking-glass the image of a chimerical object which is not in being, and which was never placed against the glass ? This image of the infinite is not a confused collection of finite objects, which the mind may mistake for a true infinite. It is the true infinite of which we have the thought and idea. We know it so well that we exactly distinguish it from whatever it is not; and that no subtlety can palm upon us any other object in its room. We are so well acquainted with it that we reject from it any propriety that denotes the least bound or limit. In short, we know it so well that it is in it alone we know all the rest, just as we know the night by the day, sickness by health. Now, once more, whence comes so great an image ? Does it proceed from nothing? Can a stinted limited being imagine and invent the infinite, if there be no infinite at all? Our weak and short-sighted mind cannot of itself form that image, which, at this rate, should have no author. None of the outward objects can give us that image: for they can only give us the image of what they are, and they are limited and imperfect. Therefore, from whence shall we derive that distinct image which is unlike anything within us, and all we know here below, without us? Whence does it proceed? Where is that infinite we cannot comprehend, because it is really infinite; and which, nevertheless, we cannot mistake, because we distinguish it from anything that is inferior to it? Sure it must be somewhere, otherwise how could it imprint itself in our minds ?