Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > The System of Nature
The Diversity of the Intellectual
They depend on Physical Causes, as do their Moral Qualities.--
The Natural Principles of Society.--Morals.--Politics.
NATURE is under the necessity of diversifying all her works. Elementary matter, different in its essence, must necessarily form different beings, various in their combinations, in their properties, in their modes of action, in their manner of existence. There is not, neither can there be, two beings, two combinations, which are mathematically and rigorously the same; because the place, the circumstances, the relations; the proportions, the modifications, never being exactly alike, the beings that result can never bear a perfect resemblance to each other: their modes of action must of necessity vary in something, even when we believe we find between them the greatest conformity.
In consequence of this principle, which every thing we see conspires to prove to be a truth, there are not two individuals of the human species who have precisely the same traits--who think exactly in the same manner--who view things under the same identical point of sight--who have decidedly the same ideas; consequently no two of them have uniformly the same system of conduct. The visible organs of man, as well as his concealed organs, have indeed some analogy, some common points of resemblance, some general conformity; which makes them appear, when viewed in the gross, to be affected in the same manner by certain causes: but the difference is infinite in the detail. The human soul may be compared to those instruments, of which the chords, already diversified in themselves, by the manner in which they have been spun, are also strung upon different notes: struck by the same impulse, each chord gives forth the sound that is peculiar to itself; that is to say, that which depends on its texture, its tension, its volume, on the momentary state in which it is placed by the circumambient air. It is this that produces the diversified spectacle, the varied scene, which the moral world offers to our view: it is from this that results the striking contrariety that is to be found in the minds, in the faculties, in the passions, in the energies, in the taste, in the imagination, in the ideas, in the opinions of man. This diversity is as great as that of his physical powers: like them it depends on his temperament, which is as much varied as his physiognomy. This variety gives birth to that continual series of action and re-action, which constitutes the life of the moral world: from this discordance results the harmony which at once maintains and preserves the human race.
The diversity found among the individuals of the human species, causes inequalities between man and man: this inequality constitutes the support of society. If all men were equal in their bodily powers, in their mental talents, they would not have any occasion for each other: it is the variation of his faculties, the inequality which this places him in, with regard to his fellows, that renders morals necessary to man: without these, he would live by himself, he would remain an isolated being. From whence it may be perceived, that this inequality of which man so often complains without cause--this impossibility which each man finds when in an isolated state, when left to himself, when unassociated with his fellow men, to labour efficaciously to his own welfare, to make his own security, to ensure his own conservation; places him in the happy situation of associating with his like, of depending on his fellow associates, of meriting their succour, of propitiating them to his views, of attracting their regard, of calling in their aid to chase away, by common and united efforts, that which would have the power to trouble or derange the order of his existence. In consequence of man's diversity, of the inequality that results, the weaker is obliged to seek the protection of the stronger; this, in his turn, recurs to the understanding, to the talents, to the industry of the weaker, whenever his judgment points out he can be useful to him: this natural inequality furnishes the reason why nations distinguish those citizens who have rendered their country eminent services. It is in consequence of his exigencies that man honors and recompenses those whose understanding, good deeds, assistance, or virtues, have procured for him real or supposed advantages, pleasures, or agreeable sensations of any sort: it is by this means that genius gains an ascendancy over the mind of man, and obliges a whole people to acknowledge its powers. Thus, the diversity and inequality of the faculties, as well corporeal as mental or intellectual, renders man necessary to his fellow man, makes him a social being, and incontestibly proves to him the necessity of morals.
According to this diversity of faculties, the individuals of the human species are divided into different classes, each in proportion to the effects produced, or the different qualities that may be remarked: all these varieties in man flow from the individual properties of his soul, or from the particular modification of his brain. It is thus, that wit, imagination, sensibility, talents, &c. diversify to infinity the differences that are to be found in man. It is thus, that some are called good, others wicked; some are denominated virtuous, others vicious; some are ranked as learned, others as ignorant; some are considered reasonable, others unreasonable, &c.
If all the various faculties attributed to the soul are examined, it will be found that like those of the body they are to be ascribed to physical causes, to which it will be very easy to recur. It will be found that the powers of the soul are the same as those of the body; that they always depend on the organization of this body, on its peculiar properties, on the permanent or transitory modifications that it undergoes; in a word, on its temperament.
Temperament is, in each individual, the habitual state in which he finds the fluids and the solids of which his body is composed. This temperament varies, by reason of the elements or matter that predominate in him, in consequence of the different combinations, of the various modifications, which this matter, diversified in itself, undergoes in his machine. Thus, in one, the blood is superabundant; in another, the bile; in a third, phlegm, &c.
It is from Nature--from his parents--from causes, which from the first moment of his existence have unceasingly modified him, that man derives his temperament. It is in his mother's womb that he has attracted the matter which, during his whole life, shall have an influence on his intellectual faculties--on his energies--on his passions--on his conduct. The very nourishment he takes, the quality of the air he respires, the climate he inhabits, the education he receives, the ideas that are presented to him, the opinions he imbibes, modify this temperament. As these circumstances can never be rigorously the same in every point for any two men, it is by no means surprising that such an amazing variety, so great a contrariety, should be found in man; or that there should exist as many different temperaments, as there are individuals in the human species.
Thus, although man may bear a general resemblance, he differs essentially, as well by the texture of his fibres and the disposition of his nerves, as by the nature, the quality, the quantity of matter that gives them play, that sets his organs in motion. Man, already different from his fellow, by the elasticity of his fibres, the tension of his nerves, becomes still more distinguished by a variety of other circumstances: he is more active, more robust, when he receives nourishing aliments, when he drinks wine, when he takes exercise: whilst another, who drinks nothing but water, who takes less juicy nourishment, who languishes in idleness, shall be sluggish and feeble.
All these causes have necessarily an influence on the mind, on the passions, on the will; in a word, on what are called the intellectual faculties. Thus, it may he observed, that a man of a sanguine constitution, is commonly lively, ingenious, full of imagination, passionate, voluptuous, enterprising; whilst the phlegmatic man is dull, of a heavy understanding, slow of conception, inactive, difficult to be moved, pusillanimous, without imagination, or possessing it in a less lively degree, incapable of taking any strong measures, or of willing resolutely.
If experience was consulted, in the room of prejudice, the physician would collect from morals, the key to the human heart: in curing the body, he would sometimes be assured of curing the mind. Man, in making a spiritual substance of his soul, has contented himself with administering to it spiritual remedies, which either have no influence over his temperament, or do it an injury. The doctrine of the spirituality of the soul has rendered morals a conjectural science, that does not furnish a knowledge of the true motives which ought to be put in activity, in order to influence man to his welfare. If, calling experience to his assistance, man sought out the elements which form the basis of his temperament, or of the greater number of the individuals composing a nation, he would then discover what would be most proper for him,--that which could be most convenient to his mode of existence--which could most conduce to his true interest--what laws would be necessary to his happiness--what institutions would be most useful for him--what regulations would be most beneficial. In short, morals and politics would be equally enabled to draw from materialism, advantages which the dogma of spirituality can never supply, of which it even precludes the idea. Man will ever remain a mystery, to those who shall obstinately persist in viewing him with eyes prepossessed by metaphysics; he will always be an enigma to those who shall pertinaciously attribute his actions to a principle, of which it is impossible to form to themselves any distinct idea. When man shall be seriously inclined to understand himself, let him sedulously endeavour to discover the matter that enters into his combination, which constitutes his temperament; these discoveries will furnish him with the clue to the nature of his desires, to the quality of his passions, to the bent of his inclinations-- will enable him to foresee his conduct on given occasions--will indicate the remedies that may be successfully employed to correct the defects of a vicious organization, of a temperament, as injurious to himself as to the society of which he is a member.
Indeed, it is not to be doubted that man's temperament is capable of being corrected, of being modified, of being changed, by causes as physical as the matter of which it is constituted. We are all in some measure capable of forming our own temperament: a man of a sanguine constitution, by taking less juicy nourishment, by abating its quantity, by abstaining from strong liquor, &c. may achieve the correction of the nature, the quality, the quantity, the tendency, the motion of the fluids, which predominate in his machine. A bilious man, or one who is melancholy, may, by the aid of certain remedies, diminish the mass of this bilious fluid; he may correct the blemish of his humours, by the assistance of exercise; he may dissipate his gloom, by the gaiety which results from increased motion. An European transplanted into Hindostan, will, by degrees, become quite a different man in his humours, in his ideas, in his temperament, in his character.
Although but few experiments have been made with a view to learn what constitutes the temperament of man, there are still enough if he would but deign to make use of them--if he would vouchsafe to apply to useful purposes the little experience he has gleaned. It would appear, speaking generally, that the igneous principle which chemists designate under the name of phlogiston, or inflammable matter, is that which in man yields him the most active life, furnishes him with the greatest energy, affords the greatest mobility to his frame, supplies the greatest spring to his organs, gives the greatest elasticity to his fibres, the greatest tension to his nerves, the greatest rapidity to his fluids. From these causes, which are entirely material, commonly result the dispositions or faculties called sensibility, wit, imagination, genius, vivacity, &c. which give the tone to the passions, to the will, to the moral actions of man. In this sense, it is with great justice we apply the expressions, 'warmth of soul,' 'ardency of imagination,' 'fire of genius,' &c.
It is this fiery element, diffused unequally, distributed in various proportions through the beings of the human species, that sets man in motion, gives him activity, supplies him with animal heat, and which, if we may be allowed the expression, renders him more or less alive. This igneous matter, so active, so subtle, dissipates itself with great facility, then requires to be reinstated in his system by means of aliments that contain it, which thereby become proper to restore his machine, to lend new warmth to the brain, to furnish it with the elasticity requisite to the performance of those functions which are called intellectual. It is this ardent matter contained in wine, in strong liquor, that gives to the most torpid, to the dullest, to the most sluggish man, a vivacity of which, without it, he would be incapable--which urges even the coward on to battle. When this fiery element is too abundant in man, whilst he is labouring under certain diseases, it plunges him into delirium; when it is in too weak or in too small a quantity, he swoons, he sinks to the earth. This igneous matter diminishes in his old age--it totally dissipates at his death. It would not be unreasonable to suppose, that what physicians call the nervous fluid, which so promptly gives notice to the brain of all that happens to the body, is nothing more than electric matter; that the various proportions of this matter diffused through his system, is the cause of that great diversity to be discovered in the human being, and in the faculties he possesses.
If the intellectual faculties of man, or his moral qualities, be examined according to the principles here laid down, the conviction must be complete that they are to be attributed to material causes, which have an influence more or less marked, either transitory or durable, over his peculiar organization. But where does he derive this organization, except it be from the parents from whom he receives the elements of a machine necessarily analogous to their own? From whence does he derive the greater or less quantity of igneous matter, or vivifying heat, that decides upon, that gives the tone to his mental qualities? It is from the mother who bore him in her womb, who has communicated to him a portion of that fire with which she was herself animated, which circulated through her veins with her blood;--it is from the aliments that have nourished him,--it is from the climate he inhabits,--it is from the atmosphere that surrounds: all these causes have an influence over his fluids, over his solids, and decide on his natural dispositions. In examining these dispositions, from whence his faculties depend, it will ever be found, that they are corporeal, that they are material.
The most prominent of these dispositions in man, is that physical sensibility from which flows all his intellectual or moral qualities. To feel, according to what has been said, is to receive an impulse, to be moved, to have a consciousness of the changes operated on his system. To have sensibility is nothing more than to be so constituted as to feel promptly, and in a very lively manner, the impressions of those objects which act upon him. A sensible soul is only man's brain, disposed in a mode to receive the motion communicated to it with facility, to re-act with promptness, by giving an instantaneous impulse to the organs. Thus the man is called sensible, whom the sight of the distressed, the contemplation of the unhappy, the recital of a melancholy tale, the witnessing of an afflicting catastrophe, or the idea of a dreadful spectacle, touches in so lively a manner as to enable the brain to give play to his lachrymal organs, which cause him to shed tears; a sign by which we recognize the effect of great grief, of extreme anguish in the human being. The man in whom musical sounds excite a degree of pleasure, or produce very remarkable effects, is said to have a sensible or a fine ear. In short, when it is perceived that eloquence--the beauty of the arts--the various objects that strike his senses, excite in him very lively emotions, he is said to possess a soul full of sensibility.
Wit, is a consequence of this physical sensibility; indeed, wit is nothing more than the facility which some beings, of the human species possess, of seizing with promptitude, of developing with quickness, a whole, with its different relations to other objects. Genius, is the facility with which some men comprehend this whole, and its various relations when they are difficult to be known, but useful to forward great and mighty projects. Wit may be compared to a piercing eye which perceives things quickly. Genius is an eye that comprehends at one view, all the points of an extended horizon: or what the French term coup d'oeil. True wit is that which perceives objects with their relations such as they really are. False wit is that which catches at relations, which do not apply to the object, or which arises from some blemish in the organization. True wit resembles the direction on a hand-post.
Imagination is the faculty of combining with promptitude ideas or images; it consists in the power man possesses of re-producing with ease the modifications of his brain: of connecting them, of attaching them to the objects to which they are suitable. When imagination does this, it gives pleasure; its fictions are approved, it embellishes Nature, it is a proof of the soundness of the mind, it aids truth: when on the contrary, it combines ideas, not formed to associate themselves with each other--when it paints nothing but disagreeable phantoms, it disgusts, its fictions are censured, it distorts Nature, it advocates falsehood, it is the proof of a disordered, of a deranged mind: thus poetry, calculated to render Nature more pathetic, more touching, pleases when it creates ideal beings, but which move us agreeably: we, therefore, forgive the illusions it has held forth, on account of the pleasure we have reaped from them. The hideous chimeras of superstition displease, because they are nothing more than the productions of a distempered imagination, that can only awaken the most afflicting sensations, fills us with the most disagreeable ideas.
Imagination, when it wanders, produces fanaticism, superstitious terrors, inconsiderate zeal, phrenzy, and the most enormous crimes: when it is well regulated, it gives birth to a strong predilection for useful objects, an energetic passion for virtue, an enthusiastic love of our country, and the most ardent friendship: the man who is divested of imagination, is commonly one in whose torpid constitution phlegm predominates over the igneous fluid, over that sacred fire, which is the great principle of his mobility, of that warmth of sentiment, which vivifies all his intellectual faculties. There must be enthusiasm for transcendent virtues as well as for atrocious crimes; enthusiasm places the soul in a state similar to that of drunkenness; both the one and the other excite in man that rapidity of motion which is approved, when good results, when its effects are beneficial; but which is censured, is called folly, delirium, crime, fury; when it produces nothing but disorder and confusion.
The mind is out of order, it is incapable of judging sanely--the imagination is badly regulated, whenever man's organization is not so modified, as to perform its functions with precision. At each moment of his existence, man gathers experience; every sensation he has, furnishes a fact that deposits in his brain an idea which his memory recalls with more or less fidelity: these facts connect themselves, these ideas are associated; their chain constitutes experience; this lays the foundation of science. Knowledge is that consciousness which arises from reiterated experience--from experiments made with precision of the sensations, of the ideas, of the effects which an object is capable of producing, either in ourselves or in others. All science, to be just, must be founded on truth. Truth itself rests on the constant, the faithful relation of our senses. Thus, truth is that conformity, that perpetual affinity, which man's senses, when well constituted, when aided by experience, discover to him, between the objects of which he has a knowledge, and the qualities with which he clothes them. In short, truth is nothing more than the just, the precise association of his ideas. But how can he, without experience, assure himself of the accuracy, of the justness of this association? How, if he does not reiterate this experience, can he compare it? how prove its truth? If his senses are vitiated, how is it possible they can convey to him with precision, the sensations, the facts, with which they store his brain? It is only by multiplied, by diversified, by repeated experience, that he is enabled to rectify the errors of his first conceptions.
Man is in error every time his organs, either originally defective in their nature, or vitiated by the durable or transitory modifications which they undergo, render him incapable of judging soundly of objects. Error consists in the false association of ideas, by which qualities are attributed to objects which they do not possess. Man is in error, when he supposes those beings really to have existence, which have no local habitation but in his own imagination: he is in error, when he associates the idea of happiness with objects capable of injuring him, whether immediately or by remote consequences which he cannot foresee.
But how can he foresee effects of which he has not yet any knowledge? It is by the aid of experience: by the assistance which this experience affords, it is known that analogous, that like causes, produce analogous, produce like effects. Memory, by recalling these effects, enables him to form a judgment of those he may expect, whether it be from the same causes, or from causes that bear a relation to those of which he has already experienced the action. From this it will appear, that prudence, foresight, are faculties that are ascribable to, that grow out of experience. If he has felt that fire excited in his organs painful sensation, this experience suffices him to know, to foresee, that fire so applied, will consequently excite the same sensations. If he has discovered that certain actions, on his part, stirred up the hatred, elicited the contempt of others, this experience sufficiently enables him to foresee, that every time he shall act in a similar manner, he will be either hated or despised.
The faculty man has of gathering experience, of recalling it to himself, of foreseeing effects by which he is enabled to avoid whatever may have the power to injure him, to procure that which may be useful to the conservation of his existence, which may contribute to that which is the sole end of all his actions, whether corporeal or mental,--his felicity--constitutes that, which, in one word, is designated under the name of Reason. Sentiment, imagination, temperament, may be capable of leading him astray--may have the power to deceive him; but experience and reflection will rectify his errors, point out his mistakes, place him in the right road, teach him what can really conduce to, what can truly conduct him to happiness. From this, it will appear, that reason is man's nature, modified by experience, moulded by judgment, regulated by reflection: it supposes a moderate, sober temperament; a just, a sound mind; a well-regulated, orderly imagination; a knowledge of truth, grounded upon tried, upon reiterated experience; in fact, prudence and foresight: this will serve to prove, that although nothing is more commonly asserted, although the phrase is repeated daily, nay, hourly, that man is a reasonable being, yet there are but a very small number of the individuals who compose the human species, of whom it can with truth be said; who really enjoy the faculty of reason, or who combine the dispositions, the experience, by which it is constituted. It ought not, then to excite surprise, that the individuals of the human race, who are in a capacity to make true experience, are so few in number. Man, when he is born, brings with him into the world organs susceptible of receiving impulse, amassing ideas, of collecting experience; but whether it be from the vice of his system, the imperfection of his organization, or from those causes by which it is modified, his experience is false, his ideas are confused, his images are badly associated, his judgment is erroneous, his brain is saturated with vicious, with wicked systems, which necessarily have an influence over his conduct, which are continually disturbing his mind, and confounding his reason.
Man's senses, as it has been shown, are the only means by which he is enabled to ascertain whether his opinions are true or false, whether his conduct is useful to himself and beneficial to others, whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous. But that his senses may be competent to make a faithful relation--that they may be in a capacity to impress true ideas on his brain, it is requisite they should be sound; that is to say, in the state necessary to maintain his existence; in that order which is suitable to his preservation--that condition which is calculated to ensure his permanent felicity. It is also indispensable that his brain itself should be healthy, or in the proper circumstances to enable it to fulfil its functions with precision, to exercise its faculties with vigour. It is necessary that memory should faithfully delineate its anterior sensations, should accurately retrace its former ideas; to the end, that he may be competent to judge, to foresee the effects he may have to hope, the consequences he may have to fear, from those actions to which he may be determined by his will. If his organic system be vicious, if his interior or exterior organs be defective, whether by their natural conformation or from those causes by which they are regulated, he feels but imperfectly--in a manner less distinct than is requisite; his ideas are either false or suspicious, he judges badly, he is in a delusion, in a state of ebriety, in a sort of intoxication that prevents his grasping the true relation of things. In short, if his memory is faulty, if it is treacherous, his reflection is void, his imagination leads him astray, his mind deceives him, whilst the sensibility of his organs, simultaneously assailed by a crowd of impressions, shocked by a variety of impulsions, oppose him to prudence, to foresight, to the exercise of his reason. On the other hand, if the conformation of his organs, as it happens with those of a phlegmatic temperament, of a dull habit, does not permit him to move, except with feebleness, in a sluggish manner, his experience is slow, frequently unprofitable. The tortoise and the butterfly are alike incapable of preventing their destruction. The stupid man, equally with him who is intoxicated, are in that state which renders it impossible for them to arrive at or attain the end they have in view.
But what is the end? What is the aim of man in the sphere he occupies? It is to preserve himself; to render his existence happy. It becomes then of the utmost importance, that he should understand the true means which reason points out, which prudence teaches him to use, in order that he may with certainty, that he may constantly arrive at the end which he proposes to himself. These he will find are his natural faculties--his mind--his talents--his industry--his actions, determined by those passions of which his nature renders him susceptible, which give more or less activity to his will. Experience and reason again show him, that the men with whom he is associated are necessary to him, are capable of contributing to his happiness, are in a capacity to administer to his pleasures, are competent to assist him by those faculties which are peculiar to them; experience teaches him the mode he must adopt to induce them to concur in his designs, to determine them to will and incline them to act in his favour. This points out to him the actions they approve--those which displease them--the conduct which attracts them--that which repels them--the judgment by which they are swayed--the advantages that occur--the prejudicial effects that result to him from their various modes of existence and from their diverse manner of acting. This experience furnishes him with the ideas of virtue and of vice, of justice and of injustice, of goodness and of wickedness, of decency and of indecency, of probity and of knavery: In short, he learns to form a judgment of men--to estimate their actions--to distinguish the various sentiments excited in them, according to the diversity of those effects which they make him experience. It is upon the necessary diversity of these effects that is founded the discrimination between good and evil--between virtue and vice; distinctions which do not rest, as some thinkers have believed, on the conventions made between men; still less, as some metaphysicians have asserted, upon the chimerical will of supernatural beings: but upon the solid, the invariable, the eternal relations that subsist between beings of the human species congregated together, and living in society: which relations will have existence as long as man shall remain, as long as society shall continue to exist.
Thus virtue is every thing that is truly beneficial, every thing that is constantly useful to the individuals of the human race, living together in society; vice every thing that is really prejudicial, every thing that is permanently injurious to them. The greatest virtues are those which procure for man the most durable advantages, from which he derives the most solid happiness, which preserves the greatest degree of order in his association: the greatest vices, are those which most disturb his tendency to happiness, which perpetuate error, which most interrupt the necessary order of society.
The virtuous man, is he whose actions tend uniformly to the welfare, constantly to the happiness, of his fellow creatures.
The vicious man, is he whose conduct tends to the misery, whose propensities form the unhappiness of those with whom he lives; from whence his own peculiar misery most commonly results.
Every thing that procures for a man true and permanent happiness is reasonable; every thing that disturbs his individual felicity, or that of the beings necessary to his happiness, is foolish and unreasonable. The man who injures others, is wicked; the man who injures himself, is an imprudent being, who neither has a knowledge of reason, of his own peculiar interests, nor of truth.
Man's duties are the means pointed out to him by experience, the circle which reason describes for him, by which he is to arrive at that goal he proposes to himself; these duties are the necessary consequence of the relations subsisting between mortals, who equally desire happiness, who are equally anxious to preserve their existence. When it is said these duties compel him, it signifies nothing more than that, without taking these means, he could not reach the end proposed to him by his nature. Thus, moral obligation is the necessity of employing the natural means to render the beings with whom he lives happy; to the end that he may determine them in turn to contribute to his own individual happiness: his obligation toward himself, is the necessity he is under to take those means, without which he would be incapable to conserve himself, or render his existence solidly and permanently happy. Morals, like the universe, is founded upon necessity, or upon the eternal relation of things.
Happiness is a mode of existence of which man naturally wishes the duration, or in which he is willing to continue. It is measured by its duration, by its vivacity. The greatest happiness is that which has the longest continuance: transient happiness, or that which has only a short duration, is called Pleasure; the more lively it is, the more fugitive, because man's senses are only susceptible of a certain quantum of motion. When pleasure exceeds this given quantity, it is changed into anguish, or into that painful mode of existence, of which he ardently desires the cessation: this is the reason why pleasure and pain frequently so closely approximate each other as scarcely to be discriminated. Immoderate pleasure is the forerunner of regret. It is succeeded by ennui, it is followed by weariness, it ends in disgust: transient happiness frequently converts itself into durable misfortune. According to these principles it will be seen that man, who in each moment of his duration seeks necessarily after happiness, ought, when he is reasonable, to manage, to husband, to regulate his pleasures; to refuse himself to all those of which the indulgence would be succeeded by regret; to avoid those which can convert themselves into pain; in order that he may procure for himself the most permanent felicity.
Happiness cannot be the same for all the beings of the human species; the same pleasures cannot equally affect men whose conformation is different, whose modification is diverse. This no doubt, is the true reason why the greater number of moral philosophers are so little in accord upon those objects in which they have made man's happiness consist, as well as on the means by which it may be obtained. Nevertheless, in general, happiness appears to be a state, whether momentary or durable, in which man readily acquiesces, because he finds it conformable to his being. This state results from the accord, springs out of the conformity, which is found between himself and those circumstances in which he has been placed by Nature; or, if it be preferred, happiness is the co-ordination of man, with the causes that give him impulse.
The ideas which man forms to himself of happiness depend not only on his temperament, on his individual conformation, but also upon the habits he has contracted. Habit is, in man, a mode of existence--of thinking--of acting, which his organs, as well interior as exterior, contract, by the frequent reiteration of the same motion; from whence results the faculty of performing these actions with promptitude, of executing them with facility.
If things be attentively considered, it will be found that almost the whole conduct of man--the entire system of his actions--his occupations--his connexions--his studies--his amusements--his manners--his customs--his very garments--even his aliments, are the effect of habit. He owes equally to habit, the facility with which he exercises his mental faculties of thought--of judgment--of wit--of reason--of taste, &c. It is to habit he owes the greater part of his inclinations--of his desires--of his opinions--of his prejudices--of the ideas, true or false, he forms to himself of his welfare. In short, it is to habit, consecrated by time, that he owes those errors into which everything strives to precipitate him; from which every thing is calculated to prevent him emancipating himself. It is habit that attaches him either to virtue or to vice: experience proves this: observation teaches incontrovertibly that the first crime is always accompanied by more pangs of remorse than the second; this again, by more than the third; so on to those that follow. A first action is the commencement of a habit; those which succeed confirm it: by force of combatting the obstacles that prevent the commission of criminal actions, man arrives at the power of vanquishing them with ease; of conquering them with facility. Thus he frequently becomes wicked from habit.
Man is so much modified by habit, that it is frequently confounded with his nature: from hence results, as will presently be seen, those opinions or those ideas, which he has called innate: because he has been unwilling to recur back to the source from whence they sprung: which has, as it were, identified itself with his brain. However this may be, he adheres with great strength of attachment to all those things to which he is habituated; his mind experiences a sort of violence, an incommodious revulsion, a troublesome distaste, when it is endeavoured to make him change the course of his ideas: a fatal predilection frequently conducts him back to the old track in despite of reason.
It is by a pure mechanism that may be explained the phenomena of habit, as well physical as moral; the soul, notwithstanding its spirituality, is modified exactly in the same manner as the body. Habit, in man, causes the organs of voice to learn the mode of expressing quickly the ideas consigned to his brain, by means of certain motion, which, during his infancy, the tongue acquires the power of executing with facility: his tongue, once habituated to move itself in a certain manner, finds much trouble, has great pain, to move itself after another mode; the throat yields with difficulty to those inflections which are exacted by a language different from that to which he has, been accustomed. It is the same with regard to his ideas; his brain, his interior organ, his soul, inured to a given manner of modification, accustomed to attach certain ideas to certain objects, long used to form to itself a system connected with certain opinions, whether true or false, experiences a painful sensation, whenever he undertakes to give it a new impulse, or alter the direction of its habitual motion. It is nearly as difficult to make him change his opinions as his language.
Here, then, without doubt, is the cause of that almost invincible attachment which man displays to those customs--those prejudices--those institutions of which it is in vain that reason, experience, good sense prove to him the inutility, or even the danger. Habit opposes itself to the clearest, the most evident demonstrations; these can avail nothing against those passions, those vices, which time has rooted in him--against the most ridiculous systems--against the most absurd notions--against the most extravagant hypotheses--against the strangest customs: above all, when he has learned to attach to them the ideas of utility, of common interest, of the welfare of society. Such is the source of that obstinacy, of that stubbornness, which man evinces for his religion, for ancient usages, for unreasonable customs, for laws so little accordant with justice, for abuses, which so frequently make him suffer, for prejudices of which he sometimes acknowledges the absurdity, yet is unwilling to divest himself of them. Here is the reason why nations contemplate the most useful novelties as mischievous innovations--why they believe they would be lost, if they were to remedy those evils to which they have become habituated; which they have learned to consider as necessary to their repose; which they have been taught to consider dangerous to be cured.
Education is only the art of making man contract, in early life, that is to say, when his organs are extremely flexible, the habits, the opinions, the modes of existence, adopted by the society in which he is placed. The first moments of his infancy are employed in collecting experience; those who are charged with the care of rearing him, or who are entrusted to bring him up, teach him how to apply it: it is they who develop reason in him: the first impulse they give him commonly decides upon his condition, upon his passions, upon the ideas he forms to himself of happiness, upon the means he shall employ to procure it, upon his virtues, and upon his vices. Under the eyes of his masters, the infant acquires ideas: under their tuition he learns to associate them,--to think in a certain manner,--to judge well or ill. They point out to him various objects, which they accustom him either to love or to hate, to desire or to avoid, to esteem or to despise. It is thus opinions are transmitted from fathers, mothers, nurses, and masters, to man in his infantine state. It is thus, that his mind by degrees saturates itself with truth, or fills itself with error; after which he regulates his conduct, which renders him either happy or miserable, virtuous or vicious, estimable or hateful. It is thus he becomes either contented or discontented with his destiny, according to the objects towards which they have directed his passions--towards which they have bent the energies of his mind; that is to say, in which they have shown him his interest, in which they have taught him to place his felicity: in consequence, he loves and searches after that which they have taught him to revere--that which they have made the object of his research; he has those tastes, those inclinations, those phantasms, which, during the whole course of his life, he is forward to indulge, which he is eager to satisfy, in proportion to the activity they have excited in him, and the capacity with which he has been provided by Nature.
Politics ought to be the art of regulating the passions of man--of directing them to the welfare of society--of diverting them into a genial current of happiness--of making them flow gently to the general benefit of all: but too frequently it is nothing more than the detestible art of arming the passions of the various members of society against each other,--of making them the engines to accomplish their mutual destruction,--of converting them into agents which embitter their existence, create jealousies among them, and fill with rancorous animosities that association from which, if properly managed, man ought to derive his felicity. Society is commonly so vicious because it is not founded upon Nature, upon experience, and upon general utility; but on the contrary, upon the passions, upon the caprices, and upon the particular interests of those by whom it is governed. In short, it is for the most part the advantage of the few opposed to the prosperity of the many.
Politics, to be useful, should found its principles upon Nature; that is to say, should conform itself to the essence of man, should mould itself to the great end of society: but what is society? and what is its end? It is a whole, formed by the union of a great number of families, or by a collection of individuals, assembled from a reciprocity of interest, in order that they may satisfy with greater facility their reciprocal wants--that they may, with more certainty, procure the advantages they desire--that they may obtain mutual succours--above all, that they may gain the faculty of enjoying, in security, those benefits with which Nature and industry may furnish them: it follows, of course, that politics, which are intended to maintain society, and to consolidate the interests of this congregation, ought to enter into its views, to facilitate the means of giving them efficiency, to remove all those obstacles that have a tendency to counteract the intention with which man entered into association.
Man, in approximating to his fellow man, to live with him in society, has made, either formally or tacitly, a covenant; by which he engages to render mutual services, to do nothing that can be prejudicial to his neighbour. But as the nature of each individual impels him each instant to seek after his own welfare, which he has mistaken to consist in the gratification of his passions, and the indulgence of his transitory caprices, without any regard to the convenience of his fellows; there needed a power to conduct him back to his duty, to oblige him to conform himself to his obligations, and to recall him to his engagements, which the hurry of his passions frequently make him forget. This power is the law; it is, or ought to be, the collection of the will of society, re-united to fix the conduct of its members, to direct their action in such a mode, that it may concur to the great end of his association--the general good.
But as society, more especially when very numerous, is incapable of assembling itself, unless with great difficulty, as it cannot with tumult make known its intentions, it is obliged to choose citizens in whom it places a confidence, whom it makes the interpreter of its will, whom it constitutes the depositaries of the power requisite to carry it into execution. Such is the origin of all government, which to be legitimate can only be founded on the free consent of society. Those who are charged with the care of governing, call themselves sovereigns, chiefs, legislators: according to the form which society has been willing to give to its government: these sovereigns are styled monarchs, magistrates, representatives, &c. Government only borrows its power from society: being established for no other purpose than its welfare, it is evident society can revoke this power whenever its interest shall exact it; change the form of its government; extend or limit the power which it has confided to its chiefs, over whom, by the immutable laws of Nature, it always conserves a supreme authority: because these laws enjoin, that the part shall always remain subordinate to the whole.
Thus sovereigns are the ministers of society, its interpreters, the depositaries of a greater or of a less portion of its power; but they are not its absolute masters, neither are they the proprietors of nations. By a covenant, either expressed or implied, they engage themselves to watch over the maintenance, to occupy themselves with the welfare of society; it is only upon these conditions society consents to obey them. The price of obedience is protection. There is or ought to be a reciprocity of interest between the governed and the governor: whenever this reciprocity is wanting, society is in that state of confusion of which we spoke in the fifth chapter: it is verging on destruction. No society upon earth was ever willing or competent to confer irrevocably upon its chiefs the power, the right, of doing it injury. Such a concession, such a compact, would be annulled, would be rendered void by Nature; because she wills that each society, the same as each individual of the human species shall tend to its own conservation; it has not therefore the capacity to consent to its permanent unhappiness.
Laws, in order that they may be just, ought invariably to have for their end, the general interest of society; that is to say, to assure to the greater number of citizens those advantages for which man originally associated. These advantages are liberty, property, security.
Liberty, to man, is the faculty of doing, for his own peculiar happiness, every thing which does not injure or diminish the happiness of his associates: in associating, each individual renounced the exercise of that portion of his natural liberty which would be able to prejudice or injure the liberty of his fellows. The exercise of that liberty which is injurious to society is called licentiousness.
Property, to man, is the faculty of enjoying those advantages which spring from labour; those benefits which industry or talent has procured to each member of society.
Security, to man, is the certitude, the assurance, that each individual ought to have, of enjoying in his person, of finding for his property the protection of the laws, as long as he shall faithfully observe, as long as he shall punctually perform, his engagements with society.
Justice, to man, assures to all the members of society, the possession of these advantages, the enjoyment of those rights, which belong to them. From this, it will appear, that without justice, society is not in a condition to procure the happiness of any man. Justice is also called equity, because by the assistance of the laws made to command the whole, she reduces all its members to a state of equality; that is to say, she prevents them from prevailing one over the other, by the inequality which Nature or industry may have made between their respective powers.
Rights, to man, are every thing which society, by equitable laws, permits each individual to do for his own peculiar felicity. These rights are evidently limited by the invariable end of all association: society has, on its part, rights over all its members, by virtue of the advantages which it procures for them; all its members, in turn, have a right to claim, to exact from society, or secure from its ministers those advantages for the procuring of which they congregated, in favour of which they renounced a portion of their natural liberty. A society, of which the chiefs, aided by the laws, do not procure any good for its members, evidently loses its right over them: those chiefs who injure society lose the right of commanding. It is not our country, without it secures the welfare of its inhabitants; a society without equity contains only enemies; a society oppressed is composed only of tyrants and slaves; slaves are incapable of being citizens; it is liberty, property, and security, that render our country dear to us; it is the true love of his country that forms the citizen.
For want of having a proper knowledge of these truths, or for want of applying them when known, some nations have become unhappy--have contained nothing but a vile heap of slaves, separated from each other, detached from society, which neither procures for them any good, nor secures to them any one advantage. In consequence of the imprudence of some nations, or of the craft, cunning, and violence of those to whom they have confided the power of making laws, and carrying them into execution, their sovereigns have rendered themselves absolute masters of society. These, mistaking the true source of their power, pretended to hold it from heaven, to be accountable for their actions to God alone, to owe nothing, not to have any obligation to society, in a word, to be gods upon earth, to possess the right of governing arbitrarily. From thence politics became corrupted: they were only a mockery. Such nations, disgraced and grown contemptible, did not dare resist the will of their chiefs; their laws were nothing more than the expression of the caprice of these chiefs; public welfare was sacrificed to their peculiar interests; the force of society was turned against itself; its members withdrew to attach themselves to its oppressors, to its tyrants; these to seduce them, permitted them to injure it with impunity and to profit by its misfortunes. Thus liberty, justice, security, and virtue, were banished from many nations; politics was no longer any thing more than the art of availing itself of the forces of a people and of the treasure of society; of dividing it on the subject of its interest, in order to subjugate it by itself; at length a stupid, a mechanical habit, made them cherish their oppressors, and love their chains.
Man when he has nothing to fear, presently becomes wicked; he who believes be has not occasion for his fellow, persuades himself he may follow the inclinations of his heart without caution or discretion. Thus fear is the only obstacle society can effectually oppose to the passions of its chiefs; without it they will quickly become corrupt, and will not scruple to avail themselves of the means society has placed in their hands, to make them accomplices in their iniquity. To prevent these abuses, it is requisite society should set bounds to its confidence; should limit the power which it delegates to its chiefs; should reserve to itself a sufficient portion of authority to prevent them from injuring it; it must establish prudent checks: it must cautiously divide the power it confers, because re-united, it will by such reunion be infallibly oppressed. The slightest reflection, the most scanty review, will make men feel that the burthen of governing and weight of administration, is too ponderous and overpowering to be borne by an individual; that the scope of his jurisdiction, that the range of his surveillance, and multiplicity of his duties must always render him negligent; that the extent of his power has ever a tendency to render him mischievous. In short, the experience of all ages will convince nations that man is continually tempted to the abuse of power: that as an abundance of strong liquor intoxicates his brain, so unlimited power corrupts his heart; that therefore the sovereign ought to be subject to the law, not the law to the sovereign.
Government has necessarily an equal influence over the philosophy, as over the morals of nations. In the same manner that its care produces labour, activity, abundance, salubrity and justice; its negligence induces idleness, sloth, discouragement, penury, contagion, injustice, vices and crimes. It depends upon government either to foster industry, mature genius, give a spring to talents, or stifle them. Indeed government, the disturber of dignities, of riches, of rewards, and punishments; the master of those objects in which man from his infancy has learned to place his felicity, and contemplate as the means of his happiness; acquires a necessary influence over his conduct: it kindles his passions; gives them direction; makes him instrumental to whatever purpose it pleases; it modifies him; determines his manners; which in a whole people, as in the individual, is nothing more than the conduct, the general system of wills, of actions that necessarily result from his education, government, laws, and religious opinions--his institutions, whether rational or irrational. In short, manners are the habits of a people: these are good whenever society draws from them true felicity and solid happiness; they are bad, they are detestable in the eye of reason, when the happiness of society does not spring from them; they are unwholesome when they have nothing more in their favour than the suffrage of time, and the countenance of prejudice which rarely consults experience, which is almost ever at variance with good sense: notwithstanding they may have the sanction of the law, custom, religion, public opinion, or example, they may be unworthy and may be disgraceful, provided society is in disorder; that crime abounds; that virtue shrinks beneath the basilisk eye of triumphant vice; they may then be said to resemble the UPAS, whose luxuriant yet poisonous foliage, the produce of a rank soil, becomes more baneful to those who are submitted to its vortex, in proportion as it extends its branches. If experience he consulted, it will be found there is no action, however abominable, that has not received the applause, that has not obtained the approbation of some people. Parricide, the sacrifice of children, robbery, usurpation, cruelty, intolerance, and prostitution, have all in their turn been licensed actions; have been advocated; have been deemed laudable and meritorious deeds with some nations of the earth. Above all, superstition has consecrated the most unreasonable, the most revolting customs.
Man's passions result from and depend on the motion of attraction or repulsion, of which he is rendered susceptible by Nature; who enables him, by his peculiar essence, to be attracted by those objects which appear useful to him, to be repelled by those which he considers prejudicial; it follows that government, by holding the magnet, can put these passions into activity, has the power either of restraining them, or of giving them a favorable or an unfavorable direction. All his passions are constantly limited by either loving or hating, seeking or avoiding, desiring or fearing. These passions, so necessary to the conservation of man, are a consequence of his organization; they display. themselves with more or less energy, according to his temperament; education and habit develop them; government gives them play, conducts them towards those objects, which it believes itself interested in making desirable to its subjects. The various names which have been given to these passions, are relative to the different objects by which they are excited, such as pleasure, grandeur, or riches, which produce voluptuousness, ambition, vanity and avarice. If the source of those passions which predominate in nations be attentively examined it will be commonly found in their governments. It is the impulse received from their chiefs that renders them sometimes warlike, sometimes superstitious, sometimes aspiring after glory, sometimes greedy after wealth, sometimes rational, and sometimes unreasonable; if sovereigns, in order to enlighten and render happy their dominions, were to employ only the tenth part of the vast expenditures which they lavish, only a tythe of the pains which they employ to render them brutish, to stupify them, to deceive them, and to afflict them; their subjects would presently be as wise, would quickly be as happy, as they are now remarkable for being blind, ignorant, and miserable.
Let the vain project of destroying, the delusive attempt at rooting his passions from the heart of man, he abandoned; let an effort be made to direct them towards objects that may he useful to himself, beneficial to his associates. Let education, let government, let the laws, habituate him to restrain his passions within those just bounds that experience fixes and reason prescribes. Let the ambitious have honours, titles, distinctions, and power, when they shall have usefully served their country; let riches be given to those who covet them, when they shall have rendered themselves necessary to their fellow citizens; let commendations, let eulogies, encourage those who shall be actuated by the love of glory. In short, let the passions of man have a free, an uninterrupted course, whenever there shall result from their exercise, real, substantial, and durable advantages to society. Let education kindle only those, which are truly beneficial to the human species; let it favour those alone which are really necessary to the maintenance of society. The passions of man are dangerous, only because every thing conspires to give them an evil direction.
Nature does not make man either good or wicked: she combines machines more or less active, mobile, and energetic; she furnishes him with organs and temperament, of which his passions, more or less impetuous, are the necessary consequence; these passions have always his happiness for their object, his welfare for their end: in consequence they are legitimate, they are natural, they can only be called bad or good, relatively, to the influence they have on the beings of his species. Nature gives man legs proper to sustain his weight, and necessary to transport him from one place to another; the care of those who rear them strengthens them, habituates him to avail himself of him, accustoms him to make either a good or a bad use of them. The arm which he has received from Nature is neither good nor bad; it is necessary to a great number of the actions of life; nevertheless, the use of this arm becomes criminal, if he has contracted the habit of using it to rob, to assassinate, with a view to obtain that money which he has been taught from his infancy to desire, and which the society in which he lives renders necessary to him, but which his industry will enable him to obtain without doing injury to his fellow man.
The heart of man is a soil which Nature has made equally suitable to the production of brambles, or of useful grain--of deleterous poison, or of refreshing fruit, by virtue of the seeds which may he sown in it--by the cultivation that may be bestowed upon it, In his infancy, those objects are pointed out to him which he is to estimate or to despise, to seek after or to avoid, to love or to hate. It is his parents, his instructors, who render him either virtuous or wicked, wise or unreasonable, studious or dissipated, steady or trifling, solid or vain. Their example, their discourse, modify him through his whole life, teaching him what are the things he ought either to desire or to avoid; what the objects he ought to fear or to love: he desires them, in consequence; and he imposes on himself the task of obtaining them, according to the energy of his temperament, which ever decides the force of his passions. It is thus that education, by inspiring him with opinions, by infusing into him ideas, whether true or false, gives him those primitive impulsions after which he acts, in a manner either advantageous or prejudicial both to himself and to others. Man, at his birth, brings with him into the world nothing but the necessity of conserving himself, of rendering his existence happy: instruction, example, the customs of the world, present him with the means, either real or imaginary, of achieving it; habit procures for him the facility of employing these means: he attaches himself strongly to those he judges best calculated, most proper to secure to him the possession of those objects which they have taught him, which he has learned to desire as the preferable good attached to his existence. Whenever his education--whenever the examples which have been afforded him--whenever the means with which he has been provided, are approved by reason, are the result of experience, every thing concurs to render him virtuous; habit strengthens these dispositions in him; he becomes, in consequence, a useful member of society; to the interests of which, every thing ought to prove to him his own permanent well-being, his own durable felicity, is necessarily allied. If, on the contrary, his education--his institutions--the examples which are set before him--the opinions which are suggested to him in his infancy, are of a nature to exhibit to his mind virtue as useless and repugnant--vice as useful and congenial to his own individual happiness, he will become vicious; he will believe himself interested in injuring society, in rendering his associates unhappy; he will be carried along by the general current: he will renounce virtue, which to him will no longer be any thing more than a vain idol, without attractions to induce him to follow it; without charms to tempt his adoration; because it will appear to exact, that he should immolate at its shrine, that he should sacrifice at its altar all those objects which he has been constantly taught to consider the most dear to himself; to contemplate as benefits the most desirable.
In order that man may become virtuous, it is absolutely requisite that he should have an interest, that he should find advantages in practising virtue. For this end, it is necessary that education should implant in him reasonable ideas; that public opinion should lean towards virtue, as the most desirable good; that example should point it out as the object most worthy esteem; that government should faithfully recompense, should regularly reward it; that honor should always accompany its practice; that vice should constantly be despised; that crime should invariably be punished. Is virtue in this situation amongst men? does the education of man infuse into him just, faithful ideas of happiness--true notions of virtue--dispositions really favourable to the beings with whom he is to live? The examples spread before him, are they suitable to innocence and manners? are they calculated to make him respect decency--to cause him to love probity--to practice honesty--to value good faith--to esteem equity--to revere conjugal fidelity--to observe exactitude in fulfilling his duties? Religion, which alone pretends to regulate his manners, does it render him sociable--does it make him pacific--does it teach him to be humane? The arbiters, the sovereigns of society, are they faithful in recompensing, punctual in rewarding, those who have best served their country? in punishing those who have pillaged, who have robbed, who have plundered, who have divided, who have ruined it? Justice, does she hold her scales with a firm, with an even hand, between all the citizens of the state? The laws, do they never support the strong against the weak--favor the rich against the poor--uphold the happy against the miserable? In short, is it an uncommon spectacle to behold crime frequently justified, often applauded, sometimes crowned with success, insolently triumphing, arrogantly striding over that merit which it disdains, over that virtue which it outrages? Well then, in societies thus constituted, virtue can only be heard by a very small number of peaceable citizens, a few generous souls, who know how to estimate its value, who enjoy it in secret. For the others, it is only a disgusting object; they see in it nothing but the supposed enemy to their happiness, or the censor of their individual conduct.
If man, according to his nature, is necessitated to desire his welfare, he is equally obliged to love and cherish the means by which he believes it is to be acquired: it would be useless, it would perhaps be unjust, to demand that a man should be virtuous, if he could not be so without rendering himself miserable. Whenever he thinks vice renders him happy, he must necessarily love vice; whenever he sees inutility recompensed, crime rewarded--whenever he witnesses either or both of them honored,--what interest will he find in occupying himself with the happiness of his fellow-creatures? what advantage will he discover in restraining the fury of his passions? Whenever his mind is saturated with false ideas, filled with dangerous opinions, it follows, of course, that his whole conduct will become nothing more than a long chain of errors, a tissue of mistakes, a series of depraved actions.
We are informed, that the savages, in order to flatten the heads of their children, squeeze them between two boards, by that means preventing them from taking the shape designed for them by Nature. It is pretty nearly the same thing with the institutions of man; they commonly conspire to counteract Nature, to constrain and divert, to extinguish the impulse Nature has given him, to substitute others which are the source of all his misfortunes. In almost all the countries of the earth, man is bereft of truth, is fed with falsehoods, and amused with marvellous chimeras: he is treated like those children whose members are, by the imprudent care of their nurses, swathed with little fillets, bound up with rollers, which deprive them of the free use of their limbs, obstruct their growth, prevent their activity, and oppose themselves to their health.
Most of the superstitious opinions of man have for their object only to display to him his supreme felicity in those illusions for which they kindle his passions: but as the phantoms which are presented to his imagination are incapable of being considered in the same light by all who contemplate them, he is perpetually in dispute concerning these objects; he hates his fellow, he persecutes his neighbour, his neighbour in turn persecutes him, and he believes that in doing this he is doing well: that in committing the greatest crimes to sustain his opinions he is acting right. It is thus superstition infatuates man from his infancy, fills him with vanity, and enslaves him with fanaticism: if he has a heated imagination, it drives him on to fury; if he has activity, it makes him a madman, who is frequently as cruel himself, as he is dangerous to his fellow-creatures, as he is incommodious to others: if, on the contrary, he be phlegmatic, and of a slothful habit, he becomes melancholy and useless to society.
Public opinion every instant offers to man's contemplation false ideas of honor, and wrong notions of glory: it attaches his esteem not only to frivolous advantages, but also to prejudicial interests and injurious actions; which example authorizes, which prejudice consecrates, which habit precludes him from viewing with the disgust and horror which they merit. Indeed, habit familiarizes his mind with the most absurd ideas, the most unreasonable customs, the most blameable actions; with prejudices the most contrary to his own interests, and detrimental to the society in which he lives. He finds nothing strange, nothing singular, nothing despicable, nothing ridiculous, except those opinions and objects to which he is himself unaccustomed. There are countries in which the most laudable actions appear very blameable and ridiculous--where the foulest and most diabolical actions pass for very honest and perfectly rational conduct. In some nations they kill the old men; in some the children strangle their fathers. The Phenicians and Carthaginians immolated their children to their gods. Europeans approve duels; he who refuses to cut the throat of another, or to blow out the brains of his neighbour, is contemplated by them as dishonoured. The Spaniards and Portuguese think it meritorious to burn an heretic. In some countries women prostitute themselves without dishonour; in others it is the height of hospitality for a man to present his wife to the embraces of the stranger: the refusal to accept this, excites his scorn and calls forth his resentment.
Authority commonly believes itself interested in maintaining the received opinions: those prejudices and errors which it considers requisite to the maintenance of its power and the consolidation of its interests, are sustained by force, which is never rational. Princes themselves, filled with deceptive images of happiness, mistaken notions of power, erroneous opinions of grandeur, and false ideas of glory, are surrounded with flattering courtiers, who are interested in keeping up the delusion of their masters: these contemptible men have acquired ideas of virtue, only that they may outrage it: by degrees they corrupt the people, these become depraved, lend themselves to their debaucheries, pander to the vices of the great, then make a merit of imitating them in their irregularities. A court is too frequently the true focus of the corruption of a people.
This is the true source of moral evil. It is thus that every thing conspires to render man vicious, and give a fatal impulse to his soul: from whence results the general confusion of society, which becomes unhappy, from the misery of almost every one of its members. The strongest motive-powers are put in action to inspire man with a passion for futile objects which are indifferent to him; which make him become dangerous to his fellow man, by the means which he is compelled to employ, in order to obtain them. Those who have the charge of guiding his steps, either impostors themselves, or the dupes to their own prejudices, forbid him to hearken to reason; they make truth appear dangerous to him; they exhibit error as requisite to his welfare, not only in this world, but in the next. In short, habit strongly attaches him to his irrational opinions, to his perilous inclinations, and to his blind passion for objects either useless or dangerous. Here, then, is the reason why for the most part man finds himself necessarily determined to evil; the reason why the passions, inherent in his Nature and necessary to his conservation, become the instruments of his destruction, and the bane of that society, which properly conducted, they ought to preserve; the reason why society becomes a state of warfare; why it does nothing but assemble enemies, who are envious of each other, and are always rivals for the prize. If some virtuous beings are to be found in these societies, they must be sought for in the very small number of those, who born with a phlegmatic temperament have moderate passions, who therefore, either do not desire at all, or desire very feebly, those objects with which their associates are continually inebriated.
Man's nature, diversely cultivated, decides upon his faculties, as well corporeal as intellectual; upon his qualities, as well moral as physical. The man who is of a sanguine, robust constitution, must necessarily have strong passions; he who is of a bilious, melancholy habit, will as necessarily have fantastical and gloomy passions; the man of a gay turn, of a sprightly imagination, will have cheerful passions; while the man in whom phlegm abounds, will have those which are gentle, or which have a very slight degree of violence. It appears to be upon the equilibrium of the humours, that depends the state of the man who is called virtuous; his temperament seems to be the result of a combination, in which the elements or principles are balanced with such precision that no one passion predominates over another, or carries into his machine more disorder than its neighbour.
Habit, as we have seen, is man's nature modified: this latter
furnishes the matter; education, domestic example, national
manners, give it the form: these, acting on his temperament, make
him either reasonable, or irrational--enlightened, or stupid--a
fanatic, or a hero--an enthusiast for the public good, or an
unbridled criminal--a wise man, smitten with the advantages of
virtue, or a libertine, plunged into every kind of vice. All the
varieties of the moral man, depend on the diversity of his ideas;
which are themselves arranged and combined in his brain by the
intervention of his senses. His temperament is the produce of
physical substances, his habits are the effect of physical
modifications; the opinions, whether good or bad, injurious or
beneficial, true or false, which form themselves in his mind, are
never more than the effect of those physical impulsions which the
brain receives by the medium of the senses.
|< Previous Section||Next Section >|