« PreviousContinue »
turns us from whatever tends to our destruction. The other, the sensation of pleasure, by which she attracts and leads us towards every thing that tends to our preservation, and the unfolding of our faculties.
2 But does not this prove that our senses may deceive us with respect to this end of self-preservation? Yes; they may for a time. How do our sensations deceive us? In two ways; through our ignorance and our passions. When do they deceive us through our ignorance? When we act without knowing the action and effect of objects on our senses; for instance, when a man handles nettles without knowing their quality of stinging; or when he chews opium in ignorance of its soporific properties.
3 When do they deceive us through our passions? When, though we are acquainted with the hurtful action of objects, we, notwithstanding, give way to the violence of our desires and our appetites; for instance, when a man who knows that wine inebriates, drinks, notwithstanding, to excess.
4 What results from these facts? The result is, that the ignorance in which we enter the world, and the inordinate appetites to which we give ourselves up, are opposed to our self-preservation; that in consequence, the instruction of our minds, and the moderation of our passions, are two obligations, or two laws, immediately derived from the first law of preservation.
5 But if we are born ignorant, is not ignorance a part of the law of nature? No more than it is for us to remain in the naked and feeble state of infancy: far from its being a law of nature, ignorance is an obstacle in the way of all her laws.
6 Whence then has it happened that moralists have existed who considered it as a virtue and a perfection? Because through caprice, or misanthropy, they have confounded the abuse of our knowledge with knowledge itself; as though because men misemploy the faculty of speaking, it were necessary to cut out their tongue; as though perfection and virtue consisted in the annihilation, and not in the unfolding and proper employment of our faculties.
7 Is instruction then necessarily indispensable for man's existence? Yes; so indispensable, that without it, he must be every instant struck and wounded by all the beings which surround him; for if he did not know the effects of fire, he would burn himself; of water, he would be drowned; of opium, he would be poisoned. If in the savage state, he is
unacquainted with the cunning and subterfuges of animals, and the art of procuring game, he perishes with hunger: if in a state of society, he does not know the progress of the seasons, he can neither cultivate the earth, nor provide himself with food: and the like may be said from all his actions arising from all his wants.
8 What is the true meaning of the word philosopher? The word philosopher signifies lover of wisdom: now, since wisdom consists in the practice of the laws of nature, that man is a true philosopher who understands these laws in their full extent, and, with precision, renders his conduct conformable to them.
9 But does not this desire of self-preservation produce in individuals egotism, that is, the love of self; and is not egotism abhorrent to the social state? No; for if by egotism is understood an inclination to injure others, it is no longer the love of self, but the hatred of our neighbor. The love of self, taken in its true sense, is not only consistent with a state of society, but is likewise its firmest support; since we are under a necessity of not doing injury to others, lest they should, in return, do injury to ourselves.
Of the basis of morality; of good, of evil, of crimes, of vice and virtue.
1 What is good, according to the law of nature? Whatever tends to preserve and ameliorate mankind. What is evil? Whatever tends to the destruction and deterioration of the human race.
2 What is understood by physical good or evil, and moral good or evil? By the word physical, is meant whatever acts immediately upon the body; health is a physical good; sickness is a physical evil. By moral, is understood whatever is effected by consequences more or less remote: calumny is a moral evil; a fair reputation is a moral good, because both of them are the occasion of certain dispositions and habits in other men, with respect to ourselves, which are useful or prejudicial to our well-being, and which attack. or contribute to the means of existence.
3 The murder of a man, is it then a crime according to the law of nature? Yes; and the greatest that can be committed; for murder can never be done away.
4 What is virtue according to the law of nature? The
practice of actions which are useful to the individual and to society.
5 What is vice according to the law of nature? It is the practice of actions prejudicial to the individual and to society.
6 In what manner does the law of nature prescribe the practice of good and virtue, and forbid that of evil and of vice? By the moral and physical advantages resulting from the practice of good and virtue, and the injuries which our very existence receives from the practice of evil and vice.
7 What division do you make of the virtues? We divide them into three classes; 1st, Private virtues, or those which refer to single and insulated persons; 2d, Domestic virtues, or those which relate to families; 3d, Social virtues, or those which respect society at large.
Of individual or private virtues; of knowledge, temperance, industry, cleanliness.
1 Which are the private virtues? There are four principal ones: namely, knowledge; which comprehends prudence and wisdom. 2d, Temperance; which includes sobriety and chastity. 3d, Activity; that is, the love of labor, and a proper employment of our time. 4th, Lastly; cleanliness, or purity of body, as well in our clothing, as in our dwellings.
2 How does the law of nature prescribe to us the possession of knowledge? In this way; The man who is acquainted with the causes and effects of things, provides in a very extensive and certain manner for his own preservation, and the developement of his faculties. Knowledge is for him, as it were light acting upon its appropriate organ, making him discern all the objects which surround him, and in the midst of which he moves with precision and clearness.
3 And for this reason, we used to say an enlightened man, to designate, a wise and well informed man. By the help of knowledge and information, we are never left without resources, and means of subsistence; and whence a philosopher, who had suffered shipwreck, observed justly to his companions, who were lamenting the loss of their fortunes, "As for me, I carry all my fortune in myself."
4 What is the vice opposed to knowledge? Ignorance. How does the law of nature forbid ignorance? By the great injury which our existence sustains from it; for the ignorant, who are unacquainted with either causes or effects, commit, every instant, mistakes the most pernicious to themselves
or others; like a blind man who walks groping his way, and who at every step stumbles against, or is jostled by his companions.
5 What is prudence? An anticipated view, a foresight of effects, and the consequences of every event: a foresight by which a man avoids the dangers which threaten him, and seizes and raises up opportunities which are favorable: whence it appears that he provides, on a large and sure scale, for his present and future conservation; while the imprudent man, who neither calculates his progress nor his conduct, the efforts required, nor the resistances to overcome, falls every moment into a thousand difficulties and dangers, which more or less slowly destroy his faculties and his being.
6 What is temperance? A well regulated employment of our faculties; which prevents our ever exceeding in our sensible pleasures the end of nature, self-conservation. It is the moderation of our passions. What is the vice opposed to temperance? The want of government over our passions; an over-great eagerness to possess enjoyments in a word, cupidity. What are the principal branches of temperance? Sobriety and chastity.
7 In what manner does the law of nature enjoin sobriety? By its powerful influence over our health. The man of sobriety digests his food with comfort; he is not oppressed by the weight of his aliment; his ideas are clear and easily impressed; he performs every function well; he attends with diligence to his business; he grows old free from sickness; he does not throw away his money in remedies for disorders; he enjoys with gay good humor the goods which fortune or prudence have procured for him. Thus does generous nature make a thousand rewards flow from a single virtue.
8 By what means does she prohibit gluttony? By the numerous evils attached to it. The glutton, oppressed by his aliment, digests with pain and difficulty; his head, disturbed by the fumes arising during bad digestion, is incapable of receiving neat and clear ideas; he gives himself up with fury to the inordinate movements of luxury and anger, which destroy his health; his body becomes fat, heavy, and unfit for labor; he passes through painful and expensive fits of sickness; he rarely lives to old age, and his latter part of life is marked by infirmity and disgust.
9 In what light does this law consider drunkenness? As the vilest and most pernicious of vices. The drunkard, deprived of the sense and reason given us by God, profanes
the gifts of the divinity; he lowers himself to the condition of the brutes; incapable of directing his steps, he totters and falls as in a fit of epilepsy; he wounds himself, and endangers his own life.
10 His weakness in this state renders him the plaything and the scorn of all around him: he contracts, during his drunkenness, ruinous engagements, and loses the management of his affairs: he suffers violent and outrageous observations to escape him, which raise him up enemies and bring him to repentance: he fills his house with trouble and chagrin; and he concludes by a premature death, or an old age, comfortless and diseased.
11 Does the law of nature prescribe chastity? Yes. How does it forbid libertinism? By the innumerable evils which it entails upon our existence, physical and moral. The man who abandons himself to it, becomes enervated and languid; he is no longer able to attend to his studies or his business; he contracts idle and expensive habits, which diminish his means of livelihood, his reputation and his credit; his intrigues occasion him embarrassments, cares, quarrels and lawsuits, not to take into the account heavy and grievous diseases; and lastly, a premature and infirm old age.
12 Ought modesty to be considered as a virtue? Yes; because modesty maintains the mind and body in all the habits tending to the good order and self-preservation of the individual. A modest woman is esteemed, while the immodest, unchaste woman is despised, rejected, and abandoned to misery and disgrace.
13 Why do you say that activity is a virtue according to the law of nature? Because the man who labors and employs his time usefully, derives, from so doing, innumerable advantages with respect to his existence. Is he poor? his labor furnishes him with his subsistence; and if, in addition, he is sober, continent and prudent, he soon acquires many conveniences, and enjoys the sweets of life: his very labor produces in him those virtues; for as long as he continues to employ his mind and his body, he is not affected by inordinate desires; he is free from dulness; he contracts mild and pleasant habits; he augments his strength and his health, and arrives to an old age of felicity and peace.
14 Are idleness and sloth then vices in the order of nature? Yes; and the most pernicious of all vices; for they lead to every other. In idleness and sloth man remains ignorant, and even loses the knowledge which he had before acquired,