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places no determinate limit, but only limits in general, because
of which the conception of the greatest possible cannot be
applied as predicate to any number. For if any determinate
quantity be thought of, one can still add a unit without pre-
judice to the character of finite that belongs to it. On the
other hand, the degree of reality of a world is absolutely
determinate ; the limits of a world the best possible are not
only set in a general or abstract manner, but set by a degree
it must absolutely come short of. Independence, the attribute
of self-sufficiency, omnipresence, power to create, are perfec*



tions that no world can have. It is not here, then, as in the
mathematical infinite, where the finite indefinitely approaches
the infinite, according to the law of continuity. Here the
interval between infinite and finite reality is set by a deter-
minate greatness that makes their difference. The world that
is found at that degree of the scale of beings where the abyss
opens that contains the incommensurable degree of perfection,
that world is the most perfect among all that is finite.'

There would thus be a limit beyond which there is only
absolute perfection. I know not whether Kant, twenty years
later, would have been fully satisfied with this passage. It
even appears that he did not much like to be spoken to about
this wo"k. It is not the less true that his penetrating mind
has justly signalized the difference between optimism and the
maximum — the one having no limit, while the other may have.

Let us now come to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Voltaire had
sent him his two poems on natural law and the disaster of
Lisbon ; and in his letter of thanks, while expressing his
admiration, Rousseau made his reservations with that inde-
pendence that is not always agreeable.^ Voltaire was stung
to the quick, and from this moment the rupture was complete
between the two philosophers, already embroiled with regard
to the theatre of Geneva.

Rousseau first opposes to Voltaire a sentimental reason, in
which he conforms to the general spirit of his philosophy.
His heart resists the doctrines of the Lisbon poem ; they
appear to him sad and cruel ; they weaken the moral powers.
In this respect he prefers the maxim All is good. This objec-
tion is not entirely just, if one recalls Voltaire's last word, or
at least it could not be applied in all its strictness to the
Lisbon poem. It would, on the other hand, very well apply
to another of Voltaire's writings, his famous Candide, a master-
piece of irony and sarcasm, which breathes only contempt of
the human race, and is not written with the heart like the
Lisbon poem. Here Voltaire submits to Providence, and
Rousseau seems to forget this.

' Pope's poem,' he tells him, ' mitigates my ills, and brings
me patience : yours aggravates my pains, and excites me to
murmur, and, depriving me of all but an enfeebled hope, it

1 J. J. Rousseau, Correspond. 18th August 1756.


reduces me to despair. . . . Tell me who abuses sentimeut or
reason? ... If the difficulty of the origin of evil forced you
to alter some one of the perfections of God, why seek to justify
His power at the expense of His goodness?' At any rate,
this is still only an objection of prejudice, resulting from
incompatibility of disposition.

liousseau then seeks for the cause of evil, and finds it, as
regards moral evil, in human nature, and as regards physical
evil, in nature in general. As for man, having received from
God liberty and feeling, he must consequently know evil and
sorrow. ' I do not see that the cause of moral evil can be
sought elsewhere than in man free, perfected, therefore cor-
rupt ; and as to physical evils, if sensible and impassive
matter is a contradiction, . . . they are inevitable in every
system of which man forms part ; . . . and then the question
is not, why man is not perfectly happy, but why he exists.'
Man, as he is, is composed partly of matter : he is therefore
sensible of pain, as of pleasure ; for pleasure is only a less
pain, as pain is only a less pleasure — they are degrees of a

Further on, Rousseau expresses the same thought as Kant,
in adopting the principle of Pope and Leibnitz, who only see
in evil an accidental effect of universal laws : ' You would
have preferred the earthquake to have occurred in the heart
of a desert rather than at Lisbon. Can it be doubted that
they also occur in the deserts? . . . What would such a
privilege signify? Would it mean, then, that the order of
the world must change according to our caprices? that na-
ture is subject to our laws ? and that to forbid an earthquake
in any place, we would only have to build a town there ? '

What strikes and moves us in these great disorders of
nature is the suddenness of the scourge and the number of
the dead ; but this earthquake teaches us nothing new, and
we know well that all those who have died at once had to
die some day. Must they be lamented because their death
was sudden? 'Is it a sadder end,' replies Rousseau, 'than
that of a dying man, overwhelmed with useless cares, whom
a lawyer and heirs do not allow to breathe, whom doctors
assassinate in his bed at their ease, and whom barbarous
priests skilfully cause to taste death ? '


If evil is a consequence of natural laws, it would only be
avoided by suppressing nature itself, that is, the very condi-
tion of good. In order not to suffer, we must have been
incapable of enjoying ; in order not to die, we ought not to
have been called to live. It is said, I would rather not have
been ; but it is said from the lips more than from the heart.
Most men would rather suffer than die, and these still pro-
nounce in favour of Providence.

' It is difficult,' we read further, ' to find on this point good
faith among men, and to calculate all with philosophers ; be-
•cause the latter, in the comparison of good and evil, always
forget the pleasant feeling of existence, independent of every
other sensation ; and the vanity of despising death requires
the others to calumniate life, almost like those women who,
with a stained robe and scissors, pretend to prefer holes to
•stains. You think, with Erasmus, that few people would
wish to be born in the same circumstances they have lived
in ; but such a one puts a very high price on his merchandise
"who would greatly lower it if he had any hope of closing the
bargain. Besides, whom am I to believe ? The rich, . . .
literary people, of all classes of men the most sedentary, the
most sickly, the most thoughtful, and, consequently, the most
unhappy? . . . Consult a citizen, ... an artisan, ... a
peasant even,' etc.

Life is good, let us accept the ills of it ; such is Rousseau's
conclusion on this question.

As to the chain of beings, Voltaire's verse, already quoted,
and the notes he had added to his poem, also called for a
reply. Change a grain of sand, and you change all ; ' but,'
said Voltaire, 'is free will compatible with this theory?'
That is another question. What is certain is that every
cause supposes an effect, just as every effect is determined by
a cause. Voltaire, however, does not admit this chain of the
world. ' One may,' he says, ' suppress a body without injur-
ing the whole. If a pebble were suppressed, wherein would
that injure the universe ? '

' A drop of water,' says he in his notes, ' a grain of sand,
more or less, can cause no change in the general constitution.
Nature has not subjected itself to any precise quantity, nor
to any precise form. No planet moves in an absolutely


regular curve. . . . Nature never acts strictly. . . . There are
events that have effects, and others that have none. . . . Sev-
eral events remain without filiation. . . . The wheels of a
coach serve to make it go ; but whether they raise a little
more or less dust, the journey is made all the same.'

Here Voltaire denies the Leibnitzian principle of sufficient
reason, and contradicts Spinoza's axiom, ' Ex causa determi-
nata sequitur effectus.^ Rousseau defends against Voltaire
this precision, this determination of nature always acting
according to mathematical laws, often complex, but not less
strict because we cannot grasp them :

' Far from thinking that nature is not subject to precise
quantities and figures, I would hold, on the contrary, that it
alone strictly follows this precision. ... As to these pre-
tended irregularities, can it be doubted that they have all
their physical causes ? These apparent irregularities come,
no doubt, from some law we are ignorant of.'

Let us remark, in passing, that astronomy has proved the
truth of these assertions, and that the irregularities instanced
by Voltaire in the motion of the planets are comprised in
Newton's law.

'Let us suppose,' continues Rousseau, 'two weights in
equilibrium, and still unequal. Add to the smaller the quan-
tity by which they differ. Either the two weights will remain
in equilibrium, and we shall have a cause without effect, or
the equilibrium will be broken, and we shall have an effect
without cause. But if the weights were of iron, and there
were a grain of loadstone hidden under one of them, the pre-
cision of nature would then deprive it of the appearance of
precision, and, by means of exactitude, it would appear to
want it.'

Thus the doctrine, there is no cause without an effect, is
as true as the converse ; and when a cause does not produce
its effect, it is because it is arrested by another cause :

'You distinguish the events that have consequences and
those that have none. I doubt the validity of this distinction.
. . . The dust a carriage raises can have no influence on the
progress of the vehicle, nor on the rest of the world. ... I
see a thousand plausible reasons why it was not indifferent
to Europe that one day the heiress of Burgundy had her


head well or ill dressed, nor to the destiny of Rome that
Caesar turned his eyes to the left or the right.'

With the same force and dexterity Rousseau maintains
against Voltaire the principle of good relative to the whole,
and not to a part :

'You tell man, I must be as dear to my Master — I, a
thinking and sentient being — as the planets that probably
do not feel. . . . But the system of this universe, that pro-
duces, preserves, and perpetuates all these sentient and think-
ing beings, must be dearer to Him than a single one of these
beings. ... I believe, I hope, I am worth more in the eyes
of God than the territory of a planet ; but if the planets are
inhabited, . . . why should I be worth more in His eyes than
all the inhabitants of Saturn ? ' In a word, the existence of
a living being is connected with all sorts of laws more pre-
cious than that one being.

'But,' says Voltaire, 'the nice comfort of being eaten by
worms ! ' Rousseau replies to this whim, ' That the carcase
of a man should feed worms, wolves, or plants, is not, I grant,
a recompense for the man's death ; but if, in the system of
this universe, it is necessary for the preservation of the human
race that there should be a circulation of substance between
men, animals, and vegetables, then the special evil of an
individual corresponds to the general good.'

Drawing to a close, Rousseau ends by coinciding with Vol-
taire. Rousseau does not deny that there is evil in the world,
and Voltaire declares that he meant to say nothing else ; so
it is only the form that differs :

' To return to the system that you attack, I believe it can-
not be suitably examined without carefully distinguishing
the particular evil of which no philosopher has denied the
existence, from the general evil which optimism denies. The
question is not, whether each of us suffers or not, but whether
it was good for the universe to be, and whether our svils
were inevitable in its constitution. Thus the addition of an
article would render, it seems, the proposition more exact;
and, in place of saying. All is good, it would perhaps be bet-
ter to say. The whole is good, or. All is good for the whole.^

Thus no one really denies the existence of evil; and if the
Stoics appeared to do so, it was in words rather than in deed


Only the question is, Whether this word is absolute or rela-
tive, universal or partial ; whether it prevails over good, or
whether, on the other hand, good prevails. A question diffi-
cult to decide, and which will usually be decided by the feel-
ings and imagination of each one. Good-humoured people are
optimists, the bad-humoured are pessimists. La Rochefou-
cauld said, ' Happiness is in the taste, not in things.' Expe-
rience gives us no satisfactory solution, and the question must
be decided b}^ a priori reasons, as Rousseau again says :

' The true principles of optimism can neither be deduced
from the properties of matter nor from the mechanism of the
universe, but only from the perfections of God, who presides
over all ; so that the existence of God is not proved by the
svstem of Pope, but the system of Pope by the existence
of God.'

In other words, optimism is the consequence of the existence
of God, and cannot be contradicted by experience. The world
is as good as it could be, because God cannot be the devil —
that is to say, the principle of evil.^

' All these questions,' says Rousseau, ' again, are reducible
to that of the existence of God. If God exists, He is perfect ;
if perfect. He is wise, powerful ; if wise and powerful, my soul
is immortal ; if my soul is immortal, thirty years are nothing
to me, and are perhaps necessary to the welfare of the

It is evident that this conclusion is not, after all, very
different from that of Voltaire :

' One day all will be well; such is our hope.
All is well here below; this is illusion.'

1 On the question of evil, see again the last chapter of our book: Of tfie
Supreme End bf Nature.



(Book i. Chaptek v. at the end.)

IN our first edition we had inserted a chapter entitled
Objections and Difficulties. It has been pointed out that
that chapter often made a repetition of the rest of the dis-
cussion, that it interrupted and complicated it uselessly. We
have recognised the justice of this criticism, and while
preserving under the title of Contrary/ Facts (Chap, v.) all
that seemed essential to the course of the discussion, we judge
it right to remit to the Appendix the objections having a
more historical character, and which might appear repetitions
or episodes. Of this kind are the objections of Lucretius,
Bacon, Descartes, and Spinoza.

I. Lucretius. Objection of the Epicureans.

According to Lucretius, the theory of final causes inverts
the order of the facts : it takes the effect for the cause. The
bird flies because it is capable of flying ; the eye sees because
it is capable of seeing. Vision and flight are effects; the
finalists make them causes. Lucretius thus expresses this
objection :

' Istud in his rebus vitium vehementer, et istum
Effuj^ere errorera, vitareqiie prnemeditator,
Lumina ne facias oculorum clara creata,
Prospicere ut possimus; et, ut proferre vias
Proceros passiis, ideo fastigia posse
Surarum, ac feminum pedibus fundata plieari;
Brachia turn porro validis et apta lacertis
Esse; manusque datas utraque ex parte ministras;
Ut facere ad vitain possimus, quce foret usus.



' Caetera de genere hoc inter qujpcumque pretantur.
Omnia perversa prrT?postera sunt ratione.
Nil ideo quoniam natuin est iu corpore ut uti
Possemus, sed quod natum est id procreat usum.
Nee fuit ante videre oculorum lumina nata,
Nee dictis oraro prius, quam liugua creataest,
Sed potius longe linguae praecessit origo
Sermonem; multoque creatae sunt prius aures,
Qukm sonus est auditus ; et omnia denique membra
Ante fuere, ut opinor, eorum qu^m foret usus,
Haud igitur potuere utendi crescere causa.

' At contra conferre manu certamina pugnse,
Et lacerare artus, foedareque membra cruore,
Ante fuit multo quam lucida tela volarent.
Et volnus vitare prius natura coegit,
Quam daret objectum parmai laeva per artem.
Scilicet et fessum corpus mandare quieti
Multo antiquius est, quam lecti mollia strata.
Et sedare sitius prius est, quam iiocula, natum.
Hsec igitur possunt utendi cognita causa
Credier, ex usu quae sunt vitaque reperta
nia quidem seorsum sunt omnia, qute prius ipsa
Nata dedere suae post notitiam utilitatis.
Quo genere in primis sensus et membra videmus.
Quare etiam atque etiam procul est ut credere possis
Utilitatis ob officium potuisse creari.' i

'But before all, O Memmias, be on your guard against too
common an error : believe not that the shining orb of our
eyes has only been created to procure for us the sight of
objects ; that these legs and these moveable thighs have only
been reared on the basis of the feet to give greater extent to
our paces ; that the arms, in fine, have only been formed of
solid muscles, and terminated by the right and left hands, to
be the ministers of our wants and of our preservation. By
such interpretations the respective order of effects and causes
has been reversed. Our members have not been made for
our use, but we have made use of them because we have
found them made. Sight has not preceded the eyes ; the
word has not been formed before the tongue — on the con-
trary, language has followed long after the origin of the
organ ; the ears existed long before sounds were heard, and
all our members long before we made use of them. It is not,
then, the view of our wants that has produced them.

' On the contrary, men fought with the fist, tore with the

1 Lucretius, lib. iv. 822, § 99.


liails, were soiled with blood, long before the arrows flew
through the air. Nature had taucfht men to avoid wounds
before art had suspended a buckler on his left arm wherewith
to shield himself. Sleep and rest are much older than the
couch and down. Thirst was quenched before the invention
of cups. All those discoveries, which are the consequences
of want and the fruit of experience, we may believe to have
been made for our use. But it is not so with objects whose
use has only been found after their origin, such as our mem-
bers and organs. Thus everj-thing forbids us to think that
they have been made for our use.'

Aristotle, recapitulating the same objection, already, to all
appearance, made by the atomists, expounds it in a manner
still more exact and profound than Lucretius : ' But here a
doubt is raised. Why, it is said, may not nature act without
having an end, and without seeking the best of things?
Jupiter, for instance, does not send rain to develop and
nourish the grain, but it rains by a necessary law; for in
rising, the vapour must grow cool, and the cooled vapour
becoming water, must necessarily fall. But if, this phenom-
enon taking place, the wheat profits by it to germinate and
grow, it is a simple accident. And so again, if the grain
which some one has put into the barn is destroyed in conse-
quence of rain, it does not rain apparent!}' in order to rot
the grain, and it is a simple accident if it be lost. What
hinders us from saying as well, that in nature the bodily
organs themselves are subject to the same law, and that the
teeth, for instance, necessarily grow — those in front incisive
and capable of tearing food, and the molars large and fitted
for grinding it, although it is not in order to this function
that they have been made, and that this is only a simple
coincidence ? What hinders us from making the same re-
mark for all the organs where there seems to be an end and
a special destination ? ^

It is easy to see that Lucretius has only reproduced the
objection of Aristotle, while weakening it and adding to it
unphilosophical considerations. For to suppose, for instance,
an interval between the origin of the organs and their use is
very unreasonable. It is evident that the heart behoved to

1 Physics, lib. ii. chap, viii., Berlin edition, p. li'S, B.


beat and the lungs to breathe as soon as they were produced ;
the mouth behoved to imbibe nourishment, and the members
to take it, ahnost immediately after birth, otherwise the animal
would not have lived. Besides, Lucretius improperly com-
pares the use of the organs to artificial inventions, which are
phenomena of quite a different kind. It is not at all in the
same way that man makes use of the eye for seeing and of
a stick for walking. The first is natural, the second artificial.
Nobody maintains that the use of the organs is of the same
kind as that of arms, furniture, or utensils of human industry.
There is, on the contrary, a radical difference, entirely to the
advantage of final causes. In the second case, in effect, it is
man who himself applies to his use all the objects of nature ;
but in that, it is he who proposes an end to himself, and one
may hesitate to say that nature has prepared these things for
his use that he ma}^ derive benefit from them. On the other
hand, the use of the organs is entirely natural. It is false and
absurd to suppose that man, perceiving that the legs were
good for walking, began to walk ; or perceiving that the eyes
were capable of seeing, began to see. There are even certain
usages of our active life which have long appeared artificial
results of our will, and which it is now agreed to consider
as natural and spontaneous. Such are, for instance, language
and society. Nobody now any longer believes that man
invented language as he invented the plough. Those who
said that language is necessary to explain the invention of
language were right if they spoke of a thought-out invention ;
but it is not so. In all probability man has always spoken,
as he has always lived in society. Thus this spontaneous
and necessary nse of our organs and faculties cannot be com-
pared to the artificial use of the objects of nature. The
argument of Lucretius, which rests on this comparison, would
therefore fall with it. For what does he say ? That if the
organs had been created for an end, that end must have
already preceded the production of the organs, since, being the
cause of that production, it ought as such to pre-exist. Thus
men had already fought before creating arms for combat ; so
it seems that> for Lucretius, vision must have already existed
somewhere before eyes were invented for seeing : that would
only be true if man himself invented his eyes, which is


absurd, or only invented the use of them, which is false.
Besides, we can retort against Lucretius the principle he
employs, for he seems to say that man has discovered the
use of his eyes and his legs as he has discovered the use of
arms or beds. But then he must in the first, as in the second
case, have found a model ; therefore, on his own hypothesis,
sight must have preceded the eyes, and walking have preceded
the legs. But, as that is absurd, it follows that the use of
the eyes and legs is natural and not artificial.

Disengaging the objection of Lucretius from the complica-
tions which obscure and enfeeble it, there simply remains as
the knot of the objection this fundamental difficulty, that the
doctrine of the final cause inverts cause and effect — omnia
perversa prcepostera sunt ratioyie — which Spinoza has expressed
in these terms: 'The first defect of the doctrine of final
causes is to consider as cause what is effect, and vice versd.'' ^
But who does not see that this objection is none other than
the very question itself? For, if there are final causes, the
effect is no longer merely an effect, it is also a cause (at least
so far as it is represented a priori in the efficient cause).
The question, then, is just this, whether there are not effects
which are at the same time causes ; and that cannot be put
forth as an objection which is precisely the object of debate.
If mechanism -is right, doubtless we shall have taken the
effect for the cause ; but if we are right, it is mechanism
itself that will have done so. The objection, then, holds on
both sides, or rather it holds on neither, for in either case it
supposes what is disputed. In reality it is no longer an
objection, but a doctrine, — the doctrine of mechanism, which
we have thoroughly examined (see our chapter : Mechanism
and Finality^, and to which we do not need to revert.

Will it be said that it implies contradiction that an effect
be a cause ? and that a thing cannot act before existing ?

Online LibraryPaul JanetFinal causes → online text (page 43 of 47)