Random Quote #81 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


B: What is natural law?

A: The instinct which makes us feel justice.

B: What do you call just and unjust?

A: What appears such to the entire universe.

B: The universe is composed of many heads. It is said that in Lacedaemon
were applauded thefts for which people in Athens were condemned to the

A: Abuse of words, logomachy, equivocation; theft could not be committed
at Sparta, when everything was common property. What you call "theft"
was the punishment for avarice.

B: It was forbidden to marry one's sister in Rome. It was allowed among
the Egyptians, the Athenians and even among the Jews, to marry one's
sister on the father's side. It is but with regret that I cite that
wretched little Jewish people, who should assuredly not serve as a rule
for anyone, and who (putting religion aside) was never anything but a
race of ignorant and fanatic brigands. But still, according to their
books, the young Thamar, before being ravished by her brother Amnon,
says to him:--"Nay, my brother, do not thou this folly, but speak unto
the king; for he will not withhold me from thee." (2 Samuel xiii. 12,

A: Conventional law all that, arbitrary customs, fashions that pass: the
essential remains always. Show me a country where it was honourable to
rob me of the fruit of my toil, to break one's promise, to lie in order
to hurt, to calumniate, to assassinate, to poison, to be ungrateful
towards a benefactor, to beat one's father and one's mother when they
offer you food.

B: Have you forgotten that Jean-Jacques, one of the fathers of the
modern Church, has said that "the first man who dared enclose and
cultivate a piece of land" was the enemy "of the human race," that he
should have been exterminated, and that "the fruits of the earth are for
all, and that the land belongs to none"? Have we not already examined
together this lovely proposition which is so useful to society
(Discourse on Inequality, second part)?

A: Who is this Jean-Jacques? he is certainly not either John the
Baptist, nor John the Evangelist, nor James the Greater, nor James the
Less[19]; it must be some Hunnish wit who wrote that abominable
impertinence or some poor joker _bufo magro_ who wanted to laugh at what
the entire world regards as most serious. For instead of going to spoil
the land of a wise and industrious neighbour, he had only to imitate
him; and every father of a family having followed this example, behold
soon a very pretty village formed. The author of this passage seems to
me a very unsociable animal.

B: You think then that by outraging and robbing the good man who has
surrounded his garden and chicken-run with a live hedge, he has been
wanting in respect towards the duties of natural law?

A: Yes, yes, once again, there is a natural law, and it does not consist
either in doing harm to others, or in rejoicing thereat.

B: I imagine that man likes and does harm only for his own advantage.
But so many people are led to look for their own interest in the
misfortune of others, vengeance is so violent a passion, there are such
disastrous examples of it; ambition, still more fatal, has inundated the
world with so much blood, that when I retrace for myself the horrible
picture, I am tempted to avow that man is a very devil. In vain have I
in my heart the notion of justice and injustice; an Attila courted by
St. Leo, a Phocas flattered by St. Gregory with the most cowardly
baseness, an Alexander VI. sullied with so many incests, so many
murders, so many poisonings, with whom the weak Louis XII., who is
called "the good," makes the most infamous and intimate alliance; a
Cromwell whose protection Cardinal Mazarin seeks, and for whom he drives
out of France the heirs of Charles I., Louis XIV.'s first cousins, etc.,
etc.; a hundred like examples set my ideas in disorder, and I know no
longer where I am.

A: Well, do storms stop our enjoyment of to-day's beautiful sun? Did the
earthquake which destroyed half the city of Lisbon stop your making the
voyage to Madrid very comfortably? If Attila was a brigand and Cardinal
Mazarin a rogue, are there not princes and ministers who are honest
people? Has it not been remarked that in the war of 1701, Louis XIV.'s
council was composed of the most virtuous men? The Duc de Beauvilliers,
the Marquis de Torci, the Marechal de Villars, Chamillart lastly who
passed for being incapable, but never for dishonest. Does not the idea
of justice subsist always? It is upon that idea that all laws are
founded. The Greeks called them "daughters of heaven," which only means
daughters of nature. Have you no laws in your country?

B: Yes, some good, some bad.

A: Where, if it was not in the notions of natural law, did you get the
idea that every man has within himself when his mind is properly made?
You must have obtained it there, or nowhere.

B: You are right, there is a natural law; but it is still more natural
to many people to forget it.

A: It is natural also to be one-eyed, hump-backed, lame, deformed,
unhealthy; but one prefers people who are well made and healthy.

B: Why are there so many one-eyed and deformed minds?

A: Peace! But go to the article on "Power."


[19] Jean=John: Jacques=James.


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