Random Quote #77 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778



This is a vague, indeterminate term, which expresses an unknown
principle of known effects that we feel in us. The word _soul_
corresponds to the Latin _anima_, to the Greek +pneuma+, to the term of
which all nations have made use to express what they did not understand
any better than we do.

In the proper and literal sense of the Latin and the languages derived
from Latin, it signifies _that which animates_. Thus people have spoken
of the soul of men, of animals, sometimes of plants, to signify their
principal of vegetation and life. In pronouncing this word, people have
never had other than a confused idea, as when it is said in
Genesis--"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living
soul; and the soul of animals is in the blood; and kill not my soul,

Thus the soul was generally taken for the origin and the cause of life,
for life itself. That is why all known nations long imagined that
everything died with the body. If one can disentangle anything in the
chaos of ancient histories, it seems that the Egyptians at least were
the first to distinguish between the intelligence and the soul: and the
Greeks learned from them to distinguish their +nous+, their +pneuma+,
their +skia+. The Latins, following their example, distinguish _animus_
and _anima_; and we, finally, have also had our _soul_ and our
_understanding_. But is that which is the principle of our life
different from that which is the principle of our thoughts? is it the
same being? Does that which directs us and gives us sensation and
memory resemble that which is in animals the cause of digestion and the
cause of their sensations and of their memory?

There is the eternal object of the disputes of mankind; I say eternal
object; for not having any first notion from which we can descend in
this examination, we can only rest for ever in a labyrinth of doubt and
feeble conjecture.

We have not the smallest step where we may place a foot in order to
reach the most superficial knowledge of what makes us live and of what
makes us think. How should we have? we should have had to see life and
thought enter a body. Does a father know how he has produced his son?
does a mother how she conceived him? Has anyone ever been able to divine
how he acts, how he wakes, how he sleeps? Does anyone know how his limbs
obey his will? has anyone discovered by what art ideas are marked out in
his brain and issue from it at his command? Frail automatons moved by
the invisible hand which directs us on this stage of the world, which of
us has been able to detect the wire which guides us?

We dare question whether the soul is "spirit" or "matter"; if it is
created before us, if it issues from non-existence at our birth, if
after animating us for one day on earth, it lives after us into
eternity. These questions appear sublime; what are they? questions of
blind men saying to other blind men--"What is light?"

When we want to learn something roughly about a piece of metal, we put
it in a crucible in the fire. But have we a crucible in which to put the
soul? "The soul is _spirit_," says one. But what is spirit? Assuredly no
one has any idea; it is a word that is so void of sense that one is
obliged to say what spirit is not, not being able to say what it is.
"The soul is matter," says another. But what is matter? We know merely
some of its appearances and some of its properties; and not one of these
properties, not one of these appearances, seems to have the slightest
connection with thought.

"Thought is something distinct from matter," say you. But what proof of
it have you? Is it because matter is divisible and figurable, and
thought is not? But who has told you that the first principles of matter
are divisible and figurable? It is very probable that they are not;
entire sects of philosophers maintain that the elements of matter have
neither form nor extension. With a triumphant air you cry--"Thought is
neither wood, nor stone, nor sand, nor metal, therefore thought does not
belong to matter." Weak, reckless reasoners! gravitation is neither
wood, nor sand, nor metal, nor stone; movement, vegetation, life are not
these things either, and yet life, vegetation, movement, gravitation,
are given to matter. To say that God cannot make matter think is to say
the most insolently absurd thing that anyone has ever dared utter in the
privileged schools of lunacy. We are not certain that God has treated
matter like this; we are only certain that He can. But what matters all
that has been said and all that will be said about the soul? what does
it matter that it has been called entelechy, quintessence, flame, ether?
that it has been thought universal, uncreated, transmigrant, etc.?

In these matters that are inaccessible to the reason, what do these
romances of our uncertain imaginations matter? What does it matter that
the Fathers of the first four centuries thought the soul corporeal? What
does it matter that Tertullian, by a contradiction frequent in him, has
decided that it is simultaneously corporeal, formed and simple? We have
a thousand witnesses to ignorance, and not one that gives a glimmer of

How then are we so bold as to assert what the soul is? We know certainly
that we exist, that we feel, that we think. Do we want to take a step
beyond? we fall into a shadowy abyss; and in this abyss we are still so
madly reckless as to dispute whether this soul, of which we have not the
least idea, was made before us or with us, and whether it perishes or is

The article SOUL, and all the articles of the nature of metaphysics,
must start by a sincere submission to the incontrovertible dogmas of
the Church. Revelation is worth more, without doubt, than the whole of
philosophy. Systems exercise the mind, but faith illumines and guides

Do we not often pronounce words of which we have only a very confused
idea, or even of which we have none at all? Is not the word _soul_ an
instance? When the clapper or valve of a bellows is out of order, and
when air which is in the bellows leaves it by some unexpected opening in
this valve, so that it is no longer compressed against the two blades,
and is not thrust violently towards the hearth which it has to light,
French servants say--"The soul of the bellows has burst." They know no
more about it than that; and this question in no wise disturbs their
peace of mind.

The gardener utters the phrase "the soul of the plants," and cultivates
them very well without knowing what he means by this term.

The violin-maker poses, draws forward or back the "soul of a violin"
beneath the bridge in the belly of the instrument; a puny piece of wood
more or less gives the violin or takes away from it a harmonious soul.

We have many industries in which the workmen give the qualification of
"soul" to their machines. Never does one hear them dispute about this
word. Such is not the case with philosophers.

For us the word "soul" signifies generally that which animates. Our
ancestors the Celts gave to their soul the name of _seel_, from which
the English _soul_, and the German _seel_; and probably the ancient
Teutons and the ancient Britons had no quarrels in their universities
over this expression.

The Greeks distinguished three sorts of souls--+psyche+, which signified
the sensitive soul, the soul of the senses; and that is why Love, child
of Aphrodite, had so much passion for Psyche, and why Psyche loved him
so tenderly: +pneuma+, the breath which gives life and movement to the
whole machine, and which we have translated by _spiritus_, spirit;
vague word to which have been given a thousand different meanings: and
finally +nous+, the intelligence.

We possessed therefore three souls, without having the least notion of
any of them. St. Thomas Aquinas (Summation of St. Thomas. Lyons edition,
1738) admits these three souls as a peripatetic, and distinguishes each
of these three souls in three parts. +psyche+ was in the breast,
+pneuma+ was distributed throughout the body, and +nous+ was in the
head. There has been no other philosophy in our schools up to our day,
and woe betide any man who took one of these souls for the other.

In this chaos of ideas there was, nevertheless, a foundation. Men had
noticed that in their passions of love, hate, anger, fear, their
internal organs were stimulated to movement. The liver and the heart
were the seat of the passions. If one thought deeply, one felt a strife
in the organs of the head; therefore the intellectual soul was in the
head. Without respiration no vegetation, no life; therefore the
vegetative soul was in the breast which receives the breath of air.

When men saw in dreams their dead relatives or friends, they had to seek
what had appeared to them. It was not the body which had been consumed
on a funeral pyre, or swallowed up in the sea and eaten by the fishes.
It was, however, something, so they maintained; for they had seen it;
the dead man had spoken; the dreamer had questioned him. Was it
+psyche+, was it +pneuma+, was it +nous+, with whom one had conversed in
the dream? One imagined a phantom, an airy figure: it was +skia+, it was
+daimon+, a ghost from the shades, a little soul of air and fire, very
unrestricted, which wandered I know not where.

Eventually, when one wanted to sift the matter, it became a constant
that this soul was corporeal; and the whole of antiquity never had any
other idea. At last came Plato who so subtilized this soul that it was
doubtful if he did not separate it entirely from matter; but that was a
problem that was never solved until faith came to enlighten us.

In vain do the materialists quote some of the fathers of the Church who
did not express themselves with precision. St. Irenaeus says (liv. v.
chaps. vi and vii) that the soul is only the breath of life, that it is
incorporeal only by comparison with the mortal body, and that it
preserves the form of man so that it may be recognized.

In vain does Tertullian express himself like this--"The corporeality of
the soul shines bright in the Gospel." (_Corporalitas animae in ipso
Evangelio relucescit_, DE ANIMA, cap. vii.) For if the soul did
not have a body, the image of the soul would not have the image of the

In vain does he record the vision of a holy woman who had seen a very
shining soul, of the colour of air.

In vain does Tatien say expressly (_Oratio ad Graecos_, c. xxiii.)--"The
soul of man is composed of many parts."

In vain is St. Hilarius quoted as saying in later times (St. Hilarius on
St. Matthew)--"There is nothing created which is not corporeal, either
in heaven, or on earth, or among the visible, or among the invisible:
everything is formed of elements; and souls, whether they inhabit a
body, or issue from it, have always a corporeal substance."

In vain does St. Ambrose, in the sixth century, say (On Abraham, liv.
ii., ch. viii.)--"We recognize nothing but the material, except the
venerable Trinity alone."

The body of the entire Church has decided that the soul is immaterial.
These saints fell into an error at that time universal; they were men;
but they were not mistaken over immortality, because that is clearly
announced in the Gospels.

We have so evident a need of the decision of the infallible Church on
these points of philosophy, that we have not indeed by ourselves any
sufficient notion of what is called "pure spirit," and of what is named
"matter." Pure spirit is an expression which gives us no idea; and we
know matter only by a few phenomena. We know it so little that we call
it "substance"; well, the word substance means "that which is under";
but what is under will be eternally hidden from us. What is _under_ is
the Creator's secret; and this secret of the Creator is everywhere. We
do not know either how we receive life, or how we give it, or how we
grow, or how we digest, or how we sleep, or how we think, or how we

The great difficulty is to understand how a being, whoever he be, has


The author of the article SOUL in the "Encyclopedia" (the Abbe Yvon)
followed Jaquelot scrupulously; but Jaquelot teaches us nothing. He sets
himself also against Locke, because the modest Locke said (liv. iv, ch.
iii, para. vi.)--"We possibly shall never be able to know whether any
mere material being thinks or no; it being impossible for us, by the
contemplation of our own ideas without revelation, to discover whether
Omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a
power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to matter, so
disposed, a thinking immaterial substance: it being, in respect of our
notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that
God can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than
that he should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of
thinking; since we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort
of substances the Almighty has been pleased to give that power which
cannot be in any created being but merely by the good pleasure and
bounty of the Creator, for I see no contradiction in it, that the first
eternal thinking Being should, if he pleased, give to certain systems of
created senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of
sense, perception and thought."

Those are the words of a profound, religious and modest man.

We know what quarrels he had to undergo on account of this opinion which
appeared bold, but which was in fact in him only a consequence of his
conviction of the omnipotence of God and the weakness of man. He did not
say that matter thought; but he said that we have not enough knowledge
to demonstrate that it is impossible for God to add the gift of thought
to the unknown being called "matter", after according it the gift of
gravitation and the gift of movement, both of which are equally

Locke was not assuredly the only one who had advanced this opinion; it
was the opinion of all antiquity, who, regarding the soul as very
unrestricted matter, affirmed consequently that matter could feel and

It was Gassendi's opinion, as may be seen in his objections to
Descartes. "It is true," says Gassendi, "that you know what you think;
but you are ignorant of what species of substance you are, you who
think. Thus although the operation of thought is known to you, the
principle of your essence is hidden from you; and you do not know what
is the nature of this substance, one of the operations of which is to
think. You are like a blind man who, feeling the heat of the sun and
being informed that it is caused by the heat of the sun, thinks he has a
clear and distinct idea of this luminary; because if he were asked what
the sun was, he could reply that it is a thing which heats, etc."

The same Gassendi, in his "Epicurean Philosophy," repeats several times
that there is no mathematical evidence of the pure spirituality of the

Descartes, in one of his letters to the Palatine Princess Elisabeth,
says to her--"I confess that by the natural reason alone we can make
many conjectures on the soul, and have gratifying hopes, but no
certainty." And in that sentence Descartes combats in his letters what
he puts forward in his works; a too ordinary contradiction.

In fine we have seen that all the Fathers of the first centuries of the
Church, while believing the soul immortal, believed it at the same time
material; they thought that it is as easy for God to conserve as to
create. They said--"God made the soul thinking, He will preserve it

Malebranche has proved very well that we have no idea by ourselves, and
that objects are incapable of giving us ideas: from that he concludes
that we see everything in God. That is at the bottom the same thing as
making God the author of all our ideas; for with what should we see in
Him, if we had not instruments for seeing? and these instruments, it is
He alone who holds them and guides them. This system is a labyrinth, one
lane of which would lead you to Spinozism, another to Stoicism, another
to chaos.

When one has had a good argument about spirit and matter, one always
finishes by not understanding each other. No philosopher has been able
with his own strength to lift this veil stretched by nature over all the
first principles of things. Men argue, nature acts.



Before the strange system which supposes animals to be pure machines
without any sensation, men had never thought that the beasts possessed
an immaterial soul; and nobody had pushed recklessness to the point of
saying that an oyster has a spiritual soul. Everyone concurred peaceably
in agreeing that the beasts had received from God feeling, memory,
ideas, and no pure spirit. Nobody had abused the gift of reason to the
point of saying that nature had given the beasts all the organs of
feeling so that they might not feel anything. Nobody had said that they
cry when they are wounded, and that they fly when pursued, without
experiencing pain or fear.

At that time people did not deny the omnipotence of God; He had been
able to communicate to the organized matter of animals pleasure, pain,
remembrance, the combination of a few ideas; He had been able to give to
several of them, such as the monkey, the elephant, the hunting-dog, the
talent of perfecting themselves in the arts which were taught to them;
not only had He been able to endow nearly all carnivorous animals with
the talent of warring better in their experienced old age than in their
too trustful youth; not only, I say, had He been able to do these
things, but He had done them: the universe bore witness thereto.

Pereira and Descartes maintained that the universe was mistaken, that
God was a juggler, that He had given animals all the instruments of life
and sensation, so that they might have neither life nor sensation,
properly speaking. But I do not know what so-called philosophers, in
order to answer Descartes' chimera, leaped into the opposite chimera;
they gave liberally of pure spirit to the toads and the insects.

Between these two madnesses, the one refusing feeling to the organs of
feeling, the other lodging a pure spirit in a bug, somebody thought of a
middle path. It was instinct. And what is instinct? Oh, oh, it is a
substantial form; it is a plastic form; it is I do not know what! it is
instinct. I shall be of your opinion so long as you will call the
majority of things, "I do not know what"; so long as your philosophy
begins and ends with "I do not know what", I shall quote Prior to you in
his poem on the vanity of the world.

The author of the article SOUL in the "Encyclopedia" explains
himself like this:--"I picture the animals' soul as an immaterial and
intelligent substance, but of what species? It must, it seems to me, be
an active principle which has sensations, and which has only that.... If
we reflect on the nature of the soul of animals, it supplies us with
groundwork which might lead us to think that its spirituality will save
it from annihilation."

I do not know how one pictures an immaterial substance. To picture
something is to make an image of it; and up till now nobody has been
able to paint the spirit. For the word "picture", I want the author to
understand "I conceive"; speaking for myself, I confess I do not
conceive it. I confess still less that a spiritual soul may be
annihilated, because I do not conceive either creation or non-existence;
because I have never been present at God's council; because I know
nothing at all about the principle of things.

If I wish to prove that the soul is a real being, someone stops me by
telling me that it is a faculty. If I assert that it is a faculty, and
that I have the faculty of thinking, I am told that I am mistaken; that
God, the eternal master of all nature, does everything in me, and
directs all my actions and all my thoughts; that if I produced my
thoughts, I should know the thought I will have in a minute; that I
never know it; that I am only an automaton with sensations and ideas,
necessarily dependent, and in the hands of the Supreme Being, infinitely
more compliant to Him than clay is to the potter.

I confess my ignorance, therefore; I avow that four thousand tomes of
metaphysics will not teach us what our soul is.

An orthodox philosopher said to a heterodox philosopher--"How have you
been able to come to the point of imagining that the soul is mortal by
nature, and eternal only by the pure wish of God?"

"By my own experience," said the other.

"How! are you dead?"

"Yes, very often. I suffered from epilepsy in my youth, and I assure you
that I was completely dead for several hours. No sensation, no
remembrance even of the moment that I fell ill. The same thing happens
to me now nearly every night. I never feel the precise moment that I go
to sleep; my sleep is absolutely dreamless. I cannot imagine by
conjecture how long I have slept. I am dead regularly six hours out of
the twenty-four. That is a quarter of my life."

The orthodox then asserted that he always thought during his sleep
without knowing anything about it. The heterodox answered him--"I
believe through revelation that I shall always think in the other life;
but I assure you I think rarely in this one."

The orthodox was not mistaken in asserting the immortality of the soul,
for faith and reason demonstrate this truth; but he might be mistaken in
asserting that a sleeping man always thinks.

Locke admitted frankly that he did not always think while he was asleep:
another philosopher has said--"Thought is characteristic of man; but it
is not his essence."

Let us leave to each man the liberty and consolation of seeking himself,
and of losing himself in his ideas.

It is good, however, to know, that in 1730 a philosopher[21] suffered a
severe enough persecution for having confessed, with Locke, that his
understanding was not exercised at every moment of the day and night,
just as he did not use his arms and his legs at all moments. Not only
did court ignorance persecute him, but the malignant influence of a few
so-called men of letters was let loose against him. What in England had
produced merely a few philosophical disputes, produced in France the
most cowardly atrocities; a Frenchman suffered by Locke.

There have always been in the mud of our literature more than one of
these miscreants who have sold their pens, and intrigued against their
benefactors even. This remark is rather foreign to the article
SOUL; but should one miss an opportunity of dismaying those who
make themselves unworthy of the name of men of letters, who prostitute
the little mind and conscience they have to a vile self-interest, to a
fantastic policy, who betray their friends to flatter fools, who in
secret powder the hemlock which the powerful and malicious ignoramus
wants to make useful citizens drink?

In short, while we worship God with all our soul, let us confess always
our profound ignorance of this soul, of this faculty of feeling and
thinking which we possess from His infinite goodness. Let us avow that
our feeble reasonings can take nothing away from, or add anything to
revelation and faith. Let us conclude in fine that we should use this
intelligence, the nature of which is unknown, for perfecting the
sciences which are the object of the "Encyclopedia"; just as watchmakers
use springs in their watches, without knowing what a spring is.



On the testimony of our acquired knowledge, we have dared question
whether the soul is created before us, whether it comes from
non-existence into our body? at what age it came to settle between a
bladder and the intestines _caecum_ and _rectum_? if it brought ideas
with it or received them there, and what are these ideas? if after
animating us for a few moments, its essence is to live after us into
eternity without the intervention of God Himself? if being spirit, and
God being spirit, they are both of like nature? These questions seem
sublime; what are they? questions about light by men born blind.

What have all the philosophers, ancient and modern, taught us? a child
is wiser than they are; he does not think about things of which he can
form no conception.

You will say that it is sad for our insatiable curiosity, for our
inexhaustible thirst for happiness, to be thus ignorant of ourselves! I
agree, and there are still sadder things; but I shall answer you:

_Sors tua mortalis, non est mortale quod optas._

--Ovid, Met. II. 56

"You have a man's fate, and a god's desires."

Once again, it seems that the nature of every principle of things is the
Creator's secret. How does the air carry sound? how are animals formed?
how do some of our limbs constantly obey our wills? what hand puts ideas
in our memory, keeps them there as in a register, and pulls them out
sometimes when we want them and sometimes in spite of ourselves? Our
nature, the nature of the universe, the nature of the least plant,
everything for us is sunk in a shadowy pit.

Man is an acting, feeling, thinking being: that is all we know of him:
it is not given to us to know what makes us feel and think, or what
makes us act, or what makes us exist. The acting faculty is as
incomprehensible for us as the thinking faculty. The difficulty is less
to conceive how a body of mud has feelings and ideas, than to conceive
how a being, whatever it be, has ideas and feelings.

Here on one side the soul of Archimedes, on the other the soul of an
idiot; are they of the same nature? If their essence is to think, they
think always, and independently of the body which cannot act without
them. If they think by their own nature, can the species of a soul which
cannot do a sum in arithmetic be the same as that which measured the
heavens? If it is the organs of the body which made Archimedes think,
why is it that my idiot, who has a stronger constitution than
Archimedes, who is more vigorous, digests better and performs all his
functions better, does not think at all? It is, you say, because his
brain is not so good. But you are making a supposition; you do not know
at all. No difference has ever been found between healthy brains that
have been dissected. It is even very probable that a fool's cerebellum
will be in better condition than Archimedes', which has worked
prodigiously, and which might be worn out and shrivelled.

Let us conclude therefore what we have already concluded, that we are
ignoramuses about all first principles. As regards ignoramuses who pride
themselves on their knowledge, they are far inferior to monkeys.

Now dispute, choleric arguers: present your petitions against each
other; proffer your insults, pronounce your sentences, you who do not
know one word about the matter.



Warburton, editor and commentator of Shakespeare and Bishop of
Gloucester, making use of English freedom, and abuse of the custom of
hurling insults at one's adversaries, has composed four volumes to prove
that the immortality of the soul was never announced in the Pentateuch,
and to conclude from this same proof that Moses' mission is divine. Here
is the precis of his book, which he himself gives, pages 7 and 8 of the
first volume.

"1. The doctrine of a life to come, of rewards and punishments after
death, is necessary to all civil society.

"2. The whole human race (_and this is where he is mistaken_), and
especially the wisest and most learned nations of antiquity, concurred
in believing and teaching this doctrine.

"3. It cannot be found in any passage of the law of Moses; therefore the
law of Moses is of divine origin. Which I am going to prove by the two
following syllogisms:

_First Syllogism_

"Every religion, every society that has not the immortality of the soul
for its basis, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence;
the Jewish religion had not the immortality of the soul for basis;
therefore the Jewish religion was maintained by an extraordinary

_Second Syllogism_

"All the ancient legislators have said that a religion which did not
teach the immortality of the soul could not be maintained but by an
extraordinary providence; Moses founded a religion which is not founded
on the immortality of the soul; therefore Moses believed his religion
maintained by an extraordinary providence."

What is much more extraordinary is this assertion of Warburton's, which
he has put in big letters at the beginning of his book. He has often
been reproached with the extreme rashness and bad faith with which he
dares to say that all the ancient legislators believed that a religion
which is not founded on pains and recompenses after death, can be
maintained only by an extraordinary providence; not one of them ever
said it. He does not undertake even to give any example in his huge book
stuffed with a vast number of quotations, all of which are foreign to
his subject. He has buried himself beneath a pile of Greek and Latin
authors, ancient and modern, for fear one might see through him on the
other side of a horrible multitude of envelopes. When criticism finally
probed to the bottom, he was resurrected from among all these dead men
in order to load all his adversaries with insults.

It is true that towards the end of his fourth volume, after having
walked through a hundred labyrinths, and having fought with everybody he
met on the road, he comes at last to his great question which he had
left there. He lays all the blame on the Book of Job which passes among
scholars for an Arab work, and he tries to prove that Job did not
believe in the immortality of the soul. Later he explains in his own way
all the texts of Holy Writ by which people have tried to combat this

All one can say about it is that, if he was right, it was not for a
bishop to be right in such a way. He should have felt that one might
draw dangerous inferences; but everything in this world is a mass of
contradiction. This man, who became accuser and persecutor, was not made
bishop by a minister of state's patronage until immediately after he had
written his book.

At Salamanca, Coimbre or Rome, he would have been obliged to recant and
to ask pardon. In England he became a peer of the realm with an income
of a hundred thousand _livres_; it was enough to modify his methods.



The greatest benefit we owe to the New Testament is that it has revealed
to us the immortality of the soul. It is in vain, therefore, that this
fellow Warburton tried to cloud over this important truth, by
continually representing in his legation of Moses that "the ancient Jews
knew nothing of this necessary dogma, and that the Sadducees did not
admit it in the time of our Lord Jesus."

He interprets in his own way the very words that have been put into
Jesus Christ's mouth: "... have ye not read that which was spoken unto
you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and
the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living"
(St. Matt. xxii. 31, 32). He gives to the parable of the wicked rich man
a sense contrary to that of all the Churches. Sherlock, Bishop of
London, and twenty other scholars refuted him. English philosophers even
reproached him with the scandal of an Anglican bishop manifesting an
opinion so contrary to the Anglican Church; and after that, this man
takes it into his head to treat these persons as impious: like the
character of _Arlequin_ in the comedy of the _Devaliseur de maisons_,
who, after throwing the furniture out of the window, sees a man carrying
some of it off, and cries with all his might "Stop thief!"

One should bless the revelation of the immortality of the soul, and of
rewards and punishments after death, all the more that mankind's vain
philosophy has always been sceptical of it. The great Caesar did not
believe in it at all, he made himself quite clear in full senate when,
in order to stop Catalina being put to death, he represented that death
left man without sensation, that everything died with him; and nobody
refuted this view.

The Roman Empire was divided between two principal sects: that of
Epicurus which asserted that deity was useless to the world, and that
the soul perished with the body: and that of the Stoics who regarded the
soul as part of the Deity, which after death was joined again to its
origin, to the great everything from which it emanated. Thus, whether
one believed the soul mortal, or whether one believed it immortal, all
the sects were agreed in laughing at pains and punishments after death.

We still have a hundred monuments of this belief of the Romans. It is by
virtue of this opinion graved profoundly in their hearts, that so many
simple Roman citizens killed themselves without the least scruple; they
did not wait for a tyrant to hand them over to the executioners.

The most virtuous men even, and those most persuaded of the existence of
a God, hoped for no reward, and feared no punishment. Clement, who later
was Pope and saint, began by himself doubting what the early Christians
said of another life, and consulted St. Peter at Caesarea. We are far
from believing that St. Clement wrote the history that is attributed to
him; but this history makes evident the need the human race had of a
precise revelation. All that can surprise us is that so repressive and
salutary a doctrine has left a prey to so many horrible crimes men who
have so little time to live, and who see themselves squeezed between two



A deformed child is born absolutely imbecile, it has no ideas and lives
without ideas; we have seen examples of this. How shall this animal be
defined? doctors have said that it is something between man and beast;
others have said that it had a sensitive soul, but not an intellectual
soul. It eats, drinks, sleeps, wakes, has sensations; but it does not

Is there another life for this creature, or is there none? The question
has been posed, and has not yet been completely answered.

Some say that this creature must have a soul, because its father and
mother had one. But by this reasoning one would prove that if it came
into the world without a nose it would be deemed to have one, because
its father and its mother had noses.

A woman gives birth to child with no chin, its forehead is receding and
rather black, its nose is slim and pointed, its eyes are round, it bears
not a bad resemblance to a swallow; the rest of its body, nevertheless,
is made like ours. The parents have it baptised; by a plurality of votes
it is considered a man and possessor of an immortal soul. But if this
ridiculous little figure has pointed nails and beak-like mouth, it is
declared a monster, it has no soul, and is not baptised.

It is well known that in London in 1726 there was a woman who gave birth
every week to a rabbit. No difficulty was made about refusing baptism to
this child, despite the epidemic mania there was for three weeks in
London for believing that this poor rogue was making wild rabbits. The
surgeon who attended her, St. Andre by name, swore that nothing was
more true, and people believed him. But what reason did the credulous
have for refusing a soul to this woman's children? she had a soul, her
children should be provided with souls also; whether they had hands,
whether they had paws, whether they were born with a little snout or
with a face; cannot the Supreme Being bestow the gift of thought and
sensation on a little I know not what, born of a woman, shaped like a
rabbit, as well as to a little I know not what, shaped like a man? Shall
the soul that was ready to lodge in this woman's foetus go back again
into space?

Locke makes the sound observation, about monsters, that one must not
attribute immortality to the exterior of a body; that the form has
nothing to do with it. This immortality, he says, is no more attached to
the form of his face or his chest, than to the way his beard is dressed
or his coat cut.

He asks what is the exact measure of deformity by which you can
recognize whether or no a child has a soul? What is the precise degree
at which it must be declared a monster and deprived of a soul?

One asks still further what would be a soul which never has any but
fantastic ideas? there are some which never escape from them. Are they
worthy or unworthy? what is to be done with their pure spirit?

What is one to think of a child with two heads? without deformity apart
from this? Some say that it has two souls because it is provided with
two pineal glands, with two _corpus callosum_, with two _sensorium
commune_. Others reply that one cannot have two souls when one has only
one chest and one navel.[22]

In fine, so many questions have been asked about this poor human soul,
that if it were necessary to answer them all, this examination of its
own person would cause it the most intolerable boredom. There would
happen to it what happened to Cardinal de Polignac at a conclave. His
steward, tired of never being able to make him settle his accounts, made
the journey from Rome, and came to the little window of his cell
burdened with an immense bundle of papers. He read for nearly two hours.
At last, seeing that no reply was forthcoming, he put his head forward.
The cardinal had departed nearly two hours before. Our souls will depart
before their stewards have acquainted them with the facts: but let us be
exact before God, whatever sort of ignoramuses we are, we and our


[21] Voltaire himself.

[22] The Chevalier d'Angos, learned astronomer, has carefully observed a
two-headed lizard for several days; and he has assured himself that the
lizard had two independent wills, each of which had an almost equal
power over the body. When the lizard was given a piece of bread, in such
a way that it could see it with only one head, this head wanted to go
after the bread, and the other wanted the body to remain at rest.


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