OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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Does the law of nature prescribe continence?
Yes: because a moderate use of the most lively of pleasures is
not only useful, but indispensable, to the support of strength and
health: and because a simple calculation proves that, for some
minutes of privation, you increase the number of your days, both in
vigor of body and of mind.
How does it forbid libertinism?
By the numerous evils which result from it to the physical and
the moral existence. He who carries it to an excess enervates and
pines away; he can no longer attend to study or labor; he contracts
idle and expensive habits, which destroy his means of existence,
his public consideration, and his credit; his intrigues occasion
continual embarrassment, cares, quarrels and lawsuits, without
mentioning the grievous deep-rooted distempers, and the loss of his
strength by an inward and slow poison; the stupid dullness of his
mind, by the exhaustion of the nervous system; and, in fine, a
premature and infirm old age.
Does the law of nature look on that absolute chastity so
recommended in monastical institutions, as a virtue?
No: for that chastity is of no use either to the society that
witnesses, or the individual who practises it; it is even
prejudicial to both. First, it injures society by depriving it of
population, which is one of its principal sources of wealth and
power; and as bachelors confine all their views and affections to
the term of their lives, they have in general an egotism
unfavorable to the interests of society.
In the second place, it injures the individuals who practise it,
because it deprives them of a number of affections and relations
which are the springs of most domestic and social virtues; and
besides, it often happens, from circumstances of age, regimen, or
temperament, that absolute continence injures the constitution and
causes severe diseases, because it is contrary to the physical laws
on which nature has founded the system of the reproduction of
beings; and they who recommend so strongly chastity, even supposing
them to be sincere, are in contradiction with their own doctrine,
which consecrates the law of nature by the well known commandment:
increase and multiply.
Why is chastity considered a greater virtue in women than in
Because a want of chastity in women is attended with
inconveniences much more serious and dangerous for them and for
society; for, without taking into account the pains and diseases
they have in common with men, they are further exposed to all the
disadvantages and perils that precede, attend, and follow child-
birth. When pregnant contrary to law, they become an object of
public scandal and contempt, and spend the remainder of their lives
in bitterness and misery. Moreover, all the expense of maintaining
and educating their fatherless children falls on them: which
expense impoverishes them, and is every way prejudicial to their
physical and moral existence. In this situation, deprived of the
freshness and health that constitute their charm, carrying with
them an extraneous and expensive burden, they are less prized by
men, they find no solid establishment, they fall into poverty,
misery, and wretchedness, and thus drag on in sorrow their unhappy
Does the law of nature extend so far as the scruples of desires
Yes; because, in the physical laws of the human body, thoughts
and desires inflame the senses, and soon provoke to action: now, by
another law of nature in the organization of our body, those
actions become mechanical wants which recur at certain periods of
days or of weeks, so that, at such a time, the want is renewed of
such an action and such a secretion; if this action and this
secretion be injurious to health, the habitude of them becomes
destructive of life itself. Thus thoughts and desires have a true
and natural importance.
Should modesty be considered as a virtue?
Yes; because modesty, inasmuch as it is a shame of certain
actions, maintains the soul and body in all those habits useful to
good order, and to self-preservation. The modest woman is
esteemed, courted, and established, with advantages of fortune
which ensure her existence, and render it agreeable to her, while
the immodest and prostitute are despised, repulsed, and abandoned
to misery and infamy.