OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTIONS.
The legislator then resumed his discourse: "O nations!" said he,
"we have heard the discussion of your opinions. The different
sentiments which divide you have given rise to many reflections,
and furnished several questions which we shall propose to you to
"First, considering the diversity and opposition of the creeds to
which you are attached, we ask on what motives you found your
persuasion? Is it from a deliberate choice that you follow the
standard of one prophet rather than another? Before adopting this
doctrine, rather than that, did you first compare? did you
carefully examine them? Or have you received them only from the
chance of birth, from the empire of education and habit? Are you
not born Christians on the borders of the Tiber, Mussulmans on
those of the Euphrates, Idolaters on the Indus, just as you are
born fair in cold climates, and sable under the scorching sun of
Africa? And if your opinions are the effect of your fortuitous
position on the earth, of consanguinity, of imitation, how is it
that such a hazard should be a ground of conviction, an argument of
"Secondly, when we reflect on the mutual proscriptions and
arbitrary intolerance of your pretensions, we are frightened at the
consequences that flow from your own principles. Nations! who
reciprocally devote each other to the bolts of heavenly wrath,
suppose that the universal Being, whom you revere, should this
moment descend from heaven on this multitude; and, clothed with all
his power, should sit on this throne to judge you; suppose that he
should say to you: Mortals! it is your own justice that I am going
to exercise upon you. Yes, of all the religious systems that
divide you, one alone shall this day be preferred; all the others,
all this multitude of standards, of nations, of prophets, shall be
condemned to eternal destruction. This is not enough: among the
particular sects of the chosen system, one only can be favored; all
the others must be condemned: neither is this enough;--from this
little remnant of a group I must exclude all those who have not
fulfilled the conditions enjoined by its precepts. O men! to what
a small number of elect have you limited your race! to what a
penury of beneficence do you reduce the immensity of my goodness!
to what a solitude of beholders do you condemn my greatness and my
"But," said the legislator rising, no matter you have willed it so.
Nations! here is an urn in which all your names are placed: one
only is a prize: approach, and draw this tremendous lottery!" And
the nations, seized with terror cried: "No, no; we are all
brothers, all equal; we cannot condemn each other."
"Then," said the legislator, resuming his seat: "O men! who dispute
on so many subjects, lend an attentive ear to one problem which you
exhibit, and which you ought to decide yourselves."
And the people, giving great attention, he lifted an arm towards
heaven, and, pointing to the sun, said:
"Nations, does that sun, which enlightens you, appear square or
"No," answered they with one voice, "it is round."
Then, taking the golden balance that was on the altar:
"This gold," said the legislator, "that you handle every day, is it
heavier than the same volume of copper?"
"Yes,' answered all the people, "gold is heavier than Copper."
Then, taking the sword:
"Is this iron," said the legislator, "softer than lead?"
"No," said the people.
"Is sugar sweet, and gall bitter?"
"Do you love pleasure and hate pain?"
"Thus, then, you are agreed in these points, and many others of the
"Now, tell us, is there a cavern in the centre of the earth, or
inhabitants in the moon?"
This question caused a universal murmur. Every one answered
differently--some yes, others no; one said it was probable, another
said it was an idle and ridiculous question; some, that it was
worth knowing. And the discord was universal.
After some time the legislator, having obtained silence, said:
"Explain to us, O Nations! this problem: we have put to you several
questions which you have answered with one voice, without
distinction of race or of sect: white men, black men, followers of
Mahomet and of Moses, worshippers of Boudha and of Jesus, all have
returned the same answer. We then proposed another question, and
you have all disagreed! Why this unanimity in one case, and this
discordance in the other?"
And the group of simple men and savages answered and said: "The
reason of this is plain. In the first case we see and feel the
objects, and we speak from sensation; in the second, they are
beyond the reach of our senses--we speak of them only from
"You have resolved the problem," said the legislator; "and your own
consent has established this first truth:
"That whenever objects can be examined and judged of by your
senses, you are agreed in opinion; and that you only differ when
the objects are absent and beyond your reach.
"From this first truth flows another equally clear and worthy of
notice. Since you agree on things which you know with certainty,
it follows that you disagree only on those which you know not with
certainty, and about which you are not sure; that is to say, you
dispute, you quarrel, you fight, for that which is uncertain, that
of which you doubt. O men! is this wisdom?
"Is it not, then, demonstrated that truth is not the object of your
contests? that it is not her cause which you defend, but that of
your affections, and your prejudices? that it is not the object, as
it really is in itself, that you would verify, but the object as
you would have it; that is to say, it is not the evidence of the
thing that you would enforce, but your own personal opinion, your
particular manner of seeing and judging? It is a power that you
wish to exercise, an interest that you wish to satisfy, a
prerogative that you arrogate to yourself; it is a contest of
vanity. Now, as each of you, on comparing himself to every other,
finds himself his equal and his fellow, he resists by a feeling of
the same right. And your disputes, your combats, your intolerance,
are the effect of this right which you deny each other, and of the
intimate conviction of your equality.
"Now, the only means of establishing harmony is to return to
nature, and to take for a guide and regulator the order of things
which she has founded; and then your accord will prove this other
"That real beings have in themselves an identical, constant and
uniform mode of existence; and that there is in your organs a like
mode of being affected by them.
"But at the same time, by reason of the mobility of these organs as
subject to your will, you may conceive different affections, and
find yourselves in different relations with the same objects; so
that you are to them like a mirror, capable of reflecting them
truly as they are, or of distorting and disfiguring them.
"Hence it follows, that whenever you perceive objects as they are,
you agree among yourselves, and with the objects; and this
similitude between your sensations and their manner of existence,
is what constitutes their truth with respect to you; and, on the
contrary, whenever you differ in opinion, your disagreement is a
proof that you do not represent them such as they are,--that you
"Hence, also, it follows, that the causes of your disagreement
exist not in the objects themselves, but in your minds, in your
manner of perceiving or judging.
"To establish, therefore, a uniformity of opinion, it is necessary
first to establish the certainty, completely verified, that the
portraits which the mind forms are perfectly like the originals;
that it reflects the objects correctly as they exist. Now, this
result cannot be obtained but in those cases where the objects can
be brought to the test, and submitted to the examination of the
senses. Everything which cannot be brought to this trial is, for
that reason alone, impossible to be determined; there exists no
rule, no term of comparison, no means of certainty, respecting it.
"From this we conclude, that, to live in harmony and peace, we must
agree never to decide on such subjects, and to attach to them no
importance; in a word, we must trace a line of distinction between
those that are capable of verification, and those that are not; and
separate by an inviolable barrier the world of fantastical beings
from the world of realities; that is to say, all civil effect must
be taken away from theological and religious opinions.
"This, O ye people of the earth! is the object proposed by a great
nation freed from her fetters and her prejudices; this is the work
which, under her eye and by her orders, we had undertaken, when
your kings and your priests came to interrupt it. O kings and
priests! you may suspend, yet for a while, the solemn publication
of the laws of nature; but it is no longer in your power to
annihilate or to subvert them."
A general shout then arose from every part of the assembly; and the
nations universally, and with one voice, testified their assent to
the proposals of the delegates: "Resume," said they, "your holy and
sublime labors, and bring them to perfection. Investigate the laws
which nature, for our guidance, has implanted in our breasts, and
collect from them an authentic and immutable code; nor let this
code be any longer for one family only, but for us all without
exception. Be the legislators of the whole human race, as you are
the interpreters of nature herself. Show us the line of partition
between the world of chimeras and that of realities; and teach us,
after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of
evidence and truth!
Then the delegates, having resumed their enquiries into the
physical and constituent attributes of man, and examined the
motives and affections which govern him in his individual and
social state, unfolded in these words the laws on which nature
herself has founded his happiness.