Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

particular qualities inhering in an unknown something. Matter, therefore, and spirit are at bottom equally unknown, and we cannot determine what qualities inhere in the one or in the other. They likewise teach us that nothing can be decided a priori concerning any cause or effect, and that, experience being the only source of our judgments of this nature, we cannot know from any other principle whether matter, by its structure or arrangement, may not be the cause of thought. Abstract reasonings cannot decide any question of fact or existence. But admitting a spiritual substance to be dispersed throughout the universe, like the ethereal fire of the Stoics, and to be the only inherent subject of thought, we have reason to conclude from analogy that nature uses it after the manner she does the other substance, matter. She employs it as a kind of paste or clay; modifies it into a variety of forms or existences; dissolves after a time each modification, and from its substance erects a new form. As the same material substance may successively compose the bodies of all animals, the same spiritual substance may compose their minds ; their consciousness, or that system of thought which they formed during life, may be continually dissolved by death, and nothing interests them in the new modification. The most positive assertors of the mortality of the soul never denied the immortality of its substance; and that an immaterial substance, as well as a material, may lose its memory or consciousness, appears in part from experience, if the soul be immaterial. Reasoning from the common course of nature, and without supposing any new interposition of the Supreme Cause, which ought always to be excluded from philosophy, what is

.

incorruptible must also be ingenerable. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed before our birth, and if the former existence noways concerned us, neither will the latter. Animals undoubtedly feel, think, love, hate, will, and even reason, though in a more imperfect manner than men : are their souls also immaterial and immortal ?

If

any purpose of nature be clear, we may affirm that the whole scope and intention of man's creation, so far as we can judge by natural reason, is limited to the present life.

If the reason of man gives him great superiority above other animals, his necessities are proportionably multiplied upon him; his whole time, his whole capacity, activity, courage, and passion, find sufficient employment in fencing against the miseries of his present condition, and frequently, nay, almost always, are too slender for the business assigned them. A pair of shoes, perhaps, was never yet wrought to the highest degree of perfection which that commodity is capable of attaining ; yet it is necessary, at least very useful, that there should be some politicians and moralists, even some geometers, poets, and philosophers, among mankind. The

powers of men are no more superior to their wants, considered merely in this life, than those of foxes and hares are, compared to their wants and to their period of existence. The inference from parity of reason is therefore obvious.1

From an essay “On the Immortality of the Soul,” published after his death.

JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU

(1712–1778) HAT! always to see men false, wicked, male

volent! always masks, always traitors, and not one single face of a man ! Ah! this life to me is insupportable; and as its end can be the only close to my troubles, I desire to leave it; and this will be the beginning of that felicity for which I feel myself born, and which I have vainly sought on earth. How I long for that happy time!1

Consumed by an incurable malady, which draws me by slow degrees to the grave, I often turn an eye of interest towards the career I quit, and without moaning over its close, I would gladly begin it anew. Meanwhile, what have I experienced during that space that deserves my attachment ? Dependence, errors, vain desires, poverty, infirmities of every kind, short pleasures, prolonged griefs, real evils, and shadowy blessings. Ah! without doubt to live is a beautiful thing, since a life so unfortunate leaves me so many regrets.2

You weep then at my happiness-eternal happiness, which men no more can disturb ? I die in peace; I never wished harm to any one, and I can rely on the

mercy of God. 3

1 Letter to St. Germain (February 1770). 2 Written circa 1776-77.

3 To his wife on his death - bed (Gaberel's Rousseau et les Genevois).

UNALTE

HORACE WALPOLE (1717–1797)

(EARL OF ORFORD) NALTERABLE in my principles, careless about

most things below essentials, indulging myself in trifles by system, annihilating myself by choice, but dreading folly at an unseemly age, I contrive to pass my time agreeably enough, yet see its termination approach without anxiety.1

Could I finish my course in peace—but one must take the chequered scenes of life as they come.

What signifies whether the elements are serene or turbulent when a private old man slips away? What has he and the world's concerns to do with one another? He may sigh for his country, and babble about it, but he might as well sit quiet and read or tell old stories; the past is as important to him as the future.2

NOR

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS

(1723-1792) ORTHCOTE said it was one of Sir Joshua's maxims

that the art of life consisted in not being overset by trifles. We should look at the bottom of the account, not at each individual item in it, and see how the balance stands at the end of the year. We should be satisfied if the path of life is clear before us, and not fret at the straws or pebbles that lie in our way.3 1 From letter written to the Hon. H. S. Conway, June 1776. 2 From letter written to Sir Horace Mann, November 1781.

3 From Hazlitt's Conversations with Northcote.

IMMANUEL KANT (1724–1804)

А

FTER we have satisfied ourselves of the vanity

of all the ambitious attempts of reason to fly beyond the bounds of experience, enough remains of practical value to content us. It is true that no one may boast that he knows that God and a future life exist; for if he possesses such knowledge, he is just the man for whom I have long been seeking. All knowledge (touching an object of mere reason) can be communicated, and therefore I might hope to see my own knowledge increased to this prodigious extent by his instruction. No, our conviction in these matters is not logical, but moral certainty ; and, inasmuch as it rests upon subjective grounds (of moral disposition), I must not even say it is morally certain that there is a God, and so on, but I am morally certain, and so on. That is to say, the belief in a God and in another world is so interwoven with my moral nature that the former can no more vanish than the latter can ever be torn from me. 1

GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM

LESSING . (1729–1781) I

HAVE nothing against the Christian religion; on

the contrary, I am its friend, and shall remain well-disposed and attached to it all my life. It answers the purpose of a positive religion as well as any other. .

1 From Critique of Pure Reason (1781).

« AnteriorContinuar »