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much we do on an uncertainty, as sea voyages, battles! I say then if this be the case we ought to do nothing at all, for nothing is certain, and that there is more certainty in Religion than that we shall see another day, for it is not certain that we shall see to-morrow, but it is certainly possible that we shall not see it. We cannot say so much about Religion. It is not certain that it is, but who will dare to say that it is certainly possible that it is not? But when we work for to-morrow, therefore for the uncertain, we act reasonably.
For we should work for the uncertain by the doctrine of chances already laid down.
We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is from this last that we know first principles; and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to combat them. The sceptics who desire truth alone labour in vain. We know that we do not dream, although it is impossible to prove it by reason, and this inability shows only the weakness of our reason, and not, as they declare, the general uncertainty of our knowledge. For our knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as distinct as any principle derived from reason. And reason must lean necessarily on this instinctive knowledge of the heart, and must found on it every process. We know instinctively that there are three dimensions in space, and that numbers are infinite, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other. We feel principles, we infer propositions, both with certainty, though by different ways. It is as useless and absurd for reason to demand from the heart proofs of first principles before it will admit them, as it would be for the heart to ask from reason a feeling of all the propositions demonstrated before accepting them.
This inability should serve then only to humiliate reason, which would fain judge of all things, but not to shake our certainty, as if only reason were able to instruct us. Would to God, on the contrary, that we never needed reason, and that we knew every thing by instinct and feeling! But nature has denied us this advantage, and has on the contrary
given us but little knowledge of this kind, all the rest can be acquired by reason only.
Therefore those to whom God has given Religion by an instinctive feeling, are very blessed, and justly convinced. But to those who have it not we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for the time when God shall impress it on their hearts, without which faith is human only, and useless for salvation.
Those to whom God has given Religion by an instinctive feeling are very blessed, and quite convinced. But as for those who have it not, we can give it them only by reasoning, waiting for the time when God himself shall impress it on their heart, without which faith is useless for salvation.
Is then the soul too noble a subject for the feeble light of man? Let us then abase the soul to matter, and see if she knows whereof is made the very body which she animates, and those others which she contemplates and moves at her will. On this subject what have those great dogmatists known who are ignorant of nothing?
This would no doubt suffice if reason were reasonable. She is reasonable enough to admit that she has never found anything stable, but she does not yet despair of reaching it; on the contrary, she is as ardent as ever in the search, and is sure that she has in herself all the necessary powers for this conquest.
We must therefore make an end, and after having examined these powers in their effects, recognise what they are in themselves, and see if reason has power and grasp capable of seizing the truth.
The Preacher shows that man without God is wholly ignorant, and subject to inevitable misery. For to will and to be powerless is to be miserable. Now he wills to be happy, and to be assured of some truth, yet he can neither know, nor not desire to know. He cannot even doubt.
This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all
sides, and see nothing but obscurity, nature offers me nothing but matter for doubt and disquiet. Did I see nothing there which marked a Divinity I should decide not to believe in him. Did I see every where the marks of a Creator, I should rest peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny, and too little to affirm, my state is pitiful, and I have a hundred times wished that if God upheld nature, he would mark the fact unequivocally, but that if the signs which she gives of a God are fallacious, she would wholly suppress them, that she would either say all or say nothing, that I might see what part I should take. While in my present state, ignorant of what I am, and of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty, my heart is wholly bent to know where is the true good in order to follow it, nothing would seem to me too costly for eternity.
HE principal arguments of the sceptics—to omit those of less importance-are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, save so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural perception is no convincing evidence of their truth, since, having no certainty apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, by an evil demon, or by chance, it may be doubted whether these principles within us are true or false or uncertain according to our origin.
And more than this: That no one has any certainty, apart from faith, whether he wake or sleep, seeing that in sleep we firmly believe we are awake, we believe that we see space, figure, and motion, we are aware of the lapse and measure of time; in a word we act as though we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have by our own avowal, no idea of truth, whatever we may suppose. Since then all our sentiments are illusions, who can tell but that the other half of life wherein we fancy ourselves awake be not another sleep somewhat different from the former, from which we wake when we fancy ourselves asleep?
And who doubts that if we dreamt in company, and if by chance men's dreams agreed, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that the conditions were reversed? In a word, as we often dream that we dream, and heap vision upon vision, it may well be that this life itself is but a dream, on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death; having
in our lifetime as few principles of what is good and true, as during natural sleep, the different thoughts which agitate us being perhaps only illusions like those of the flight of time and the vain fantasies of our dreams.
These are the principal arguments on one side and the other, setting aside those of less importance, such as the talk of the sceptics against the impressions of custom, education, manners, climate, and the like; and these though they influence the majority of ordinary men, who dogmatise only on vague foundations, are upset by the least breath of the sceptics. We have only to see their books if we are not convinced on this point, and we shall soon become assured of it, perhaps only too much.
I pause at the only strong point of the dogmatists, namely, that speaking sincerely and in good faith we cannot doubt of natural principles.
Against this the sceptics set in one word the uncertainty of our origin, which includes that of our nature. Which the dogmatists have been trying to answer ever since the world began.
So then war is opened among men, in which each must take a side, ranging himself either for dogmatism or for scepticism, since neutrality, which is the part of the wise, is the oldest dogma of the sceptical sect. Whoever thinks to remain neutral is before all things a sceptic. This neutrality is the essence of the sect; who is not against them is pre-eminently for them. They are not for themselves, they are neutral, indifferent, in suspense as to all things, themselves included.
What then shall man do in such a state? Shall he doubt of all, doubt whether he wake, whether you pinch him, or burn him, doubt whether he doubts, doubt whether he is? We cannot go so far as that, and I therefore state as a fact that there never has been a perfect finished sceptic; nature upholds the weakness of reason, and prevents its wandering to such a point.
Shall he say on the contrary that he is in sure possession of truth, when if we press him never so little, he can produce no title, and is obliged to quit his hold?
What a chimæra then is man! how strange and mon