Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

man

геу

These proud notions lead Epictetus to other errors, such as, that the soul is a portion of the Divine essence; that pain and death are not evils; that we may kill ourselves when we are oppressed; that we may believe that God calls us, &c.

2. Montaigne,* born in a Christian land, made a profession of the Roman Catholic religion; and so far there was nothing peculiar about him. But as he wished to seek a system of morals, founded on reason, independently of the illumination of faith, he laid down his principles according to this supposition, and considered as entirely destitute of a elation. He places all things, therefore, in a state of doubt so general and universal, that man doubts; and this uncertainty returns restlessly upon itself in a cir. cle perpetually, opposing equally those who affirm that every thing is uncertain, and those who affirm that nothing is; for he does not wish to give certainty in any thing. In this doubt which doubts itself, and in this ignorance which is ignorant of itself, consists the essence of his opinions. He cannot express it in posiitive terms; for, if he says, he doubts, he betrays himseif by making it certain that he doubts; which being in form contrary to his intention, he is reduced to the pecessity of explaining hin.self by a question; so that not wishing to say, I do not know; he asks, What do I know? And on this idea he has framed his device, in which he has written this motto, “ Que sais je," under the scales of a balance, each containing a contradictory proposition, and consequently, hanging

* A French writer, who was born, 1533. He was taught Latin as his vernacular tongue. His absurd education furnished l'ope with some hints for his Martin Scriblerus. His Essays, which were first published about 1595, are the oldest examples of this kind of writing. He was remarkable for his boldness and originality. Cowley, Sir William Temple, and others, were his imitators. Hence a new and interesting department of English literature.

A. E.

in equilibrium. In fact, he is a pure Pyrrhonist. All his discourses, all his essays, proceed on this principle; and it is the only thing which he professes thoroughly to establish. He insensibly destroys all that passes for certain among men; not to establish the contrary with certainty; for to certainty he is chiefly hostile; but merely to make it appear that the evidence being equal on both sides, it is impossible to know where our confidence should be reposed.

In this spirit he derides every thing like assurance. He combats, for instance, those who have thought to establish a grand remedy against legal processes by the multitude and the professed justice of the laws, as if it were possible to annihilate the region of doubt in wbich litigation originates; as if we could throw a dam across the torrent of uncertainty, and restrain conjecture. He says, on this matter, that he would as soon commit his cause to the first passer by, as to the judges armed with law and precedent. He does not aim to change the order of the state ; he does not pretend that his advice is better; he considers none good. He aims only to shew the vanity of the best received opinions, shewing that the annulling of all laws would sooner diminish the number of differences, than the multitude of laws which serve only to augment them; because the difficulties increase the more they are considered; the obscurities are multiplied by multiplied comments; and surest way of understanding the sense of the passage is, not to examine it, but to determine on it at the first glance ; for that the instant you look into it, all its clearness disappears. On this plan he judges at bap-hazard all human actions and historical facts, sometimes after one manner, sometimes after another, following freely the first impression, without controlling his thoughts by the rules of reason, which according to him, are all false guides. Delighted with shewing, in his own example, the contrarieties of the same mind in this illimitable field, it is the same to him whether he grows warm or not in a dispute, having always the means by one example or another, of shewing the weakness of any opinion whatever; being so far elevated by the system of universal doubt, he strengthens himself equally by his triumph or his defeat.

It is from this position, fluctuating and variable as it is, that he combats with invincible firmness the heretics of his time, on the ground that they assumed, to themselves the exclusive knowledge of the true sense of Scripture ; and from thence also he thunders against the horrible impiety of those who dare to say that there is no God. He attacks them, especially in the apoloogy of Raimond de Sebonde, and finding them entirely stripped of the support of a revelation, and abandoned to their natural light, independent of faith, he demands of them on what authority they pretend to judge of this Sovereign Being, whose specific definition is Infinity —they who do not thoroughly know the smallest thing in nature. He asks them on what principles they rest, and presses them to disclose them. He examines all that they can produce; and he goes so deeply by that talent, in which he peculiarly excels, that he shews the vanity of those principles which pass for the clear*est and the most established. He inquires if the soul knows any thing; ifit knows itself ; if it is a substance or an accident, body or spirit; what each of these things is, and if there are not some things which belong not to either of these orders ; if the soul knows its own body; if it knows what matter is; how it can reason if it is matter, and how it can be united to a material frame, and feel its passions, if it is purely immaterial ? When did its existence commence; with or before the body? Will it terminate with it or not? Does it never deceive itself? Does it know when it is in error ? seeing that the very essence of error is not being aware of it. He asks also, If brutes reason, think, or speak ? Who can say what is time or space; extension, motion, or unity; all being things by which we are surrounded, but utterly inexplicable? What are health, sickness, death, life, good or evil, justice or transgression : things of which we speak continually? If we have within us the principles of truth, and if those that we believe to

be such, and that we call axioms, or notions common to all inen, are really conformed to essential truth? Since we cannot know but by the light of faith, that an infinitely Good Being has really given us these principles, and formed us so as to comprehend truth: who could know without the light of faith, whether we may not be formed by accident; and that consequently, all our notions are uncertain; or, whether we may not be created by a false and wicked being, who has given us these false principles expressly to lead us astray? And thus, he shews that God and the truth are inseparable, and that if one is or is not, if one is certain or uncertain, the other is necessarily the same. Who knows that common sense which we generally regard as the judge of truth, has been appointed to this office by Him who made it? Who knows what is truth ? and how can we be sure of possessing it without knowing it ? Who knows, in fact, what being is, since it is impossible so to define it, but that there must be something more general; and since it requires, even in the explanation of it, to use the very idea of Being, saying it is such a thing ? Since we know not what the soul, the body, time, space, motion, truth, and good are, and even what being is, nor how to explain the idea that we have formed of them; how can we know that the idea is the same in all men? We have no other mark than the uniformity of results, which is not always a sign of uniformity of principles; for they may be very different, and yet lead to the same conclusions; every one knowing that truth may be concluded from falsehood.

Then Montaigne examines very deeply the sciences. Geometry, the uncertainty of which he points out in its axioms, and its terms which it does not define, as extension, motion, &•c. ; physics and medicine, which he depresses in a variety of ways: history, politics,morals, jurisprudence, &c. So that, without revelation, we might believe according to him, that life is a dream, from which we do not wake iill death, and during which, we have as few principles of truth as in natural sleep. In this way he attacks so fiercely and so

cru

elly reason when unaided by faith, that causing it to doubt whether it is rational or not, and whether the brutes are so or not, or more or less so than men, he brings it down from the excellence that is attributed to it, and places it as a matter of favor on a level with the brutes, without permitting it to rise above that level, till it shall be instructed by its Creator, as to that real rank which belongs to it, and of which it is ignorant? threatening, if it rebels, to place it beneath every thing else, which appears, at least, as easy as the reverse ; and not allowing it power to act, except to recognize, with real humility, its feebleness, instead of elevating itself by a false and foolish vanity. We cannot behold but with joy, that in this writer, haughty reason has been so completely battered by its own weapons,—to see this deadly struggle between man and man, which, from the association with God, to which he had raised himself by the maxims of feeble reason, hurls him "headlong to the level of the brutes : and we would cordially love the minister of this mighty vengeance, if, as an humble, believing disciple of the church, he had followed the rules of its morality, and taught man whom he had so beneficially humbled, no longer to irritate, by fresh crimes, Him who alone could redeem him from those already committed, and which evils God had already convinced him, that man had not the power to discover. But, on the contrary, he acts like a heathen. Look at his moral system.

From this principle, that independent of faith, all is uncertainty; and from the consideration, how large a portion of time has been spent in seeing the true good, without any progress towards tranquillity; he concludes, that we should leave this care to others; resting, in the meantime, in a state of repose, and touching lightly on these subjects, lest we sink by pressure; that we should admit truth and the true good upon the first glance, without examining too closely, because they are so far from solid, that however little we grasp the hand, they escape between our fingers, and leave it empty. He follows, then, the report of the

« PoprzedniaDalej »