Bayle's 19 philosophic maxims
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- Bayle’s philosophic maxims opposes to the 7 theological propositions.
Maxim 1: The infinitely perfect Being has in himself a glory and bliss that can never diminish or increase, his goodness alone has determined him to create this universe
Neither the ambition to be praised, nor any interested motive of preserving or augmenting his bliss and his glory, has had any part therein.’ This maxim is very good: praises of God do him no service, but they are of service to the men who praise him, and he desired their good. Nevertheless, when one says that goodness alone determined God to create this universe, it is well to add that his goodness prompted him antecedently to create and to produce all possible good; but that his wisdom made the choice and caused him to select the best consequently; and finally that his power gave him the means to carry out actually the great design which he had formed.
- II. ‘The goodness of the infinitely perfect Being is infinite, and would not be infinite if one could conceive of a goodness greater than this. This characteristic of infinity is proper also to all his other perfections, to love of virtue, hatred of vice, etc., they must be the greatest one can imagine. (See M. Jurieu in the first three sections of the Judgement on Methods, where he argues constantly upon this principle, as upon a primary notion. See also in Wittich, De Providentia Dei, n. 12, these words of St. Augustine, lib. I, De Doctrina Christiana, c. 7: “Cum cogitatur Deus, ita cogitatur, ut aliquid, quo nihil melius sit atque sublimius. Et paulo post: Nec quisquam inveniri potest, qui hoc Deum credat esse, quo melius aliquid est.”)’
This maxim is altogether to my liking, and I draw from it this conclusion, that God does the very best possible: otherwise the exercise of his goodness would be restricted, and that would be restricting his goodness itself, if it did not prompt him to the best, if he were lacking in good will. Or again it would be restricting his wisdom and his power, if he lacked the knowledge necessary for discerning the best and for finding the means to obtain it, or if he lacked the strength necessary for employing these means. There is, however, ambiguity in the assertion that love of virtue and hatred of vice are infinite in God: if that were absolutely and unreservedly true, in practice there would be no vice in the world. But although each one of God’s perfections is infinite in itself, it is exercised only in proportion to the object and as the nature of things prompts it. Thus love of the best in the whole carries the day over all other individual inclinations or hatreds; it is the only impulse whose very exercise is absolutely infinite, nothing having power to prevent God from declaring himself for the best; and some vice being combined with the best possible plan, God permits it.
- III. ‘An infinite goodness having guided the Creator in the production of the world, all the characteristics of knowledge, skill, power and greatness that are displayed in his work are destined for the happiness of intelligent creatures. He wished to show forth his perfections only to the end that creatures of this kind should find their felicity in the knowledge, the admiration and the love of the Supreme Being.’
This maxim appears to me not sufficiently exact. I grant that the happiness of intelligent creatures is the principal part of God’s design, for they are most like him; but nevertheless I do not see how one can prove that to be his sole aim. It is true that the realm of nature must serve the realm of grace: but, since all is connected in God’s great design, we must believe that the realm of grace is also in some way adapted to that of nature, so that nature preserves the utmost order and beauty, to render the combination of the two the most perfect that can be. And there is no reason to suppose that God, for the sake of some lessening of moral evil, would reverse the whole order of nature. Each perfection or imperfection in the creature has its value, but there is none that has an infinite value. Thus the moral or physical good and evil of rational creatures does not infinitely exceed the good and evil which is simply metaphysical, namely that which lies in the perfection of the other creatures; and yet one would be bound to say this if the present maxim were strictly true. When God justified to the Prophet Jonah the pardon that he had granted to the inhabitants of Nineveh, he even touched upon the interest of the beasts who would have been involved in the ruin of this great city. No substance is absolutely contemptible or absolutely precious before God. And the abuse or the exaggerated extension of the present maxim appears to be in part the source of the difficulties that M. Bayle puts forward. It is certain that God sets greater store by a man than a lion; nevertheless it can hardly be said with certainty that God prefers a single man in all respects to the whole of lion-kind. Even should that be so, it would by no means follow that the interest of a certain number of men would prevail over the consideration of a general disorder diffused through an infinite number of creatures. This opinion would be a remnant of the old and somewhat discredited maxim, that all is made solely for man.
- IV. ‘The benefits he imparts to the creatures that are capable of felicity tend only to their happiness. He therefore does not permit that these should serve to make them unhappy, and, if the wrong use that they made of them were capable of destroying them, he would give them sure means of always using them well. Otherwise they would not be true benefits, and his goodness would be smaller than that we can conceive of in another benefactor. (I mean, in a Cause that united with its gifts the sure skill to make good use of them.)’
There already is the abuse or the ill effect of the preceding maxim. It is not strictly true (though it appear plausible) that the benefits God imparts to the creatures who are capable of felicity tend solely to their happiness. All is connected in Nature; and if a skilled artisan, an engineer, an architect, a wise politician often makes one and the same thing serve several ends, if he makes a double hit with a single throw, when that can be done conveniently, one may say that God, whose wisdom and power are perfect, does so always. That is husbanding the ground, the time, the place, the material, which make up as it were his outlay. Thus God has more than one purpose in his projects. The felicity of all rational creatures is one of the aims he has in view; but it is not his whole aim, nor even his final aim. Therefore it happens that the unhappiness of some of these creatures may come about by concomitance, and as a result of other greater goods: this I have already explained, and M. Bayle has to some extent acknowledged it. The goods as such, considered in themselves, are the object of the antecedent will of God. God will produce as much reason and knowledge in the universe as his plan can admit. One can conceive of a mean between an antecedent will altogether pure and primitive, and a consequent and final will. The primitive antecedent will has as its object each good and each evil in itself, detached from all combination, and tends to advance the good and prevent the evil. The mediate will relates to combinations, as when one attaches a good to an evil: then the will will have some tendency towards this combination when the good exceeds the evil therein. But the final and decisive will results from consideration of all the goods and all the evils that enter into our deliberation, it results from a total combination. This shows that a mediate will, although it may in a sense pass as consequent in relation to a pure and primitive antecedent will, must be considered antecedent in relation to the final and decretory will. God gives reason to the human race; misfortunes arise thence by concomitance. His pure antecedent will tends towards giving reason, as a great good, and preventing the evils in question. But when it is a question of the evils that accompany this gift which God has made to us of reason, the compound, made up of the combination of reason and of these evils, will be the object of a mediate will of God, which will tend towards producing or preventing this compound, according as the good or the evil prevails therein. But even though it should prove that reason did more harm than good to men (which, however, I do not admit), whereupon the mediate will of God would discard it with all its concomitants, it might still be the case that it was more in accordance with the perfection of the universe to give reason to men, notwithstanding all the evil consequences which it might have with reference to them. Consequently, the final will or the decree of God, resulting from all the considerations he can have, would be to give it to them. And, far from being subject to blame for this, he would be blameworthy if he did not so. Thus the evil, or the mixture of goods and evils wherein the evil prevails, happens only by concomitance, because it is connected with greater goods that are outside this mixture. This mixture, therefore, or this compound, is not to be conceived as a grace or as a gift from God to us; but the good that is found mingled therein will nevertheless be good. Such is God’s gift of reason to those who make ill use thereof. It is always a good in itself; but the combination of this good with the evils that proceed from its abuse is not a good with regard to those who in consequence thereof become unhappy. Yet it comes to be by concomitance, because it serves a greater good in relation to the universe. And it is doubtless that which prompted God to give reason to those who have made it an instrument of their unhappiness. Or, to put it more precisely, in accordance with my system God, having found among the possible beings some rational creatures who misuse their reason, gave existence to those who are included in the best possible plan of the universe. Thus nothing prevents us from admitting that God grants goods which turn into evil by the fault of men, this often happening to men in just punishment of the misuse they had made of God’s grace. Aloysius Novarinus wrote a book De Occultis Dei Beneficiis: one could write one De Occultis Dei Poenis. This saying of Claudian would be in place here with regard to some persons:
Tolluntur in altum, Ut lapsu graviore ruant.
But to say that God should not give a good which he knows an evil will will abuse, when the general plan of things demands that he give it; or again to say that he should give certain means for preventing it, contrary to this same general order: that is to wish (as I have observed already) that God himself become blameworthy in order to prevent man from being so. To object, as people do here, that the goodness of God would be smaller than that of another benefactor who would give a more useful gift, is to overlook the fact that the goodness of a benefactor is not measured by a single benefit. It may well be that a gift from a private person is greater than one from a prince, but the gifts of this private person all taken together will be much inferior to the prince’s gifts all together. Thus one can esteem fittingly the good things done by God only when one considers their whole extent by relating them to the entire universe. Moreover, one may say that the gifts given in the expectation that they will harm are the gifts of an enemy, ‛εχθρων δωρα αδωρα,
Hostibus eveniant talia dona meis.
But that applies to when there is malice or guilt in him who gives them, as there was in that Eutrapelus of whom Horace speaks, who did good to people in order to give them the means of destroying themselves. His design was evil, but God’s design cannot be better than it is. Must God spoil his system, must there be less beauty, perfection and reason in the universe, because there are people who misuse reason? The common sayings are in place here: Abusus non tollit usum; there is scandalum datum et scandalum acceptum.