Superphysics Superphysics
Part 120

Bayle's 19 philosophic maxims

by Leibniz
15 minutes  • 3125 words
  1. M. Bayle places the Greek philosopher Melissus, champion of the oneness of the first principle (and perhaps even of the oneness of substance) in conflict with Zoroaster, as with the first originator of duality. Zoroaster admits that the hypothesis of Melissus is more consistent with order and a priori reasons, but he denies its conformity with experience and a posteriori reasons. ‘I surpass you’, he said, ‘in the explanation of phenomena, which is the principal mark of a good system.’ But, in my opinion, it is not a very good explanation of a phenomenon to assign to it an ad hoc principle: to evil, a principium maleficum, to cold, a primum frigidum; there is nothing so easy and nothing so dull. It is well-nigh as if someone were to say that the [219]Peripatetics surpass the new mathematicians in the explanation of the phenomena of the stars, by giving them ad hoc intelligences to guide them. According to that, it is quite easy to conceive why the planets make their way with such precision; whereas there is need of much geometry and reflexion to understand how from the gravity of the planets, which bears them towards the sun, combined with some whirlwind which carries them along, or with their own motive force, can spring the elliptic movement of Kepler, which satisfies appearances so well. A man incapable of relishing deep speculations will at first applaud the Peripatetics and will treat our mathematicians as dreamers. Some old Galenist will do the same with regard to the faculties of the Schoolmen: he will admit a chylific, a chymific and a sanguific, and he will assign one of these ad hoc to each operation; he will think he has worked wonders, and will laugh at what he will call the chimeras of the moderns, who claim to explain through mechanical structure what passes in the body of an animal.

  2. The explanation of the cause of evil by a particular principle, per principium maleficum, is of the same nature. Evil needs no such explanation, any more than do cold and darkness: there is neither primum frigidum nor principle of darkness. Evil itself comes only from privation; the positive enters therein only by concomitance, as the active enters by concomitance into cold. We see that water in freezing is capable of breaking a gun-barrel wherein it is confined; and yet cold is a certain privation of force, it only comes from the diminution of a movement which separates the particles of fluids. When this separating motion becomes weakened in the water by the cold, the particles of compressed air concealed in the water collect; and, becoming larger, they become more capable of acting outwards through their buoyancy. The resistance which the surfaces of the proportions of air meet in the water, and which opposes the force exerted by these portions towards dilation, is far less, and consequently the effect of the air greater, in large air-bubbles than in small, even though these small bubbles combined should form as great a mass as the large. For the resistances, that is, the surfaces, increase by the square, and the forces, that is, the contents or the volumes of the spheres of compressed air, increase by the cube, of their diameters. Thus it is by accident that privation involves action and force. I have already shown how privation is enough to cause error and malice, and [220]how God is prompted to permit them, despite that there be no malignity in him. Evil comes from privation; the positive and action spring from it by accident, as force springs from cold.

  3. The statement that M. Bayle attributes to the Paulicians, p. 2323, is not conclusive, to wit, that free will must come from two principles, to the end that it may have power to turn towards good and towards evil: for, being simple in itself, it should rather have come from a neutral principle if this argument held good. But free will tends towards good, and if it meets with evil it is by accident, for the reason that this evil is concealed beneath the good, and masked, as it were. These words which Ovid ascribes to Medea,

Video meliora proboque,

Deteriora sequor,

imply that the morally good is mastered by the agreeably good, which makes more impression on souls when they are disturbed by the passions.

  1. Furthermore, M. Bayle himself supplies Melissus with a good answer; but a little later he disputes it. Here are his words, p. 2025: ‘If Melissus consults the notions of order, he will answer that man was not wicked when God made him; he will say that man received from God a happy state, but that not having followed the light of conscience, which in accordance with the intention of its author should have guided him along the path of virtue, he has become wicked, and has deserved that God the supremely good should make him feel the effects of his anger. It is therefore not God who is the cause of moral evil: but he is the cause of physical evil, that is, of the punishment of moral evil. And this punishment, far from being incompatible with the supremely good principle, of necessity emanates from that one of its attributes, I mean its justice, which is not less essential to it than its goodness. This answer, the most reasonable that Melissus can give, is fundamentally good and sound, but it may be disputed by something more specious and more dazzling. For indeed Zoroaster objects that the infinitely good principle ought to have created man not only without actual evil, but also without the inclination towards evil; that God, having foreseen sin with all its consequences, ought to have prevented it; that he ought to have impelled man to moral good, and not to have allowed him any force for tending towards crime.’ That is quite easy to say, but it is not [221]practicable if one follows the principles of order: it could not have been accomplished without perpetual miracles. Ignorance, error and malice follow one another naturally in animals made as we are: should this species, then, have been missing in the universe? I have no doubt but that it is too important there, despite all its weaknesses, for God to have consented to its abolition.

  2. M. Bayle, in the article entitled ‘Paulicians’ inserted by him in his Dictionary, follows up the pronouncements he made in the article on the Manichaeans. According to him (p. 2330, lit. H) the orthodox seem to admit two first principles, in making the devil the originator of sin. M. Becker, a former minister of Amsterdam, author of the book entitled The World Bewitched, has made use of this idea in order to demonstrate that one should not assign such power and authority to the Devil as would allow of his comparison with God. Therein he is right: but he pushes the conclusions too far. And the author of the book entitled Αποκαταστασις Παντων believes that if the Devil had never been vanquished and despoiled, if he had always kept his prey, if the title of invincible had belonged to him, that would have done injury to the glory of God. But it is a poor advantage to keep those whom one has led astray in order to share their punishment for ever. And as for the cause of evil, it is true that the Devil is the author of sin. But the origin of sin comes from farther away, its source is in the original imperfection of creatures: that renders them capable of sinning, and there are circumstances in the sequence of things which cause this power to evince itself in action.

  3. The devils were angels like the rest before their fall, and it is thought that their leader was one of the chief among angels; but Scripture is not explicit enough on that point. The passage of the Apocalypse that speaks of the struggle with the Dragon, as of a vision, leaves much in doubt, and does not sufficiently develop a subject which by the other sacred writers is hardly mentioned. It is not in place here to enter into this discussion, and one must still admit that the common opinion agrees best with the sacred text. M. Bayle examines some replies of St. Basil, of Lactantius and others on the origin of evil. As, however, they are concerned with physical evil, I postpone discussion thereof, and I will proceed with the examination of the difficulties over the moral cause of moral evil, which arise in several passages of the works of our gifted author.

  4. He disputes the permission of this evil, he would wish one to admit that God wills it. He quotes these words of Calvin (on Genesis, ch. 3): ‘The ears of some are offended when one says that God willed it. But I ask you, what else is the permission of him who is entitled to forbid, or rather who has the thing in his own hands, but an act of will?’ M. Bayle explains these words of Calvin, and those which precede them, as if he admitted that God willed the fall of Adam, not in so far as it was a crime, but under some other conception that is unknown to us. He quotes casuists who are somewhat lax, who say that a son can desire the death of his father, not in so far as it is an evil for himself but in so far as it is a good for his heirs (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, ch. 147, p. 850). It seems to me that Calvin only says that God willed man’s fall for some reason unknown to us. In the main, when it is a question of a decisive will, that is, of a decree, these distinctions are useless: one wills the action with all its qualities, if it is true that one wills it. But when it is a crime, God can only will the permission of it: the crime is neither an end nor a means, it is only a conditio sine qua non; thus it is not the object of a direct will, as I have already demonstrated above. God cannot prevent it without acting against what he owes to himself, without doing something that would be worse than the crime of man, without violating the rule of the best; and that would be to destroy divinity, as I have already observed. God is therefore bound by a moral necessity, which is in himself, to permit moral evil in creatures. There is precisely the case wherein the will of a wise mind is only permissive. I have already said this: he is bound to permit the crime of others when he cannot prevent it without himself failing in that which he owes to himself.

  5. ‘But among all these infinite combinations’, says M. Bayle (p. 853), ‘it pleased God to choose one wherein Adam was to sin, and by his decree he made it, in preference to all the others, the plan that should come to pass.’ Very good; that is speaking my language; so long as one applies it to the combinations which compose the whole universe. ‘You will therefore never make us understand’, he adds, ‘how God did not will that Eve and Adam should sin, since he rejected all the combinations wherein they would not have sinned.’ But the thing is in general very easy to understand, from all that I have just said. This combination that makes the whole universe is the best; God therefore could not [223]refrain from choosing it without incurring a lapse, and rather than incur such, a thing altogether inappropriate to him, he permits the lapse or the sin of man which is involved in this combination.

  6. M. Jacquelot, with other able men, does not differ in opinion from me, when for example he says, p. 186 of his treatise on the Conformity of Faith with Reason: ‘Those who are puzzled by these difficulties seem to be too limited in their outlook, and to wish to reduce all God’s designs to their own interests. When God formed the universe, his whole prospect was himself and his own glory, so that if we had knowledge of all creatures, of their diverse combinations and of their different relations, we should understand without difficulty that the universe corresponds perfectly to the infinite wisdom of the Almighty.’ He says elsewhere (p. 232): ‘Supposing the impossible, that God could not prevent the wrong use of free will without destroying it, it will be agreed that since his wisdom and his glory determined him to form free creatures this powerful reason must have prevailed over the grievous consequences which their freedom might have.’ I have endeavoured to develop this still further through the reason of the best and the moral necessity which led God to make this choice, despite the sin of some creatures which is involved therein. I think that I have cut down to the root of the difficulty; nevertheless I am well pleased, for the sake of throwing more light on the matter, to apply my principle of solution to the peculiar difficulties of M. Bayle.

  7. Here is one, set forth in these terms (ch. 148, p. 856): ‘Would it in a prince be a mark of his kindness: 1. To give to a hundred messengers as much money as is needed for a journey of two hundred leagues? 2. To promise a recompense to all those who should finish the journey without having borrowed anything, and to threaten with imprisonment all those whom their money should not have sufficed? 3. To make choice of a hundred persons, of whom he would know for certain that there were but two who should earn the recompense, the ninety-eight others being destined to find on the way either a mistress or a gamester or some other thing which would make them incur expenses, and which he would himself have been at pains to dispose in certain places along their path? 4. To imprison actually ninety-eight of these messengers on the moment of their return? Is it not abundantly evident that he would have no kindness for them, and that on the contrary he would intend for them, not the proposed recompense, [224]but prison? They would deserve it, certainly; but he who had wished them to deserve it and placed them in the sure way towards deserving it, should he be worthy of being called kind, on the pretext that he had recompensed the two others?’ It would doubtless not be on that account that he earned the title of ‘kind’. Yet other circumstances may contribute, which would avail to render him worthy of praise for having employed this artifice in order to know those people, and to make trial of them; just as Gideon made use of some extraordinary means of choosing the most valiant and the least squeamish among his soldiers. And even if the prince were to know already the disposition of all these messengers, may he not put them to this test in order to make them known also to the others? Even though these reasons be not applicable to God, they make it clear, nevertheless, that an action like that of this prince may appear preposterous when it is detached from the circumstances indicating its cause. All the more must one deem that God has acted well, and that we should see this if we fully knew of all that he has done.

  8. M. Descartes, in a letter to the Princess Elizabeth (vol. 1, letter 10) has made use of another comparison to reconcile human freedom with the omnipotence of God. ‘He imagines a monarch who has forbidden duels, and who, knowing for certain that two noblemen, if they meet, will fight, takes sure steps to bring about their meeting. They meet indeed, they fight: their disobedience of the law is an effect of their free will, they are punishable. What a king can do in such a case (he adds) concerning some free actions of his subjects, God, who has infinite foreknowledge and power, certainly does concerning all those of men. Before he sent us into this world he knew exactly what all the tendencies of our will would be: he has endued us therewith, he also has disposed all other things that are outside us, to cause such and such objects to present themselves to our senses at such and such a time. He knew that as a result of this our free will would determine us toward some particular thing, and he has willed it thus; but he has not for that willed to constrain our free will thereto. In this king one may distinguish two different degrees of will, the one whereby he willed that these noblemen should fight, since he brought about their meeting, and the other whereby he did not will it, since he forbade duels. Even so theologians distinguish in God an absolute and independent will, whereby he wills that all things be done [225]just as they are done, and another which is relative, and which concerns the merit or demerit of men, whereby he wills that his Laws be obeyed’ (Descartes, letter 10 of vol. 1, pp. 51, 52. Compare with that the quotation made by M. Arnauld, vol. 2, p. 288 et seqq. of his Reflexions on the System of Malebranche, from Thomas Aquinas, on the antecedent and consequent will of God).

  9. Here is M. Bayle’s reply to that (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, ch. 154, p. 943): ‘This great philosopher is much mistaken, it seems to me. There would not be in this monarch any degree of will, either small or great, that these two noblemen should obey the law, and not fight. He would will entirely and solely that they should fight. That would not exculpate them, they would only follow their passion, they would be unaware that they conformed to the will of their sovereign: but he would be in truth the moral cause of their encounter, and he would not more entirely wish it supposing he were to inspire them with the desire or to give them the order for it. Imagine to yourself two princes each of whom wishes his eldest son to poison himself. One employs constraint, the other contents himself with secretly causing a grief that he knows will be sufficient to induce his son to poison himself. Will you be doubtful whether the will of the latter is less complete than the will of the former? M. Descartes is therefore assuming an unreal fact and does not at all solve the difficulty.’

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