Bayle's 19 philosophic maximsby Leibniz
- Let us come now to the possibility of things that do not happen, and I will give the very words of M. Bayle, albeit they are somewhat discursive.
He writes this in his Dictionary (article ‘Chrysippus’, let. S, p. 929): ‘The celebrated dispute on things possible and things impossible owed its origin to the doctrine of the Stoics concerning fate. The question was to know whether, among the things which have never been and never will be, there are some possible; or whether all that is not, all that has never been, all that will never be, was impossible.
A famous dialectician of the Megaric Sect, named Diodorus, gave a negative answer to the first of these two questions and an affirmative to the second; but Chrysippus vehemently opposed him. Here are two passages of Cicero (epist. 4, lib. 9, Ad Familiar.): “περι δυνατων me scito κατα Διοδωρον κρινειν. Quapropter si venturus es, scito necesse esse te venire. Sin autem non es, των αδυνατων est te venire. Nunc vide utra te κρισις magis delectet, Χρυσιππεια ne, an haec; quam noster Diodorus [a Stoic who for a long time had lived in Cicero’s house] non concoquebat.” This is quoted from a letter that Cicero wrote to Varro. He sets forth more comprehensively the whole state of the question, in the little book De Fato. I am going to quote a few pieces (Cic., De Fato, p. m. 65): “Vigila, Chrysippe, ne tuam causam, in qua tibi cum Diodoro valente Dialectico magna luctatio est, deseras … omne ergo quod falsum dicitur in futuro, id fieri non potest. At hoc, Chrysippe, minime vis, maximeque tibi de hoc ipso cum Diodoro certamen est. Ille enim id solum fieri posse dicit, quod aut sit verum, aut futurum sit verum; et quicquid futurum sit, id dicit fieri necesse esse; et quicquid non sit futurum, id negat fieri posse. Tu etiam quae non sint futura, posse fieri dicis, ut frangi hanc gemmam, etiamsi id nunquam futurum sit: neque necesse fuisse Cypselum regnare Corinthi, quamquam id millesimo ante anno Apollinis Oraculo editum esset…. Placet Diodoro, id solum fieri posse, quod aut verum sit, aut verum futurum sit: qui locus attingit hanc quaestionem, nihil fieri, quod non necesse fuerit; et quicquid fieri possit, id aut esse jam, aut futurum esse: nec magis commutari ex veris in falsa ea posse quae futura sunt, quam ea quae facta sunt: sed in factis immutabilitatem apparere; in futuris quibusdam, quia non apparent, ne inesse quidem videri: ut in eo qui mortifero morbo urgeatur, verum sit, hic morietur hoc morbo: at hoc idem si vere dicatur in eo, in quo tanta vis morbi non appareat, nihilominus futurum sit. Ita fit ut commutatio ex vero in falsum, ne in futuro quidem ulla fieri possit.”
Cicero makes it clear enough that Chrysippus often found himself in difficulties in this dispute, and that is no matter for astonishment: for the course he had chosen was not bound up with his dogma of fate, and, if he had known how, or had dared, to reason consistently, he would readily have adopted the whole hypothesis of Diodorus. We have seen already that the freedom he assigned to the soul, and his comparison of the cylinder, did not preclude the possibility that in reality all the acts of the human will were unavoidable consequences of fate. Hence it follows that everything which does not happen is impossible, and that there is nothing possible but that which actually comes to pass. Plutarch (De Stoicor. Repugn., pp. 1053, 1054) discomfits him completely, on that point as well as on the dispute with Diodorus, and maintains that his opinion on possibility is altogether contrary to the doctrine of fatum. Observe that the most eminent Stoics had written on this matter without following the same path. Arrian (in Epict., lib. 2, c. 29, p. m. 166) named four of them, who are Chrysippus, Cleanthes, Archidemus and Antipater. He evinces great scorn for this dispute; and M. Menage need not have cited him as a writer who had spoken in commendation of the work of Chrysippus περι δυνατων (“citatur honorifice apud Arrianum”, Menag. in Laert., I, 7, 341) for assuredly these words, “γεγραφε δε και Χρυσιππος θαυμαστως, etc., de his rebus mira scripsit Chrysippus”, etc., are not in that connexion a eulogy. That is shown by the passages immediately before and after it. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (De Collocat. Verbor., c. 17, p. m. 11) mentions two treatises by Chrysippus, wherein, under a title that promised something different, much of the logicians’ territory had been explored. The work was entitled “περι της συνταξεως των του λογου μερων, de partium orationis collocatione”, and treated only of propositions true and false, possible and impossible, contingent and equivocal, etc., matter that our Schoolmen have pounded down and reduced to its essence. Take note that Chrysippus recognized that past things were necessarily true, which Cleanthes had not been willing to admit. (Arrian, ubi supra, p. m. 165.) “Ου παν δε παρεληλυθος αληθες αναγκαιον εστι, καθαπερ ‛οι περι Κλεανθην φερεσθαι δοκουσι. Non omne praeteritum ex necessitate verum est, ut illi qui Cleanthem sequuntur sentiunt.” We have already seen (p. 562, col. 2) that Abélard is alleged to have taught a doctrine which resembles that of Diodorus. I think that the Stoics pledged themselves to give a wider range to possible things than to future things, for the purpose of mitigating the odious and frightful conclusions which were drawn from their dogma of fatality.’
Cicero when writing to Varro the words that have just been quoted (lib. 9, Ep. 4, Ad Familiar.) had not enough comprehension of the effect of Diodorus’s opinion, since he found it preferable. He presents tolerably well in his book De Fato the opinions of those writers, but it is a pity that he has not always added the reasons which they employed. Plutarch in his treatise on the contradictions of the Stoics and M. Bayle are both surprised that Chrysippus was not of the same opinion as Diodorus, since he favours fatality. But Chrysippus and even his master Cleanthes were on that point more reasonable than is supposed.
That will be seen as we proceed. It is open to question whether the past is more necessary than the future. Cleanthes held the opinion that it is. The objection is raised that it is necessary ex hypothesi for the future to happen, as it is necessary ex hypothesi for the past to have happened. But there is this difference, that it is not possible to act on the past state, that would be a contradiction; but it is possible to produce some effect on the future. Yet the hypothetical necessity of both is the same: the one cannot be changed, the other will not be; and once that is past, it will not be possible for it to be changed either.
The famous Pierre Abélard expressed an opinion resembling that of Diodorus in the statement that God can do only that which he does. It was the third of the fourteen propositions taken from his works which were censured at the Council of Sens. It had been taken from the third book of his Introduction to Theology, where he treats especially of the power of God. The reason he gave for his statement was that God can do only that which he wills. Now God cannot will to do anything other than that which he does, because, of necessity, he must will whatever is fitting. Hence it follows that all that which he does not, is not fitting, that he cannot will to do it, and consequently that he cannot do it. Abélard admits himself that this opinion is peculiar to him, that hardly anyone shares in it, that it seems contrary to the doctrine of the saints and to reason and derogatory to the greatness of God. It appears that this author was a little too much inclined to speak and to think differently from others: for in reality this was only a dispute about words: he was changing the use of terms. Power and will are different faculties, whose objects also are different; it is confusing them to say that God can do only that which he wills. On the contrary, among various possibles, he wills only that which he finds the best. For all possibles are regarded as objects of power, but actual and existing things are regarded as the objects of his decretory will. Abélard himself acknowledged it. He raises this objection for himself: a reprobate can be saved; but he can only be saved if God saves him. God can therefore save him, and consequently do something that he does not. Abélard answers that it may indeed be said that this man can be saved in respect of the possibility of human nature, which is capable of salvation: but that it may not be said that God can save him in respect of God himself, because it is impossible that God should do that which he must not do. But Abélard admits that it may very well be said in a sense, speaking absolutely and setting aside the assumption of reprobation, that such an one who is reprobate can be saved, and that thus often that which God does not can be done. He could therefore have spoken like the rest, who mean nothing different when they say that God can save this man, and that he can do that which he does not.
The so-called necessity of Wyclif, which was condemned by the Council of Constance, seems to arise simply from this same misunderstanding. I think that men of talent do wrong to truth and to themselves when, without reason, they bring into use new and displeasing expressions. In our own time the celebrated Mr. Hobbes supported this same opinion, that what does not happen is impossible. He proves it by the statement that all the conditions requisite for a thing that shall not exist (omnia rei non futurae requisita) are never found together, and that the thing cannot exist otherwise. But who does not see that that only proves a hypothetical impossibility? It is true that a thing cannot exist when a requisite condition for it is lacking. But as we claim to be able to say that the thing can exist although it does not exist, we claim in the same way to be able to say that the requisite conditions can exist although they do not exist. Thus Mr. Hobbes’s argument leaves the matter where it is. The opinion which was held concerning Mr. Hobbes, that he taught an absolute necessity of all things, brought upon him much discredit, and would have done him harm even had it been his only error.
Spinoza went further: he appears to have explicitly taught a blind necessity, having denied to the Author of Things understanding and will, and assuming that good and perfection relate to us only, and not to him. It is true that Spinoza’s opinion on this subject is somewhat obscure: for he grants God thought, after having divested him of understanding, cogitationem, non intellectum concedit Deo. There are even passages where he relents on the question of necessity. Nevertheless, as far as one can understand him, he acknowledges no goodness in God, properly speaking, and he teaches that all things exist through the necessity of the divine nature, without any act of choice by God. We will not waste time here in refuting an opinion so bad, and indeed so inexplicable. My own opinion is founded on the nature of the possibles, that is, of things that imply no contradiction. I do not think that a Spinozist will say that all the romances one can imagine exist actually now, or have existed, or will still exist in some place in the universe. Yet one cannot deny that romances such as those of Mademoiselle de Scudéry, or as Octavia, are possible. Let us therefore bring up against him these words of M. Bayle, which please me well, on page 390, ‘It is to-day’, he says, ‘a great embarrassment for the Spinozists to see that, according to their hypothesis, it was as impossible from all eternity that Spinoza, for instance, should not die at The Hague, as it is impossible for two and two to make six. They are well aware that it is a necessary conclusion from their doctrine, and a conclusion which disheartens, affrights, and stirs the mind to revolt, because of the absurdity it involves, diametrically opposed to common sense. They are not well pleased that one should know they are subverting a maxim so universal and so evident as this one: All that which implies contradiction is impossible, and all that which implies no contradiction is possible.’