Part 120

Bayle's 19 philosophic maxims

by Leibniz
  1. Let us return to Zoroaster, who led us to Oromasdes and Arimanius, the sources of good and evil, and let us assume that he looked upon them as two eternal principles opposed to each other, although there is reason to doubt this assumption. It is thought that Marcion, disciple of Cerdon, was of this opinion before Manes. M. Bayle acknowledges that these men used lamentable arguments; but he thinks that they did not sufficiently [214]recognize their advantages or know how to apply their principal instrument, which was the difficulty over the origin of evil. He believes that an able man on their side would have thoroughly embarrassed the orthodox, and it seems as though he himself, failing any other, wished to undertake a task so unnecessary in the opinion of many people. ‘All the hypotheses’ (he says, Dictionary, v., ‘Marcion’, p. 2039) ’that Christians have established parry but poorly the blows aimed at them: they all triumph when they act on the offensive; but they lose their whole advantage when they have to sustain the attack.’ He confesses that the ‘Dualists’ (as with Mr. Hyde he calls them), that is, the champions of two principles, would soon have been routed by a priori reasons, taken from the nature of God; but he thinks that they triumph in their turn when one comes to the a posteriori reasons, which are taken from the existence of evil.

  2. He treats of the matter with abundant detail in his Dictionary, article ‘Manichaeans’, p. 2025, which we must examine a little, in order to throw greater light upon this subject: ‘The surest and clearest ideas of order teach us’, he says, ’that a Being who exists through himself, who is necessary, who is eternal, must be single, infinite, all powerful, and endowed with all kinds of perfections.’ This argument deserves to have been developed more completely. ‘Now it is necessary to see’, he goes on, ‘if the phenomena of nature can be conveniently explained by the hypothesis of one single principle.’ I have explained it sufficiently by showing that there are cases where some disorder in the part is necessary for producing the greatest order in the whole. But it appears that M. Bayle asks a little too much: he wishes for a detailed exposition of how evil is connected with the best possible scheme for the universe. That would be a complete explanation of the phenomena: but I do not undertake to give it; nor am I bound to do so, for there is no obligation to do that which is impossible for us in our existing state. It is sufficient for me to point out that there is nothing to prevent the connexion of a certain individual evil with what is the best on the whole. This incomplete explanation, leaving something to be discovered in the life to come, is sufficient for answering the objections, though not for a comprehension of the matter.

  3. ‘The heavens and all the rest of the universe’, adds M. Bayle, ‘preach the glory, the power, the oneness of God.’ Thence [215]the conclusion should have been drawn that this is the case (as I have already observed above) because there is seen in these objects something entire and isolated, so to speak. Every time we see such a work of God, we find it so perfect that we must wonder at the contrivance and the beauty thereof: but when we do not see an entire work, when we only look upon scraps and fragments, it is no wonder if the good order is not evident there. Our planetary system composes such an isolated work, which is complete also when it is taken by itself; each plant, each animal, each man furnishes one such work, to a certain point of perfection: one recognizes therein the wonderful contrivance of the author. But the human kind, so far as it is known to us, is only a fragment, only a small portion of the City of God or of the republic of Spirits, which has an extent too great for us, and whereof we know too little, to be able to observe the wonderful order therein. ‘Man alone,’ says M. Bayle, ’that masterpiece of his Creator among things visible, man alone, I say, gives rise to great objections with regard to the oneness of God.’ Claudian made the same observation, unburdening his heart in these well-known lines:

Saepe mihi dubiam traxit sententia mentem, etc.

But the harmony existing in all the rest allows of a strong presumption that it would exist also in the government of men, and generally in that of Spirits, if the whole were known to us. One must judge the works of God as wisely as Socrates judged those of Heraclitus in these words: What I have understood thereof pleases me; I think that the rest would please me no less if I understood it.

  1. Here is another particular reason for the disorder apparent in that which concerns man. It is that God, in giving him intelligence, has presented him with an image of the Divinity. He leaves him to himself, in a sense, in his small department, ut Spartam quam nactus est ornet. He enters there only in a secret way, for he supplies being, force, life, reason, without showing himself. It is there that free will plays its game: and God makes game (so to speak) of these little Gods that he has thought good to produce, as we make game of children who follow pursuits which we secretly encourage or hinder according as it pleases us. Thus man is there like a little god in his own world or Microcosm, which he governs [216]after his own fashion: he sometimes performs wonders therein, and his art often imitates nature.

Jupiter in parvo cum cerneret aethera vitro,

Risit et ad Superos talia dicta dedit:

Huccine mortalis progressa potentia, Divi?

Jam meus in fragili luditur orbe labor.

Jura poli rerumque fidem legesque Deorum

Cuncta Syracusius transtulit arte Senex.

Quid falso insontem tonitru Salmonea miror?

Aemula Naturae est parva reperta manus.

But he also commits great errors, because he abandons himself to the passions, and because God abandons him to his own way. God punishes him also for such errors, now like a father or tutor, training or chastising children, now like a just judge, punishing those who forsake him: and evil comes to pass most frequently when these intelligences or their small worlds come into collision. Man finds himself the worse for this, in proportion to his fault; but God, by a wonderful art, turns all the errors of these little worlds to the greater adornment of his great world. It is as in those devices of perspective, where certain beautiful designs look like mere confusion until one restores them to the right angle of vision or one views them by means of a certain glass or mirror. It is by placing and using them properly that one makes them serve as adornment for a room. Thus the apparent deformities of our little worlds combine to become beauties in the great world, and have nothing in them which is opposed to the oneness of an infinitely perfect universal principle: on the contrary, they increase our wonder at the wisdom of him who makes evil serve the greater good.

  1. M. Bayle continues: ’that man is wicked and miserable; that there are everywhere prisons and hospitals; that history is simply a collection of the crimes and calamities of the human race.’ I think that there is exaggeration in that: there is incomparably more good than evil in the life of men, as there are incomparably more houses than prisons. With regard to virtue and vice, a certain mediocrity prevails. Machiavelli has already observed that there are few very wicked and very good men, and that this causes the failure of many great enterprises. I find it a great fault in historians that they keep their mind on the evil more [217]than on the good. The chief end of history, as also of poetry, should be to teach prudence and virtue by examples, and then to display vice in such a way as to create aversion to it and to prompt men to avoid it, or serve towards that end.

  2. M. Bayle avows: ’that one finds everywhere both moral good and physical good, some examples of virtue, some examples of happiness, and that this is what makes the difficulty. For if there were only wicked and unhappy people’, he says, ’there would be no need to resort to the hypothesis of the two principles.’ I wonder that this admirable man could have evinced so great an inclination towards this opinion of the two principles; and I am surprised at his not having taken into account that this romance of human life, which makes the universal history of the human race, lay fully devised in the divine understanding, with innumerable others, and that the will of God only decreed its existence because this sequence of events was to be most in keeping with the rest of things, to bring forth the best result. And these apparent faults in the whole world, these spots on a Sun whereof ours is but a ray, rather enhance its beauty than diminish it, contributing towards that end by obtaining a greater good. There are in truth two principles, but they are both in God, to wit, his understanding and his will. The understanding furnishes the principle of evil, without being sullied by it, without being evil; it represents natures as they exist in the eternal verities; it contains within it the reason wherefore evil is permitted: but the will tends only towards good. Let us add a third principle, namely power; it precedes even understanding and will, but it operates as the one displays it and as the other requires it.

  3. Some (like Campanella) have called these three perfections of God the three primordialities. Many have even believed that there was therein a secret connexion with the Holy Trinity: that power relates to the Father, that is, to the source of Divinity, wisdom to the Eternal Word, which is called logos by the most sublime of the Evangelists, and will or Love to the Holy Spirit. Well-nigh all the expressions or comparisons derived from the nature of the intelligent substance tend that way.

  4. It seems to me that if M. Bayle had taken into account what I have just said of the principles of things, he would have answered his own questions, or at the least he would not have continued to ask, as he does in these which follow: ‘If man is the work [218]of a single principle supremely good, supremely holy, supremely powerful, can he be subject to diseases, to cold, heat, hunger, thirst, pain, grief? Can he have so many evil tendencies? Can he commit so many crimes? Can supreme goodness produce an unhappy creature? Shall not supreme power, united to an infinite goodness, shower blessings upon its work, and shall it not banish all that might offend or grieve?’ Prudentius in his Hamartigenia presented the same difficulty:

Si non vult Deus esse malum, cur non vetat? inquit.

Non refert auctor fuerit, factorve malorum.

Anne opera in vitium sceleris pulcherrima verti,

Cum possit prohibere, sinat; quod si velit omnes

Innocuos agere Omnipotens, ne sancta voluntas

Degeneret, facto nec se manus inquinet ullo?

Condidit ergo malum Dominus, quod spectat ab alto,

Et patitur fierique probat, tanquam ipse crearit.

Ipse creavit enim, quod si discludere possit,

Non abolet, longoque sinit grassarier usu.

But I have already answered that sufficiently. Man is himself the source of his evils: just as he is, he was in the divine idea. God, prompted by essential reasons of wisdom, decreed that he should pass into existence just as he is. M. Bayle would perchance have perceived this origin of evil in the form in which I demonstrate it here, if he had herein combined the wisdom of God with his power, his goodness and his holiness. I will add, in passing, that his holiness is nothing other than the highest degree of goodness, just as the crime which is its opposite is the worst of all evil.


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