Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary
The Philosophical Dictionary
Selected and Translated by H.I. Woolf
New York: Knopf, 1924
Scanned by the Hanover College Department of History in 1995.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.
Do you not say that everything is necessary?
If everything were not necessary, it would follow that God had made useless
That is to say that it was necessary to the divine nature to make all that
it has made?
I think so, or at least I suspect it; there are people who think otherwise;
I do not understand them; maybe they are right. I am afraid of disputes
on this subject.
It is also of another necessary that I want to talk to you.
What! of what is necessary to an honest man that he may live? of the misfortune
to which one is reduced when one lacks the necessary?
No; for what is necessary to one is not always necessary to the other:
it is necessary for an Indian to have rice, for an Englishman to have meat;
a fur is necessary to a Russian, and a gauzy stuff to an African; this
man thinks that twelve coach-horses are necessary to him, that man limits
himself to a pair of shoes, a third walks gaily barefoot: I want to talk
to you of what is necessary to all men.
It seems to me that God has given all that is necessary to this species
: eyes to see with, feet for walking, a mouth for eating, an oesophagus
for swallowing, a stomach for digesting, a brain for reasoning, organs
for producing one's fellow creature.
How does it happen then that men are born lacking a part of these necessary
It is because the general laws of nature have brought about some accidents
which have made monsters to be born; but generally man is provided with
everything that is necessary to him in order to live in society.
Are there notions common to all men which serve to make them live in society?
Yes. I have travelled with Paul Lucas, and wherever I went, I saw that
people respected their father and their mother, that people believed themselves
to be obliged to keep their promises, that people pitied oppressed innocents,
that they hated persecution, that they regarded liberty of thought as a
rule of nature, and the enemies of this liberty as enemies of the human
race; those who think differently seemed to me badly organized creatures,
monsters like those who are born without eyes and hands.
Are these necessary things in all time and in all places.
Yes, if they were not they would not be necessary to the human species.
So a belief which is new is not necessary to this species. Men could very
well live in society and accomplish their duty to God, before believing
that Mahomet had frequent interviews with the angel Gabriel.
Nothing is clearer; it would be ridiculous to think that man could not
accomplish his duty to God before Mahomet came into the world; it was not
at all necessary for the human species to believe in the Koran: the world
went along before Mahomet just as it goes along to-day. If Mahometanism
had been necessary to the world, it would have existed in all places; God
who has given us all two eyes to see the sun, would have given us all an
intelligence to see the truth of the Mussulman religion. This sect is therefore
only like the positive laws that change according to time and place, like
the fashions, like the opinions of the natural philosophers which follow
one after the other.
The Mussulman sect could not be essentially necessary to mankind.
But since it exists, God has permitted it?
Yes, as he permits the world to be filled with foolishness, error and calamity;
that is not to say that men are all essentially made to be fools and miscreants.
He permits that some men be eaten by snakes; but one cannot say "God made
man to be eaten by snakes."
What do you mean when you say " God permits "? Can nothing happen without
His order? Permit, will and do, are they not the same thing for Him?
He permits crime, but He does not commit it.
Committing a crime is acting against divine justice, it is disobeying God.
Well, God cannot disobey Himself, He cannot commit crime; but He has made
man in such a way that man may commit many crimes: where does that come
There are people who know, but I do not; all that I know is that the Koran
is ridiculous, although from time to time it has some tolerably good things;
certainly the Koran was not at all necessary to man; I stick by that: I
see clearly what is false, and I know very little that is true.
I thought you would instruct me, and you teach me nothing.
Is it not a great deal to recognize people who deceive you, and the gross
and dangerous errors which they retail to you?
I should have ground for complaint against a doctor who showed me all the
harmful plants, and who did not show me one salutary plant.
I am not a doctor, and you are not ill; but it seems to me I should be
giving you a very good prescription if I said to you : " Put not your trust
in all the inventions of charlatans, worship God, be an honest man, and
believe that two and two make four.
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