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.

Soul VII


A deformed child is born absolutely imbecile, it has no ideas and lives without ideas; we have seen examples of this. How shall this animal be defined? doctors have said that it is something between man and beast; others have said that it had a sensitive soul, but not an intellectual soul. It eats, drinks, sleeps, wakes, has sensations; but it does not think.

Is there another life for this creature, or is there none? The question has been posed, and has not yet been completely answered.

Some say that this creature must have a soul, because its father and mother had one. But by this reasoning one would prove that if it came into the world without a nose it would be deemed to have one, because its father and its mother had noses.

A woman gives birth to child with no chin, its forehead is receding and rather black, its nose is slim and pointed, its eyes are round, it bears not a bad resemblance to a swallow; the rest of its body, nevertheless, is made like ours. The parents have it baptised; by a plurality of votes it is considered a man and possessor of an immortal soul. But if this ridiculous little figure has pointed nails and beak-like mouth, it is declared a monster, it has no soul, and is not baptised.

It is well known that in London in 1726 there was a woman who gave birth every week to a rabbit. No difficulty was made about refusing baptism to this child, despite the epidemic mania there was for three weeks in London for believing that this poor rogue was making wild rabbits. The surgeon who attended her, St. Andre by name, swore that nothing was more true, and people believed him. But what reason did the credulous have for refusing a soul to this woman's children? she had a soul, her children should be provided with souls also; whether they had hands, whether they had paws, whether they were born with a little snout or with a face; cannot the Supreme Being bestow the gift of thought and sensation on a little I know not what, born of a woman, shaped like a rabbit, as well as to a little I know not what, shaped like a man? Shall the soul that was ready to lodge in this woman's foetus go back again into space?

Locke makes the sound observation, about monsters, that one must not attribute immortality to the exterior of a body; that the form has nothing to do with it. This immortality, he says, is no more attached to the form of his face or his chest, than to the way his beard is dressed or his coat cut.

He asks what is the exact measure of deformity by which you can recognize whether or no a child has a soul? What is the precise degree at which it must be declared a monster and deprived of a soul?

One asks still further what would be a soul which never has any but fantastic ideas? there are some which never escape from them. Are they worthy or unworthy? what is to be done with their pure spirit?

What is one to think of a child with two heads? without deformity apart from this? Some say that it has two souls because it is provided with two pineal glands, with two corpus callosum, with two sensorium commune. Others reply that one cannot have two souls when one has only one chest and one navel.

In fine, so many questions have been asked about this poor human soul, that if it were necessary to answer them all, this examination of its own person would cause it the most intolerable boredom. There would happen to it what happened to Cardinal de Polignac at a conclave. His steward, tired of never being able to make him settle his accounts, made the journey from Rome, and came to the little window of his cell burdened with an immense bundle of papers. He read for nearly two hours. At last, seeing that no reply was forthcoming, he put his head forward. The cardinal had departed nearly two hours before. Our souls will depart before their stewards have acquainted them with the facts: but let us be exact before God, whatever sort of ignoramuses we are, we and our stewards.

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