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of Chapters
of the Fifth Volume
on Metaphysics
Preface to the Atheists.
The method of guiding one’s mind
properly in the search for metaphysical
Rules for guiding one’s mind properly in what we understand of faith,
whether human or divine.
[479L] In what manner one must guide oneself the belief in miracles.
On metaphysics.
Chapter 1. That there exists one God.
Demonstration 1.
Chapter 2. Demonstration of the existence of God using the techniques of the
Chapter 3. The existence of God proven in another manner.
Demonstration 2.
Chapter 4. Demonstration of the existence of God using the techniques of the
Chapter 5. Response to some [479R] objections
which one could form
against the preceding demonstrations.
Chapter 6. In what sense we ought to understand that God exists by his own
power, and that he is positively his own cause.
Chapter 7. What immutable order is, [and] that God must necessarily
conform to it.
Demonstration of immutable order using the techniques of the geometricians.
Chapter 8. Of the attributes of God, and that He is immutable.
Demonstration of the immutability [480L] of God using the techniques of the
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Chapter 9. That God is not at all corporeal even though He is immense, and
that his substance is found throughout the world and infinitely beyond.
Demonstration, using the techniques of the geometricians, that God is not
Chapter 10. In what manner on ought to understand that God is wise, just,
merciful, patient, and what must be understood when one says that He can be
Demonstration that God is essentially just.
Chapter 11. That true power [480R] resides only with God.
Demonstration, using the techniques of the geometricians, that God cannot
transmit true power to his creatures.
Chapter 12. That by reason alone one cannot know with certain
whether God is the Creator of the material and perceptible world.
Demonstration, using the techniques of the geometricians, that the existence
of bodies is not obviously proven by reason alone.
Chapter 13. That, with faith as a given, [481L] one demonstrates precisely
the existence of bodies.
Chapter 14. That creation is possible, [and] why certain Philosophers
believed that the world was uncreated
Chapter 15. Why God was not able to create the eternal
Chapter 16. God, who does all He wishes to do for Himself, was not able to
find anything in the production of pure creatures that persuaded Him to create
them. 2
: [481R] That reason demonstrates that it was necessary that a divine
person have united himself to God’s work.
Demonstration, using the techniques of the geometricians, that God had an
infinite design in the creation of the world.
Another demonstration that it was necessary that a divine person have united
himself to God’s work.
Chapter 17: Responses to different reflections that are for the most part taken
from the 2
Volume of Philosophical Reflections by Mr. Arnaud
Chapter 18: That God never forms a design without regard [482L] for the
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means of executing it.
Chapter 19: That God’s providence in the first shaping of matter necessarily
encloses an infinite wisdom. Why He acted by particular will
, and that He
formed the world all at once.
Chapter 20: Continuation of the same subject of God’s infinite wisdom in the
arrangement of bodies, and in the combinations of the physical and the moral,
and of the natural and the supernatural.
Chapter 21: That one would not be able to understand that God can transmit
no real power to his creations. 2
: That simultaneous support
is something
Chapter 22: Responses to some objections concerning the efficacy of
secondary causation, taken from the books of Mr. Arnaud.
Chapter 23: 1. Where universal and general causation are explained.
2. What it is to act by laws, or by general or particular will.
3. That there are four kinds
of occasional causation.
4. What a miracle it is to take this word in all [483L] its philosophical rigor.
Chapter 24: 1
: That God executes his providential designs by general laws,
and by the simplest means. 2
: In what manner it must be understood that this
manner of acting is arbitrary to Him, and that He acts by particular wills as the
order demands it.
Chapter 25: Continuation of the proofs that demonstrate that God executes
his designs in a manner that conveys the nature of his attributes, that is by
general laws, etc.
[483R] Demonstration, using the techniques of the geometricians, that the
manners in which God acts must convey the nature of his attributes.
Chapter 26: Different opinions concerning Providence.
CHapter 27: What one ought to believe about Providence.
Chapter 28: Response to all the strongest claims
in the 1
Volume of the
Philosophical Reflections of Mr. Arnaud.
Chapter 29: Response to an objection of the author, [who is] of the mind of
Mr. Arnaud, to P. Malebranche
concerning Providence.
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Page 478 of the PDF document, the manuscript page on the right-hand side of the screen.
(L indicates the left-hand.) This is not as elegant as recto-verso, but hopefully it will help
everyone keep track of where we are in the book.
For ease of reading, I’m leaving out the page number markings. You can still see them in
the transcription and the modernized French version.
Esprit is a multivalent word, often rendered in English as as “spirit.” Here I’m using mind
since the context is philosophy and metaphysics; however, given the work’s theological
strain, once we get to this section of the text it may be clear whether or not spirit is more
suitable in context.
“à la façon de” is usually rendered “in the style of.” But since this seems to be referring to
a proof, I’ve used the more precise (if somewhat clunkier) “using the techniques of”
throughout the Table Contents, for the sake of clarity.
5é B2
6é 1C
avec la dernière évidence is a fixed phrase, literally “with the last [piece of] evidence” but
with the sense of absolute certainty, absolute proof.
From the Latin increatus, “never created,” “not made,” i.e. not the result of a divine act of
de toute éternité — another fixed phrase. Religious origin; it appears in liturgical texts,
possibly a rendering of the Latin in saecula saeculorum or a similar formula. Variously
translated as “world without end” or “since time immemorial,” though in this sentence it
seems it’s being used adjectivally so I went with simply “eternal.
Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694), theologian and philosopher. His Réflexions philosophiques
et théologiques sur le nouveau système de la nature et de la grâce were published in
The concept of “general will” (and by contrast “particular will” or individual volition) was
made famous by Rousseau and 18th-c philosophers; famously, the phrase volonté générale
appears in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. But these ideas are rooted
in the 17th c.
Rousseau was also a great synthesizer who was deeply engaged in a dialog with his
contemporaries and with the writers of the past, such as the theorists of Natural Law,
Hobbes and Grotius. Like "the body politic", "the general will" was a term of art and was not
invented by Rousseau, though admittedly Rousseau did not always go out of his way to
explicitly acknowledge his debt to the jurists and theologians who influenced him. Prior to
Rousseau, the phrase "general will" referred explicitly to the general (as opposed to the
particular) will or volition (as it is sometimes translated) of the Deity. It occurs in the
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theological writings of Malebranche,
who had picked it up from Pascal, and in the
writings of Malebranche's pupil, Montesquieu,
who contrasted volonté particulière and
volonté générale in a secular sense in his most celebrated chapter (Chapter XI) of De
L'Esprit des Lois (1748).
In his Discourse on Political Economy, Rousseau explicitly
credits Diderot's Encyclopédie article "Droit Naturel" as the source of "the luminous concept"
of the general will, of which he maintains his own thoughts are simply a development.
Montesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau's innovation was to use the term in a secular rather
than theological sense.”
This is tricky. Concours has a range of meanings; this is only best guess for the moment,
but the meaning should be clear in the context of the chapter.
Literally, “all that is of the strongest” — I take this to mean the strongest arguments in
Arnaud’s text. But this is just a guess until we get to that chapter!
Nicolas Malebranche, 1638-1715. Priest and rationalist philosopher; intellectual rival of
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
Philosophical Essay
Book 3
To the Atheists
As our soul is that which is of the noblest and best in us, if our interest is dear
to us, the greatest of our cares must be to search for its perfection, since it is in
this that our sovereign good consists.
And as we know nothing as well as we know Godas much because nothing
exists without Him as because we can doubt everything[8L] although we
have no clear or distinct idea [of what God is], it follows that it is only the
knowledge of God upon which our sovereign good and all our perfection
[Treatise on the nature and grace of God] For that matter, as nothing could exist
without God, there is nothing in nature that is not comprised of God. We do not
need to look outside of ourselves to convince ourselves of this truth; there is
nothing more shapeless than our mind
if we separate it from God. For what is a
mind without intelligence and without reason, without movement and without
love? Yet it is God’s wisdom that is the universal reason of our minds. It is the
love by which God loves Himself that gives the soul all the [8R] movement that
it has toward goodness. The mind cannot know truth except through the natural
and necessary union with truth itself; it cannot be capable of reason except by
means of reason. Finally, there cannot exist, in a sense, an intelligent mind
its own substance is illuminated, penetrated, perfected by the light of
God Himself.
Here I render esprit as “mind” rather than “spirit” (the word encompasses both
meanings), since the author here is focusing on reason and intelligence.
The MS reading is ambiguous because of the irregular spacing: it could be que par
ce que (“but by that which”) or que parce que (“but because,” i.e. “unless”). The
latter seems syntactically more straightforward, and one finds par ce que for parce
que throughout the ms.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
[The foolish person says God is not in his heart
] If the atheists who say in their
hearts that there is no God were to consult that light that illuminates all those
who are not blinded by their own passions, they would see that they blind
themselves in the midst of the brightest lights: for they would not know how to
combat divinity without thinking about it, and they would not know how to
think about it without having an idea of it. And after [9L] having attentively
considered how immense the perfections that it [i.e. divinity] represents, they
would be compelled to avow that they would not know how to grasp it except
from a very perfect being; or, to put it better, that this infinitely perfect being
who made all things is nearer to us than [to] the very things that He made, since
it is in Him that we have life, movement, and being.
[See decor. principis ar. 1.4
] [By the idea of the perfect being, we understand nothing of
Him that is distinct; He is Himself His idea, nothing can represent Him] In fact, after
having made a review of the diverse ideas that are within ourselves, and since we
find there one of an all-powerful, all-knowing and extremely perfect being, we
must judge easilybecause we perceive [it] within this ideathat [9R] God
(who is that all-perfect being) is or exists. For even though we have distinct
ideas of several other things, we remark nothing in them that assures us of the
existence of their object, rather than that we perceive in this [existence] not only
a possible existence but even [one that is] absolutely necessary and eternal. And
just as, from what we see, it is necessarily contained in the idea that we have of a
triangle that [the sum of] its three angles be equal to [the sum of] two right
angles, even so from this alone we perceive that necessary and eternal existence
is contained in the idea that we have of an all-perfect being. We must conclude
that this all-perfect being [10L] is or exists.
This proof of the existence of God is so beautiful, so strong and so convincing
that atheists would not know how to attack it with their eyes open, nor to
consider it attentively without giving in to it.
This marginal note is in Latin. The transcription shows where these marginal notes
fall relative to the rest of the paragraph, but for the sake of easier reading I’ve
moved all the marginalia to the top of the paragraph in the modernized version and
the translation.
I haven’t (yet!) figured out what text this refers to.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
But it is morally impossible that minds of flesh and blood, which can only
know what makes itself felt, could ever be convinced by this kind of reasoning.
They reject as ghosts anything that does not represent itself as some kind of
, and not being accustomed to metaphysical and abstract truths, they are
extremely prone to believe that we are plotting to seduce them [10R] while in
fact we are working only to enlighten them. They regard with defiance and with
a kind of horror ideas that have nothing agreeable and sensible
, they who judge
things only by the impression they make on their imagination. Thus their love of
rest and happiness soon delivers them from a view that troubles them in their
pleasures, that humiliates their pride and that prescribes strict limits to all their
Therefore one must not wait for these abstract proofs of divinity to ever
convince the atheists. The human animal does not understand the things that
belong to God ; these men of flesh and blood [11L] find nothing in these things
that can touch them, these things have nothing that flatters their senses, the sole
object of their indulgence.
Only those who taste the sweetness of the mind and who work ceaselessly to
weaken the union that they have with perceptible thingsin a word, only those
whose heart is purifiedare able to see this wisdom that is hidden from the eyes
of all those who follow the appeal of their passions.
Know nonetheless, atheists, that you are inexcusable, smothering the
knowledge of the true God in your hearts ; for not wanting to understand the
invisible grandeurs of God by means of the visible things that He has created,
not wanting any other [11R] God than one that presents himself as coarse and
earthly in your eyes is to extinguish all reason, to take pleasure in overturning
good sense; in sum, it is delirium and frenzy.
In context: Atheists refuse to believe in anything that they cannot perceive in a
physical form. But given this text’s preoccupations with mathematics, it’s worth
noting that figure also can have the sense of a mathematical figure or number.
In context this seems as if it should read, “They regard with defiance and horror
ideas that are nothing but agreeable and sensible.” I wonder if a word is missing,
e.g. Ils regardent . . . les idées qui n’ont rien QUE d’agréable . . .
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
[Minutius Felix
] If there was a God, you say, we would know it; we would
know that it is for that reason that we believe [in] Him, because we feel Him
although we do not see Him. For in His works and in all the movements of
nature we see His virtue present when He sends us thunder, or lightning, or
beautiful weather. And do not find it at all strange, atheists
, if you do not see
God in the manner that you would wish to.
[12L] All is stirred and moved by the winds, and nevertheless you do not see
it [the wind]. Even the sun, which makes all visible, is as if invisible ; its rays
dazzle us, and if we stop to contemplate it, it will make us lose our sight. And
will you be able to sustain the gaze of He who lights the sun and who is the
source of light? What, you want to see God with your eyes of flesh, and you
cannot see only that soul that makes you speak and animates you?
Answer me, atheists: why do you move the limbs of your body with such
ease? You will say that it is because we have within ourselves a principle [12R]
of all these movements: “I want to.” And this is true, in a sense; but if I press you
to make me understand this principle, you will not hesitate to tell me that it is
your will. There you are, then, certain of something that you have never seen
and that has never fallen within your senses ; if you have seen it, tell us what
color it is, and what its form
is. Therefore it is without reason, man of flesh and
Marcus Minucius Felix (d. ca. 250) was an early Christian apologist, author of the
treatise Octavius.
The alternate spelling of Minutius seems to have been current in the period our
author was writing (as a very quick reference, here’s an English translation from
1703 that spells his name with a T:
Q6AEIVDAP - v=onepage&q&f=false)
The MS has, here and at a few other points in this chapter, hatees where athees is
clearly meant. They would be pronounced exactly the same way, though, and there
are several other instances of this kind of homophonic switching (e.g. ce for se).
This, in addition to the absence of punctuation, suggests to me that this MS (or the
original of which it is a fair copy) was taken down by dictation. Is that something
the Team has thought of / may or may not be relevant?
(Hatées is a real wordperfect passive participle of hâter, “to hasten,”
feminine pluralbut it definitely doesn’t fit here contextually.)
Figure again (see note 5).
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
blood, that you do not want to recognize the invisible God who inhabits an
inaccessible light, because you cannot see him in some kind of form. You have
even less reason to smother the knowledge of Him in your minds because you
[13L] cannot understand it. [Minutius Felix] Don’t you know that the author of
nature has no limits, that He has neither end nor beginning, that He gives
eternity to Himself as he gives the principle to all things, that before the world
He was Himself His own occupation because He was fully self-sufficient
? He
is not seen at all because He is beyond the senses; He cannot be understood
because He is beyond understanding; He is immense, infinite, known only to
Himself because our mind is too small to conceive of Him, and we never
understand Him better than when calling
Him incomprehensible. Whoever
imagines that he wholly knows His grandeur [13R] diminishes it, and he who
does not diminish it at all cannot know it. Do not inform yourselves of His name;
His name is that which is
. We seek words when something can be divided, but
God, being single, cannot be divided. If you call Him Father, you soon enough
conceive of a father in your own way; if you call Him King, the same thing ;
remove all aspect of the terrestrial from these names, and you will have found
what He is.
How pitiable therefore are your pretensions, atheists, when you say that you
want to understand the God of the universe and that your heart, devoid of
intelligence, is filled with darkness; you have strayed from the right path. You
have all [14L] become useless; you make no use of your mind except to deceive
yourselves and to distance yourselves from the way of truth.
You believe that a state cannot be governed except by the wisdom of a
prince, that a household cannot survive without the guidance of a father
, that a
vessel needs a pilot to navigate successfully ; and when you see this kingdom in
Or, more precisely but at the risk of sounding affectedly antiquated, “sufficient
unto himself.”
The MS reading of quand l’appelant is an awkward construction. I suspect this
may be another case of a sneaky homophone, as qu’en appelant would sound the
same but make more sense syntactically.
“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM.” Exodus 3:14 (King James Version)
More precisely, père de famille = paterfamilias, not merely a father but the head
of a household.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
order, this house maintaining itself, this vessel avoiding the reefs and arriving in
port, you conclude without hesitation that there is a higher reason and mind that
presides over it. And yet, blind as you are, you do not want to draw the same
conclusion about [14R] the world. Is it not of you that it is said, they have eyes
and do not see, they have ears and do not hear
? In fact, isn’t it necessary to
make an effort over one’s reason, to blind oneself in the midst of the light and to
fight against one’s own feelings, in order not to give oneself over to the brilliant
testimonies of divinity that all of nature gives us?
One must have neither eyes nor feelings to imagine that all this great
was made by an assemblage of atoms and not by the wisdom of God.
For is there nothing clearer, when we come to consider the heavens and consider
all of nature, [15L] than that there is some excellent mind that encompassed all
these things, that guides them and governs them by His providence? Consider
the sky with all its expanse, that regularity with which the Earth turns on its
axis; or if you prefer, the swiftness of the sky, whether it is all sown with stars or
whether it is illuminated by the sun, you will see the divine wisdom shining in
this swaying and movement.
Consider the most noble and most beautiful light of any part of the universe.
It is not without reason that it finds itself reunited in certain spheres
that pour
it out ceaselessly and never run dry, [and] that these spheres are at such a just
and regulated distance from the [15R] Earth that they seem to be always
moving, without this movement (real or apparent) finding any obstacle to stop it.
“And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.
And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no
bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?
Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not
remember? When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets
full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven
among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they
said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?” Mark
8:16-21 (KJV)
The MS reads eclants, which is not a word I can find in current or historical French
dictionaries. I propose an emendation of éclatants (“dazzling,” “brilliant”).
i.e. the cosmos
i.e. stars
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
What shall I say of that star
whose course determines the years, and of that
inconstant planet
that makes the months with its death and with its birth? Shall
I speak of that vicissitude
of darkness and light that produces another one for
work and rest?
It is up to
the astrologers
to enter into the discourse of the stars whose
virtues and influences they know, and to teach us which ones rule the grains and
the harvests [16L], [and] of the navigations and winds that make up the science
of the pilot and the laborer
. It is enough merely to arrange all these marvels
and give them this order that they maintain ; it must have required a divine mind
and an extraordinary wisdom. Oh
, who could doubt it, since it requires as
much to understand them
Descend lower and consider the uses of the air. It carries light and the stars’
influences to us; it attends to those clouds that make the earth fertile and our
harvests abundant; it carries sound to our ears and colors to our eyes; it makes
our breath and the [16R] mouvement of our lungs, the strength and the
liveliness of the flame. See then how this air and this light unite with the organs
The sun.
The moon.
My proposed emendation for MS’s vivissitude
MS has the beginning of this sentence twice, the first as a fragment hanging off
the end of the previous paragraph (omitted from translation, but you can see it in
the transcription and modernized version).
Up until at least the 16th century, astrologue meantastronomer” as well as
“astrologer”; indeed, the two disciplines were not wholly separated. By the late
17th c the distinction had grown clearer, and given the context here about the
“influence” of the stars, “astrologer” is probably the apter choice. But it is worth
remembering that in the early modern period astrology was still considered a
The logic (if not the syntax) of this sentence is as follows: The astrologers teach
us about the stars that govern harvests (useful for laborers) and about winds and
navigation (useful for seafarers).
MS reads he, but it is surprising to find this colloquial interjection (not unlike
“hey”) in such a formal text. It could be a homophone for et, in which case “AND
who could doubt . . .”
i.e. to understand these natural phenomena also requires “a divine mind and
extraordinary wisdom.”
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
of the human body, for without the human eye light is but darkness, and without
light the human eye is but blindness.
In the instant that one lights a torch or that the sun rises, it pours out its light
from every side, and we find ourselves struck by a thousand pleasant colors that
make us distinguish the variety of objects, without contributing ourselves in any
way to all these marvels. Doesn’t this require infinite wisdom, to create this
distribution of colors with each blink of the eye?
[17L] Can you consider, atheists, all these dependencies that exist between
these parts of the universe, without being struck by that wisdom that linked
them so well to one another?
Who is it that taught the air, the winds, that they must contribute to making
the earth fertile? Why does the sun provide its heat and light, the sea its mists,
the air its dew and coolness for that purpose? How does the earth draw from her
sterile and wilted bosom so many plants that are so admirable in their virtues
and production, so many excellent trees and exquisite fruits? Why is it that these
fruits are capable of changing themselves into sustenance for [17R] animals and
saving their lives? How do hunger and thirst teach them [the animals], at just
the right moment, that it is time to take the foods that are destined to nourish
them? How do taste and satiety teach them, on the other hand, that they have
taken enough for the good of that nature, and this by a law that cannot be
broken except by the illnesses that trouble the natural economy of their
What would be the purpose of all these fruits of the earth if there weren’t
animals to feed on them, and what would these animals do without the fruits of
the earth?
Why is it that in the places where no grain grows, nature makes coconuts
grow, those marvelous trees whose marrow is bread, the juice within them wine,
and the hairs that cover their leaves cotton for making clothes?
Why is it that on El Hierro
, where there is no spring or river to give water
to the inhabitants, there is a tree
that is perpetually covered with a mist that
L’île de Fer (“Iron Island”) is the French name of El Hierro, the smallest of the
Canary Islands.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
distills the water of its branches, God forming a marvelous spring in the air
when the earth refuses to give one, so that all the men and beasts who inhabit
this island find there an abundance with which to quench their thirst?
[18R] Whatever you do, atheists, you would not know how to avoid
recognizing in all this admirable series of connections an infinite wisdom, and
you would not know how to say, without renouncing what light yet remains to
you, that all this had been done without design and that chance was its source
and origin.
Although the diversity of weather and seasons that always marches with
equal step does not speak of its author or publish its praises, springtime was
necessary for producing flowers, summer for ripening fruits and harvests,
autumn to gently complete this work, but [19L] winter was no less [necessary]
for nature’s rest and relief. This order continues always, without becoming
confused or losing its way
, for so many centuries; it would soon have changed
if Fortune were mistress of the world.
For that matter, what wisdom to have tempered winter and summer with
autumn and spring, with so much [dant
] and aptness that we pass
imperceptibly from the heat of one to the chill of the other without experiencing
the severity of the two opposites!
What more shall I say of all the animals that each have their different
defenses? These are armed with horns, those with teeth and stingers, [19R]
others with talons and claws; some have no weapon but speed; but all of them
together have obtained from nature either agility or strength or industry.
The garoé, or “fountain tree,” was attested on El Hierro beginning in the 15th
century. See Gioda, A., Z. Hernández, E. Gonzáles, and R. Espejo. "Fountain Trees
in the Canary Islands: Legend and Reality." Advances in Horticultural Science 9, no.
3 (1995): 112-18.
I read se troubler, se perdre for MS ce . . . ce.
I can’t figure out the MS reading here; it would be something with a similar sense
to justesse (aptness, suitability, sound judgment), but dant is not a word I can find
in any dictionary, and I can’t think of a homophone that makes sense in context.
Perhaps missing a syllable? (See note 15 on éclant / éclatant.)
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
Above all, the form of man avows a God for his author: this upright statue,
this raised face where all the senses are located, as well as
in the sovereign
abode and the eyes up high
as if standing guard, we would never have done
[this] if we want to talk about everything
[The heavens narrate the glory of God
] Therefore what are you waiting for,
atheists, to recognize Him whose glory is announced by heaven and earth? Are
you waiting for God to always make new miracles, which [20L] would render
them useless by continuing them, so that he would make your eyes as
accustomed to them as they are to the course of the sun and all the other marvels
of nature? Is it not enough that you see that we cannot fight against divinity
without showing by prodigious confusions that we have our blood turned
, that we no longer defend ourselves but by presumption and a brutal
[Extravagance of atheism] There is nothing more monstrous than that
indifference in which atheists live with regard to their ultimate end. For what
cause of joy do we find in awaiting no more than miseries without [other]
possibility? What cause of vanity to see oneself in impenetrable obscurity? What
consolation to await only nothingness [20R] for the end of all these
This rest that atheists anticipate is an incomprehensible series of connections and
a supernatural lethargy, the extravagance of which must be made to be felt
The MS ainsi quand (“thus when”) is extraordinarily difficult to make sense of,
unless a verb is missing. I read another homophone here, qu’en instead of quand,
i.e. the senses are located in the face as well as in the mind (“sovereign abode” =
the head). (Ainsi que = as well as, together with.)
Another possibility: the idiom au plus haut point, meaning “intensely,” but the last
word is missing.
This syntax is also a bit hard to untangle but I think the sense is, “Let’s be
honest, we would never be such attractive creatures if God hadn’t designed us.”
Marginal note in Latin.
Renversé can also mean “spilled,” but that does not seem to be the sense here,
given the context of confusion/tumult.
Or, “all one’s actions” (perhaps more logical) if we can read MS ces as ses.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
before finishing this preface; “for here is how men reason when they choose to
live in this ignorance of what they are and without seeking an explanation
[The Pensées of Mr. Pascal, page 8
] “I do not know who put me in this world,
they [the atheists] say, nor what the world is nor what I myself am; I am in a
terrible ignorance of all things, I do not know what my body is, what my senses
are, what my soul is, and even that part of me [21L] that thinks of what I say
and that reflects upon everything and upon itself does not know itself anymore
than the rest.
“I see these terrifying spaces of the universe that encloses me, and I find
myself attached to a corner of this vast expanse without knowing why I have
been placed in this location rather than another, nor why this little time that has
been given me to live was assigned at this point rather than another in all the
eternity that preceded me and of all that which follows me.
“I see only infinities on every side that engulf me like an atom and like a
shadow that lasts only an instant without returning; all that I know is that I
[21R] must die soon, but what I am most ignorant of is that same death that I
will not know how to avoid.
“As I do not know where I come from, neither do I know where I am going,
and I know only that in leaving this world I will fall forever either into
nothingness or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing which of these
two conditions I must partake of eternally.
“Here is my state, full of misery, of weakness, of darkness; and of all this I
conclude that I must pass all the days of my life without dreaming of what might
Or: “enlightenment.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician and philosopher, one of
the most influential of the 17th century. The Pensées (Thoughts) was a collection of
his writings and fragments, published posthumously in 1670.
Beginning with the end of the previous paragraph in quotation marks, and
continuing through the rest of this preface, the text is quoted directly from Pascal
(except marginalia). I have provided my own translation here.
I looked up a contemporary edition of the Pensées, and in the second edition of
1670, the passage quoted here does indeed begin on page 8.
s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-lLXkpYvcAhVrl1QKHZN1DNsQ6AEIJzAA -
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
happen to me, and that I have only to follow my inclinations without reflection
and without worry [22L] while doing all I must to fall into eternal unhappiness,
in case what is said about it is true. Perhaps I could find some explanation in my
doubts, but I do not want to take the trouble or take a step to find them; and in
treating disdainfully those who work at this concern, I want to go without
foresight and without fear to attempt such a great event, and to let myself be led
softly toward death in the uncertainty of the eternity of my future condition.”
[Here is Mr. Pascal on the discourse of the indifference of atheists
, from which this was
taken] “In truth, it is to the glory of religion to have as enemies such
unreasonable men, and their opposition to it poses so [22R] little danger that it
serves, on the contrary, to establish the principal truths that it teaches us. For
Christian faith goes principally to establish these two things: the corruption of
nature and the redemption of Jesus Christ. So if they do not serve to
demonstrate the truth of redemption by the sanctity of their behavior, at least
they serve admirably to demonstrate the corruption of nature by such unnatural
Ch. 1 of the Pensées, Contre l’indifférence des athées (“Against the Indifference of
the Atheists”).
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
The Method
Of properly guiding one’s
mind in the search
for metaphysical truths
What we will say in this method will show us not only the rules that must be
followed in the resolution of metaphysical questions, but also the use that we
must make of the knowledge that we have acquired through physics
Method is what we generally call the art of properly arranging a sequence of
several thoughts, either to discover the truth when we do not know it, or to
prove it to others once we have discovered it.
[24L] There are two kinds of methods: one to discover the truth, which we
call analysis or method of resolution, which we can also call method of discovery
; the
other to make [the truth] understood to others once we have found it, which we
call synthesis or method of composition, which we may also call method of doctrine.
These two methods differ only as much as the path one takes climbing from a
valley onto a mountain does from the [path] one takes descending from the
mountain into the valley; or as differ the two means one can employ for proving
that a person is descended from Saint Louis, [24R] one of which is to show that
this person has such a one for a father who was the son of such a one, and that
one of such a one, and so on up to Saint Louis, and the other is to start with
Saint Louis and show that he had such children, and these children [had] others,
descending to the person in question. And this example is much more apt in this
encounter since it is certain that to find an unknown genealogy one must make
use of analysis, that is, ascending from the son to the father rather than to
explain it after having found it. The most ordinary manner is to start with the
to show its descendants, which is what we call [25L] synthesis. [St.
This may mean the specific discipline of physics, or—perhaps more likely given the wide-
ranging examples the author provides—a broader category of natural sciences.
Given the context here, I’m taking invention in the sense of the Latin inventio (still in use in the
17th c), that is, a finding or discovery, rather than a wholly new creation (the modern English
sense of “invention”).
i.e. of the family tree?
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
Matthew did genealogy descending by synthesis, Math. 1] [St. Luke did the genealogy of
Jesus Christ by analysis, Luke 3]
And that is what we do in the sciences. The most ordinary manner is to make
use of analysis to find some truth ; afterward we make use of the other method to
explain what we have found. This is what we can say in general about analysis
and synthesis.
Let us return to the rules that we have proposed to give ourselves to make
some progress in metaphysics.
As there have been some philosophers who have made a profession of
doubting everything and who have pretended that everything was equally
obscure and uncertain, the first thing that [25R] we must have in sight is to find
a truth so certain that it does not allow for any other and of which we could not
doubt any supposition we might make.
We ordinarily propose two truths that we esteem first among all. The first is
this one: it is impossible that something is and is not at the same time. [It is
impossible for something to be and not to be simultaneously.
The second: “I think, therefore I am.”
For the first, I do not think it ought to be accepted as a first principle, even
though, by the way, it is very certain. For not to say that it is of no use, since it
does not assure us of the existence of anything, we have only to examine it,
[26L] at the very least, to be persuaded that it supposes a principle of which one
must first assure oneself. For before exposing this truth as a first principleit is
impossible that something is and is not at the same time—it was necessary to
make a distinction between being and not being, and for this one must assure
oneself of whether something exists, which is not at all demonstrated by this so-
called principle. Therefore it cannot pass for the first of all the truths that does
not allow any [other].
[“I think, therefore I am” is the first of all truths.] Therefore it is “I think,
therefore I am” what we must take as the first and most certain of all truths; for
Marginal note is in Latin. The reference here is to the law of non-contradiction, a principle
of metaphysical thought going back to Aristotle:
René Descartes (1596-1650), Discourse on the Method, 1637.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
there is no one who can be unaware of whether he thinks or whether he [26R]
does not think, since if he does not think he is not capable of knowing nor even
of not knowing anything, nor having what he who lives and who thinks that he
is capable not only of a form of knowledge but even of ignorance.
And when
they do not remain in agreement, if they think, they believe that they keep
themselves from falling into error, but in fact they do fall [in error]; and by their
error they are convinced by thoughts, it not being possible to act except as he
who does not think he falls into error.
Therefore, just as it is not only true but also certain that we think, there are
also several true and certain things, with which there is [27L] more foolishness
than wisdom not to remain in agreement.
Reflection 1
One must not imagine that when we say “I think, therefore I am,” that
“therefore I am” is a conclusion enclosed within some principle from which it is
drawn; for as thought makes itself known from the moment it is born within me,
I perceive that I am at first glance without the help of any reasoning. [Thus “I
think, therefore I am” is the first truth that the mind knows, upon which depends the
following: Everyone who thinks must exist, the truths part [illegible
] known before the
general ones.]
Reflection 2
It is not necessary for me to know what my thought is to be assured of my
existence; it is enough that I have an internal [27R] feeling of what happens
within me.
So that the objection that one could make me on these terms is a very bad
In order for you to know that you think, and for you to be able to conclude
from there that you are, you must know what it is to think and what it is to be;
and not yet knowing one nor the other, how can you be certain that you are,
This is terribly difficult to make sense of, even with the emendation of qui to qu’il. I wonder if
a word is missing or mis-transcribed? Or I might be missing something in the construction.
I cannot decipher this word in the MS.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
since in saying “I think” you do now know what you say, and since you know it
just as little in saying “therefore I am”?
[med. prem
.] Just as, to find this truth that I have called the first and the most
certain [28L] of all, I have made use of the method of Mr. Descarteswhich is
to doubt all things and to make a review of my former opinionsI have
convinced myself that I have not made any use of my mind, and that if, among
everything I have received in my beliefs, something had been found that was
true, it was not at all true in my view, since I had no knowledge of it and since I
did not yet know how to distinguish the true from the false.
By the means of this method I learned that if I had been in error, it was
because I had deferred too much to my senses. And [28R] in fact, if I believed in
the past that a star was no bigger than a candle’s flame, that the sun was no more
than two feet in diameter, it was because I consulted my eyes; now that I know
and that I have experienced that they [my eyes] are deceivers, it is prudent of
me to trust in them no longer, especially in such an important matter as
Therefore I will seek another means to assure myself of the knowledge of the
truth, and lifting myself up from underneath my senses I will consult the ideas of
things that are presented to my mind, and I will follow without fail this maxim,
[29L] which is to admit nothing into my belief except that of which I can
conceive very clearly and distinctly.
The attention to clear ideas is a rule so fertile that by its means I begin to
discover two truths that make up the foundation of all forms of knowledge. I
discover that there is a God, the idea I have of Him is more than that which one
who thinks in me is different than my body
; for I conceive clearly that existence
is necessarily appropriate to this infinitely perfect being of which I have an idea,
and that the idea that I have of the expanse
does not in any manner represent
to me the thought that I am assured of having.
I am not sure what med. stands for in this context; I want to think that med. prem is an
abbreviation for méthode première, which makes sense in context, though I have not elsewhere
seen med. as an abbreviation for méthode.
This is extremely difficult to parse; I wonder if a word is missing, as the sentence structure
feels incomplete.
i.e. the universe
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
Next, to render the [29R] knowledge of truth very familiar to me, I will
exercise my understanding in some forms of knowledge that have clear ideas as
their object. I will apply myself, for example, to geometry, after which I will be
able to move on to the knowledge of algebra, and it is in that study where I will
lift my mind above my senses and, making it [my mind] accustomed to
contemplating truths that are purely intelligible and without the mingling of any
body, I will render it capable of developing the most complex questions.
[Numbering numbers
are those which are present to the mind, and the numbers are the
or rather the things to which numbers are applied.] Above all, I will take
care that the characters, to which my mind attaches the numbering numbers
whose relationships it considers, are not at all [30L] what my mind
contemplates; for it often happens that we discover the properties of a number
without thinking about these characters. For that matter, what relationship is
there between [the number] two thousand and these two letters, for example a a,
that I can make use of to indicate this number?
I will stay for a long time to contemplate the idea of an infinitely perfect
being, and I will take care to attribute to Him nothing of all that I experience
within myself.
Here are the principle articles upon which I will meditate for a long time,
because they are the foundations of all of metaphysics and of morality.
God being an infinitely perfect being, He cannot determine to act but for an
infinite end; nothing that is finite can determine Him to do something; He
cannot operate except for Himself.
One must try to convince oneself of this principle and to have it always
present in the mind.
This term and concept comes from Plotinus, Enneads VI “On Numbers”
I’m retaining the cognate of the French caractère, which may mean a numeral, a letter (as
appears at the end of this paragraph), or other sign or figure.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
God, having known the works He has made for all eternity, does not know
them except within Himself; and as there are some that are more perfect than
others, there is as a result something in Him that represents them. [31L] Just as
He cannot help loving more that which is more perfect, He will for example love
that which represents my soul to Him more than that which represents my body.
[I will explain this more throughout, but first it is necessary to meditate on what is said
in general.] The relationships of these different perfections that encounter each
other in the ideas of God are what I will call “immutable order.
[All this will be explained more throughout, but first it is necessary to meditate on what
is said here in general.
] God cannot want to render any of his creatures
unhappy, that is, to make him suffer pain, unless he has deserved it; and if we
experience that we are unhappy, it is necessary that we have deserved it.
Nothing is more important than to meditate upon this article.
[31R] I could still relate some other maxims as certain as the preceding ones,
but that will lead us too far away; I will try to meditate upon them another time.
Before engaging myself to examine some question, the first thing that I will
do is to conceive neatly and distinctly what it is that I have to examine.
For I will avoid that defect that I had before I knew how to rule the
movements of my mind, which led me to resolve that which presented itself
before having considered it according to the signs that could let me know what I
was searching for.
[32L] I will take care above all not to persist in wanting to understand
everything that is related to the infinite.
Just as there are certain things that cannot be proved directly, for the
moment I will content myself to suppose them true. And if from this supposition
I draw consequences conforming to right reason, I will hold this thing to be true;
This marginal note is repeated twice on the same page, almost verbatim. Is this a comment
the author wishes to include in the next draft, perhaps? (Note the first person “I” in the first
of these.)
Or: “creations”
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
if I draw something out that is not consistent with it and that we call per
reduxionem absurdum in school
, I will hold it to be false.
I will spare the capacity of my mind in the resolution of the difficulties that I
could have, especially in the examination of compound questions; and [32R] the
best means that I know for this is to divide each difficulty into as many parts as
possible, and to make an exact count of all the manner in which something can
be done. Afterward I will write them down to relieve my memory and in order to
not divide my mind with the trouble that it would take to retain them, as I will
know something useless to my question. I will put it aside, and examining with
exactitude all the parts of the thing in question, I will be able to resolve it and
arrive by this means to that which I will have set myself to find. [This is called
abbreviating ideas.]
[33L] If I want to know, for example, the effective cause of the feelings I
experience within myself, I will first make an exact division of everything that
can be the cause of these feelings, and I will say that all the causes of my feelings
are reduced either to bodies or to myself, or else to some mind other than myself.
After having written this division, I will begin to examine whether bodies can
produce these feelings, and seeing first that bodies have no relationship with me
(I who am a thinking being) and that, for that matter, they have no power of
their own, I will conclude that bodies can do me [33R] neither good nor harm.
Thus I will put aside this part of my division and I will come to the second, and
after having well considered and having perceived that I suffer pain despite
myself, this will convince me that it is not my soul that is the cause.
There remains only the final part of my division, that is, that it must be a
that is the cause of everything that I experience of pleasure, of pain. And
as pleasure makes me happy and pain unhappy, I will begin by discovering that
what causes my pleasure or my pain is that [34L] same thing that can reward me
and overcome me with pleasure if I do good, and punish me if I do harm. I will
conclude from all this that there is a mind above me, and that it deserves my
More commonly phrased as reductio ad absurdum. (I was curious how common this alternate
phrasing was, so I googled it, both as is and with the standard spelling of reductionem—and
found no results!)
In the context of this paragraph, “spirit” would also be apt as a translation of esprit.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
adorations, and it is that mind that I will call my God and the cause not only of
all my feelings but yet of everything that happens in the universe. These
considerations will have revealed to me the cause of my feelings and will at the
same time have furnished me with a very short but convincing proof of the
existence of God.
When I have discovered a clear and evident truth, I will try to affirm it for
myself and to render it familiar to myself [34R] by my frequent reflections. I will
resolve as much as I can the difficulties that seem to fight against it, but if I
should encounter one that I cannot illuminate, whether for reason of its
obscurity or because of certain things that must be known and that I do not
know, I will not abandon the truth for this when I am certain of having found it.
Rules for properly
guiding one’s mind in
what we understand of
faith, whether human or
All the rules that I have proposed until now have to do with knowledge that
is founded on the evidence of reason; but before finishing this method, I must
offer some other rules to properly guide myself in the knowledge of events
whose certainty is based upon authority.
There are two general paths that make me believe that something is true. The
first is the knowledge that I draw from [35R] clear ideas that the light of every
intelligence encloses, and that is what we are in the habit of calling to know by
reason; we also call this knowledge science.
The other path is the authority of persons worthy of being believed, who
assure us that such a thing is so, although we know nothing of it ourselves : this
is called faith. But as this authority is of two kindsthat of God and that of
manI also recognize two kinds of faith: divine faith and human faith.
Human faith is by its nature subject to error, because every man is a liar;
[36L] and whoever can assure that something is truthful will himself be
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
deceived. Nevertheless there are things that I do not know except by a human
faith, which I must hold as certain and also doubtless as if I had demonstrations
of them, as that which I know by a constant revelation of so many people that it
is impossible that they could have conspired together to assure that very thing if
it were not true. Thus although I was not in the army of Monsieur de
Luxembourg, I must hold it as assured that it defeated the Dutch [36R] army.
If I compare these two general paths that make me believe that something is
soreason and faithit is certain that faith always supposes some reason;
otherwise we would not be able to bring ourselves to believe that which is above
reason, if reason itself did not persuade that there are things that we do well to
believe in although we are not capable of comprehending what is true.
[When miracles push me to believe some truth, these miracles are called “motifs of
credibility.”] With regard to divine faithfor reason teaches me that God, being
truth itself, cannot deceive me in what He reveals to me of nature [37L] and its
mysteriesfrom which it seems that I am obligated to captivate my
understanding to obey Jesus Christ, I know it not without reason, but with
knowledge of cause. And because it is a reasonable action to captivate oneself in
this way under the authority of God when He has given me sufficient proof,
such as the miracles and other prodigious events that obligate me to believe that
He is the same one who revealed to mankind the truths that I must believe. In
fact, to consider things exactly, what I see by evidence or by the faithful report
of [37R] my senses is never opposed to what divine faith teaches me. For
example, my senses clearly show me the roundness and the whiteness of the
Eucharist, but my senses do not teach me at all whether it is substance of the
bread that makes my eyes perceive roundness and whiteness in it. Thus faith is
not at all opposed to the evidence of our senses, since it tells me that it is not at
all the substance of the bread, which is no longer there, having been changed
into the body of Jesus Christ by the mystery of transubstantiation, and that I no
longer see there [38L] anything but the forms and appearances of bread that
remain although the substance is no longer there.
My best guess is that this refers to the Battle of Saint-Denis in 1678, where the Duke of
Luxembourg defeated the army of William III of Orange.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
[The Art of Thinking
, page 448] Likewise my reason makes me see that a single
body is not in different places at one time, nor two bodies occupying the same
space, but this must be understood from the natural condition of bodies, because
it would be a defect of reason to imagine that my mind, being finite, could not
understand it as far as extends the power of God, who is infinite. Thus while the
heretics, to destroy the mystery of the Eucharist, oppose these so-called
impossibilities that they draw from reason, in this they distance themselves
visibly from [38R] reason in pretending to be able to understand in their minds
the infinite expanse of God’s power.
I will pose as a certain and indubitable maxim, as concerns contingent truths
(that is, those that can be and not be, like the king’s victory won against the
English and Dutch fleets
), that I will first examine their possibility, but without
this possibility moving me to believe them.
Nevertheless it would be ridiculous to demand geometric proofs for similar
That which will determine me to believe in contingent proofs will be the
circumstances that [39L] accompany them, both internal and external.
I call internal circumstances those that belong to the fact itself, and external
those that relate to the people who attest the said fact. If all these circumstances
are such that it never (or very rarely) happens that similar circumstances be
accompanied by falsehoods, my mind will naturally bear itself to believe what is
true, especially in the conduct of a life that asks for no greater certainty than this
moral certainty, and that must also content itself in several encounters with the
greatest probability.
[39R] If, on the contrary, these circumstances are not such, and if they often
find themselves among falsehoods, I will be wary of these facts. One asks, for
example, whether Constantine was baptized by Pope Sylvester in Rome. The
cardinal Baronius
believes this story, which he assures is truthful ; the cardinal
Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, La logique, ou l’art de penser (also known as Logique de Port-
Royal), 1662.
I am guessing from context that this refers to another battle in the Franco-Dutch war? But
it could also be another contemporary event.
Cesare Baronio (1538-1607), an Italian cardinal and historian of the early Church; author of
the Annales Ecclesiastici, published in twelve volumes beginning in 1588.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
Du Perron
, the Jesuit father Peteau
and the father Morin de l’Oratoire
believe it false. If I stopped at possibility alone, I would not have the right to
reject it, because this story contains nothing that is impossible. But if I
remember the rule that I have just proposed, which is to consider the
circumstances of either of [40L] Constantine’s baptisms and which of them bear
more of the mark of truth, we will find that these are the latter. For on the one
hand there is no great cause to rest it upon the witness of a writer as fabulous as
the author of the Acts of Saint Sylvester, who is the only ancient source who
spoke of Constantine’s baptism in Rome; and on the other hand, there is no
indication that a man as skilled as Eusebius
would have dared to lie in
reporting something as famous as the baptism of the first Emperor who set the
Church free and who must have been known all over the world at the time he
was writing, since [40R] it was only four or five years aver the death of this
I will observe, in addition, that when a sufficiently well-attested fact is
combatted by obvious contradictions with other stories, I will observe, I say,
that in order to place this fact under the cover of falsehood it is sufficient for me
to be able to give possible solutions; and I will not take the trouble to search for
positive reasons, since I will often attempt impossible things.
We would not know, for example, how to harmonize what is reported in the
Book of Kings of the years of the reigns of different [41L] kings of Judah and of
Israel except by giving to some of these kings two beginnings of a reign, one of
the living and the other after the death of his father, so that if one asks me what
proof we have that such a king reigned some time with his father, I will avow
that I have no positive proof, but it is enough that it is something that is possible,
and that happened often enough in other contexts to have the right to assume it
as a circumstance necessary to reconcile these fairly certain histories.
Jacques Davy Du Perron (1556-1618).
I’m still searching for this guy!
Jean Morin (1591-1659), scholar and theologian.
Eusebius of Caesarea, author of The Life of Constantine the Great (4th c).
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
This is why nothing is more ridiculous than the efforts of some dissolute men
[41R] of this last century to prove that Saint Peter was never in Rome. They
would not know how to deny that this truth was attested by all the ecclesiastical
authors: by Saint Irenaeus, by Tertullian, authors who flourished around the
second century. And nevertheless they imagine being able to destroy [this truth]
by conjecture, as for example [by claiming] that Saint Paul does not mention
Saint Peter in his Roman epistles. And when we reply to them that Saint Peter
could have been away from Rome at the timebecause we do not pretend that
he was so rooted there [42L] that he didn’t often leave to go preach the gospel in
other placesthey reply that that is said gratuitously and without proof, which
is insolent, because the fact that they dispute is one of the more assured truths of
the history of the Church. It is up to those who fight to make them see that they
contain oppositions with [their] writing, and it will be enough to those who
support them to resolve these so-called oppositions.
In what manner
one must guide oneself in
the belief in
[The word “miracle” means everything that is extraordinary and surprising, and that
which does not occur as the result of the communication of movements.] There are people
who accept every kind of miracle into their belief without examining their
circumstances. They believe them only for this reason: that all things are possible
for God, and that if we could doubt one thing, we would have reason to doubt it
Others, on the contrary, imagine foolishly that there is a force of mind in
doubting all miracles, without having other reasons [43L] except that we have
often encountered things that are not found to be truthful and that have no cause
to be believed more than any other.
Translation © Ariane Helou, July 2018
Since I am assured that God does not do all that he is capable of, I will take
good care not to believe that such a miracle has occurred, because all things are
possible for God.
Nevertheless I will take good care to reject them, as some people do, because
false ones are sometimes found among them; for it is certain that the miracles
that are found to be false were not believed except by [43R] common rumor,
without tracing them back to their origins, and if we had taken the trouble to
examine all the circumstances of these facts, we would not have believed them so
Therefore when I read in some history of some miraculous event, I will
consider the quality of the historian: if he is worthy of being believed, if he was
witness to the event that he describes, or if he learned of it from people who saw
it. The circumstances, in conjunction with the trustworthiness of the author, will
persuade me to believe in these miraculous events.
Thus I believe those [miracles] that Saint Augustine describes in his
Confessions or in The City [44L] of God, which he says occurred before his eyes or
which he attests he was well informed of by the very people to whom these
things happened, like [the story of] the blind man healed in Milan in the
presence of all the populace by touching the relics of Saint Gervasius and Saint
Protasius, of which he says in Book 22 of The City of God, chapter 8: “The miracle
that was done in Milan when I was there, when a blind man was given sight,
was able to become known to many and, both because that city is large and
because the Emperor was then there, and this deed [44R] was accomplished by
with a huge population as witness coming toward the bodies of the martyrs
Gervasius and Protasius.”
Of a woman healed in Africa by flowers that had
touched the relics of Saint Stephen, as he attests in the same place.
Suppose that these things occurred as Saint Augustine reports them. There is
no reasonable person who ought not believe in the invocation of the saints, for
God would not work miracles to authorize a superstition; and just as it is not
credible that a judicious man like Saint Augustine would have wanted to lie
about [45L] such public things, it is common sense to believe in these miracles,
and consequently [to believe] that it is permitted to invoke the saints.
Direct citation from Augustine, in Latin.
Chapter 1
That God Exists
Since previously I did not know what it was to enter into oneself to [48L]
hear there the voice of truth, according to which I must judge of all thing all
my eyes which govern my decisions, I judged according to what I felt
and not according to what I perceived, for I feel with pleasure and I perceive
with pain.
(why the majority of men find no solidity in metaphysics
Now I will close my eyes; I will stop my ears; in a word, I will erase from my
thoughts all images of bodily things in order to more easily contemplate purely
After having assured myself that I am something [48R] that thinks
, if I want
to extend my knowledge I must known what is required to make me certain of
the truths that I want to seek.
I have discovered only two paths that will guide me directly to the truth.
The first is to reason over clear ideas only.
The second, not to attribute [anything] to any object except that which I will
clearly perceive as enclosed within the idea that represents it to me; thus I can
establish as a general rule that everything that I will perceive as very clearly
The word tentatively transcribed as “tout” is difficult to read in the manuscript it looks
like it may have been written over, or compressed with another word. I am open to other
readings. The syntax of this sentence is a bit awkward, in part because I’m not sure how
this unclear word fits in.
Or: difficulty, trouble.
Marginal note.
A bit tricky to render in English; idées intelligibles (i.e. understandable, comprehendible)
seems to be deployed in opposition to things that can be perceived with the senses.
A reference to the Cartesian cogito?
Je puis = alternative form of je peux.
[49L] and very distinctly enclosed within the idea of an object, I could attribute
to it without fear of being in error.
But as in this axiom that there is nothing that stops and that naturally applies
my spirit, I must consider it once and for all, and even with a bit of constancy
and firmness, to recognize the truth of it with evidence.
I can assure, without fear of falling into terror
, that the whole is larger than
its part[s]; however, this is nothing more than a conclusion drawn from this
principle: that we [49R] can affirm from one object that what we perceive
clearly is enclosed in the idea that represents it, if the conclusion is therefore
evident and certain. The principle that cannot by proved by any other is without
a doubt the most certain, so to speak, of all the axioms.
] remembers therefore that I did not hesitate on the conclusion and
that I doubted the principle from which it was drawn, if it wasn’t for the fact
that the ideas in all parts are sensible and that I see, so to speak, with my eyes
that the whole is greater than its part[s], but that I do not see with the eyes the
truth of the first axiom [50L] of all forms of knowledge.
I can therefore draw from the establishment of the two preceding axioms an
argument and a demonstrative proof of the existence of God. It is certain that I
have within myself the idea of an infinitely perfect being (I am not yet defining
what this idea is); for how would it be possible that I could know what I doubt
and what I desire, that is, that I am lacking something and that I am not entirely
perfect, if I didn’t have within myself any idea of a being more perfect than my
own, by comparison with which I could [50R] know the defects of my own
nature? And how would I be able to respond so promptly, if I didn’t have any
idea of an infinitely perfect being, when asked if this being is round or square?
Without doubt this question would be as obscure to me as any that could be
made on these terms if there is a [blictri?]
, that is, such an object without
knowing what it is. Then, therefore, since I know that I have defects and that I
Strange usage; the verb appliquer usually takes an indirect object, which is missing from
this sentence.
I.e. without fear of going to hell. (The writer seems to be asserting his truthfulness, and/or
defending himself against charges of blasphemy.)
This sentence seems to be missing a pronoun; “Souvient” is third person singular.
only know it by the comparison that I make between myself and an infinitely
perfect nature, I must conclude with confidence that I grasp the idea of it [i.e. of
the infinitely perfect being] as well as [I do] of several [51L] geometrical figures
of which I can demonstrate the properties; and as I perceive no less clearly and
distinctly that an actual and eternal existence belongs to the nature of the
infinitely perfect being that I perceive, that all that I can demonstrate with some
number truthfully belongs to the nature of this figure or this number, it follows
that the existence of God must, in my view, be understood to be
as fully certain
as all the truths that belong to geometry and algebra.
This word is difficult to read in the manuscript. This is what the letters look like to me, but
as far as I know this is not a French word! It could be two words compressed together, but I
haven’t been able to figure it out yet.
Passer pour = “pass for,” but in English “passing” indicates a performance, or that
someone’s identity does not align with how they are perceived; I don’t detect that sense of
ambiguity from the writer.
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[Chapter 1, continued]
[51L] This reasoning seems to have some appearance of sophistry, [51R]
especially with regard to those who do not understand it well. For just as they
are able to think about plenty of things that do not exist
, since creatures
can be
without being, they distinguish
the existence of things from their
essence ; thus they easily persuade themselves that the existence of God can be
separated from His essence, and that one can conceive of Him without His
existing. Nevertheless, when I think about it with more attention, I find,
obviously, that the existence of God can no more be separated from His essence
than from the essence of a right triangle the size of its three angles equivalent to
two right angles [52L], or even [that] the idea of a valley [could be separated]
from the idea of a mountain, in the sense that there is no less repugnance in
conceiving of a God (that is, an infinitely perfect being) that lacks existence
(that is, that lacks a certain perfection) than in conceiving of a mountain that has
no valley.
There is certainly no infinitely perfect being like simple beings; these do not
contain all perfections, I can perceive them even if they do not exist. But we can
perceive the infinite being only within Himself, for there is nothing finite that
could represent [52R] the infinite; therefore we cannot perceive God if He does
not exist
, we cannot perceive the essence of an infinitely perfect being without
perceiving its existence, we cannot perceive it simply as a possible being ;
nothing contains
it, and if I think about it it must be so.
Although I could not conceive of a God without existence any more than of a
mountain without a valley, nonetheless just as from this alone I perceive a
mountain with a valley, it does not follow that there is also such a mountain in
the world ; although I conceive of God as existing, it does not follow, it seems to
me, that God exists. For [53L] my thought does not place any necessity in
opposition to things
; and just as it is up to me to imagine a winged horse,
although there exists none that has wings, I could perhaps attribute existence to
God, although there is no God that exists.
There is sophistry hidden under the appearance of this objection (which is
Ch 1 Translation 6.25.18 - 6/25/18, 1:10 PM / 2
not very difficult to discover) that I cannot conceive of a mountain without a
valley. I do not want to conclude that there exists in the world a mountain and a
valley, but only that the mountain and the valley—whether they exist or not—
are inseparable [53R] from each other. Instead of only this, that I cannot
conceive of the infinite by the finite, it follows that, thinking about the infinite, it
must exist since there is only it [i.e. the infinite] that could be the object of my
thought ; and that way I am convinced that my spirit cannot give it being,
although it could conceive of a horse with or without wings.
Nonetheless, here is what one could still object to on my part, since you say
that nothing finite can represent the infinite. You say that it is God Himself,
present to your soul, who is this infinite, so you suppose, without thinking about
it, that God exists before having proved it.
[54L] Who does not see that this objection has no solidity and that it is coarse
sophistry? For is it not proving that God exists, in my opinion, since I would not
be able to think of Him if He did not exist? Therefore if I think of something, I
have the idea of it; if I conceive of it (for all these terms signify the same thing) it
must necessarily exist, since nothing finite can represent the infinite.
If all men were capable of serious attention, it would not be necessary to take
the detour that I took in this demonstration to convince them of the existence of
God; one would only have to propose it simply, like this.
[54R] When I think about God, I think about an infinitely perfect being; yet
there is nothing in me that could represent this infinitely perfect being, therefore
it must be Himself who makes himself known to me immediately.
Nevertheless, I do not pretend to have done something useless in raising
myself little by little to the knowledge
of God by the axioms that I have
presented as the principles of all forms of knowledge; for by this means I
persuaded myself that of all truths, that of the existence of God was the most
certain, and that if I did not comprehend it [55L] before, it was because I
deferred too much to my senses and because I wanted to see everything through
bodily images.
I remark that the knowledge of God is so necessary to one who wishes to
Ch 1 Translation 6.25.18 - 6/25/18, 1:10 PM / 3
assure himself of something that, without it, it is impossible to ever be able to
know anything perfectly.
For as I am still of such a nature that as soon as I comprehend something
very clearly and very distinctly, I cannot prevent myself from believing it to be
true, nevertheless, because I am also of such a nature that I cannot have my
spirit continually [55R] attached to just one thing—and that I often remember
having judged something to be true when I stop paying attention to the reasons
that required me to judge it—it can happen in such a way during that time that
other reasons present themselves to me, which would make me easily change my
mind if I did not know that God exists. And thus I would never have a certain
form of knowledge of anything, and all my knowledge could only be vague and
[This is the proposition of Book I of the explication of the books of Euclid
] Just as,
for example, when I consider a triangle I know that I can inscribe a small
triangle on its base [56L] whose sides will be shorter than those of the large one,
but which make a larger angle, and it is not possible for me to not believe the
truth of this while I apply my mind to this demonstration. But as soon as I turn
away from it, although I remember having clearly comprehended it, nevertheless
it could easily happen that I doubt its truth if I do not know that God exists; for
I can persuade myself to have been made in such a way by my nature that I
could easily be mistaken even in the things that I believe I understand with the
highest evidence and with certitude, especially since [56R] I remember having
often considered many things as true and certain which, later on, other reasons
brought me to judge them as absolutely false.
But after having recognized that there is a God and that He is not at all a
deceiver, and that following this I judged that everything that I conceive of
clearly and distinctly cannot not be true, although I no longer think of the
reasons why I judged that this is truthful for [veux
] that I remember having
clearly and distinctly comprehended it, no opposing reason could be presented
to me that would make me [57L] ever revoke [what I perceive] in doubt. Thus I
have a true and certain form of knowledge, and this form of knowledge extends
Ch 1 Translation 6.25.18 - 6/25/18, 1:10 PM / 4
to all the other things that I remember having previously demonstrated, for what
one would object to on my part to require me to doubt [my knowledge] will be
that my nature is subject to be mistaken. But I already know that I cannot but be
mistaken in the judgments for which I clearly know the reasons, given that
previously believed many things to be true and certain which I later recognized
to be false ; but I had known neither clearly nor distinctly any of these things,
and not yet knowing that [57R] rule by which I assure myself of truth, I
believed them, these things, for reasons which I have since known to be not as
evident as I was myself
Thus I am confirmed in my first thought that the certainty of the truth of
every form of knowledge depends upon the only knowledge of the true God,
such that before I knew Him I could know nothing perfectly; but now that I
know Him I have the means of acquiring a perfect form of knowledge [58L]
touching upon an infinity of things.
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qui ne sont point = “that are not at all”. I am translating the form of être here as “exist” to
be clearer in English.
Or: “creations”
The word in French, vues, means “seen”, but it seems paradoxical to be able to “see”
something that does not exist. The Dictionnaire du moyen français indicates that voir (“to
see”) in the context of spirituality means “To be in a contemplative state and to perceive by
the eyes of the spirit, God and aspects of faith”; it may also mean to understand the nature
of something, or to imagine. Here and in the following paragraph I render voir in this
metaphysical sense as “perceive.”
An archaic idiom, distinguer d’avec = “to distinguish from”; it’s a little strange that the
phrase is broken up here.
In other words: the definition of a right triangle is that its angles add up to 180 degrees
(equivalent to two right angles of 90 degrees). And since a mountain is, by definition, a high
area of land, it is impossible to conceive of without a corresponding low land (valley), since
its height must be defined in relation to another ground level.
This is a bit of an interpolation on my part. The syntax of this phrase as written (l’on ne
peut donc voir Dieu qu’il n’existe) is very awkward, and I can’t make sense of it; it seems to
me that a word is missing. I’m taking the sans of the next clause as a clue to parallel
structure, but I could be wrong about this.
Or: “comprehend,” “understand.
The sense seems to be, “I can imagine things even if I have seen no evidence for them in
the real world.” For this sense of opposer,
(definition B1).
I translate connaissance as “knowledge” and science as “form of knowledge.
Marginal note. The annotator is referring to Book I of Euclid’s Elements.
I am not sure what this word is doing in the sentence. Most frequently veux is the first
person singular present indicative of vouloir (= “I want”) but that doesn’t fit here
syntactically. It could be an alternative spelling of voeux (“vows”), but that doesn’t fit either.
It could also be a scribal error.
This is an interpolation; sera ce is very awkward syntax (perhaps another case of a
missing word?).
Or: “as I was to myself”
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
Chapter 2
Demonstration of the existence of God
using the techniques of the geometers
The manner of demonstrating is double: one is done by analysis, and the
other by synthesis.
Analysis shows the true path by which one thing has been methodically
invented, and reveals how effects depend upon causes; just as if I want to
understand the craftsmanship of a watch, the first thing that I [58R] must do is
to understand its effects. Then I must demonstrate it piece by piece, and I will
infallibly discover what gives it movement. This technique of knowing things is
called analysis. Or instead of this watch being demonstrated after its principal
parts have been made known, I could remark on them while assembling them
one after the other, how the spring gives movement to the barrels, etc.; and that
is what is called synthesis.
Demonstration by analysis is not suitable to convince stubborn or inattentive
readers. [59L] For if, without paying close attention, we let escape the slightest
thing that it [the demonstration] proposes, the evidence and the necessity of the
conclusion will not appear at all. This is why we do not make use of these kinds
of demonstrations in teaching, but [use] synthesis instead, which makes use of a
long sequence of definitions, postulates
, and axioms that we link with each
other, so that if we deny some consequence, it reveals that it is contained in its
antecedents; and by this means we compel even the stubbornest to yield. It is by
this sort of demonstration that I [59R] will demonstrate the existence of God.
In my first pass at the Table of Contents, I rendered geometres as “geometricians.” However, I
think “geometers” is much smoother as well as accurate, and will be using that from now on.
Demande generally means “question” or “demand,” but the demandes presented in this text are
statements rather than questions. Although I have not yet found evidence of this usage in
historical dictionaries, I am translating demande here as “postulate” (as in a premise or
assumption for a philosophical or mathematical proof), since this seems to make the most
sense in context.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
1. By this word, God, I understand an infinitely perfect being.
2. Here I take the word idea to mean that which is the immediate object of my
3. To have the idea or knowledge of something is to know what it includes
and what it excludes.
4. Something is said to have no relationship with something else when it does
not contain it in any manner; thus the finite has no relationship with the infinite,
a line has no relationship with a surface
, etc.
[60L] Postulates
1. The finite cannot represent the infinite.
2. Existence is perfection; being is better than not being.
3. Ideas to which we can neither add nor take away are not the product of my
4. There is nobody who does not respond promptly when asked if God is
narrow, round, square, etc., and who does not provide without hesitation the
attributes that belong to the infinitely perfect being.
1. One must never reason [60R] except about clear and distinct ideas [and
that which we conceive clearly is true
2. Without fear of being in error, one must attribute to something everything
that is represented to us by its idea, or if you prefer, everything that we clearly
conceive is included within this idea.
3. One must never abandon a clearly conceived truth because one cannot
resolve some difficulties that seem to oppose it.
To know what the infinitely perfect being includes or excludes is to perceive
something of the infinite, according to Definition 3.
Or (perhaps more accurate in the context of geometry?) a plane.
Marginal note; by the placement on the page it seems like it may be meant as an addition to
the sentence rather than a separate commentary.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
[61L] Now then, I know what the infinitely perfect being includes or
excludes, according to Postulate 4.
Therefore I perceive something of the infinite.
Now then, nothing finite can represent the infinite, according to Definition 4
and the first postulate.
Therefore since I perceive the infinite, the infinite (that is, God) exists, and
that is what it was necessary to prove.
Another Demonstration
I must hold as true everything that I conceive clearly and distinctly,
according to the second part of Axiom 1.
Now then, I conceive [61R] clearly and distinctly that the modalities of my
soul cannot represent the infinite, according to Definition 4 and the first
postulate. Therefore the modalities of my soul are not at all the object of my
thought when I perceive the infinite; therefore this object is God Himself, and
consequently He exists.
The idea of God, as I defined it in Definition 2, is God Himself. There is no
other idea of God than His Word
. Indeed we see God through an idea, but it is
an idea that is consubstantial* with him, an idea that includes all his substance.
For [62L] we cannot seeas has been demonstratedthe universal being, the
infinite being, in a being that has been created finite; in a word, in something
that does not enclose it. [*That is, of the same substance as God and eternal.
Reflection 1
[Between metap. page 46
] Now that I am assured of the existence of God by the
idea that I have of Him, I will be quite careful not to say, as do the common
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1 (KJV)
Marginal gloss; the asterisks are in the ms.
Marginal note; perhaps a reference to another text on metaphysics, but it’s not clear which
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
crowd, that we have no knowledge of this infinitely perfect being. I would say
only that in this life we do not see Him except very confusedly and as if from
afar; that we do not see Him at all [62R] as He truly is, because although we see
the infinite or the being without restriction, we do not see Him except in a very
imperfect manner; we do not see Him at all as a simple
being, although He is
composed, so to speak, of an infinity of different perfections; in a word, we see
Him as the universal reason of minds, which illuminates our intelligences
according to the measure of light that is now necessary for them to conduct
Reflection 2
Two things come together in the perception that I have [63L] of God: the
impression that this infinitely perfect being makes in my mind and which I call
perception or modality, and the presence of the infinite. And this is what I perceive:
in the past, when I conducted myself by my senses and judged the reality of
ideas by the vivid feelings they impressed upon my mind, I believed that there
was more substance
in a cubic foot of ice than in a cubic foot of air. I also
believed, by the same reason, that the infinite, or the being in general, had less
reality than the idea of such an object that touched me in a very strong manner.
But as I have [63R] recognized that I was in error in attributing more reality to
a cubic foot of ice than to one of air, so too I was no less in error in attributing
more reality to the point of the needle that pricks me than to the idea of the
infinitely perfect being who makes Himself almost not felt. Thus I confirm
myself more and more in that beautiful maxim that one must not judge things by
the feelings that we have about them, but by the light of reason in contemplating
their ideas.
I think here simple does not mean simplistic, but rather unified, holistic, or integral (i.e.
composed of or containing just one thing as opposed to many).
The word in French is matière, which may be translated as “matter.” However, the argument
that the author is making here is not that there is more matter in a cubic foot of ice than of air;
his point is not about the mass of the object (this is not a physics example), but of the fact that
a cubic foot of air is still a cubic foot of something, that has substance and property although
we cannot see it or touch it. This is all connected to his core argument about the fallibility of
the senses in perceiving the natural world and the existence of the divine.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
Reflection 2
If by proving things a priori
we understand that we prove them [64L] by the
idea that we have of them, it is certain that the existence of God demonstrates
itself in this manner. But if a priori we understand that we demonstrate things by
their cause, God having having none
, this sort of demonstration is impossible.
Reflection 4
This is the difference between the demonstration of the existence of God that
I related above, and that which the Cartesians
usually give: that the one of
which I have made use proves in an invincible manner that the idea that all men
have of God is God Himself, present in their souls; on the other hand, the
philosophers I am speaking of suppose [64R] that this idea is a modality of their
soul, which cannot be conceived. Thus all demonstrations that are founded upon
this so-called idea are pure sophistry.
Reflection 5
As the word idea is quite equivocal, and signifies sometimes generally all that
is the immediate object of our mind, and sometimes that which represents to the
mind the beings that are not at all intelligible to themselves (for example, the
idea of bodies
), the author of The Search After Truth
has assured in different
parts of his book that we have no idea at all of God in this sense: that He [65L]
cannot be represented at all by a particular being. And in other parts he has said
Latin, “from the earlier”: a philosophical argument based on prior knowledge or deductive
reasoning. Contrast with a posteriori (“from the latter”), based on empirical evidence (invoked
in Reflection 6).
i.e. God has no cause because God is the cause and originator of everything in the cosmos.
Adherents of the philosophical system of René Descartes; Pierre Malebranche and Antoine
Arnauld were among them. At the core of the Cartesian understanding of the world was its
division into three separate ontological categories: matter, mind, and God.
The author does not elaborate, but based on the previous paragraph, I take it to mean the
Cartesian ontological category of the body as opposed to the mind or God.
Pierre Malebranche, De la recherche de la vérité. Où l’on traite de la Nature de l’Esprit de l’homme, et
de l’usage qu’il en doit faire pour éviter l’erreur dans les Sciences. Six books, published in two volumes
1674-75. Translated into English as The Search After Truth (Thomas Taylor; London, 1700).
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
that we have the idea of God, but as he explained the manner in which we must
understand these expressions, it is without grounds that Mr. Arnauld blames
him for having contradicted himself and having explained himself obscurely on
this topic. See The Search After Truth, Chapter 1 of the second part of Book 3, and
Book 4 Chapter 11.
Reflection 6
I have not undertaken to prove the existence of God a posteriori
or by its
effects, such as by the creation of the world; for the existence of God is more
certain than the existence of the world. Thus the consequence would have been
clearer than the principle; vid. the Preface for this effect.
Chapter 3
The existence of God proven
in another manner
Demonstration 2
Now that I am assured that I would not be able to think about God if He
were not present in my mind, I want to pass beyond this and consider whether I
myself, who have this knowledge, could exist if the case were that there were no
God at all.
I can only have my existence from myself, or rather from my parents
, or
rather from some other causes less perfect than God, for one cannot [66L]
imagine anything more perfect than or even equal to Him.
So if I were independent of everything else and if I were myself the author of
my being, I would doubt nothing, I would conceive no desire at all, and in the
end I would lack no perfection, for I would have given to myself all those of
which I have some idea within me, and thus I would be God.
See above, note 10.
In French parents may mean mother and father, but it can also refer more generally to
forebears and/or extended family.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
Perhaps I have always been as I am now.
Although I could suppose it, I would not know how to avoid the force of this
reasoning for this, [66R] and I cannot prevent myself from knowing that it is
necessary that God should be the author of my existence. For all the time of my
life can be divided into an infinity of parts that do not depend on each other at
all, and that have no necessary connection. Thus from what I had been a little
before, it does not follow that I must now be, if it is not the case that in this
moment some cause produces me and creates me, so to speak, anew; that is,
preserves me, since preservation is nothing but a continuous creation. In fact,
this is something quite clear and quite [67L] evident to all those who consider
the nature of time: that a substance, to be preserved in all the moments that it
lasts, needs the same power and the same force that would be necessary to
produce it if did not yet exist, so that creation and preservation differ only by
our manner of conceiving [of them].
Therefore I have only to interrogate myself and consult with myself to see if I
have in me some force by which I could make simply myself who now am. I
persevere in being a moment late, for since I am nothing but a thing that thinks
and who perceives myself [67R] with regard to what happens within me, if I had
such a power I ought at the very least to think it and have knowledge of it. But I
feel none within me, and because of that I know, obviously, that I depend upon
some being that is different from me.
But perhaps that being upon which I depend is not God, and perhaps I am
produced either by my parents or by some other cause less perfect than Him;
and that cause of which I hold my origin or my existence, does it maintain itself
from itself or from some other [cause]? If it holds itself of itself, it [68L] follows,
by the reasons that I have alleged above, that this cause is God, since, having the
virtue of being and existing by itself, it must also have the power to actually
possess all the perfections of which it has the ideas within itself, that is, all those
which I conceive of as being within God. That if it holds its existence from some
other cause than itself, I will ask anew, by the same reason of this second cause,
if it is by itself or by another, until
, degree by degree, we finally arrive at a final
cause that will reveal itself to be God.
The ms. reads ius a ce que, which I read as a scribal error for jusqu’à ce que.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
It is most certain that in this there can be no progress at all toward the
infinite, that is, that one cannot say that I had been produced by another cause,
and that cause by another, etc.
For by this means one could avoid the force of my reasoning, but as here it is
a question of what actually preserves me, it would be ridiculous to want to climb
back up toward the infinite and have recourse to a linkage of causes.
Therefore since I do not recognize any power in myself to preserve myself,
and since I experience that I am being worked upon despite myselfwhich
could not happen to me if I [69L] preserved myselfit is absolutely necessary
that there be one superior cause that holds its origin only from itself, and that is
what I call God or the infinitely perfect being.
Chapter 4
Demonstration of the existence
of God in the manner
of the geometers
1 I take here the word creation for the action by which I had been produced.
2 By that of preservation, the continuation of this action.
[69R] To be the true cause of some effect is to have a relationship or a
necessary connection with this effect.
1 We are not the cause [of] what happens to us despite ourselves.
2 As the moments of our life have no necessary connections among
themselves, it does not follow that what I am now I must be a moment later.
3 There is nothing of all that exists about which we cannot say why it exists,
and what cause makes it [70L] survive.
4 One who thinks is above one who does not think.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
5 One who is less perfect than another would not know how to act upon him;
thus he cannot be regarded as his good. Consequently we can regard the one
who acts within us as our good.
6 The one who acts within us is the same one who preserves us.
Since I sense that I exist, I can ask what cause makes me exist, according to
Postulate 3.
[70R] Now after having thoroughly searched for this cause within me, I was
unable to discover it.
Therefore it must be that it is outside of myself.
The cause that acts within me is that which preserves me, according to
Postulate 6.
Now then, I do not act within myself.
Therefore it is not I who makes myself survive or who preserves myself.
I prove that the lesser acts within me as a true cause of the kind in question
here: it is to have a necessary connection with everything that produces itself,
according to Definition 3.
Now then, there is no necessary [71L] connection at all between me and
what produces itself within me; thus I am not the cause.
Sometimes I experience sorrow, joy, sadness, and that despite myself;
therefore there is no necessary connection between my feelings and I who feel
them. Therefore I am not their cause, according to the first postulate.
Of all the other things that could act within me, I know none but bodies (and
I still do not know if there are any) and some mind.
Now suppose that there are bodies: they cannot act within me, therefore they
cannot preserve me.
[71R] That which acts within me must be called my good, the cause of my
happiness, etc. according to Postulate 5.
Now the bodies (supposing that they exist) cannot be called my good,
therefore they cannot act within me.
The bodies are not as perfect as I who think, according to Postulate 4.
Translation © Ariane Helou, August 2018
Therefore they are not my good; then, therefore, as it is neither myself nor the
bodies who produce what I experience and what I feel, we contribute nothing at
all to my preservation. Therefore it must be God, that is, that being who has the
force to preserve Himself, from whom I hold my existence [72L] and my
preservation. Therefore without Him I could not exist, and I would not be, and
that is what it was necessary to demonstrate.
Translation © Ariane Helou, September 2018
Chapter 5
Response to some difficulties
that could be formed
against the preceding demonstrations
I said that I knew the infinitely perfect being clearly, and from that I
concluded that He existed. But if I know the infinite being clearly, then what
would be the meaning of this maxim, received from everybody: that the infinite
[72R] as infinite is unknown? Moreover, when I think of a chiliagon, I do not
know this chiliagon distinctly because I cannot distinctly represent to myself its
thousand sides.
How is it that I woulddistinctly and not confusedly
conceive of the infinite being as infinite since I cannot see, clearly and as if with
my own eyes, the infinite perfections of which He is composed?
As this difficulty often presents itself to my mind and even prevents me from
thoroughly comprehending the demonstrations of the existence of the infinitely
perfect being, [73L] it is necessary that I pause for a moment to clarify it.
This is why I will say here, first of all, that the infinite as infinite is not at all
truly comprehended
. And to thoroughly understand what it is to comprehend
A chiliagon is a polygon with one thousand sides. When viewed in its entirety, a chiliagon on a sheet
of paper would not appear to be different from a circle (the thousand sides are so small that we cannot
see them without enlarging the image to an extreme degree); yet it is in fact a polygon and not a circle.
Descartes, for example, used the chiliagon as a thought experiment to distinguish between imagination
and intellectual conception in Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditation VI (originally published in
Latin as Meditationes de prima philosophia in 1641; French translation Méditationstaphysiques in 1647).
Descartes, again. A bit of serendipitous googling showed that this sentence is verbatim Descartes,
from his response to the first set of objections to his Meditations (i.e. criticisms of other philosophers
and Descartes’s rebuttals, published with the first editions of the work). “C’est pourquoy ie diray icy
premierement que l’infiny, entant qu’infini, n’est point à la vérité compris, mais que neantmoins il est entendu
...” René Descartes, Les Meditation metaphysiques, Paris: Jean Gamusat and Pierre Le Petit, 1647, p. 143
(emphasis mine). I don’t know exactly how extensively the author cites Descartesthat would be a
research project separate from the translationbut if I identify any other citations from other texts I
will note them.
I’d also like to point out that Descartes, in the above quotation, makes a distinction between
the verbs comprendre (comprehend or grasp) and entendre (understand), which is slightly different from
their usage in modern French. In this chapter, and with the translation going forward, I will
distinguish between these two in English as well.
Translation © Ariane Helou, September 2018
something, I will remind myself of Reflection 2 in Chapter 2, where I proved
that two things encounter each other in my mind when I perceive the infinite
being: the impression that this infinity
makes within me, or rather this capacity
of my understanding that receives this infinitely perfect being, and the being
itself that is perceived. So as my soul is finite, it does not have enough expanse
[73R] to embrace all the perfections of this infinite object; that is why I cannot
comprehend it. This means that the perception I have of the infinite is finite. It is
in this sense that the infinite as infinite is not at all comprehended; but
nevertheless it is known, according to Definition 3 in Chapter 2. For I
comprehend clearly that the infinitely perfect being is such that one cannot
encounter limits there at all
; and that is what I will call conceiving of [or]
knowing the infinite. And all the same, when I cast my eyes on the sea, I do not
let it be said that I see it, since my sight [74L] does not reach all of its parts and
does not measure its vast expanse. In fact, when I look at it only from a distance,
as if I wanted to embrace all of it with my eyes, I see it only confusedly, just as I
can only confusedly imagine a chiliagon when I try to imagine all its sides
together. But when my sight pauses on one part of the sea, then only this vision
is very clear and very distinct, just as my imagination of a chiliagon is when it
extends only to one or two of its sides. Thus I avow that God cannot [74R] be
understood by the human mind in this sense: that [the mind] does not have
enough capacity to contain this immense idea, and even that [this idea] cannot
be distinctly understood by those who try to embrace it entirely whole and all at
once, in which sense we say that the knowledge of God is within us under a kind
of confusion, and as if under an obscure image.
I’m translating infini as a noun here for clarity, because it is being used as a substantive adjective.
This phrase du tout point is archaic; a 1764 French-English dictionary defines it as “utterly”
E&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwikhYbW_KvdAhVpCjQIHZUADWYQ6AEwA3oECAcQAQ -
v=onepage&q="du tout point"&f=false) but that didn’t fit the sense of the sentence. I’m choosing to
read it as a scribal error for point du tout (“not at all”), an exceedingly common adverbial phrase both
then and now.
This language is largely borrowed from the Descartes text cited above (this comes in the next
paragraph). “Mais tout ainsi que lors que nous iettons les yeux sur la mer, on ne laisse pas de dire que
nous la voyons, quoy que nostre veuë n’en atteigne pas toutes les parties, & n’en mesure pas la vaste
étenduë:Et devray lors que nous la regardons que de loin, comme si nous la voulions embrasser toute
Translation © Ariane Helou, September 2018
But when I want to consider each of these perfections attentively and to
apply all the strength of my mind toward putting all the phantoms of my
imagination at a distancenot at all with the aim to comprehend them [75L]
but rather to admire them and know how much they are beyond all
comprehension in the way that I understand itI find in this infinite being
incomparably more things that can be clearly and distinctly known, and with
more facility than I find in any things that have been created.
It seems that in my first demonstration I should not have concluded anything
else, except to posit that we understand by this word God an infinitely perfect
being. This being must be within the apprehension of understanding, and not be
[understood] in fact, if we do not remain in agreement that there is [75R] in fact
something that is infinitely perfect.
Because most people are so accustomed to distinguish existence from essence
in all things, they no longer take enough care as it pertains to the essence of God
rather than to that of other thingsand also because they do not distinguish
carefully enough the things that pertain to the true and immutable essence of
something from those that are only attributed to it by the fiction of
understandingalthough they perceive clearly that existence pertains to the
essence of God, they do not always conclude [76L] from this that God exists,
because we do not reflect upon this: that His essence is immutable, [and] that
since the infinite cannot be represented by the finite, it is impossible that this
idea be manufactured by the mind.
Thus, to thoroughly clarify myself with regard to this difficulty, I will make a
distinction between possible and necessary