2.2 The venom of the most criminal opinions

Friday, 7. August 2009

 

After writing several translations Diderot felt confident enough to publish (anonymously) a collection of his own thoughts, titled Pensées philosophiques (1746). The work is an expansion of his notes on Lord Shaftesbury, organised in the form of sixty-two short paragraphs. The principal purpose was to propose a deistic alternative to Chistianity and to advocate the uses of reason and experimental method in the search for truth. The work made a considerable impact  and  was burned by the Paris Parlement, as ‘presenting to restless and reckless spirits the venom of the most criminal opinions that the depravity of human reason is capable of’.  The Philosophic Thoughts ends with the following addition:

 

‘A man had been betrayed by his children, by his wife and by his friends; some disloyal partners had ruined his fortune and plunged him into poverty. Pervaded with a profound hatred and contempt for the human race, he left society and took refuge alone in a cave. There, pressing his fists into his eyes, and contemplating a revenge proportional to his grievances, he said: “Evil people! What shall I do to punish them for their injustice and to make them all as unhappy as they deserve? Ah! if it were possible to imagine it — to intoxicate them with a great fantasy to which they would attach more importance than to their lives, and about which they would never be able to agree!” Instantly he rushed out of the cave, shouting, “God! God!” Echoes without number repeated around him, “God! God!” This fearful name was carried from pole to pole, and heard everywhere with astonishment. At first men prostrated themselves, then they got up again, asked each other, argued with each other, became bitter, cursed each other, hated each other and cut each other’s throats - the fatal wish of the misanthropist was fulfilled. For such has been in the past, such will be in the future, the story of a being at all times equally important and incomprehensible.’

 

This is a striking example of Diderot’s thoughts. No wonder that he was considered a dangerous criminal in his days…

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