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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Appearances
By Voltaire (1694–1778)
 
From the ‘Philosophical Dictionary’

ARE all appearances deceitful? Have our senses been given us only to delude us? Is everything error? Do we live in a dream, surrounded by shadowy chimeras? We see the sun setting, when he is already below the horizon; before he has yet risen, we see him appear. A square tower seems to be round. A straight stick, thrust into the water, seems to be bent.  1
  You see your face in a mirror, and the image appears to be behind the glass; it is, however, neither behind nor before it. This glass, to the sight and touch so smooth and even, is in fact an unequal congregation of projections and cavities. The finest and fairest skin is a kind of bristled network, the openings of which are incomparably larger than the threads, and inclose an infinite number of minute hairs. Under this network, fluids incessantly pass, and from it there issue continual exhalations which cover the whole surface.  2
  What we call large is to an elephant very small; and what we call small is to insects a world. The motion which a snail finds swift would be slow in the eye of an eagle. This rock, which is impenetrable by steel, is a sieve consisting of more pores than matter, and containing a thousand avenues leading to its centre, in which are lodged multitudes of animals, which may, for aught we know, think themselves the masters of the universe.  3
  Nothing is either as it appears to be, or in the place where we believe it to be.  4
  Some philosophers, tired of the constant deceptions of bodies, have in their spleen pronounced that bodies do not exist, and that nothing is real but mind. As well might they conclude that, appearances being false, and the nature of the soul being as little known as that of matter, there is no reality in either body or soul.  5
  Perhaps it is this despair of knowing anything which has led some Chinese philosophers to declare Nothing the beginning and the end of all things.  6
  This destructive philosophy was well known in Molière’s time. Doctor Macphurius represents the school: when teaching Sganarelle, he says, “You must not say, ‘I am come,’ but ‘It seems to me that I am come;’ for it may seem so to you, without being really the case.”  7
  But at the present day, a comic scene is not an argument (though it is sometimes better than an argument), and there is often as much pleasure in seeking after truth as in laughing at philosophy.  8
  You do not see the network, the cavities, the threads, the inequalities, the exhalations, of that white and delicate skin which you admire. Animals a thousand times less than a mite discern these objects which escape your vision; they lodge, feed, and travel about in them, as in an extensive country, and those on the right arm are entirely ignorant that creatures of their own species live on the left. Were you so unfortunate as to see what they see, this charming skin would strike you with horror.  9
  The harmony of a concert which delights you must have on certain classes of minute animals the effect of terrible thunder; and perhaps it kills them. We see, touch, hear, feel things, only in the way in which they ought to be seen, touched, heard, or felt, by ourselves.  10
  All is in due proportion. The laws of optics, which show you an object in the water where it is not, and break a right line, are in entire accordance with those which make the sun appear to you with a diameter of two feet, although he is a million times larger than the earth. To see him in his true dimensions would require an eye capable of collecting his rays at an angle as great as his disk, which is impossible. Our senses, then, assist much more than they deceive us.  11
  Motion, time, hardness, softness, dimensions, distance, approximation, strength, weakness, appearances of whatever kind,—all is relative. And who has created these relations?  12
 
 
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