Our passions are the chief means of our self-preservation.
To try to destroy them is therefore as absurd as it is useless.
This would be to control nature, to reshape the work of God. If
God were to tell human beings to annihilate the passions He gives
them, God would will, and not will. He would contradict Himself.
He has never given such a senseless commandment. There is nothing
like it written in the human heart. And what God will have a man
do, He does not leave to the words of another man. He speaks Himself;
His words are written in the depths of the heart.
Now I consider those who would prevent the birth of the passions
almost as foolish as those who would destroy them, and those who
think this has been my object up to now are greatly mistaken.
But should we reason correctly if from the fact that passions are
natural to humanity, we inferred that all the passions we feel in
ourselves and see in others are natural? Their source, indeed, is
natural; but they have been swollen by a thousand alien streams;
they are a great river which is constantly growing, one in which
we can scarcely find a single drop of the original stream. Our natural
passions are very limited; they are the means to our freedom, they
tend to preserve us. All those which enslave and destroy us have
another source; nature does not give them to us; we appropriate
on them to her detriment.
The origin of our passions, the root and spring of all the rest,
the only one which is born with man, which never leaves him as long
as he lives, is self-love (amour de soi); this passion
is primitive, innate, and precedes all the rest, which are in a
sense only modifications of it. In this sense, if you like, they
are all natural. But most of these modifications are the result
of external causes, without which they would never occur, and such
modifications, far from being advantageous to us, are harmful. They
change the original purpose and are at odds with their own principle.
Then it is that the human being finds himself outside nature and
at strife with himself.
Self-love is always good, always in accordance with the order of
nature. The preservation of our own life is specially entrusted
to each one of us, and our first care is, and must be, to watch
over our own life. But how can we continually watch over it, if
we do not take the greatest interest in it?
Self-preservation requires, therefore, that we shall love ourselves.
And it follows directly from this that we love what contributes
to our preservation. Every child becomes fond of his nurse; Romulus
must have loved the she-wolf that suckled him. At first this attachment
is quite mechanical; the individual is attracted to that which contributes
to his welfare and repelled by that which is harmful; this is merely
blind instinct. What transforms this instinct into feeling, the
attachment into love, the aversion into hatred, is the evident intention
of helping or hurting us. We do not become passionately attached
to objects that are without feeling, that only follow the impulsion
given them, but to those from which we expect benefit or injury
from their internal disposition, from their will, to those whom
we see acting freely for or against us, and who inspire us with
like feelings to those they exhibit towards us. Something does us
good, we seek after it; but we love the person who does us good.
Something harms us and we shrink from it, but we hate the person
who tries to hurt us.
The child's first sentiment is self-love, his second, which is
derived from it, is love of those about him; for in his present
state of weakness he is only aware of people through the help and
attention received from them. At first his affection for his nurse
and his governess is mere habit. He seeks them because he needs
them and because he is happy when they are there; it is recognition
rather than benevolence. It takes a long time to discover not merely
that they are useful to him, but that they desire to be useful to
him, and then it is that he begins to love them.
So a child is naturally disposed to benevolence because he sees
that every one about him is inclined to help him, and from this
experience he gets the habit of benevolence towards his species.
With the expansion of his relations, his needs, his dependence,
however, the consciousness of his relations to others is awakened,
and leads to the sense of duties and preferences. Then the child
becomes masterful, jealous, deceitful, and vindictive. When he does
not see the usefulness of what he is told to do, he attributes it
to caprice, to an intention of tormenting him, and he rebels. If
people give in to him, as soon as anything opposes him he regards
it as rebellion, as a determination to resist him; he beats the
chair or table for disobeying him. Self-love (amour de soi),
which concerns itself only with ourselves, is content to satisfy
our true needs; but selfishness (amour-propre), which is
always comparing self with others, is never satisfied and never
can be; for this feeling, which prefers ourselves to others, requires
that they should prefer us to themselves, which is impossible. Thus
the tender and gentle passions spring from self-love, while the
hateful and angry passions spring from selfishness. So it is the
fewness of his needs, the narrow limits within which he can compare
himself with others, that makes a man really good; what makes him
really bad is a multiplicity of needs and dependence on the opinions
of others. It is easy to see how we can apply this principle and
guide every passion of children and men towards good or evil. True,
human beings cannot always live alone, and it will be hard for them
therefore to remain good; and this difficulty will increase of necessity
as our relations with others are extended. For this reason, above
all, the dangers of social life make art and care all the more necessary
for guarding the human heart against the depravity which springs
from new needs.
The proper study of a human being is that of his relations. So
long as he knows only himself in his physical being, he should study
himself in relation to things; this is the business of childhood.
When he begins to be aware of his moral nature, he should study
himself in relation to his fellows. This is the business of his
whole life, and we have now reached the time when that study should
As soon as one needs a companion he is no longer an isolated creature,
his heart is no longer alone. All his relations with his species,
all the affections of his heart, come into being along with this.
His first passion soon arouses the rest.
The direction of the instinct is indeterminate. One sex is attracted
by the other; that is the impulse of nature. Choice, preferences,
individual likings, are the work of reason, prejudice, and habit;
time and knowledge are required to make us capable of love; we do
not love without reasoning or prefer without comparison. These judgments
are none the less real, although they are formed unconsciously.
True love, whatever you may say, will always be held in honor by
humanity; for although its transports lead us astray, although it
does not exclude certain detestable qualities, although it even
gives rise to these, yet it always presupposes certain worthy characteristics,
without which we should be incapable of love. This choice, which
is supposed to be contrary to reason, really springs from reason.
We say Love is blind because his eyes are better than ours, and
he perceives relations which we cannot discern. All women would
be alike to a man who had no idea of virtue or beauty, and the first
comer would always be the most lovable. Love does not spring from
nature, far from it; it is the curb and law of her desires; it is
love that makes one sex indifferent to the other, the loved one
We wish to obtain the preference we grant; love must be reciprocal.
To be loved we must be worthy of love; to be preferred we must make
ourselves lovable. To be preferred we must be more worthy than the
rest, at least in the eyes of our beloved. Hence we begin to look
around among our fellows; we begin to compare ourselves with them,
and there is emulation, rivalry, and jealousy. A heart full to overflowing
likes to open itself. From the need of a mistress there soon springs
the need of a friend. He who feels how sweet it is to be loved,
desires to be loved by everybody; hence there could be no preferences
without there being many malcontents. With love and friendship there
begin dissensions, enmity, and hatred. I behold deference to other
people's opinions enthroned among all these diverse passions, and
foolish mortals, enslaved by her power, base their very existence
merely on what other people think.
Extend these ideas and you will see where our selfishness (amour-propre)
gets the form we think natural to it, and how self-love (amour
de soi) ceases to be a simple feeling and becomes pride in
great souls, vanity in little ones, and in both feeds continually
at our neighbor's cost. Passions of this kind, not having any germ
in the child's heart, cannot spring up in it of themselves. It is
we who sow the seeds, and they never take root unless by our fault.
This is no longer the case with the young man. Whatever we do, these
passions will be born in spite of us. . . .
Human weakness makes us sociable. Our common sufferings draw our
hearts to our fellow-creatures; we should have no duties to humanity
if we were not human beings. Every affection is a sign of insufficiency;
if each of us had no need of others, we should hardly think of associating
with them. So our frail happiness has its roots in our weakness.
A really happy being is a solitary being. God only enjoys absolute
happiness, but which of us has any idea what that means? If any
imperfect creature were self-sufficing, what would he have to enjoy?
To our thinking he would be wretched and alone. I do not understand
how one who has need of nothing could love anything, nor do I understand
how he who loves nothing can be happy.
Hence it follows that we are drawn towards our fellow-creatures
less by our feeling for their joys than for their sorrows; for in
them we discern more plainly a nature like our own, and a pledge
of their affection for us. If our common needs create a bond of
interest, our common sufferings create a bond of affection. The
sight of a happy person arouses in others envy rather than love.
We are ready to accuse him of usurping a right which is not his
in giving himself an exclusive happiness, and our selfishness suffers
an additional pang in the thought that this person has no need of
us. But who does not pity the unhappy person when he beholds his
sufferings? Who would not deliver him from his woes if a wish could
do it? Imagination puts us more readily in the place of the miserable
man than of the happy one. We feel that the one condition touches
us more nearly than the other. Pity is sweet, because, when we put
ourselves in the place of one who suffers, we are aware, nevertheless,
of the pleasure of not suffering like him. Envy is bitter, because
the sight of a happy person, far from putting the envious in his
place, inspires him with regret that he is not there. The one seems
to exempt us from the pains he suffers, the other seems to deprive
us of the good things he enjoys.
Do you desire to stimulate and nourish the first stirrings of
awakening sensibility in the heart of a young man, do you desire
to incline his disposition towards benevolence and goodness? Do
not cause the seeds of pride, vanity, and envy to spring up in him
through the deceptive image of the happiness of humanity; do not
show him to begin with the pomp of courts, the splendor of palaces,
the appeal of the theater; do not take him into high society and
into brilliant assemblies; do not show him the exterior of society
until you have made him capable of estimating it at its true worth.
To show him the world before he is acquainted with humanity, is
not to train him, but to corrupt him; not to teach, but to deceive.
By nature human beings are neither kings, nobles, courtiers, nor
millionaires. All are born poor and naked, all are liable to the
sorrows of life, its disappointments, its ills, its needs, its suffering
of every kind; and all are condemned to die. This is what it really
means to be a human being, this is what no mortal can escape. Begin
then with the study of what is inseparable from human nature, that
which really characterizes humanity.
At sixteen the adolescent knows what it is to suffer, for he himself
has suffered; but he scarcely realizes that others suffer too. To
see it without feeling is not to know it. And as I have said again
and again the child who does not imagine the feelings of others
knows no ills but his own; but when his imagination is kindled by
the first beginnings of growing sensibility, he begins to perceive
himself in his fellow-creatures, to be touched by their cries, to
suffer in their sufferings. It is at this time that the sorrowful
picture of suffering humanity should stir his heart with the first
tenderness he has ever experienced.. . .
So pity is born, the first relative sentiment which touches the
human heart according to the order of nature. To become sensitive
and pitying, the child must know that he has fellow-creatures who
suffer as he has suffered, who feel the pains he has felt, and others
which he can form some idea of, as capable of feeling them too.
Indeed, how can we let ourselves be stirred by pity unless we go
beyond ourselves, and identify ourselves with the suffering animal,
by leaving, so to speak, our own being and taking his. We only suffer
so far as we suppose he suffers; the suffering is not ours but his.
So no one becomes sensitive until his imagination is aroused and
begins to carry him outside himself.
What should we do to excite and nourish this growing sensibility,
to direct it, and to follow its natural bent? Should we not present
to the young man objects on which the expansive force of his heart
may take effect, objects which swell his heart, which extend it
to other creatures, which make him find it everywhere outside itself?
should we not carefully remove everything that narrows, concentrates,
and strengthens the power of the human self? that is to say, in
other words, we should arouse in him kindness, goodness, pity, and
beneficence, all the gentle and attractive passions which are naturally
pleasing to humanity. Those passions prevent the growth of envy,
covetousness, hatred, all the repulsive and cruel passions which
make our sensibility not merely a cipher but a negative, passions
which are the torment of those who experience them.