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The Idea of a "Neutral" Universe in the French Enlightenment

Author(s): Lester G. Crocker


Source: Diderot Studies, Vol. 21 (1983), pp. 45-76
Published by: Librairie Droz
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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE
IN THE FRENCH ENLIGHTENMENT

By LesterG. Crocker

Historiansof the Enlightenment commonlyassert,as if it were


somethingthatva de soi, thatits thinkersfoundtheirmoralvalues
inscribedin a benevolentnatureor cosmos. Thus Carl Beckerfound
strangecontradictoriness in thephilosophes,who « ridiculedtheidea
thattheuniversehad been erectedin six days,but stillbelievedit to
be a beautifullyarticulatedmachinedesignedby theSupremeBeing
according to a rational plan as an abiding place for mankind.»!
of
Speaking nature, Paul Hazard wrotethat formany,«EUe 6tait
sagesseet elle6taitbont6;que Thommeconsentit&Scouterla nature,
»2 CharlesFrankelaffirmed
etjamais plusil ne se tromperait. thatin
themindsof eighteenth-century thinkers,«Man was, or mightbe, at
homein a universedevotedto hishappiness.»3 GeorgesGusdorfhas
written:«On peutmemepenserque ce providentialisme incorrigible
estTun des pointssurlesquelsla pens6edes Lumieresnous estdeve-
nue etrangfcre, sinon meme incomprehensible. »4 Sir Isaiah Berlin
contendsthat«the centraldoctrineof theEnlightenment, according
to whichtherulesin accordancewithwhichman shouldliveand act
and create,are pre-established,dictatedby natureherself...One set
of universaland unalterableprinciplesgovernedinanimateand ani-
mate nature.»5 Henry Steele Commagersays of the philosophes:

1 The HeavenlyCityof theEighteenth-Century Philosophers(New Haven,


1932),p. 25. Thereis no necessarycontradiction involved,and theidea of finalism,
even if true,is not necessarilyChristian,as Beckerapparentlythinks.
2 La Penste europtenneau dix-huitfeme sfecle(Paris, 1946), I, 151.
3 The Faith Reason (New York, 1948), p. 73.
of
4 «D6clin de la Providence?»,Studieson Voltaireand theEighteenthCen-
tury,vol. 153 (Oxford, 1976), p. 982.
5
Againstthe Current(London, 1979), pp. 3, 18.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

«They mixed up man and nature,natureand law.»6 Donald H.


Meyer, in a book which carefullyrelatesthe AmericanEnlight-
enmentto the French,notes the generalview that «the studyof
natureand her wondrousdesignwill prove the existenceand the
benevolentattributes of thedivinity.
. . Human striving does nottake
place in a morallyindifferent universe.»7 Franklin'sGod (continues
Meyer)«is also a moralgovernorand sustainerof virtue.He sees to
it thatvirtueand happinessdo indeedcoincide» (p. 76).
Only CharlesC. Gillispiehas gone so faras to findthisviewin
the verycharacterof eighteenth-century Frenchscientificspecula-
tion,and mostparticularly in thatof Diderot.«It is thebasic theme
of romanticism,composed by Diderot in the Enlightenment, »
expressing «the of to
aspirations humanity participate morally and
throughconsciousnessin the cosmic process. Those aspirations
require a nature differentfrom that describedby post-Galilean
science,» the natureof the Stoics: «its object is virtuerisingout of
nature,» cosmic personality«as the source of order... The sage...
lays down rules of conductfromnature,and findsthe correspon-
dences and sympathiesbetween cosmos personality,the great
worldsand thelittle.» The eighteenth century, as Gillispieseesit,did
notwanta sciencedescribinga physicalworld« emptyof moralsand
lessons.» Such was the perspectivethat « inspiredDiderot's natu-
ralisticand moralizingscience.»8
I have selectedquotationsfromscholarsof recognizeddistinc-
tion,withtheconvictionthatthemaximof Polybius,who was refut-
ing a predecessor,is appropriate:«But in myopinion,althoughthe
creditof theauthoris notto be esteemedlightly, one shouldnotcon-
siderit as final;on the contrary,thereadershouldtestthetruthof
hisnarrativefromthefactsthemselves » {The Histories,Bk. Ill, Sec.
9). In thiscase, the factsare the texts;and we mustat once admit
that the precedingdescriptionsof a characteristic outlook have a
solid foundationin manyeighteenth-century texts- thoughnot in
those of Diderot or a numberof importantwriters.The supposed

6 The
Empireof Reason (Garden City,N.Y, 1977), p. 119.
7 The Democratic
Enlightenment (New York, 1976), pp. 39, 81.
8
C.C.Gillispie, The Edge of Objectivity(Princeton,1960), pp. 181-84pas-
sim, 153, 155, 200.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

outlook was that of the Physiocrats.It is the veryessence of the


naturallaw tradition,whichwas continuedin theeighteenth century
by such writersas Burlamaqui and Volney. It was also in
exemplified
bothFranceand Englandin theseventeenth and eighteenth-century
traditionof religiousapologetics,in such writersas Derham and
Pluche,all thewayto Bernardinde Saint-Pierre.And itwas thevital
faithof deism,themostconspicuousoutlook of theperiod. Hume,
who did not shareit, summarizedit wellin his essay,«Of theOrigi-
nal Contract,» whenhe considersthe relationbetweenthe contract
theoryand religion.Religionpositsthe deityas the ultimateauthor
of all government, thisbeinga part of a generalprovidencewhich
assuresthat«all eventsin the universeare conductedby a uniform
plan and directedto wise purposes.»9
The basic thrustof deismwas to have nature- God's nature-
assume the normativefunctionstraditionallyperformedin the
Christianworldby Revelationand Churchdicta,in ethical,political
and social problematics.In an age whencriticalrationalism,Biblical
criticism,and thescientific spiritweretogetherprogressively under-
miningthecertainties of Christianityand itsgripon the human intel-
lectualenterprise, a major crisisin Westernculturewas developing.
Its core was thevalidationof moralvalues. Theirgenesis,and their
substantiation or refutation wereproblemsthatimposedthemselves
on mindsof everyshape.
The deisticsolutionwas besetwithdifficulties thatwereexploit-
ed by both its Christianand atheisticopponents.The natural,for
«pure» Christianity (as for Platonism) is a degradation.Human
nature, least, eternallyflawedthoughredemptionis available
at is
throughGod's special dispensationforman, a relationshipoutside
of nature.Yet Christianand deistagreedthatnatureis suffusedwith
God and his providence,and that man is part of a cosmic order,
whichis a harmonyand has a purposeand a meaning.Inevitably,
problemsarose. What is the relationbetweenthe two natures,cos-
mic and human? Withineach of the two, whichfactsbecome nor-

9 For a
generaldiscussion,see L.G. Crocker,An Age of Crisis(Baltimore,
1954) Chapter1, «Man in the Universe.» It should be notedthatthereis another
Christiantradition,representedby the Jansenists,which held that nature has
nothingto teach man, corruptedby sin.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

mative,whichare to be repelled?The impossibility of answering


such questions accounts for the subjectivismand confusionthat
plagued muchbut not all of eighteenth-century thinking.
A further corollaryof deism,accordingto Frankel(p. 68), was
that«the implicitbeliefin the harmonyof physicalnature» led to
the assumption«that human historyfolloweda patternthat was
both orderlyand fortuitously adjusted to human interests. » This
rash asseverationof Frankel's is one example among many of
modernhistorians'drawinggeneralizedconclusionsfrompartialevi-
dence. What he assertsis trueforTurgot,Chastelluxand Condor-
cet. It is not trueforMontesquieu,Voltaire,Rousseau, Diderotand
otherratherimportantthinkers.HenryVyverberg'sstudy,Histori-
cal Pessimismin theFrenchEnlightenment \ is an indispensablecor-
rective.It is hoped thatthisessaywillalso be a corrective to similar
kindsof partiallyfoundedgeneralizations I
on thesubject am treat-
ing.
The greatestpredicamentin which the deist, by attributing
immanentvalue to cosmos,foundhimslefengulfedas in a quagmire
was the problemof evil. It became the greatintellectualscandal of
the age. Max Weberhas spokenof «the ineradicabledemandfora
theodicy.» Many of the best minds, from Leibniz to Rousseau,
employedtheirkeenestacumen to convincethemselvesand others
thatthiscirclecould be squared. But Bayle had refutedeverypossi-
ble argument,blocked all the avenues of escape. Nevertheless, the
same tiredargumentswerereiterated overand again, as ifrepetition
itselfwould ultimately imposeconviction.
Let us now summarizethe foregoing.The concept of a non-
neutraluniverseembodiesseveralpostulates.The universeis ration-
al and harmonious- adjectiveswhichcorrespondto humanideas
or feelings.It is benevolenttowardman. It containsand actualizes
moralvalues,whichwe onlyreflect,valueswhichare axiomaticand
certain.The worldis not emptyof «ought.» It is not simply«is.»
Human nature,it followsineluctably,is definable,beinga universal
and unchangeableessence; or else the inscribedvalues would not
have thesecharacteristics, either.There is, then,a correspondence
betweennature-in-the-large and humanneeds,purposesand values.
Whetherone affirmsthatthe cosmos recognizesand supportsour
valuationallife,or whetherthe latterrecognizeswhatexistsoutside

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

it - theseare thetwo variationson a singlearticleof faith.Finally,


thereis meaning(again an anthropomorphic term)in all thereis, has
been and willbe. Consequently,whenone uses theword«natural»,
it is possibleto assigna meaningto it, and to bindor blendit intoa
value system- into,as it happened,whatevervalue systemone pre-
ferred.It was «natural» to be modestor to be immodest,as one
chose; to helpothersor to hurtthem,and so on. One writerclaimed
thatthedesireto recognizeone's own childrenwas a decadencefrom
the natural,as is the desirefor distinction.10 Of course, the oppo-
nentsof this metaphysicalposition(such as Diderot) pointedout
thateverything is natural.Nietzschewas laterto mocktheanthropo-
morphic tradition: «Be natural!But how if one happensto be 'un-
natural'?»M It has been shownthatthereweretwotendenciesin Uto-
pian fictions:a returnto harmonywithcosmicorder,or thecreation
by rationality and willof a humanorder.However,the latter,too,
was almostalwaysdesignatedas «natural.»12
We may use thiscontrastas a bridge,to cross fromone mental
shore,wherespecific,intrinsic meaningsare attributedto «nature»
and « natural,» to the other,less frequentedbut historicallymore
significant shore,whereit is heldthatthereis no meaningoutsideof
humanmeaning.Such a conclusionwas a difficult one formankind
to cometo and to accept.Jungdescribedman as having«an intellect
hungryfor meaning,» unwillingto accept the fact that « nature
simplyis and 'means' nothingbeyondthat.»13When the world is
experiencedas meaningless,Max Weberwrote,the demand surges
up that«the worldorderin its totalityis, could, and should some-
how be a meaningfulcosmos.»14 This is the core of religious
rationalism.On the otherhand, it would have been difficultfor
Enlightenmentthinkerswith critical minds to swallow a faith-
inspired« explanation» or evasionand to be unawareof thepossibi-
10
Tiphaignede la Roche, quoted in RaymondTrousson, Voyagesawepays
de nullepart (Bruxelles,1975), p. 152.
11 The Willto Power, ed. WalterKaufmann(1968), p. 43.
12 Trousson,p. 145.
13 C.C.
Jung,«On the Relationof AnalyticalPsychologyto Poetry,» The
PortableJung(New York, 1971), p. 316.
14 Weber, «The Social Psychologyof the World Religions,» in From Max
Weber,ed. H.C. Garthand C.W. Mills (New York, 1958), p. 281.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

lityof an irrational,«absurd» world of factsand realities.More-


over,theyhad all read Pascal. That sombregeniushad asked us to
make a leap to faithof anotherkind,in a purelydivinerationality
and justiceunrelatedto ours, foreverhiddenfrommen's eyes. But
evenifthatwereso (and how could we know?),whatgood was itto
us? Did itmaketheworldwe do know,an enragedVoltairedemand-
ed, anytheless irrationaland cruel?The menof theEnlightenment
werescarcelyin the mood forsuch a leap of faith.
Thus whileChristianand deist,each in his own way,persistedin
seeingGod's rationaland moral fiatsinscribedin cosmos and na-
ture,the discrepancybetween«is» and « ought» was writtenin let-
terstoo largeto be ignored,yettoo indecipherable to be explained.
There was anotherfactor. The scientificrevolutionhad been
slowlybearingits inevitablefruits.Althoughthe clockmakerimage
persistedin deisticargumentation, it was clearto some thattheuni-
verseas a wholewas notexactlya clock,withitsorderedand orderly
structure.The «rationality»of the Newtonianuniverseimpliedthe
essentialstabilityand permanenceof the rationallydevised struc-
ture,whichexcludedanyrealnovelty,exceptby divineintervention.
To thisconceptionchance and more than superficialchange were
abhorrent.Accordingto Gillispie,chance,changeand development
are notionsthat appertainto the Romanticidea of nature,which
findsmoralvalues or theirsupportin nature.This is not necessarily
so. In the eighteenth-centurycontext,it was not necessarilyso for
tworeasons.First,theassumedassociationof inscribedmoralvalues
withan ever-changing natureis, on the face of it, contraryto logic.
The actualcongeriesof ideas thenobtainingwas stablenature,natu-
ral law, objectivemoral law. The idea of a developinguniverseled
instead,as in Diderot'smind,to thatof a neutraluniverse.Second,
Newton's mechanicalcosmology,precededby the mechanicalcos-
mologiesof Galileo, Descartes,Gassendiand Huyghens,and hark-
ing back to the speculativephilosophyof Epicurusand Lucretius,
could also producethe antitheticalconceptionof motion,combina-
tion and recombinationas intrinsicto matter,and so to change,as
nature'sveryessence.15 On thisoption,thinkerslikeBenoitde Mail-
15 For a
summaryof this question, see John C. Greene, «Objectives and
Methods in IntellectualHistory,: The Mississippi ValleyHistoricalReviewy 44
(1957), 62-64.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

let,La Mettrieand Diderotcould conceiveof matteritselfproducing


life,sensitivity,and ultimatelythought,but not at all in an orderly,
designed or way. Livingformswerenot created,butdevel-
finalistic
oped in a helted-skelter,trial and errorprocess. «Monsters,» so
much on the minds of speculators,were the proof of that. In
Hume's eleventhof the Dialogues on Natural Religion,Philo de-
clares: «Look roundthisuniverse...The wholepresentsnothingbut
the idea of a blindnature,impregnated by a greatvivifyingprinci-
ple, and pouring forth from her lap, withoutdiscernment or parent-
al care, hermaimedand abortivechildren!» In otherwords,univer-
sal law was compatiblewithdisorderas well as order,and God, as
Philo says,has nothingto do withgood or evil.
This whole developmentmay be summarizedin Max Weber's
phrase: the world was « disenchanted. » Disenchantedminds no
longerneededto have recourseto « magical» meansof explanation.
One importantaspect of the scientificenterprisewas undergoing
radicalmutation.I do notwishto oversimplify. Seventeenth-century
science,in England(Newton)and Germany(Leibniz), had theideal
end of showingthepathto God, no longerin themedievalfashion,
but by uncoveringthe tracesof the divineplan in nature.In seven-
teenth-century France,both the Cartesiandualisticand the Gassen-
distatomistictraditionsdid not seem to some criticsto lead in this
directionand so were accused of fosteringatheism. Eighteenth-
centuryastronomygraduallydeveloped the idea of a mechanical,
rigidlydetermined universe.In thelifesciences,whilemanyspecula-
tors,fromReaumurto Haller,remainedprovidentialists, La Mettrie
and Buffonwereimportantexceptions.In sum,muchof eighteenth-
centuryscienceand speculationabandonedthepretensionto know-
ing the meaningof the world- or whetherthereis any. It tended
ratherto fostertheeliminationof references to «the meaningof the
universe.»16Therewas no wayof ignoringthemorallyneutralphilo-
sophicalconclusion- whetheror notone soughtwaysof eludingit.

16 See Max Weber,«Science as a Vocation,» op. cit.tp. 142. Also, p. 351:


«... scienceencountersthe claimsof the ethicalpostulatethatthe worldis a God-
ordained,and hencesomehowmeaningfully and ethicallyorientedcosmos. In prin-
ciple,theempiricalas wellas themathematically orientedviewof theworlddevel-
ops refutationsof everyintellectualapproach whichin any way asks fora 'mean-
ing\..»

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LESTER G. CROCKER

As Paul Hazard put it, «Etait-ilcertainque la naturefinittoujours


par sanctionnersoit le bien, soit le mal?... En somme,la moralite
veritablen'6tait-ellepas une protestationcontrela naturebrute,con-
treson indifference et son aveuglement?»(Op. cit., II, 185).
Furthermore, if the world was a moral order emanatingfrom
divinecreation(and if God createdit, how could it be otherwise?),
and if man was God's favoredcreationin whom its moral quality
was actualized,whywas humanhistory,has Voltaireso eloquently
lamented,an arena of disorder,crimes,and follies?Christianshad
theirconvenientexplanation.But deists,who stillsoughtforextra-
humanguarantees,had no recourse,as Frankelputsit in The Faith
of Reason, but to postulatea hypothetical normativecourseof his-
tory and to seek for the villainsresponsibleformen's pathological
deviationsfromit - priests,kings,prejudicesor property,as one
preferred.This was anotherformof the «bad faith» withwhich
Hegel taxed the Enlightenment - some mightsay its willfulself-
delusion. The faultwas man's, but Bayle had relentlessly demon-
stratedthatit was ultimately God's, iftherewas a God. Man himself
embodieddisorder,and fomentedit mostparticularly of all God's
creation.The worldhad to be describedas disorder,at thesametime
as order,whetherGod had put disorderintoit,or whether,dismiss-
ing God fromthe world,it was simplya fact of existence.How,
then,could one look forguarantees«out there»? Advancedthink-
ers in the eighteenthcenturyturnedtheir eyes from the bright
vacuityof theheavensto theturbidearth.Whetheror nottheywere
willingto declareit openly,theretheysaw thathistoryis theexperi-
mental refutationof the theoryof the so-called moral order of
things;and theyfound disorder,as well as order,in the natural
world.
In theendlessdiscussionsof thisweb of thornyproblems,careful
semanticdiscriminations were usuallyignored.If purpose,and so
value, were intrinsicontologicalelements,wherewas one supposed
to look forthem?The ultimategroundwas God. But could God be
distinguishedfromcosmos? The Christianand the deist said yes,
and vituperatedSpinoza forsayingno. All was his creation,depen-
dent on his ex nihilo fiat. And yet,as the relentlesslogician,Ber-
trandRussell,was laterto put it, to say thatGod is good «implies

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

thatthereis a standardof goodnesswhichis independentof God's


will.»17
The word « nature» was used even moreoften.Here the confu-
sion was greaterstill. It was not only,as we have alreadypointed
out, that the word, used normatively, meant anythingand every-
thing,and therefore ultimately nothing.The major confusionlay at
a deeperlevel. What we discernin the texts,if we read themcare-
fully,is thatthe wordis sometimestakenas signifying what I have
called «Nature-in-the-large» - the actual world we perceive,ani-
mateand inanimate,theentirephenomenalworld,theuniverseas it
is known to us. At other times,however,«nature» means only
«human nature,» thatwhichcharacterizes the species,and it alone.
It wouldbe difficultto exaggeratetheimportanceof thisdistinction.
To place the locus of value in Nature-in-the-large is one thing;to
place it in human nature(a universalhuman naturewas generally
assumed),is quiteanother.The firstassumptionmaybe used to sup-
portobjectivevalues,independentof humanvagaries,individualor
societal.This optionwould excludea neutralor value-freeuniverse.
The secondoption,however,would not. The casual use of theword
«nature»in eighteenth-century texts,withno attemptto makeexplic-
it the conceptimplied,has led twentieth-century scholars,who also
failto makethedistinction, astray. It accounts to a largedegreefor
thefaultygeneralizations setforthat theoutsetof thisarticle.It may
not be possibleto disentanglecompletelythe entanglement we find
in thetexts,but to some extentwe can and mustdo so.
The notionthatmendeludethemselvesby lookingfora friendly
answerin a silentuniverseharksback to a longtraditionin Western
culture,a traditionstifledduringthe centuriesof Christianintellec-
tual hegemony.Eighteenth-century radical thoughtwas in some
waysclose to thatof theSophists.Thereis a superiorlaw of nature,
whichis not a morallaw. It dictatessurvivaland thepursuitof hap-
piness,and is unrelatedto humancivilor morallaws. In Plato's dia-
logues (Republic, Gorgias), we see that when Thrasymachusand

17 Philosophy(London, 1967),p. 133. Russell'sargument


Historyof Western
recallsPlato and especiallyMalebranche:God mustobey an ordermorepowerful
thanhiswill,evenifthatorderis inscribedin hiswisdom.Eighteenth-century think-
ers also foundthisidea in Grotius.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

and Calliclesput nature'slaw above social law, theyare not appeal-


ingto a highermoralauthority, muchlessto one of universalor eter-
nal validity,but to desire and power. Lucretiusalso challenged
men's illusionsabout a friendlyuniverse.Like Diderot, he rever-
encednature,butsaw itas theundesignedand purposelessproductof
matterin motion.Thereis nothingelse, but whatman putsintoit.
HoweverdiverselySpinoza was understood(or misunderstood)
by eighteenth-century philosophers,theyagreedthathe proclaimed
an immutableorderof law in nature,God's order; but as Richard
H. Popkinhas summarizedit,Spinoza's God has no motivesor pur-
poses and favorsno value properties.18
Man is impelledto self-affir-
mationwhithinan impersonalnaturalorder,« whoseprocessesand
objectsare foreverin flux.»19(It maybe remarkedthatdespitethis,
Spinoza was not a Romantic.)JusticeHolmes valued Spinoza « pre-
ciselybecause he regardedhumangood and evil as strictly human
responseswith no bearing on the meaningof the cosmos as a
whole.»20
For Hobbes, too, thenotionsof rightand wrongare extraneous
to nature's functioning,whichis reducibleto matterand motion.
Good and evil referto no metaphysicalessence, but only to our
desiresand aversionswhich, insofaras they are socially shared,
acquirea prescriptivefunction.These are again understoodas deriv-
ing from the impulse survival.
to
Radical thinkersof the period we are discussingwere familiar
withthesephilosophers.They used them,found supportin them,
but theirown thinkingwas independentof these forerunners and
developedaccording to the exigenciesof theirown time.
At theheadwatersof thestreamof radicalthinking standsPierre
Bayle, who was one of the most acute logical minds France has
known.Whetheror not his destructive was exer-
analyticalcriticism
cised forthecounter-purpose of demonstrating, likePascal, thenull
resultsof reason and so to make fideismthe only reasonableatti-
11 R.H. » in Spinoza: A
Popkin, «Spinoza's Skepticismand Anti-Skepticism,
Tercentenary Perspective,ed. by BarryS. Kogan, Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Instituteof Religion,n.p., n.d., p. 29.
19 Lewis S. Feuer, » ibid.,
«Spinoza's Thought and Modern Perplexities,
p. 60.
20 Ibid., 53.
p.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

tude,is of minorhistoricalimport.Whatmatteredwas hislegacyof


eruditeand criticalshreddingof any possiblerationallybased theo-
dicyand of anymetaphysics or ethicsthatpresumedto justifyitself
on groundsof reason,nature,or supernaturalepiphaniesof value.
If, to somethinkers, thereis no eludingGod's authorshipof evil,
the onlyescape-hatchesare Manichaeismor acceptingthe factthat
thereis no analogy betweenthe Creator and the creature.What
Baylemakesclearis thatwhileour moralaxiomsare inscribedin the
human mind, thereis no conceivablereason to attributethemto
God, nor are theyto be foundin Nature. «Car, qu'est-ce,je vous
prie,que la voix de la nature?Quels sont ses sermons?Qu'il faut
bienmangeret bienboire,bienjouir de tousles plaisirsdes sens,pr6-
f6rerses interetsk sa biens6ance,faireplut6tune injureque la souf-
frir,se bienvenger»(Continuationde Penstesdiverses,n° 8). (Dide-
rot'sRameau's nephewwillonlyecho Baylein hismockeryof moral
rules.)In fact,Bayleshutsnatureout of therealmof moralphenom-
ena, sayingthattheenthymeme, «thiscomes fromnature,therefore
thisis good and right,» is false. Nature,he declares,«est un 6tatde
maladie.»21The universeis not made forman. How thento account
forthe«moral axioms»? Baylegivesus no answer.His rolewas not
to supplyanswersbut to demolishfalseanswers.Many Britishand
Frenchphilosopherswill findtheiranswerin utilityand the social
state.
Bayle was a greatdispellerof delusionsand logical confusions.
Impliedin his reasoningis a repudiationof thecareless,self-serving
amalgamationof Natureand humannatureas coincidentand inter-
changeablenotions.It is truethatmaterialists likeLa Mettriedeliber-
ately blurredthe distinctions,probably carried beyond theirreal
opinion by the course of argumentor anti-Christianpolemics.
Moralistsand politicalphilosophers,reformers and Utopians,writ-
ers of treatisesand of novels,counselledor exhortedmento livein
conformity withnatureand urgedlegislatorsto restructure institu-
tionsand laws to make themless contradictory to nature. Theydid
notbotherto ask themselves or to tellus whichnaturewas to be our
model,and whichaspectof it. Bayle would have scathingly derided

21
Re*ponseawe questions d'un provincial,in CEuvresdiverses(La Haye,
1737), I, 95 f.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

theirfoolishness,theirassurancesof the happinessand harmony


that would ensue fromthis airynostrum.22 But laterwritersoften
foundBayletoo inconvenient to be listenedto. Even d'Holbach and
Diderot, who knew what nature is in relationto morality,were
victimizedby the universalsirensong. Theydid, however,drawthe
distinctionwhen it came down to a finepoint. Most oftenit was
made implicitly by referring to specificallyhumanmotivations(e.g.,
Hume's sympathyand approbation), and then using the word
« natural» withoutfurtherado. Vico unfortunately (for more rea-
sons thanthis)was unread.He had expressedtheessentialidea, with
clear brevity.Referring to incest,he cuts cleanly:«This is the infa-
mous nefasof the outlawworld,whichSocratesby ratherinappro-
priate physicalreasons tried to prove was forbiddenby nature,
whereasit is humannaturethatforbidsit.»23
La Mettriewas a doctorand scientific speculatorwho produced
the most consistentsystemof materialismpublishedin the eight-
eenthcentury.He reducesmentaland moralphenomenato motions
of physicalparticlesin whichnecessarylaw and blind chance are
ultimately indistinguishable. He excludesfinalities,purposes,mean-
ings from nature; what we know as the.natural order is self-
referring.He reiteratesthis belief in VHomme machine and
Syst&med 'Epicure. «D6nu6e de connaissanceet de sentiment, elle
[la Nature] faitde la soie, comme le bourgeoisgentilhomme defait
la prose, sans le savoir: aussi aveugle, lorsqu'elle donne la vie,
qu'innocentelorsqu'ellela d6truit.»24
Since theuniverseis emptyof moralvalue, thereis no «problem
of evil» for La Mettrie.The correspondencebetweenman and
naturealso emptiesman of naturalmoralvalues. La Mettrieallows
no special naturallaw forman. However,the identicallaws of be-

22 «I1
n'y a guerede motsdonton se served'une maniereplusvagueque celui
de nature.II entredans toutessortesde discourstantdten un sens, tantoten un
autre,et Ton ne s'attachepresquejamais & une id6e pr6cise»(loc. tit.).
23 The New Science, ed. T.G. Berginand M.H. Fisch (Ithaca and London,
1970), p. 55. A centurylater,Karl Marx seemedto be echoingVico: «Man is not
onlya naturalbeing,he is a humannaturalbeing... Historyis thetruenaturalhis-
toryof man.» (« Towards a Critiqueof Hegel's Philosophyof Right,» in Karl
Marx, Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan [Oxford,1977],p. 105).
24
Sysfemed'Epicure, CEuvresphilosophiques(Amsterdam,1774), III, 217.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

haviorof all animals,pleasureand survival,assume special human


forms(whichderivefromfear)because of man's social mode of life.
In thissense,remorseand conscienceare natural.La Mettrieconsid-
ers themuseless and regrettable,spoilersof pleasure. His overtly
expressedintention inAnti-S4n$quewas to be perfectly rephrasedby
Nietzsche:«To restorea good conscienceto the evil man.» Nature
prescribesno limitto the impulsesof the ego exceptthose of pru-
dence. Whentheorganicforceswhichdriveus to seek happinessor
pleasuredo so in anti-socialways, thereis no « wrong» involved,
since naturecompels,and in compelling,knowsno moral distinc-
tions. Societyhas the rightto protectitself,thatis, to use its force.
Force is necessarybecause obligationis not a naturalbut a learned
experience,and because moral distinctionsare arbitrary(though
socially useful) inventions,withoutany genuine moral content.
Morals are thena formof politicsand are not relatedin anywayto
nature-in-the-large. In a word,so-calledmoralphenomenaare spe-
cial resultsof the non-moralsubstratum whichalone is natural.
UnlikeLa Mettrie,Buffonwas certainlynot heldto be a radical
thinker, despitesomebrusheswithorthodoxy.Sincehe was themost
respectedFrenchnaturalistof theage, hisviewson man's relationto
the universeand to natureare of particularinterest.
First,BuffoneliminatesGod frombothscientific and ethicaldis-
course. God did not launch theplanets or createlife, and he does not
intervenein the course of phenomena. But he is the creatorof
nature'slaws. A pure intelligence,he is unintelligible us. He is
to
utterlyalien to humanpassions.25 In 1785Buffonsaid to H6raultde
S6chelles, « J'ai toujours nommS le Cr6ateur;mais il n'y a qu'4 oter
ce mot et mettre naturellement k la place la puissancede la nature».26
Second, theuniverseis a rationalorder.However,it is an imper-
sonal order.It is accessibleto thehumanmind,butonlyas probabil-
ities,withno metaphysicalguarantees.Firstcauses, essentialreali-
tiesare inaccessibleto us. We mustespeciallybewareof our natural

25 Buffon,De la Nature,«PremiereVue,» in CorpusGe'ne'ral desphilosophes


francais,ed. J. Piveteau, Paris, 1954, p. 31. See the essentialstudiesof Jacques
Roger: Buffon,Les Epoques de la nature(Paris, 1962); Les Sciencesde la viedans
lapense'efrancaisedu XVIIPsiecle (Paris, 1963),to whichthisbriefdiscussionowes
a greatdeal.
26
Roger,Sciences,p. 582 n.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

tendencyto project our ideas and feelingsinto the universe,and


above all, avoid lookingformoralcauses («convenancesmorales»)
in sciencificstudy,sincethiscan only«altererla realiteet confondre
les objetsde nos sensations,de nos perceptionset de nos connaissan-
ces avec ceux de nos sentiments,de nos passions et de nos
volontes.»27
Third,on thelevelof nature(thatis, phenomena),we mustnever
look fora divineorderor providence.We are dealingonlywithan
orderof facts.Whatdo thesefactsreveal?Theyrevealan orderthat
is rigorousin its laws of cause-effect
and its formalstructures, and
yetis «un mouvementde fluxcontinuel»fromwhichdisorderis not
excluded. In fact, accordingto Jacques Roger, chance takes the
place of God in Buffon'sthought.28
Finally,whatis man's relationto thecosmosand to nature?«Un
individu,de quelque especequ'il soit,n'estriendans l'Univers;cent
individus,mille,ne sont encorerien: les especes sontles seuls etres
de la Nature.»29A man,liketherestof nature,respondsto imperson-
al forces.These forces(e.g. the reproductiveurge) induce feelings
in individuals,but in naturethereis only destructionand renewal.
Some thingsin it we experienceas useful,othersas harmful.«Ces
variations, si sensibles pour Thomme, sont indifferentes & la
Nature... elle ne protegepas les unes aux depensdes autres,elle les
soutienttoutes»(ibid., pp. 37-38).Our moralworldis therefore ours
alone. When Buffonspeaks of the differentkinds of truths,he
makes no separatementionof moral truths,sayingonly, «l'exp6-
rienceest la base de nos connaissancesphysiqueset morales» (pp.
456-57).Elsewherehe writes,« Jene parleraipas des autresordresde
verites,cellesde la morale,par exemple,qui sonten partier6elleset
en partie arbitrages... d'autant plus qu'elles n'ont pour objet et
pour finque des convenanceset des probability...Les v6rit6sphysi-
ques, au contraire,ne sont nullementarbitrageset ne dependent
pointde nous» (p. 24). The moralrealmis thusdivorcedfromother
naturalphenomena:«la convenancemoralene peutjamais devenir
une raisonphysique» (p. 242). For Buffon,thisconclusiondoes not

27
Corpus, p. 258; Roger,Sciences,pp. 541-42.
28
Epoques, p. cxi.
29
Corpus, p. 35.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

exclude,in logic or in fact,beliefin a universalhumannatureor a


universalmoralitygroundedin human nature. But it is a way of
lookingat thingsthatis verydifferent fromthegeneralizations out-
linedat the beginningof thispaper, sinceit puts man - as Buffon
alwaysdid - in a realmapart and leaves himon his own.
The attitudeof d'Alembert,also eminentand respectedas scien-
tistand philosopher,is surelysignificant.Like Buffon,he wentto
great pains to conceal his true opinions and to express himself
deviously.His covertcritiqueof deismrestson theproblemof theo-
dicy. In this he followsBayle ratherclosely. In the course of his
argumenthe says that the metaphysician«ne dira point avec
d'autres,pour sauverla justicede Dieu, que cet Etre si bon, si par-
faitet si sage, produittoutle physiquedes crimessans en produirele
moral... et se contentede leur [designatedonly as «d'autres»]
demanderpour leur fermerla bouche, commentDieu apr&savoir
produit tout le physique des crimes,punit ensuitele moral: effet
nicessairede ce physique.»30If we are to look forGod's existence,
then we should look into the invariablelaws of bodies, which
«paraissent driver de l'existence meme de la mati£re» (pp.
148-149).These constitutean order. Clearly,it is only a physical
order- value-free.
D'Alembertupholdstheexistence- amongmenuniquely- of
a universalmoralityor naturallaw, «les devoirsdont nous sommes
tenusenversnos semblables.» These, too, have only one explana-
tion: «ils tendentk nous procurerle plus surmoyend'etreheureux,
en nous montrantla liaison intimede notreveritableint6retavec
l'6tablissement des soci6t6s.»He agrees,proforma,thattheCreator
made men social beings,but immediately adds, «I1 n'en fautpour-
tantpas conclureavec quelques philosophes,que la connaissancede
ces principessuppose necessairementla connaissance de Dieu...
C'est done k des motifspurementhumainsque les soci&6s ont du
leur naissance» (pp. 179-82).Since physicalsuffering derivesfrom
sensations,and since «nos sensationssuffisent, sans aucune op6ra-

30 Essai sur les ttements


de philosophic ed. R.N.Schwab (Hildesheim,1965),
p. 146. «D'autres» probablyrefersto Malebranchewho, however,neverwould
have said thatthe«moral» of a crimeis thenecessaryeffectof the«physique»; the
reversalby d'Alembertchangesthe man-naturerelation.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

tion de Pesprit,pour nous donnerPid6e du mal physique,il est evi-


dentque dans l'ordrede nos connaissances,c'est cetteidee qui nous
conduit k celle du mal moral.»31 In the Discours pr&iminaire
d'Alembertdeclaresthat natureknows only the law of force,the
abuse of whichleads men to ideas of rightand wrong(p. 20). He
adds one othercrucialreservation.Moral virtueis actuallyunnatu-
ral. No naturallaw impelsus to sacrifice:«cet h6roi'sme, si on peut
appeler ainsi un sentiment absurde, ne saurait etre dans le coeur
humain» (p. 192). Only the enlightened love of our own happiness
makes us wantto be at peace withourselvesand win the esteemof
others.
It is obvious that ford'Alembertthereis no groundformoral
judgmentsand moralvalue in a supernatural Being,in cosmos,or in
nature-in-the-large. Nor are they to be found in human natureas
such,exceptderivatively, as a culturaldevelopmentfromthenatural
(survival)need forsocial existence.Such culturalcreations,reduc-
tivelyviewed,are essentially prudentialconsiderations whichbecome
accepted as moral laws.
Helv&ius was more outspokenthan d'Alembert.In De VEsprit
(Chapter XXV, «De la probit6par rapportk l'univers»), he cuts
man off, on the decisive point at issue, from all else that is.
Althoughhe reintegrates man into the animal worldby submitting
him to a common law of sensation(hence pleasureand pain), he
findsno hintor trace of moral values in the entirecosmos.32And
amongmenthemselves, thereis no universal(i.e., natural)morality.
We live in a stateof war. «Sans int6retd'aimer la vertu,point de
vertu»(p. 216). One cannot speak of good or evil as metaphysical
realities;butmenare aggressivetowardeach otherand so, consider-
ed socially,are evilbytheirnature.Fortunately, theycan be molded.
and are
So-calledvirtues vices nothing more than responsesof person-
al interestaccordingto theway menare « modified» (read: «condi-
tioned»), and are value judgments related only to the public

31 In the Discours
pr&iminairede I'Encycloptdie,he puts it slightlydiffer-
ently: «I1 est Evidentque nos notions purementintellectuellesdu vice et de la
vertu... sont le fruit des premieres idles r6fl£chiesque nos sensations
occasionnent»(Ed. F. Picavet [Paris, 1894],pp. 21-22).
32 De
I'Esprit(Paris, 1758), p. 240.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

self-interest, imposedby force(p. 229). Outside of the contextof


societyand its self-interest, one cannot speak of moral value (pp.
52-53).
Chastenedbythecondemnationof hisbook, Helv6tiusleftmuch
forhis posthumoustreatise,De VHomme}1There he declaresthat
natureknowsno law exceptforce.Yet thehumanmoralexperience
is real. It is theworkof culture;our naturemerelysuppliestheraw
elementsout of whichit is built.Outsideof humanbeingsthe uni-
verseis emptyof moralvalue or meaning.
We shall now turnto threeimportantthinkerswhose posture
concerningneutralmoralityis doubtfulor inconsistent.We must
remember thatthephilosophesweremoralists,menyearningforan
incontestablegroundformorals. Unable to findit in the absolute
formtheysought,theyoftenindulgedin self-delusionor the eva-
sionsof «bad faith,» striving to convinceothersand perhapsthem-
selvesthatvirtueand happinesswerelike physicalcause and effect,
evenwhiletheonlyanaloguetheyfoundwas thelaw of pleasureand
pain. Some, like d'Alembertand Diderot,had a « secretdoctrine.»
Infrequently did theyhave thecourageto avow thattheimmoralist
could not be refutedor judged in termsof metaphysics or existence
itself,thoughsuch a positionwas sometimesconsignedto unpub-
lishedworksor exemplified in fictionalwritings(as was thecase par-
ticularly with Diderot).
Voltaire'soutlookstrikesus as chaotic,largelybecause he under-
wentcyclothymic spells of pessimismand optimism.He clung to
God as the guarantorof morallaw and a rationaluniverse;but he
increasingly took positionswhichmade that beliefmore difficult
and more tenuous. His painful revolt against theodiciesis well
known.It culminated,in hismiddleperiod,thatof thePotme sur le
D&astre de Lisbonneand Candide,witha divorcebetweenGod and
man. God may at the outsethave made provisionforcertainlife-
enhancingattributes;but thenhe abandoned men, caringno more
about theirfatethantheship'sownercaresabout theratsin itshold.
Candide paintsan absurd,chaoticand amoralworld-view, immoral
only formen, who alone have a moral experience.God's universe
maybe intrinsically rational,but if so, itsrationality
is hiddenfrom

33 Londres, 1776,pp. 82, 201-209.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

us except in physicalphenomena. In Zadig (1747), Voltaire had


alreadysignalledthedivorceby distinguishing, in an importantpas-
sage thatopens thechapter«La Femmebattue,» betweentheobjec-
tiveviewand the realmof subjectivity, in whichman mustlive and
whichis his alone. FromtheOlympianviewpoint,thatof «le n6ant
de son etre» and «l'ordre immuablede l'univers,»Zadig's troubles
approach a zero limit. As he experiencesthem, however,«il ne
voyaitdans la natureentidrequ'Astart6mouranteet Zadig infor-
tun6.» He is alien to the world,whichdoes not recognizehim; but
the humanworldhas its own realityand in it we live.
Althoughcosmos, nature,and God in historicaltime are all
indifferent to man, thereis a universalhumannature,Voltairebe-
lieved, hence a moral naturallaw, whose universalprovisionshe
repeatedlylists.When he declaresin L'A,B,C thatnaturedoes dis-
tinguishbetweenrightand wrong(«le juste et l'injuste»), and when
ce makes thisattributionto naturethe only possiblevalidationof
moraldistinctions («Si la naturene discernaitpas le justeet l'injuste,
il n'y auraitpointde difference moraledans nos actions»), it is per-
fectly clear that he is referring humannatureonly;34and his ten-
to
dency to coalesce natural law and social utilityimpliesthederivation
of moral values fromman's naturalsociability,whichhe always
upheld against Rousseau's theory.This viewpointis explicitin
L'A,B,C for instance, where «natural law» is reduced to self-
interestand reason (p. 272). The furtherimplicationof Voltaire's
workis thatnature-in-the-large justifiesnothing,and thatwe must
go beyondit in orderto « justify.»
Some of Voltaire'slaterwritings signala retreatfromtheseposi-
tions,and the Histoirede Jenni(1775) may even be regardedas a
weak palinode. One must agree with Pierre R6tat that Voltaire's
thinkingwas shadowedby the need to avoid a scandalousimpasse,
and that,as a result,«on le voittombersuccessivement dans toutes
les 'd6faites'dont Bayle avait montr6la vanit6.»35
Rousseau's approach to this major problem of eighteenth-

34 Voltaire,
Dialogues et anecdotes philosophiques, ed. R. Naves (Paris,
1955), pp. 254-255,note (a).
35 Le Dictionnairede
Bayle et la luttephilosophiqueau XVIII* stecle,(Paris,
1971), p. 365.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

centurythoughtwas, as mightbe expected,«unique». He repeated


thehackneyedarguments of theodicy,butexpressedthemwithemo-
tionand poeticalrhetoric.Rousseau's cosmosis suffusedwithGod,
whose eternaljustice is revealedto men in theirGod-givencon-
science. When we look closer, however,we see that natureitself,
thoughGod-created,is devoid of anythingresemblingthis direct
relationbetweenGod and man. Rousseau's view reallymanifestsa
reversionto the primitiveChristianoutlook, the orderof priority
being God-man-nature, so contraryto post-Darwinian,or even to
eighteenth-century transformist thinking,whose model is [God] -
nature-man.We must regardthis shiftas a major reversalin the
Weltanschauung of Westernculture.
Physicalnature,for Rousseau, is indifferent, thoughbenevo-
lentlydesigned. Animate nature is a value-
freebalance in whichspe-
cies live on each other.There is, then,no place to look forGod's
moral law exceptin humannatureor conscience.It is presentno-
whereelseinnatureorcosmos.Buthumannature,strictusensu,is not
at all moral. The naturalor originalman had no moralconscience,
knewno distinctionof rightand wrong,onlya feelingof compas-
sion forhis fellowswhenhis own self-interest was not damagedby
-
it. The moralrealm thatof sacrificeor thesuppressionof natural
impulses- was unknownto him. The moral realm is therefore
unnatural. In political terminology- and Rousseau says that
moralsand politicscannotbe dissociated- men are not naturally
« citizens,» not naturallysocial animals.Yet Rousseau holdsmento
be naturallymoral, referring to a potentialitywhichrealizesitself
inevitably as soon as historybringsabout social organizations.They
thenenterintothemoralrealmof rightand wrongand moralnatu-
ral law. Because natureis faulty,because men are torn between
conscience (moral and social obligation) and natural egocentric
drives,exacerbatedin social competition, because theylivein a con-
ditionof internaland social strifein whichthe moral and social
almostalwayslose out, Rousseaudevisedhispoliticaland education-
al schemes. Their purpose was to heal this scission, to end .the
variousformsof alienation,to makemenintosocial beings- to do
throughthe work of culture,throughwill and raitonalplanning,
whatnaturehad not done. In thisway,natureand freedommaybe

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LESTER G. CROCKER

recoveredin transmutedforms,unknownto natureherself.36 We


may remarkin passingthatthe interpretations and annotatededi-
tionsof Rousseau offeredbypoliticalscientists of ourdayare flawed
because theyconsiderhima politicalphilosopher.He was that,but
he was muchmorethanthat: he was a philosopher.
Our thirdand most markedcase of inconsistency is thatof the
atheist,baron d'Holbach, whose Systemede la nature(1770) sent
shock waves throughmanylands. A thoroughgoing materialistin
all mattersthat do not touch on morals, he was an incorrigible
moralistwho seems to attributea mysteryto nature, a finality
unexplainedand unexplainablein naturalistic terms.The contradic-
torinessbecomes ratherstartlingly apparentin the summationsof
two scholars. Allen Kors writesthat d'Holbach « condemnedthe
impulseto personify nature,to believethatnaturecaredforman,to
call 'natural'thethingsman deemedgood and 'unnatural'thethings
man deemedevil.This has beentheerrorof thedeistsand their'God
of Nature', and it stemmedfroman inabilityto face the amoral
necessityof the world realistically,» a world whichis only a vast
chain of causes and effects.37PierreR&at findsa different philos-
ophy in d'Holbach. «I1 reconstruitun optimismedont plusieurs
aspects rappellentk s'y m6prendreles argumentsde la th6odic6e
classique que Bayle avait r6fut6s...Ainsi r6apparaitsubrepticement
le finalismenaturel...Conceptm&aphysique,la 'nature' de d'Hol-
bach est toutep6n6tr6ede valeur» (op. cit., p. 427).
Both Kors and R6tatare correct.Each has co-optedone aspect
of d'Holbach's contradictory positions. Since it is impossibleto
reconcilethem,one musteitherassumea Janus-d'Holbachor accept
Rousseau's accusation of a « doctrinesecrete,» meaningthat the

36 See L.G. Crocker,«Order and Disorderin Rousseau's Social Thought,»


PMLA (1979), pp. 247-60.
37 Allen C. Kors, D'Holbach's Coterie.An in Paris (Prince-
Enlightenment
ton, 1976), p. 77. «D'Holbach's vision of the cosmic solitude,vulnerability and
ultimateperishabilityof man, one whichsaw man as thesole sourceof hisown gui-
dance, was not, forexample,an inherently cheeringone... [but]onlythe sobering
awarenessthattheuniversewas blindwouldallow man to alterthatpartof itwhich
was, in fact, capable of his alteration»(p. 139). Boswell describedd'Holbach's
themeas «the suppositionof an eternalnecessity,withoutdesign,withouta govern-
ing mind.» (The Journalof a Tour to theHebrides,ed. P.W. Chapman [Oxford,
1974],p. 189).

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

firstpositionrepresentshis real belief.Again one could justifyboth


thesepropositions.What I should like to argue forhereis a third
alternative:d'Holbach's separationof humannaturefromnature-
in-the-large.At theveryoutsetof theSyst$me,he is at greatpainsto
declarethat while natureas suchhas no finalitiesor meanings,man
has a distinctive« organization» whichputs him in «une classe k
part,» thoughremainingwithinthe naturehe conceivesof as all-
that-is.38
At the end of thisopeningchapterd'Holbach emphasizes
the «neutrality»of his concept. «Ainsi quand je dis que la nature
veutque Thommetravaillek son bonheur...j'entendspar Ikqu'il est
de Pessenced'un etrequi sent,qui pense,qui veut,qui agit,de tra-
vaillerk son bonheur.» In otherwords,the attribution of «will» to
natureis a figureof speech,a personification, no more. The word
« natural» denotesonlywhatis in conformity withthingsas theyare
obligedto exist,accordingto theirproperties.Order and disorder
are not to be foundin theuniverseexceptas projectionsof our own
minds; «comme toutesles idees abstraiteset metaphysiques,[ils ne
supposent]rienhorsde nous» (p. 61). Fromthismetaphysical basis
of a neutraluniverse,d'Holbach willdeduce a systemof «natural»
moralityand the equivalenceof virtueand happiness.At the same
time,likeHelvetiusand theothermaterialists, he reducesall motiva-
and moraljudgmentsto educationand habit,
tion to self-interest,
effectivelyexcludingany ontologicalrealityfrommoralexperience.
Most men do wrong thingswithoutbeing troubled,and whole
nationsmay do abominabledeeds. La conclusions9impose. What-
everthe fallaciousnessof d'Holbach's system,it does not support,
taken as a whole, the generalizationsoutlinedat the beginningof
thispaper.
The centerpieceof C.C. Gillispie's argumentis Diderot. His
readingof theDe VInterpretation de la natureconvinceshimthatfor
Diderottheaim of scienceis « moralinsightintonature» ratherthan
« mathematicalabstractionfrom nature» {pp. cit.9 p. 190). The
texts,however,indicatea quite different meaning,neitherone nor
theotherof these.Gillispiealso reversesthesenseof Diderot'sstate-
mentin Jacques le fatalistethatthereis no meaningfuldistinction
betweenthephysicaland themoralworld,takingitto implythatthe

38
Systemede la nature(Londres,MDCCLXXI), 2 vols., I, 10.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

physicalworldis moral. Accordingto Gillispie,Diderotwas one of


«the romanticsof the Enlightenment » because he believedin the
dynamicunityof nature.He was also akin to theStoics,because he
gave ontologicalsignificanceto « activity, » and not to matter.In
fact, the two are indissociableor indistinguishableforDiderot.Gil-
lispietaxes him foremphasizing« becoming» (like the Romantics),
ratherthanbeing(p. 183). Yet the « becoming» knownas evolution
was to be ratherimportantin late nineteenth-century and twentieth-
century science.39 Metaphysically, dichotomy becomingand
the of
beingmay be consideredas illusory,and one mayhold thatthereis
no being withoutbecoming,just as there can be no becoming
withoutbeing.
Diderot's metaphysics is based on a fundamentalreality,matter
and process:The inherentand ceaselessactivitythatconsistsof mat-
terpassingthrougha fluxof impermanent stableformsresultingin
emergenceof morecomplexstructures (or counter-
in whichstability
entropy)is evermore tenuous.40 Jacques Chouilletaffirmsthatfor
Diderot «le d6sordre figuredans la nature au meme titreque
l'ordre... Une nature productricede monstresest par definition
aveugleet sourde& nos postulations.»41 Chouilletsummarizes:«s'il
n'y avaitpas la presencede l'hommepour donnerun sensaux objets
de la nature,ces objetsn'en auraientpar eux-memesaucun» (pp. 91-
91). He quotes a linefromDiderot'sarticle,« Encyclopedic»: «si on
bannitl'hommeou l'Strepensantet contemplateur de dessusla sur-
face de la terre,ce spectaclepath£tiqueet sublimede la naturen'est
plus qu'une scdnetristeet muette.»Diderotenvisionedtheuniverse
as theself-development of a primal,non-rationalforce,as purpose-
less, meaninglessmovement,an idea similarto Nietzsche'sbecom-
ing aims at nothing.»
In theLettresur les aveugles(1749), Diderottellsut thatmorals
are experientialcontrivancesfor survival.The universeis not an
orderlyclock-mechanism, but a chaoticforcein whicheverything is

39 This is also the


opinion of JohnC. Greene,loc. cit. Among those who
developeda notionof evolutionbeforeDarwin, La Mettrieand Diderotalone re-
fusedto attributeit to the teleologicalcharacterof beingGod-directed.
40 L.G. Crocker,Diderot's Chaotic Order
(Princeton,1974).
41 J. Chouillet,
L'Esth&ique des Lumieres(Paris, 1974), p. 160.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

the resultof blind randomnessplus necessity.There is a cosmic


order,but it is thetransientoutcomeof trialand errorin an endless
processdevoid of finalcauses. That we can neverunderstandthe
essentialsof beingis impliedhere. It is made explicitin De I'lnter-
pr&ation de la nature(1753). Diderot rejectsmathematicsas ulti-
mateexplanationnot forGillespie'sreasons,butbecause it does not
correspondto an objectivestructureof reality,whichwe can only
approximatethroughexperimentation. The disprizement of mathe-
maticsis therepudiationof metaphysics (Pensees,II, III, VI) conse-
quently,contrary to Gillespie,of anyattemptto findmeaningin the
cosmos. Nature's order is a self-regulating systemof transforma-
tions(Pens6eXXXVI). WhenDiderotwritesin De la Poteie drama-
tique, «tout est bon dans la nature;et l'ouragan, qui s'61dvesur la
finde Tautomne,secoue les foretset frappantles arbresles uns con-
tre les autres,en brise et separe les branchesmortes,»etc.,42the
adjective «bon» does not implyany regard for human needs or
notions,but onlythe impersonaland ruthlessefficiency of natural
processes. The dialogue between Diderot and the abb6 in the Salon
de 1767 is decisive:
Ce monden'est qu'un amas de moleculespip6esen une infinitede manieresdiver-
ses. II y a une loi de n6cessit6qui s'ex&ute sans dessein,sans effort,sans intelli-
gence, sans progres,sans resistancedans toutesles oeuvresde la nature... Ce bel
ordrequi vous enchantedans l'universne peut etreautrequ'il est. Vous n'en con-
naissezqu'un, et c'est celui que vous habitez;vous le trouvezalternativement beau
ou laid, selon que vous coexistezavec lui d'une maniereagreableou p£nible.
J'en &ais la, losrqu'un vent d'ouest, balayantla campagne, nous enveloppe
d'un 6pais tourbillonde poussiere.L'abt>6en demeuralongtempsaveugle; tandis
qu'il se frottaitles paupieres,j'ajoutai: «Ce tourbillonqui ne vous semblequ'un
chaos de moleculesdispers^esau hasard; eh bien! cherabb6, ce tourbillonest tout
aussi parfaitement ordonne" que le monde.»43

Diderotneverassumes(like the deists)thatnatureoperatesin ways


referential
particularly or beneficialto man. It is man (Lettresur les
aveugles)who has adapted himselfto an indifferent nature.
In Le Reve de d'Alembert(1769), Diderotwritespoeticallyof the
universeas an organicwhole.44His otherwritingsshow that by a

42 CEuvres
esth&iques,ed. Paul Verniere(Paris, 1959), pp. 195-96.
43 Diderot, CEuvrescompletes,6d. Assezat-Tourneux(Paris, 1876-77),XI,
de la nature,PensSe XVI.
103-104.See also Penstes sur I 'interpretation
44 Diderot,CEuvresphilosophiques,ed. Paul Verniere(Paris, 1956), p. 312.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

whole he means that everyeventhas an effect,whichis in turna


cause, in linearsequence.45 Natureis thetotalityof whatexists,i.e.,
phenomena.It is not the sum, but the seriesof thesephenomena,
since it cannot be properlyconsideredin any way thatabstractsit
fromtimeand change.At anychosenmomentit maybe considered
as a sum; but thatis preciselyto abstracta momentand considerit
as equivalentto therealitywe call Nature,which,however,does not
fitwithinthatkindof extra-temporal framework. Thereis no cosmic
organism, since forDiderot that word means an entityin whichthe
parts act in concord toward the realization of a single,commonpur-
pose. The notionof organismis, however,irrelevant to theproblem
we are treating.In the same workin whichhe poeticallyspeaks of
thecosmos as an organism,he declaresemphatically and repeatedly
thattheuniverseis void of values,thatthereis no groundforvalues
in Nature; everything is equally naturaland, fromthatviewpoint,
-
equallyvalid or moreexactly,outsidevalidation.It is impossible,
he says, to «p6chercontrenature... Tout ce qui est ne peut etreni
contrenature,ni horsde nature.»46
The same ideas recurin Diderot's last wordson thissubject,in
theElementsde physiologie(1774-80).«Mais l'ordreg6n6ralchange
sans cesse... sans qu'on puissedireque le touts'amendeou se d6t6-
riore.»47In a briefphrase,he epitomizeshis conceptionof a value-
free natural universe: «Le monde est la maison du plus fort»
(p. 307).
But men have theirown finalities.It is well knownthatDiderot
categoricallydistinguishes man fromnature-in-the-large (thoughhe
is withinits all-enfoldingwhole), and enphasizesthe differentiae.
We see this in De I9Interpretation de la nature(Pens6e XL VIII),
again in his outbursts againstHelvetius («il me fautdes causes pro-
45
My impressionis thatDiderot'sviewis essentiallysimilarto thatof Berke-
ley(De Motu> 1721),thattheinertialpropertiesof matteron a smallscale are deter-
minedby the behaviorof matteron a cosmicscale. This was also, in our time,the
idea of Einsteinand of ErnstMach, who putitthisway: « Whenwe say thata body
preservesunchangedits directionand velocityin space, our assertionis nothing
moreor less than an abbreviatedreferenceto the entireuniverse.» The Scienceof
Mechanics, quoted by Sir BernardLovell, Man's Relation to the Universe(San
Francisco,1975), pp. 103-104.
46 QSuvres
philosophiques,pp. 300, 311, 364-65,375, 380.
47 Ed. Jean
Mayer(Paris, 1964), p. 209.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

presk rhomme»,48 and throughouthis fictionalwritings.Thereis a


universalhuman nature,because thereis a universalhuman expe-
rienceand rationalendowment.If thereare universalmoraljudg-
ments, they derive from uniformitiesof needs and structures,
biologicaland social, and fromnowhereoutsideof man, certainly
not froma blind nature. But moral values cannot be established
metaphysically, are repugnantto the constitutionof manyindivi-
duals, contradict othernaturaldrives,and are open to challenge.49
Diderotneverdoubtsthatman is naturallyand necessarilymoralin
his reactionsto experience.Human reason requiresmoral value.50
The welfareof societyrequiresit. ThereforeDiderot,in his public
writings,proclaims virtue-happinessand vice-unhappinessas a
cause-effect naturalin humanbeings,thoughin his privatewritings
he bringsout theempiricalfalsityof thisnostrumof «bad faith.»51
It mustalso be admittedthatDiderot's «Trinity»of «the good,
the true and the beautiful» expressesan idealistposition. On the
otherhand,theaestheticof eviland uglinessis an important element
in his theoryand in his fictionalpractice- beforeBaudelaireand
othermoderns.The innermeaningof his « Trinity » has no reference
to value in the universeitself.It impliesthat forthe humanmind,
thereis a relationshipwithnature;as it apprehendsphenomenaand
evaluatesthem,the threeorderslose distinctness and coincide. But
if
this(even true), takes place, like the experienceof beautyitself,
in themind.Outsideof it,there onlyneutralobjectivephenom-
are
ena and relationships whichthemindmayor maynot apprehendin
thisway.52

48
Refutationde I'Homme, CEuvresphilosophiques,pp. 564 et passim.
49 «Droit naturel»(Encyclopedic),Le Neveu de Rameau, etc.
30 «Croire» (EncyclopMe), O.c, xiv, 243.
51 Such a relationship becomesmeaningful only«by supposinga directionof
thingssub specie boni.» It presupposesthatrewardand punishment « residein the
essenceof things.» (Nietzsche,op. cit.,pp. 140,417.) In his playfulprimitivistUto-
pia, Le Supplementau Voyagede Bougainville,Diderot picturesmen as happy
whentheylive accordingto «nature's laws» alone. But the Tahitiansin Diderot's
idylldo not liveaccordingto naturealone; and thisworkis riddledwithcontradic-
tionswhichscholarshave usuallyoverlooked.
52 See the severaldiscussionsin Crocker, Two Diderot Studies (Baltimore,
1952).

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LESTER G. CROCKER

Our discussionof Diderot may now be summarizedundertwo


headings.
First,Diderotwas of courseaware of thetraditionaldistinction
betweennaturanaturansand naturanaturata.Even as his concep-
tionof thelatter(i.e., thephenomenalworld)differedfromthetra-
ditionalone in thewayswe have seen,so also did hisidea of thefor-
merdepartfromit. Traditionally,naturanaturanswas takento be
theprincipleor groundexplainingnaturanaturata.It was transcen-
dent,evenwhenconsideredto be also immanent- God thecreator,
or the SpinozistGod. Diderot eliminatesany elementof transcen-
dency.In fact,he eliminatesthe distinction, totally.«Natura natu-
rans» is only matterand its processes- a descriptionof causal
dynamism.Whereastraditionally it indicateda purposeful,intelli-
gentdynamism, thenature of «explanation»is transformed byhim.
We maytakeDiderotas theexemplarof Max Weber'sremark:«The
cosmos of naturalcausalityand the postulatedcosmos of ethical,
compensatory causalityhave stoodin irreconcilable opposition.»53It
is notin Diderot'snaturethatone would look for,or find,a ground
formoralvalue.
Second, and consequently,Diderot,likeSpinoza, regardedgood
and evil as « strictly
humanresponseswithno bearingon themean-
ingof thecosmosas a whole.»54Nothingwas morealiento hismind
thananthropomorphic cosmicanimism.One mayselectively analo-
gize between certain of his cosmological ideas and those of theStoics
or theRomantics,but analogyis not identity, and fromsimilarcon-
ceptionsof cosmic process differentconclusionsare drawn. The
reverberations of Diderot'swayof thinking are notto be foundpri-
marilyamong the Romantics, withtheir metaphysicalidealismand
religiosity,but rather among thepositivists,amongmanytwentieth-
centurycosmologicalspeculators,amongethicalphilosophersof the
void and the absurd,fromNietzscheon, and among hmanistswho
findman's value creativity justifiedby his own existence,and see it
as his own construction in an alien universe.
There wereothers,too, whomwe shall not discuss,who either

53 Weber,
op. cit.yp. 355.
54 Feuer,
op. cit., p. 53.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

acceptedthis «defeat» or were hauntedby the dangerof it.55The


most perfecthommerivolti of the age was, of course, Sade. He
picked up all the the rebelliousthreadsin Enlightenment thought,
wove themtogetherand added his own malignancyto create an
explosivechargewithundiminishing reverbarations. «Dans la pen-
see du siecle, le seul courantt6nu qui preserve,dans une certaine
mesure,la vision sombreet sans illusionque Bayle se faisaitde la
nature,passe par La Mettriepouraboutirau marquisde Sade. Bayle
avaitrepresent^ la naturecommeune source6pouvantablede d6sor-
dres... la prosopopeeque Sade prete& la naturedans Justiner£pond
exactement aux discoursque Baylelui faisaittenirdans la Continua-
tion des Penstes diverses.»56For Bayle and Sade, as for Diderot,
thereare in natureonlyindifferent events,and theweak are always
« wrong».
I hope to have shownthatthetraditionalgeneralizations so often
used to characterizea supposititious monolithicEnlightenment have
only a limited validity. The purpose of Sir Isaiah Berlin's essay is
to
precisely emphasize those limits,which he findsin a « counter-
Enlightenment » exemplifiedin Vico, in «the ambivalentMontes-
quieu,» Herderand some Germanpietists.BerlinacceptsDe Mais-
tre's pictureof the Enlightenment (p. 21). However, contraryto
whatde Maistreand Berlinboth aver, some importanteighteenth-
centurythinkersdid know that« historyand zoology are the most
reliableguidesto nature:theyshow her to be a fieldof unceasing
slaughter. » And it was not only the Germanswho realized that

53 They include M6h6gan,Thomas Morgan, Radicati di Passerano, Saint-


Hyacinthe,Benoitde Maillet,d'Argens,Morelly,Robinet,Linguet,perhapseven
Fontenelle.The positionof Montesquieris notentirely clear. RobertShackleton,in
discussion,pointout thathe goes from«is» to « ought»; theought
hisauthoritative
is a humandevelopmentand does not existas such in nature,in whichthereare
necessaryconditionsforsurvivalthatare transformed in humansociety.(R. Shack-
leton,Montesquieu[Oxford,1961],pp. 247-61).Nevertheless, Montesquieu'sliken-
ingof morallaw to geometriclaw as abstractverities(e.g., beforea circlewas even
drawnor conceived,theradiiwereequal), pointup thedifference betweenhimand
Diderot. J. Roger suggests(in a personal communication)that the pictureof a
value-freeuniverse,whichforeshadowsMalthusand Darwin,is also to be foundin
Linnaeus's Politia Naturae (1760) and Nemesis divina (posthumous), and in
Lamarck's Recherchessur les causes des principauxfaitsphysiques(1794, written
c. 1775).
56 R&at, pp. 471-72.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

moralfreedomentails« resistanceto natureand notharmoniouscol-


lusion with her» (p. 16). The ideas implicatedunder the label
« counter-Enlightenment » (settingaside the Germanpietists)were,
in fact,partand parcelof theEnlightenment and can onlybe exclud-
ed by a fallaciousdefinitionalapproach,the kindused by Cobban
and Gay as an arbitrary, inconsistentmethodof exclusion.
Similarly,Gillispie'sconclusion,«the noble eighteenth-century
faithin naturallaw involveda fundamentalconfusionbetweenthe
declarativeand the normativecases of law, between 'is' and
'ought'» (p. 153) can only mean that the philosophestook their
«ought» and read it as nature'slaw. The evidenceI have presented
showsthattheydid notalwaysdo this,or thattheydid itin a special
sensenot impliedin the indiscriminate use of the word«nature.»
Thereis no doubtthatthewidelyreceivedgeneralizations I have
impugnedare notdevoidof truth;buttheyare unacceptableas over-
all or categoricaldescriptionsof Enlightenmentthought.Their
validityis severelylimited;in some instances,theyare invalid.It is
certainthateighteenth-century thinkers,in theirrevoltagainstthe
Christianschemeand thealienationofferedbyPascal, soughta rela-
tionto nature.It was feltby manythattheorderlinessand rational-
ityof thephysicalworldcould have an applicationto societyand to
individuallifeas well, at least to special problems.But otherssaw
nature, as we experienceit, as disorderlyand irrational,and as
different in essentialwaysfromhumannature.Wherehumannature
resemblesit is in our non-moral(or immoral)proclivities.It is cer-
tain, too, thatit was widelyfearedthatwithouta universallaw, a
referrent, humanlaw can onlybe arbitrary conventionor something
that each will ljudge for himself.Nevertheless,the doubts and
denialswereverymuchalive and persistent.
It is again unacceptableto assimilatetheEnlightenment viewof
natureto thatof the Romantics- whichitself,it shouldbe noted,
was in factno moremonolithicthantheEnlightenment viewthatis
proposed to us. Lamartine,Musset and Vignyrepresentdifferent
outlooks; that of Vigny,withhis indifferent God and inhumane
nature,prolongs the theme I have been developing.Accordingto
Morse Peckham, Romanticismis «the revolutionin the European
mindagainstthinkingin termsof staticmechanismand theredirec-

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

tion of the mindto thinkingin termsof dynamicorganism.»37But


one could say as much of Gassendi and of La Mettrie,neitherof
whomcould be said to have thoughtlike a « romantic.» Lamartine
wrote:
Mais la natureest la qui t'inviteet qui t'aime;
Plonge-toidans son seinqu'elle t'ouvretoujours. (Le Vallori)
O lac! rochersmuets!grottes!foretobscure!
Vous que le tempsSpargneou qu'il peut rajeunir,
Gardez de cettenuit,gardez,belle nature,
Au moinsle souvenir. (Le Lac)
But Diderot had written:«Le premiersermentque se firentdeux
etresde chair,ce futau pied d'un rocherqui tombaiten poussie-
re.»58The Romantic« correspondencesand sympathies»between
cosmos or natureand the humanare nowhereto be foundin Dide-
rot,who also wrote:«Le calcul qui se faitdans nos tetes,et celuiqui
est arretesur le registred'en haut, sont deux calculs bien diff6-
rents.»59Lamartine's lines belong to the culturalcontextof the
1820's. They could not have been writtenin the 1770's, and they
werenot, nor anythinglike them.The men of thattimesometimes
consideredthe power of natureabstractly,sometimesadmiredits
beauties,and occasionallyfusedemotionallywithit. They did not
inventthe patheticfallacy.
As we have seen throughout thisdiscussion,manyof theimpor-
tantthinkersin theEnlightenment foundnone of our values,and no
groundforthem,in God or cosmos, and none in naturetaken as
Nature.Theytook the desirefora rationalworldcorresponding to
our mind'srationality to be an illusion,exceptingonlyphysicallaws.
The irrationalis natural.Diderotsummarizedthewholemetaphysi-
cal messageof his novel,Jacques lefataliste,in fivewords: «Nous

57 » in
Quoted fromS.A. Zabouni, «Towards a Theory of Romanticism,
«Rousseau and Romanticism, » Forum 16 (1978), 80.
58
Jacques le fataliste, in CEuvresromanesques,ed. Henri Benac (Paris,
1962), p. 604. Cf. Balzac: «... la profondetristesseexprim£epar cettenaturea la
foissauvageet ruinee...repondait a ses sentiments
cache's...Quelle personne...dont
le cceura regudes blessures,peut se promenerdans une foretsans que la foretlui
parle? Insensiblement, il s'en eleve une voix ou consolanteou terrible,mais plus
souventconsolanteque terrible»(Le Cure*de village[Paris: Garnier],pp. 186-87).
59
Jacquesle fataliste,p. 504.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

marchonsdans la nuit» (p. 573). And he added: «On ne saitjamais


ce que le del veut ou ne veut pas, et il n'en sait peut-etrerienlui-
meme» (p. 586).
To say simplythattheeighteenth century« looked to nature» for
moral values is to fall into the same typeof semanticerrorwith
whichCarl Becker'sHeavenly Cityis riddled.A radical changein
theidea of naturewas widespread.Naturewas no longerassociated
by advancedthinkerswithGod or Creationor providence.It is just
«what is,» and what is is everything. While values may have been
called natural, theywerenot naturein the same old way - a
« » in
priori,self-subsistent- but empiricallydeveloped in the unique
humanexperience.The objectiveor neutrallaw of natureis formu-
lated unequivocallyby Diderot: «tout dans la naturesonge k soi et
ne songe qu'i soi. Que cela fasse du mal aux autres,qu'importe,
pourvuqu'on s'en trouvebien?))60But if everything is natural,the
distinction -
betweenrightand wrongdisappears unlessone trans-
cends nature.If naturewillanswerYes and No to any moralques-
tion (e.g., the legitimacyof suicide), then moralityis a defence
against nature's indifference. The philosopheswe have discussed
knew these two facts. Their weaknesswas not to have givenany
accuratedescriptionof what« humannature» is or of the elements
that constituteits universality.But all knewthat so-called«moral
laws» do not have thenecessityor compellingforceof othernatural
laws; that they are variable in time and place, disregardedwith
impunity;and thatthedrivesor impulseswhichitis theirfunctionto
containare moreproperlycalled thelaws of nature.Theyknewthat
if moral values wereinscribedin naturalprocessitself,theywould
have a different kindof validityand authority.
The distinctivenessand relativefreedomof man: thiswas surely
one of the greatconquestsof Enlightenment humanism,one which

60 Ibid., 756. Diderot's dilemma is dramatically


exhibited
p. (nature-morals)
in theNeveu de Rameau. See RobertNiklaus,«Denis Diderot: Searchforan Unat-
tainable absolute of Truth,» in UltimateRealityand Meaning, 3 (1980), p. 36.
Hume had said no differently: «for as itis evidentthateveryman loveshimselfbet-
terthananyotherperson,he is naturallyimpelledto extendhisrequisitions as much
» is checkedby «a subsequentjudgmentor
as possible... His originalinclination
observation» («On theOriginalContract»). This complexof ideas was widespread;
see Crocker,An Age of Crisis', chapters10, 11.

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THE IDEA OF A «NEUTRAL» UNIVERSE

coexistedwithitsdeterminism. A greatparadoxis involved.A proc-


ess withoutmeaninghas produceda beingwho createsmeaningand
lives by meaning.It followed,as A.C. Kors has put it, that «The
universewas uncaringand amoral; in themidstof itsfluxman must
make his own way» (p. 77). Anotherparadox: it was preciselythe
awarenessof the«distinctiveness betweenourselvesand otherparti-
clesthattumblein space»61thatenabledthesephilosophesto defend
thevalidityof moralobligation.In humansocietiestheuniversallaw
of livingnature- survival- is radicallytransformed and sublimat-
ed. New waysof being in the world givea value to powerforitsown
sake, to prestige,to pleasurein multiform shapes, to motivescon-
formingto objectificationin a self-image,to happiness- just to
mentionsome of theexistential phenomenawhichcomposea crucial
difference betweenman and nature-in-the-large, and an equallycru-
cial difference betweensayingthatman looked to Naturefora sup-
port formoral value and sayingthatthereis none outsideof man
himself,man the only valuatingbeing, set in a Nature that is
indifferent, but reallyunfriendly to his wishesin vitalways.As Paul
Valery later wrote, «It is the gloryof man to wastehispowerson the
void.»
In all thiswe see thatthe underlying crisisof Westernthought,
coming to a head in the eighteenthcentury,was the liberationof
man fromthe prison subjectivism,to whichthe generalizations
of
and definitions I am contesting in thisessaywould preciselyconfine
him: a meaningin the whole,a purposeand direction,a subsisting
harmony,an answer«out there» to us humans.To say thatman is
the sole end-creating entity,the sole judgingentity,was revolution-
ary,liberating,and dangerous.62
Far frombeingall of a piece,theAge of Enlightenment was beset
withperplexities. It was not a periodthatwithlightheartand super-
ficialmind acceptedthe generalitieswe have seen attributedto it.

61 AlexanderBickel, The Moralityof Consent(New Haven, London, 1978),


p. 5.
62 Diderot'sreticenceabout disclosinghissecretperceptionsmaybe explained
on severalgrounds.I suspectthathis highlyintuitivemindcognizedtheironicperi-
peteia theycontained.Rationalizedas the solventof an archaic world-view,the
deathof meaning(or itsreductionto humancontrivance)also heldtheseeds of the
deathof thewhole«bourgeois» culture,ethical,aestheticand political,to whichhe
was so profondlycommitted.

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LESTER G. CROCKER

Justas modernliberaldemocracyhas itsrootsin eighteenth-century


politicaltheories,so does moderntotalitariandemocracy(so-called).
ethicswas bornthen,too was thecountercurrent
Justas utilitarian of
moral nihilismand individualrebellion.Similarly,even as the uni-
verseand naturewereseen as orderly,purposefuland benevolentto
man, as thegroundthatvalidatedtheharshclaimsof themorallife,
so did disenchantedthinkers see man as alien,as thecreatorof value
in thevoid of a value-freeworld.

New York

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