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On Dignity
by [?]

As grace is the expression of a noble soul, so is dignity the expression of elevated feeling.

It has been prescribed to man, it is true, to establish between his two natures a unison, to form always an harmonious whole, and to act as in union with his entire humanity. But this beauty of character, this last fruit of human maturity, is but an ideal to which he ought to force his conformity with a constant vigilance, but to which, with all his efforts, he can never attain.

He cannot attain to it because his nature is thus made and it will not change; the physical conditions of his existence themselves are opposed to it.

In fact, his existence, so far as he is a sensuous creature, depends on certain physical conditions; and in order to insure this existence man ought–because, in his quality of a free being, capable of determining his modifications by his own will–to watch over his own preservation himself. Man ought to be made capable of certain acts in order to fulfil these physical conditions of his existence, and when these conditions are out of order to re-establish them.

But although nature had to give up to him this care which she reserves exclusively to herself in those creatures which have only a vegetative life, still it was necessary that the satisfaction of so essential a want, in which even the existence of the individual and of the species is interested, should not be absolutely left to the discretion of man, and his doubtful foresight. It has then provided for this interest, which in the foundation concerns it, and it has also interfered with regard to the form in placing in the determination of free arbitration a principle of necessity. From that arises natural instinct, which is nothing else than a principle of physical necessity which acts upon free arbitration by the means of sensation.

The natural instinct solicits the sensuous faculty through the combined force of pain and of pleasure: by pain when it asks satisfaction, and by pleasure when it has found what it asks.

As there is no bargaining possible with physical necessity, man must also, in spite of his liberty, feel what nature desires him to feel. According as it awakens in him a painful or an agreeable sensation, there will infallibly result in him either aversion or desire. Upon this point man quite resembles the brute; and the stoic, whatever his power of soul, is not less sensible of hunger, and has no less aversion to it, than the worm that crawls at his feet.

But here begins the great difference: with the lower creature action succeeds to desire or aversion quite as of necessity, as the desire to the sensation, and the expression to the external impression. It is here a perpetual circle, a chain, the links of which necessarily join one to the other. With man there is one more force–the will, which, as a super-sensuous faculty, is not so subject to the law of nature, nor that of reason, that he remains without freedom to choose, and to guide himself according to this or to that. The animal cannot do otherwise than seek to free itself from pain; man can decide to suffer.

The will of man is a privilege, a sublime idea, even when we do not consider the moral use that he can make of it. But firstly, the animal nature must be in abeyance before approaching the other, and from that cause it is always a considerable step towards reaching the moral emancipation of the will to have conquered in us the necessity of nature, even in indifferent things, by the exercise in us of the simple will.

The jurisdiction of nature extends as far as the will, but there it stops, and the empire of reason commences. Placed between these two jurisdictions, the will is absolutely free to receive the law from one and the other; but it is not in the same relation with one and the other. Inasmuch as it is a natural force it is equally free with regard to nature and with respect to reason; I mean to say it is not forced to pass either on the side of one or of the other: but as far as it is a moral faculty it is not free; I mean that it ought to choose the law of reason. It is not chained to one or the other, but it is obliged towards the law of reason. The will really then makes use of its liberty even whilst it acts contrary to reason: but it makes use of it unworthily, because, notwithstanding its liberty, it is no less under the jurisdiction of nature, and adds no real action to the operation of pure instinct; for to will by virtue of desire is only to desire in a different way.