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On Dignity
by [?]

There may be conflict between the law of nature, which works in us through the instinct, and the law of reason, which comes out of principles, when the instinct, to satisfy itself, demands of us an action which disgusts our moral sense. It is, then, the duty of the will to make the exigencies of the instinct give way to reason. Whilst the laws of nature oblige the will only conditionally, the laws of reason oblige absolutely and without conditions.

But nature obstinately maintains her rights, and as it is never by the result of free choice that she solicits us, she also does not withdraw any of her exigencies as long as she has not been satisfied. Since, from the first cause which gave the impulsion to the threshold of the will where its jurisdiction ends, all in her is rigorously necessary, consequently she can neither give way nor go back, but must always go forward and press more and more the will on which depends the satisfaction of her wants. Sometimes, it is true, we could say that nature shortens her road and acts immediately as a cause for the satisfaction of her needs without having in the first instance carried her request before the will. In such a case, that is to say, if man not simply allowed instinct to follow a free course, but if instinct took this course of itself, man would be no more than the brute. But it is very doubtful whether this case would ever present itself, and if ever it were really presented it would remain to be seen whether we should not blame the will itself for this blind power which the instinct would have usurped.

Thus the appetitive faculty claims with persistence the satisfaction of its wants, and the will is solicited to procure it; but the will should receive from the reason the motives by which she determines. What does the reason permit? What does she prescribe? This is what the will should decide upon. Well, then, if the will turns towards the reason before consenting to the request of the instinct, it is properly a moral act; but if it immediately decides, without consulting the reason, it is a physical act.

Every time, then, that nature manifests an exigence and seeks to draw the will along with it by the blind violence of affective movement, it is the duty of the will to order nature to halt until reason has pronounced. The sentence which reason pronounces, will it be favorable or the contrary to the interest of sensuousness? This is, up to the present time, what the will does not know. Also it should observe this conduct for all the affective movements without exception, and when it is nature which has spoken the first, never allow it to act as an immediate cause. Man would testify only by that to his independence. It is when, by an act of his will, he breaks the violence of his desires, which hasten towards the object which should satisfy them, and would dispense entirely with the co-operation of the will,–it is only then that he reveals himself in quality of a moral being, that is to say, as a free agent, which does not only allow itself to experience either aversion or desire, but which at all times must will his aversions and his desires.

But this act of taking previously the advice of reason is already an attempt against nature, who is a competent judge in her own cause, and who will not allow her sentences to be submitted to a new and strange jurisdiction; this act of the will which thus brings the appetitive faculty before the tribunal of reason is then, in the proper acceptation of the word, an act against nature, in that it renders accidental that which is necessary, in that it attributes to the laws of reason the right to decide in a cause where the laws of nature can alone pronounce, and where they have pronounced effectively. Just, in fact, as the reason in the exercise of its moral jurisdiction is little troubled to know if the decisions it can come to will satisfy or not the sensuous nature, so the sensuous in the exercise of the right which is proper to it does not trouble itself whether its decisions would satisfy pure reason or not. Each is equally necessary, though different in necessity, and this character of necessity would be destroyed if it were permitted for one to modify arbitrarily the decisions of the other. This is why the man who has the most moral energy cannot, whatever resistance he opposes to instinct, free himself from sensuousness, or stifle desire, but can only deny it an influence upon the decisions of his will; he can disarm instinct by moral means, but he cannot appease it but by natural means. By his independent force he may prevent the laws of nature from exercising any constraint over his will, but he can absolutely change nothing of the laws themselves.