Les Misérables by Victor Hugo,
Volume 2, Book Seventh, Chapter 6
The Absolute Goodness of Prayer
With regard to the modes of prayer, all are good, provided that they are sincere. Turn your book upside down and be in the infinite.
There is, as we know, a philosophy which denies the infinite. There is also a philosophy, pathologically classified, which denies the sun; this philosophy is called blindness.
To erect a sense which we lack into a source of truth, is a fine blind man's self-sufficiency.
The curious thing is the haughty, superior, and compassionate airs which this groping philosophy assumes towards the philosophy which beholds God. One fancies he hears a mole crying, "I pity them with their sun!"
There are, as we know, powerful and illustrious atheists. At bottom, led back to the truth by their very force, they are not absolutely sure that they are atheists; it is with them only a question of definition, and in any case, if they do not believe in God, being great minds, they prove God.
We salute them as philosophers, while inexorably denouncing their philosophy.
Let us go on.
The remarkable thing about it is, also, their facility in paying themselves off with words. A metaphysical school of the North, impregnated to some extent with fog, has fancied that it has worked a revolution in human understanding by replacing the word Force with the word Will.
To say: "the plant wills," instead of: "the plant grows": this would be fecund in results, indeed, if we were to add: "the universe wills." Why? Because it would come to this: the plant wills, therefore it has an I; the universe wills, therefore it has a God.
As for us, who, however, in contradistinction to this school, reject nothing a priori, a will in the plant, accepted by this school, appears to us more difficult to admit than a will in the universe denied by it.
To deny the will of the infinite, that is to say, God, is impossible on any other conditions than a denial of the infinite. We have demonstrated this.
The negation of the infinite leads straight to nihilism. Everything becomes "a mental conception."
With nihilism, no discussion is possible; for the nihilist logic doubts the existence of its interlocutor, and is not quite sure that it exists itself.
From its point of view, it is possible that it may be for itself, only "a mental conception."
Only, it does not perceive that all which it has denied it admits in the lump, simply by the utterance of the word, mind.
In short, no way is open to the thought by a philosophy which makes all end in the monosyllable, No.
To No there is only one reply, Yes.
Nihilism has no point.
There is no such thing as nothingness. Zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.
Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread.
Even to see and to show does not suffice. Philosophy should be an energy; it should have for effort and effect to ameliorate the condition of man. Socrates should enter into Adam and produce Marcus Aurelius; in other words, the man of wisdom should be made to emerge from the man of felicity. Eden should be changed into a Lyceum. Science should be a cordial. To enjoy, – what a sad aim, and what a paltry ambition! The brute enjoys. To offer thought to the thirst of men, to give them all as an elixir the notion of God, to make conscience and science fraternize in them, to render them just by this mysterious confrontation; such is the function of real philosophy. Morality is a blossoming out of truths. Contemplation leads to action. The absolute should be practicable. It is necessary that the ideal should be breathable, drinkable, and eatable to the human mind. It is the ideal which has the right to say: Take, this It is on this condition that it ceases to be a sterile love of science and becomes the one and sovereign mode of human rallying, and that philosophy herself is promoted to religion.
Philosophy should not be a corbel erected on mystery to gaze upon it at its ease, without any other result than that of being convenient to curiosity.
For our part, adjourning the development of our thought to another occasion, we will confine ourselves to saying that we neither understand man as a point of departure nor progress as an end, without those two forces which are their two motors: faith and love.
Progress is the goal, the ideal is the type.
What is this ideal? It is God.
Ideal, absolute, perfection, infinity: identical words.