Lectures on the true, the beautiful and the good

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For some time past we have been asked, on various sides, to collect in a body of doctrine the theories scattered in our different works, and to sum up, in just proportions, what men are pleased to call our philosophy.

            This résumé was wholly made. We had only to take again the lectures already quite old, but little known, because they belonged to a time when the courses of the Faculté des Lettres had scarcely any influence beyond the Quartier Latin, and, also, because they could be found only in a considerable collection, comprising all our first instruction, from 1815 to 1821.[1] These lectures were there, as it were, lost in the crowd. We have drawn them hence, and give them apart, severely corrected, in the hope that they will thus be accessible to a greater number of readers, and that their true character will the better appear.

            The eighteen lectures that compose this volume have in fact the particular trait that, if the history of philosophy furnishes their frame-work, philosophy itself occupies in them the first place, and that, instead of researches of erudition and criticism, they present a regular exposition of the doctrine which was at first fixed in our mind, which has not ceased to preside over our labors.

            This book, then, contains the abridged but exact expression of our convictions on the fundamental points of philosophic science. In it will be openly seen the method that is the soul of our enterprise, our principles, our processes, our results.

            Under these three heads, the True, the Beautiful, the Good, we embrace psychology, placed by us at the head of all philosophy, æsthetics, ethics, natural right, even public right to a certain extent, finally theodicea, that perilous rendez-vous of all systems, where different principles are condemned or justified by their consequences.

            It is the affair of our book to plead its own cause. We only desire that it may be appreciated and judged according to what it really is, and not according to an opinion too much accredited.

            Eclecticism is persistently represented as the doctrine to which men deign to attach our name. We declare that eclecticism is very dear to us, for it is in our eyes the light of the history of philosophy; but the source of that light is elsewhere. Eclecticism is one of the most important and most useful applications of the philosophy which we teach, but it is not its principle.

            Our true doctrine, our true flag is spiritualism, that philosophy as solid as generous, which began with Socrates and Plato, which the Gospel has spread abroad in the world, which Descartes put under the severe forms of modern genius, which in the seventeenth century was one of the glories and forces of our country, which perished with the national grandeur in the eighteenth century, which at the commencement of the present century M. Royer-Collard came to re-establish in public instruction, whilst M. de Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël, and M. Quatremère de Quincy transferred it into literature and the arts. To it is rightly given the name of spiritualism, because its character in fact is that of subordinating the senses to the spirit, and tending, by all the means that reason acknowledges, to elevate and ennoble man. It teaches the spirituality of the soul, the liberty and responsibility of human actions, moral obligation, disinterested virtue, the dignity of justice, the beauty of charity; and beyond the limits of this world it shows a God, author and type of humanity, who, after having evidently made man for an excellent end, will not abandon him in the mysterious development of his destiny. This philosophy is the natural ally of all good causes. It sustains religious sentiment; it seconds true art, poesy worthy of the name, and a great literature; it is the support of right; it equally repels the craft of the demagogue and tyranny; it teaches all men to respect and value themselves, and, little by little, it conducts human societies to the true republic, that dream of all generous souls which in our times can be realized in Europe only by constitutional monarchy.

            To aid, with all our power, in setting up, defending, and propagating this noble philosophy, such is the object that early inspired us, that has sustained during a career already lengthy, in which difficulties have not been wanting. Thank God, time has rather strengthened than weakened our convictions, and we end as we began: this new edition of one of our first works is a last effort in favor of the holy cause for which we have combated nearly forty years.

            May our voice be heard by new generations as it was by the serious youth of the Restoration! Yes, it is particularly to you that we address this work, young men whom we no longer know, but whom we bear in our heart, because you are the seed and the hope of the future. We have shown you the principle of our evils and their remedy. If you love liberty and your country, shun what has destroyed them. Far from you be that sad philosophy which preaches to you materialism and atheism as new doctrines destined to regenerate the world: they kill, it is true, but they do not regenerate. Do not listen to those superficial spirits who give themselves out as profound thinkers, because after Voltaire they have discovered difficulties in Christianity: measure your progress in philosophy by your progress in tender veneration for the religion of the Gospel. Be well persuaded that, in France, democracy will always traverse liberty, that it brings all right into disorder, and through disorder into dictatorship. Ask, then, only a moderated liberty, and attach yourself to that with all the powers of your soul. Do not bend the knee to fortune, but accustom yourselves to bow to law. Entertain the noble sentiment of respect. Know how to admire,—possess the worship of great men and great things. Reject that enervating literature, by turns gross and refined, which delights in painting the miseries of human nature, which caresses all our weaknesses, which pays court to the senses and the imagination, instead of speaking to the soul and awakening thought. Guard yourselves against the malady of our century, that fatal taste of an accommodating life, incompatible with all generous ambition. Whatever career you embrace, propose to yourselves an elevated aim, and put in its service an unalterable constancy. Sursum corda, value highly your heart, wherein is seen all philosophy, that which we have retained from all our studies, which we have taught to your predecessors, which we leave to you as our last word, our final lecture.

            V. COUSIN.

            June 15, 1853.

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