Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XXIV: Whether the Arguments for the Truth are always more solid than those for Falshood. - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
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Chapter XXIV: Whether the Arguments for the Truth are always more solid than those for Falshood. - Pierre Bayle, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’ 
A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’, edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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Whether the Arguments for the Truth are always more solid than those for Falshood.
To consider things absolutely, the Affirmative of this Question is most certain; but to consider ’em with regard to Man in common Life, I think there’s a distinction to be made.
Let’s say then, that there are necessary Truths, and Truths contingent.
Among the necessary Truths there are some so evident, either immediately, and these carry their own Reason along with ’em which no one contests; or mediately, that is, which may be resolv’d into some first Principle by a well-link’d Chain of Consequences and Demonstrations: so that the Proofs of ’em are not only more solid in themselves than those of the opposite Falshoods, but are also stronger even with regard to Man; it being easily perceivable, that nothing of any weight can be offer’d in favor of these Falshoods.
But when a necessary Truth is not evident, either in it self, or by means of a Train of<714> Demonstrations running it up to a first Principle upon incontestable Premises; then indeed it may be attack’d in such a manner, that it’s hard to distinguish, whether those who deny or those who affirm are most in the wrong.
With regard to Truths of a contingent nature, whereby I understand not only historical Facts, but such Truths also as depend on the free Decrees of God; I’m of opinion that we shou’d keep to the same distinction, to wit, either that they are evident, at least mediately, or that they are not. If the first, their Proofs ought to be deem’d more solid, with regard to Man, than those of the opposite Falshoods; so that there’s ground enough for suspecting, that all who maintain these Falshoods are either insincere, or extremely disorder’d; under a gross Ignorance, or a slavish Engagement to their Prejudices.
But when these Truths are of such a nature, that the Principles by which we endeavor to run ’em up to a common Notion, or to such a Combination of Circumstances as amounts to a moral Demonstration, are doubtful and uncertain, or clash with contrary Principles, which we sometimes make use of as true, so that our own Arguments are liable to be retorted; I say, it’s very possible in this Case, that the opposite Errors may be defended as solidly, in all appearance, as these Truths.
I shall confirm this Explication by some Examples.
These two contradictory Propositions, There’s a Space distinct from Body; There’s no Space distinct from Body;283 are of such a kind, that neither can<715> be true without its being necessarily, absolutely, and unalterably true, and without the other’s implying a Contradiction. So that there’s either in the first, or in the second, a necessary Truth, or an impossible Falshood. Yet each of these Propositions is supported by Reasons so strong, or rather encounter’d by Difficultys so perplexing and inextricable, that it’s very hard to determine, whether the Reasons alledg’d for the true be more solid, with regard to us, than those alledg’d for the false.
These two Propositions, God wills that all Men shou’d be sav’d, and affords ’em Aid sufficient for this purpose; God wills not that all Men shou’d be sav’d, and does not afford ’em all Aid sufficient for this purpose;284 contain one or other of ’em, a contingent Truth, since it depends on the Free-will of God: but if one be true, the other must be necessarily false. Yet each is supported by so many Arguments from Philosophy, Divinity, and Piety, and by so many Passages of Scripture, that one wou’d be at a loss which side to chuse, if he were not apt to be determin’d by Temper and Complexion to some Notions rather than others.
Nor can there be a surer sign, that two Opinions, tho contradictory, and consequently one true the other false, are founded each upon solid and very probable Reasons, than to see, that each have had their Patrons and Partys in different Countrys, and different Ages of the World, Persons distinguish’d by their Knowledg, and Vertue, and Piety, who have carefully examin’d the Question; or likewise to see, that if one of the Opinions has crush’d and overwhelm’d the<716> other in one place, this has sprung up again in another.
Must not a Man be very much prepossess’d to maintain henceforward, that the Doctrine of particular Grace, and some others, so warmly defended by Luther and Calvin, have not only the Advantage of being supported by several very probable Reasons, but also that the contrary Doctrines are not supported by any? This, I say, were somewhat out of season, considering that all the Lutherans have departed from their Master’s Mind in this point; that those who reform’d themselves in Holland, according to the Confession of Geneva, have long since bin divided into two great Bodys, on occasion of these Doctrines; and last of all, that most of the able Protestant Divines of France, and almost all the Church of England, run counter to Calvin on this Article.
Philosophy affords us a hundred Examples of contradictory Propositions, which are each so strongly supported by Reasons equally specious, that difficult nice Understandings don’t know, upon a fair hearing, how to chuse the best from the less good Opinion. Don’t we see contradictory Thesis’s maintain’d in the very same Day, and before the same Audience? Does not a Rhetorick Professor make two of his Scholars declaim, in the same hour, one for, the other against the same Question in Morality, Politicks, &c? Are not there large Volumes printed of this sort of Orations, so plausible o’ both sides, that if the Reader inclines to one, ’tis more from some Prevalence of Temper than that of the Arguments, or because he always thinks the last he reads the best, and that only because he remembers it best?<717>
Let no one therefore pretend to tell us more, that the Arguments for a Falshood are never to be compar’d to those in favor of Truth.
They who say so, are far enough from believing it; for it’s observable, that all the Christian Sects dread one another. The Romish indeed plays the Poltron more egregiously than any of the rest, because she burns all the Books written against her, and won’t suffer, without the greatest regret, the Laity within her Jurisdiction to cast an eye upon the Books of Protestants. But these, on the other hand, are not altogether free from their Fears; the Ministers of France, in these latter days, were not at all pleas’d that their People shou’d converse with the Popish Clergy, or amuse themselves with reading over their Controversys: and ’tis certain, a young Divine wou’d take a wrong way of recommending himself to the Professors, shou’d he often come to borrow Socinian Tracts from ’em, and let ’em know, that he study’d ’em with great Application. They wou’d from thence forward conclude, he had a leaven of Socinianism in his Soul, and gravely tell him, that such Books were dangerous reading for young Men. I don’t see that our Divines will suffer the Writings of this Sect to be printed or publish’d, where they have Credit or Power enough.
Nor yet do I believe, that the Socinians advise their young People to read over the Books written against themselves; they are well pleased that they know the Objections by which the Orthodox confound ’em only in the Writings of Socinian Authors: where, as in all the controversial Writings of each Sect, the Objections of the oppo-<718>site Party lie scatter’d up and down like the Movements of a Clock taken to pieces; without any Force or Significancy.
Whence can this proceed, and what every one may observe, that even Men of Wit and good Learning boast of it as a very prudent and pious Conduct in ’em, that they never wou’d read those Writings of the opposite Party, which have the most Reputation for Subtilty and close Argument? Whence, I say, can this proceed, if it be an inseparable Fatality of all Error, to have no Proofs on its side, but what are weak and very improbable, in comparison of those which are to be offer’d in behalf of Truth?
Human Life affords us a hundred Examples to the contrary, which we shou’d wonder at the less, because Facts, in reality false, are often as possible, if not more so than the true. Ask a couple of Reasoners, whether a golden Globe shew’d ’em at a distance in a strange Country might be worth so much; one tells you no, because he believes ’twas hollow; the other, yes sure, because he believes ’twas solid: They shall maintain their Conjectures by a= hundred Arguments, and it shall often happen, that the first is in the wrong, and yet shall make his Opinion much more probable than the other makes his.
Has not some Author or other advanc’d in his Book, that pitch upon what Action you please, he’l assign you fifty different Motives for doing it, and all very probable?
In general, it’s possible enough that there may be Arguments more specious and more affecting for an Error than for the Truth, not only with regard to those who are ingag’d in this Error by<719> Birth and Education; but even with regard to a Stranger, who, without the least Prepossession pro or con, shou’d examine this Error, and the opposite Truth. But this is more especially true with relation to Facts.
It happens here much as it does in the case of History and Romance.
Sometimes a Romance has a greater Air of Probability than the most sincere History; and nothing again appears more natural, or more undoubted than the Motives assign’d by a Historian of such a Prince’s Conduct: yet these Motives are only a Fiction of the Historian’s Brain, the widest in the World from the Truth, which if he had faithfully related, the Readers might very often look upon as flat, absurd, and void of the least shadow of Reason or Probability.
Wou’d you have an Instance nearer to those very matters on which the Controvertists try their Skill? The Criticks have restor’d Passages in the antient Authors after very different manners. One will have us read it thus, another will have us read it quite the contrary, the Affirmative instead of the Negative. It very often happens, that he who’s widest of the Author’s Meaning, wins the Prize in the Judgment of Readers of the best Tast, as having given the antient Author a turn of perfectly good Sense, of very plausible and very judicious Reasoning.
How it comes to pass that Falshood is sometimes prov’d by sound Reasoning.
I think I had insinuated the true Reason of all these things, when I said above, that Facts in rea-<720>lity false, are altogether as possible, or perhaps more so than the true: for in this case we are not to wonder, that the Reasons for denying, are equally if not more probable than those for affirming a Fact, so long as its Existence does not come up to what we call Publick Notoriety, a Combination of Circumstances which amounts to Demonstration; such as this Fact at present, The Pope has resolv’d to deprive Embassadors of their Privileges. Upon which, if we shou’d suppose two great Reasoners in Japan arguing the point, on the Receit of Letters from Rome, importing no more than that there was a talk the Pope wou’d soon publish a Bull to this effect, they might bandy the matter in such a manner, that to this day a great many of their Hearers wou’d believe that the Report was come to nothing, so many and such probable Reasons appearing to them against it.
But I shall now make an Attempt towards dissipating all those Fantoms and pannick Fears which have exercis’d Divines for so long a time on the Article of Errors. It’s plain, the Reason why the Mind of Man finds so many Arguments, equally solid in all appearance for maintaining Truth and Error in religious Controversys, is, that most of the Falshoods advanc’d in ’em are altogether as possible as the Truths. In effect, we all suppose, that Revelation depends intirely on the Free-will of God; for he was not under a necessity by nature, of making either Men or other Creatures. Consequently he might, if he wou’d, either have produc’d nothing, or have produc’d a World intirely different from this; and in case he had thought fit to have a Race of<721> Men in it, he might have conducted him to his own ends, by methods directly opposite to those he has chosen, and which had bin altogether as worthy of an infinitely perfect Being: for infinite Wisdom must have infinite ways of manifesting it self, all equally worthy of it. This being the case, we are not to wonder, if Divines can find out as good Arguments for maintaining Man’s Free-will, as for impugning it; for we are not destitute of Ideas and Principles for conceiving and proving, that God might make Man free, or might not make him free with a Freedom of Indifference, and so of a hundred other contradictory Propositions.
What happens then when Revelation is obscure or doubtful upon any point? Why this, that one Party explains it by one System, and another Party by another. I’l suppose, that the System of one Party is really agreeable to what God has really chosen: this hinders not but that of the other Party may be conformable to what God might have done with as much Glory to himself as can accrue to him from what he has actually done; since we conceive, that God might have form’d things otherwise than they are form’d, and after a hundred different manners, all worthy of his infinite Perfection; else he wou’d be an Agent void of Liberty, and no way different from the God of the Stoicks, chain’d down by unavoidable Fate, a Doctrine very little better than Spinozism.285 Consequently there’s no Sin in following a false System, but when a Theologist frames it on an Idea, which he thinks repugnant to what God himself has reveal’d, and Injurious to the Divine Majesty. Now I can’t<722> believe there are any such Theologists in the World. Add to this, so far as is needful, what I have observ’d before286 concerning Errors voluntary and involuntary.
One must be an Ideot to believe, that the Schoolmen,287 whose System Luther and Calvin had destroy’d, fram’d this System upon an Opinion, that the rigid Predestinarians in St. Austin’s way gave God too great an Authority, and that ’twas necessary to retrench it, as our Parliaments here in England clip the Prerogative of our Kings upon occasion. In like manner one must be an Ideot to believe, that Luther and Calvin fram’d another opposite System, upon an Opinion that the Schoolmens System represented the Deity as too equitable, and that ’twas fit to abate that exceeding Praise which it gave to God.
Let’s do both Partys Justice. Neither had a thought of wounding the Supreme Majesty of God, or his infinite Perfections: but they conceiv’d, one side, that such and such Notions were inconsistent with the Divine Nature, and accordingly treated ’em as false; the other, that such certain Notions tended more to his Glory, and hence believ’d ’em true, and explain’d the Scriptures in favor of ’em: that’s to say, not having the same Idea of Perfection, but what one side judg’d a Perfection worthy the Divinity, appearing to the other side a Defect and Imperfection unworthy the Sovereign Being, they took two different Paths for explaining what the Scriptures say of him. And so far I can’t see any more Sin in those who are deceiv’d than in those who are not.<723>
Wou’d to God Men had always look’d on Controversy with such an eye, there had bin no such thing as Schism or Excommunication; but Men had employ’d in living well, and in eschewing what all the opposite Partys are agreed is Sin, Slander, Theft, Fornication, Murder, Uncharitableness, &c. that time which they have mispent in Disputation and mutual Persecutions.
But I insist too long on a Question which I design’d only to glance at in this place, proposing to examine it with the utmost nicety in the sequel of this Work.
Having thus given a full and invincible Answer to Mr. de Meaux’s Query, by solidly asserting an Equality of Right, in Heretical and in Orthodox Judges, as to the condemning and punishing Persons accus’d of Heresy; let’s return upon St. Austin once more, and then take leave of his wretched Apology for Persecutors, a Blot on his Life and Memory.<724>
[283. ]For arguments for and against the reality of a vacuum (space distinct from bodies) see DHC, art. “Zeno of Elea,” rem. I.
[284. ]See Appendixes, “Grace, Original Sin, Predestination,” p. 586.
[285. ]The Stoics were “fatalists,” i.e. they believed that whatever was fated would happen, and nothing else—i.e. that there was no such thing as free choice. See DHC, art. “Chrysippus,” rem. H; A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy, 2nd edn. (London: Duckworth, 1986), pp. 163–70; A. Long and D. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), vol. 1, pp. 333–43. Spinoza also held that whatever happens, happens of necessity; see DHC, art. “Spinoza.”
[286. ]See above, p. 486.
[287. ]See Appendixes, “Grace, Original Sin, Predestination,” p. 586.