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Joseph Joubert (1754–1824). Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts. 1899.

Chapter II.

Of Man, the Organs, the Soul, the Intellectual Faculties

[1]THERE are two existences that a man, prisoned within himself, might know: his own and God’s; I am, therefore God is. But sensation only can teach him the existence of bodies.

[2]We see everything through ourselves. We are a medium always interposed between things and ourselves.

[3]There is, in language, something of fate and inspiration.

[4]The soul is to the eyes what sight is to the touch; it seizes what eludes the senses. As in art the greatest beauty is beyond law, so in knowledge the highest and the truest is beyond experience.

[5]In the soul there is a taste that loves goodness, as in the body there is an appetite that loves pleasure.

[6]The mind is the atmosphere of the soul.

[7]What we call soul in man is unchanging, but what we call mind differs with every age, every situation, every day. The mind is a mobile thing whose direction changes with every wind that blows.

[8]The mind is a fire, of which thought is the flame. Like flame it tends upwards. Men do their best to smother it by turning the point downwards.

[9]Plato is wrong: there are some things that may be communicated, but not taught; some that we may obviously possess without the power of communicating them. Strictly speaking, perhaps, a man is only learned in what can be taught; but he may be gifted with an art which could not be transmitted: such as quickness of grasp, instinct, genius; such as also, perhaps, the art of knowing and governing men.

[10]Our mind has more thoughts than our memory can store; it delivers many judgments of which it could not give the reasons; it sees further than it can reach, it knows more truths than it can explain. A large part of itself could be very usefully employed in searching out the arguments which have determined it, in defining the perceptions which have touched and then escaped it. There is for the soul many a lightning-flash with which she has little to do; they pass over and illuminate her so rapidly that she loses the recollection of them. We should be astonished at the number of things she would be found to have seen, if, in returning upon all that has passed within her, record could be made of it, if only from memory, and by a careful searching out of all the circumstances. We do not hunt enough in ourselves; and like children we neglect what we have in our pockets, and think only of what is in our hands, or before our eyes.

[11]Thought is sudden and springs like flame; ideas are born like day from night, after the dawn; the one dazzles, the other illumines.

[12]Good sense is to know what we must do; intelligence, to know what we must think.

[13]Intellect consists in having many useless thoughts, good sense in being well supplied with necessary notions.

[14]Imagination is the eye of the soul.

[15]It is to imagination that the greatest truths are revealed; for instance, Providence, its course, its designs; they escape our judgment; imagination alone sees them.

[16]Imagination is so necessary both in literature and in life, that even those who have none, and decry it, are obliged to make one for themselves.