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

Chapter XI.

Of Philosophy, Metaphysics, Abstractions, Logic, Systems

[1]I,—WHENCE,—whither,—wherefore,—how?—there is the whole of philosophy: existence, origin, place, end, and means.

[2]As poetry is sometimes more philosophical even than philosophy, metaphysic is, by its nature, more poetical even than poetry.

[3]The mind takes pleasure in metaphysics because there it finds room; elsewhere, everything is too full. The mind needs a fantastic world in which it can move and wander; it delights less in the objects it meets with than in the space itself. It is thus that children love sand, and water, and all that is fluid or flexible, because they do with it what they will.

[4]Practice is serious, but theory is recreation; there the soul finds gaiety and fresh youth, through the joys of the intelligence.

[5]What deceives us in morals is the excessive love of pleasure. What checks and hinders us in metaphysics is the love of certainty.

[6]Metaphysics make the mind singularly firm; that is why, sometimes, nothing is so cruel as a metaphysician.

[7]Religion is the only kind of metaphysic that the common people are able to understand and accept.

[8]It is the devout who are the practical metaphysicians.

[9]The true science of metaphysics consists not in the rendering abstract that which is sensible, but in rendering sensible that which is abstract; apparent that which is hidden; imaginable, if so it may be, that which is only intelligible; and intelligible finally, that which an ordinary attention fails to seize.[M.A.]

[10]Distrust, in books on metaphysics, words which have not been able to get currency in the world, and are only calculated to form a special language.[M.A.]

[11]Whatever may be said, metaphors are as essential to metaphysics as are abstract terms. When metaphors fail you, then, try abstract terms, and when abstract terms are at fault, try metaphor. Grasp the proof, and show it as best you can; there is the whole art and rule of the matter.

[12]Before an abstract idea can become something of which the mind can form a picture, or even a conception, how much time is needed! How many touches and retouches are wanted to give substance to the shadow!

[13]A choice of words that presents at first ideas with which you agree, and thus draws you on to admit others with which you would not have agreed, is an argument in disguise. It has the force and the power of a real argument, but is without its harsh, imperious, or repulsive quality.

[14]There is in the mind a perpetual circulation of unconscious arguments.

[15]Right reasoning has its own rules and physiognomy. Truth of conception has neither; but it is very superior to the other.

[16]As soon as an argument attacks any universal practice or instinct, it may be difficult to refute, but it is certainly delusive. You may not be able to answer it; you must nonetheless be firm in resisting it. The wise man escapes from it by holding to the common opinion.