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

Chapter X.

Of Truth, Illusion, and Error

[1]TRUTH does not, and cannot come from ourselves. In all that is spiritual it comes from God, or from those spirits, the friends of God, on whom His light has shone; in what is material, from the things where God has placed it. Therefore in all that is spiritual we must first take counsel of God, then of the wise, and lastly of our own souls; and in all that is material we must search things to their depths.

[2]Study the sciences in the light of truth, that is—as before God; for their business is to show the truth, that is to say, God everywhere. Write nothing, say nothing, think nothing that you cannot believe to be true before God.

[3]Supreme truths have such beauty, that even the errors that turn our minds upon them have some charm, and the shadows that veil them have a kind of radiance.

[4]Our moments of light are moments of happiness. When light shines in the mind, it is fair weather there.

[5]We love repose of mind so well, that we are arrested by anything which has even the appearance of truth; and so we fall asleep on clouds.

[6]In light there are two points; the point that illuminates, and the point that bewilders. Let us keep to the first.

[7]What is true in the lamp-light is not always true in the sun-light.

[8]Time and truth are friends, although there are many moments hostile to truth.

[9]When one loves truth it is always some pleasure to hear a man say what he thinks, and even to see a man do what he has willed to do.

[10]There are some natural and inborn prejudices that go in advance of judgment, and lead it where it is necessary that it should go, and by paths that it must follow, if it is to make true progress. If we refuse such guides, we go astray….

[11]Carefulness to speak the truth well, so as to capture the attention, is a duty, a function of the good man, and a mark of his goodness.

[12]What is ingenious comes very near to being true.

[13]The joy that truth and great thoughts give us, makes itself felt in the words with which we utter them.

[14]There are some truths that must be coloured in order to make them visible. Above all, anything that depends upon imagination can only have outward existence through the medium of form and colour. Truth must be wrapped in these, if it is to attract the eye.

[15]Have such a mind, that truth may enter it naked, and leave it adorned.

[16]Truth takes a certain character from the souls wherein she enters. Rigorous and harsh in the arid souls, in the loving souls she becomes tempered and gentle.

[17]The charm of truth is to be veiled. The wise have always spoken in riddles, and riddles that are for the moment insoluble are a great means of instruction, an instruction that we love because it comes of our own work; for the answer belongs to the reader who has sought it, as well as to the author who has placed it there. If a truth is nude, and crude, that is a proof it has not been steeped long enough in the soul, nor turned over long enough in the mind; the intelligence has not purified it enough, the heart infused it enough with its own essence, nor the imagination robed it enough in its own garments. The mind has done no more than square it, like a piece of wood rough-hewn by the first-comer. Truth, or rather the matter that contains it, should be handled and re-handled until it becomes clearness, air, light, form, and colour.

[18]‘Fear God’ has made many men pious, the proofs of the existence of a God have made many men atheists. From the defence springs the attack; the advocate begets in his hearer a wish to pick holes; and men are almost always led on, from the desire to contradict the doctor, to the desire to contradict the doctrine. Make truth lovely, and do not try to arm her; mankind will then be far less inclined to contend with her.[M.A.]

[19]Illusion is an integral part of reality, depending upon it, as the effect upon the cause.

[20]God turns everything to account, even our illusions.

[21]Illusions come from Heaven, errors come from ourselves.

[22]Superiority may be as much a source of error as mediocrity.

[23]The credulity that comes from the heart does no harm to the intelligence.

[24]There are invincible errors, that one should never attack.

[25]The worst quality in error is not its falseness, but its wilfulness, blindness, and passion.

[26]Some error always fastens upon the great current truths of the world, and some fable on the great events that have strongly attracted the attention of the multitude. As there is always some illusion in every mind, so is there always some mind to fasten its illusion on what passes through it. Thus no reality is without its element of the marvellous, if it has had wide circulation, and has passed from mouth to mouth.

[27]The most useful knowledge is to know that we have been deceived, and the most delightful discovery is to find out that we have been mistaken. ‘Capable of forsaking an error’—this is fine praise, and a fine quality.

[28]We may fall into inconsistency through error. It is a fine thing to fall into it through truth, and then we must throw ourselves into it headlong.

[29]Those who never retract love themselves better than truth.

[30]Woe to him who deceives himself late! he will not undeceive himself.

[31]When a mind has returned to a truth from which it had departed, it will not leave it again.

[32]There are some minds which arrive at error by all truths; there are others, more fortunate, which arrive at the great truths by all errors.

[33]Simple and sincere minds are never more than half mistaken.

[34]There are no mistakes into which a man may not fall in good faith from an overtension of mind; but even in these cases, we may often admire the bow and its strength, whilst we think little of the arrow.