VI. On Falsehood.
We are false in different ways. There are some men who are false from
wishing always to appear what they are not. There are some who have
better faith, who are born false, who deceive themselves, and who never
see themselves as they really are; to some is given a true understanding
and a false taste, others have a false understanding and some
correctness in taste; there are some who have not any falsity either in
taste or mind. These last are very rare, for to speak generally, there
is no one who has not some falseness in some corner of his mind or his
What makes this falseness so universal, is that as our qualities are
uncertain and confused, so too, are our tastes; we do not see things
exactly as they are, we value them more or less than they are worth,
and do not bring them into unison with ourselves in a manner which suits
them or suits our condition or qualities.
This mistake gives rise to an infinite number of falsities in the taste
and in the mind. Our self-love is flattered by all that presents itself
to us under the guise of good.
But as there are many kinds of good which affect our vanity and our
temper, so they are often followed from custom or advantage. We follow
because the others follow, without considering that the same feeling
ought not to be equally embarrassing to all kinds of persons, and that
it should attach itself more or less firmly, according as persons agree
more or less with those who follow them.
We dread still more to show falseness in taste than in mind. Gentleness
should approve without prejudice what deserves to be approved, follow
what deserves to be followed, and take offence at nothing. But there
should be great distinction and great accuracy. We should distinguish
between what is good in the abstract and what is good for ourselves, and
always follow in reason the natural inclination which carries us towards
matters that please us.
If men only wished to excel by the help of their own talents, and in
following their duty, there would be nothing false in their taste or in
their conduct. They would show what they were, they would judge matters
by their lights, and they would attract by their reason. There would be
a discernment in their views, in their sentiments, their taste would
be true, it would come to them direct, and not from others, they would
follow from choice and not from habit or chance. If we are false in
admiring what should not be admired, it is oftener from envy that we
affix a value to qualities which are good in themselves, but which do
not become us. A magistrate is false when he flatters himself he is
brave, and that he will be able to be bold in certain cases. He should
be as firm and stedfast in a plot which ought to be stifled without fear
of being false, as he would be false and absurd in fighting a duel about
A woman may like science, but all sciences are not suitable for her, and
the doctrines of certain sciences never become her, and when applied by
her are always false.
We should allow reason and good sense to fix the value of things, they
should determine our taste and give things the merit they deserve, and
the importance it is fitting we should give them. But nearly all men are
deceived in the price and in the value, and in these mistakes there is
always a kind of falseness.