Friday, February 10, 2006


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
-Voltaire, philosopher (1694-1778)

A friend attached this quote in her list serve post this week. She was referring to current events in our home state and on the national stage. I think she meant that people who can make you believe untruths can make you act unconscionably, too.

Still, something bothered me about the work absurdity. In English, the absurd rings a somewhat jovial tone. It is non-sense, possibly dark non-sense, but not alltogether troubling. To the French, though (and thus to Voltaire?) absurdite is quite dark. Granted, all definitions of absurd in French now point to existentialism, in full bloom 200 years after Voltaire. Nevertheless, the Wikipedia entry in French had something to offer:

"ce qui est dénué de tous sens préétabli. Le substantif absurde est utilisé pour évoquer l'absurdité du monde, de l'humanité et de sa condition, lesquels ne sont en rien justifiées."

that which deviates from all pre-established reason...that which will never find any justification

The rest of Voltaire's quote can be found on One Good Move

"Let us therefore reject all superstition in order to become more human; but in speaking against fanaticism, let us not imitate the fanatics: they are sick men in delirium who want to chastise their doctors. Let us assuage their ills, and never embitter them, and let us pour drop by drop into their souls the divine balm of toleration, which they would reject with horror if it were offered to them all at once."

I am not sure what to believe, what I can believe any more. At least I can find some solace in search for root meanings of Voltaire quotes. I feel quite certain I am beginning to understand his intention. Let us continue to search for truth and meaning, toleration and compassion.

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