Add to bookbag
Title: Character
Original Title: Caractère
Volume and Page: Vol. 2 (1752), p. 666
Author: Jean Le Rond d'Alembert
Translator: Nelly S. Hoyt; Thomas Cassirer
Subject terms:
Ethics
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer, trans., The Encyclopedia: Selections: Diderot, d'Alembert and a Society of Men of Letters (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).
Availability:

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America.

URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.350
Citation (MLA): d'Alembert, Jean Le Rond. "Character." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.350>. Trans. of "Caractère," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 2. Paris, 1752.
Citation (Chicago): d'Alembert, Jean Le Rond. "Character." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.350 (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Caractère," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 2:666 (Paris, 1752).

In this article d'Alembert deals with a problem that was a matter of much concern to eighteenth-century thinkers. Many of them, Montesquieu and Voltaire among them, speculated upon the character of individuals, groups, and nations. [Translator note]


Character. It is that tendency of the soul that makes one inclined to perform certain actions rather than certain others. Thus a man who rarely or never forgives anything has a vindictive character. I say "rarely" or "never"; for in fact a character is not formed by rigorous constancy but rather by the most usual disposition of the soul.

M. Duclos in his Considérations sur les moeurs  [1] is right in observing that most of the mistakes and follies committed by men come from the fact that their mind and their character are, so to speak, not in equilibrium. Cicero, for instance, had a great mind and a weak soul. That is why he was a great orator and a mediocre statesman. And this is true for many others as well.

Nothing is more dangerous to society than a man without character, that is, whose soul has no dominant disposition. We trust the virtuous man, we distrust the rogue. A man without character shifts from one to the other. It is impossible to guess what he is and we can consider him neither a friend nor an enemy. He is a sort of amphibian, if I can call him that, who can live in any element. This reminds me of Solon's fine law that declared infamous all those who did not take sides in an uprising. He felt that nothing was more to be feared than the undecided character of man.

Notes

1. [Ch. P. Duclos, Considérations sur les moeurs de ce siècle; the first edition appeared in 1750.]