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THE NATURE OF THE GODS.
1 THERE are many things in philosophy, my dear Brutus, which are not as yet fully explained to us, and particularly (as you very well know) that most obscure and difficult question concerning the Nature of the Gods, so extremely necessary both towards a knowledge of the human mind, and the practice of true religion : concerning which the opinions of men are so various and so different from each other, as to lead strongly to the inference that ignorance? is the cause, or origin of philosophy; and that the Academic philosophers have been prudent in refusing their assent to things uncertain : for what more unbecoming to a wise man than to judge rashly? or
rat rashness is so unworthy of the gravity and stability of philosopher, as either to maintain false opinions, or without the least hesitation to support and defend what he has not thoronghly examined, and does not clearly comprehend ?
In the question now before us, the greater part of mankind have united to acknowledge that which is most probable, and which we are all by nature led to suppose, namely, that there are Gods. Protagoras2 doubted whether there were any. Diagoras the Melian and Theodorus of Cyrene entirely believed
Some read scientiam and some inscientiam; the latter of which is preferred by some of the best editors and commentators.
2 For a short account of these ancient Greek philosophers, see the sketch prefixed to the Academics (Classical Library).
DE NAT. ETC.
there were no such beings. But they who have affirmed that there are Gods, have expressed such a variety of sentiments on the subject, and the disagreement between them is s great, that it would be tiresome to enumerate their opinion for they give us many statements respecting the forms of ti ; Gods, and their places of abode, and the employment of thei lives. And these are matters on which the philosophers differ with the most exceeding earnestness. But the most considerable part of the dispute is, whether they are wholly inactive; totally unemployed, and free from all care and administration of affairs: or, on the contrary, whether all things were made and constituted by them from the beginning; and whether they will continue to be actuated and governed by them to eternity. This is one of the greatest points in debate: and unless this is decided, mankind must necessarily remain in the greatest of errors, and ignorant of what is most important to be known.
II. For there are some philosophers, both ancient and modern, who have conceived that the Gods take not the least cognisance of human affairs. But if their doctrine be true, of what avail is piety, sanctity, or religion? for these are feelings and marks of devotion which are offered to the Gods by men with uprightness and holiness, on the ground that men are the objects of the attention of the Gods, and that many benefits are conferred by the immortal Gods on the human race.
But if the Gods have neither the power nor the inclination to help us; if they take no care of us, and pay no regard to our actions; and if there is no single advantage which can possibly accrue to the life of man; then what reason can we have to pay any adoration, or any honours, to prefer any prayers to them? Piety, like the other virtues, cannot have any connexion with vain show or dissimulation and without piety, neither sanctity nor religion can be supported; the total subversion of which must be attended with great confusion and disturbance in life.
I do not even know, if we cast off piety towards the Gods, but that faith, and all the associations of human life, and that most excellent of all virtues, justice, may perish with it.
There are other philosophers, and those too very great and illustrious men, who conceive the whole world to be directed