Marquis de Sade, risk, chance, luck and Providence
There are three texts, developed successively, concerning the major heroine in the works of Sade : the first written in 1787, found in 1909 by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and edited in 1930, under the title The Misfortunes of Virtue, the second in 1791 Justine or Unluckiness of Virtue, and the third in 1799 The New Justine or Unluckiness of Virtue. Let’s consider a moment the titles. « Mis-fortune » refers to the Latin word « fortuna » which means risk, chance, lot, fate ( who you must « beat » says Machiavelli in Il Principe ).Unluckiness is here the translation of the French « malheur » which can be cut in two « mal-heur » ( bad luck ), « heur » comes from the Latin « augurium » which means observing and reading signs in the sky, omen, foreshow, prophecy, premonition. Cicero wrote : « Inhaeret in mentibus quasi saeclorum quoddam augurium futurorum » in the Tusculans : « there is, profound in the souls, a sort of premonition of centuries to come ». In French you have the set phrase « heur [bonheur] et malheur » because it can be a good or an ill augur. All this vocabulary is very heavily linked to a religious belief.
Does Sade escape this way of thinking ? Not at all, if you consider the incipit, the beginning of the three successive versions which he rewrites each time. « Philosophy’s triumph would be to disentangle the abstruse ways that Providence uses to aim her goal on man […] who is everlastingly swung to and fro by that being, it is said, that rules him so despotically […] and to prevent the whimsical fancies of that fatality »( The Misfortunes ) « fatality to which is given many different names, without being able to know it or define it » ( Justine )[…]« to prevent the eccentric fancies of this fortune who has been called Fate, God, Providence, Fatality, Chance… » ( The New Justine ). Chance is on the same level than God, Providence, Fate ( without intermingling them ). Sade does not enter the problem that comes from Democritus and his metaphysical atomism on chance and necessity, nor Aristotle’s point of view who separates risk that can happen to objects and luck ( « tukhe ») which is of human concern ( Physics II ). We are also far from Cournot’s theory of hazard as two causal independent series that meet each other. In fact, he puts in front a theological problem, the divine Providence ! Justine waits the mercy of a kind God, her who is so virtuous, but she encounters only scoundrels who do her harm.
Consequently there are, for Sade, only two solutions : or a God but he is wicked, or God does not exist. But then, why so much blasphemy, challenge to God, why want to disturb the course of the stars ? He seems to stay, against all evidence, in a religious point of view, all the more that he is haunted by the problem of good and evil.
, writer and translator of this text.
: misfortune, unluckiness, risk, chance, luck, lot, fate, bad luck, signs, omen, foreshow, prophecy, premonition, augur, abstruse ways, to be ruled despotically, whimsical fancies, eccentric fancies, fatality, God, Providence, metaphysical atomism, necessity, hazard, two causal independent series, theological problem, mercy of a kind God, virtuous, scoundrels, a wicked God, atheism, blasphemy, religious point of view, the problem of good and evil.
: the Marquis de Sade, Guillaume Apollinaire, Machiavelli, Cicero, Democritus, Aristotle, Cournot.
Key works : the misfortunes of virtue, Justine or unluckiness of virtue, the new Justine, il Principe
( Machiavelli’s ), the Tusculans, Physics ( Aristotle’s ), Considerations on the progress of ideas ( Cournot’s ).
Key words ( Latin
) : fortuna, augurium.
Key words ( Greek
) : tukhe.