Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.


We don’t know how to begin anything, I mean even when stretching out one’s arm; no one begins by giving an order to the nerves and muscles; the movement begins of itself; our business is to carry it through as best we can. In this way, never deciding, we are always in charge, like a coachman holding back his galloping horse; but he can only hold back a horse that is galloping; and that is what is meant by setting out; the horse wakes up and leaps forward; the coachman directs this burst of energy. The same with a ship, if there’s no impetus, it won’t obey the rudder. In short, we have to set out somehow; then it’s time to ask where we are going.

Who has made a choice? I ask. No one has, since we are children first of all. No one has, but we have all acted first; so vocations result from nature and circumstances. This is why people who deliberate never decide; and there’s nothing more ridiculous than those scholastic analyses, where reasons and motivations are weighed; this is why an abstract legend, and which smacks of a pedant, portrays Hercules between vice and virtue. No one has made a choice; everyone is on the move and all roads are good. The art of life first consists, it seems to me, in not quarrelling with oneself on what course of action or trade to follow. Not that at all, but to do it well. We’d like to see the hand of fate in the choices that we find already made and which we haven’t made, but these choices don’t commit us, for there is no bad fate; every fate is good if we want to made it good. There’s nothing that more shows weakness than discussing one’s own nature; no one has a choice; but a nature is rich enough to satisfy the most ambitious. To make a virtue of necessity is a fine and great undertaking.


Caravage (1571-1610), tête de Méduse, 1597, Musée des Offices, Florence (Italie)


‘Alas! Why didn’t I study?’ That’s the excuse of the lazy. So study. I don’t think that having studied is such a great thing, if one has given it up. To count on the past is precisely as foolish as complaining about the past. Concerning what has been done, nothing is so good that one can rest on one’s laurels; nothing so ugly that something can’t be salvaged. I’d even incline to believe that good luck is more difficult to follow than bad luck. If the good fairies adorned your cradle, watch out. What I find admirable in a Michelangelo is the impetuous will that took his natural gifts in hand and made a difficult life out of an easy one. This uncomplacent man had white hairs when he went, he said, to school to learn.  This shows irresolute people that it’s always the time to exert one’s will. And wouldn’t a sailor laugh at you if you told him that the whole crossing depended on the first turn of the tiller?  Yet that’s what we would have children believe; fortunately they hardly listen; but still too much if they come to form the metaphysical concept according to which their whole existence depends upon b a ba. This lethal notion barely affects them in childhood but harms them later, for it’s the excuse of the weak that makes them weak. Fate is a Medusa’s head.

PBonheur xxii, 12/12/22

English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

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